Student Loan Forgiveness Tax Bomb, Explained

Are Forgiven Student Loans Taxed?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) generally requires that you report a forgiven or canceled debt as income for tax purposes. But forgiven student loan debt is different.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act specifies that student loan debt discharged between 2021 and 2025, and incurred for postsecondary education expenses, will not be counted as income, and therefore does not incur a federal tax liability.

This includes federal Direct Loans, Family Federal Education Loans (FFEL), Perkins Loans, and federal consolidation loans. Additionally, non-federal loans such as state education loans, institutional loans direct from colleges and universities, and even private student loans also qualify.

However, some states have indicated that they still count canceled student loans as taxable income. Read on for more information about which discharged student debt is taxable and by whom.

Different Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Federal student debt can be canceled via an income-driven repayment plan (IDR) or forgiveness programs.

While President Joe Biden’s plan to offer federal debt cancellation of up to $20,000 to those with qualifying income failed — struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court — other forms of student loan forgiveness have been strengthened.

In October 2023, the White House announced at least $127 billion in student loan relief for nearly 3.6 million Americans:

•   $5.2 billion in additional debt relief for 53,000 borrowers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs.

•   Nearly $2.8 billion in new debt relief for nearly 51,000 borrowers through fixes to income-driven repayment. These are borrowers who made 20 years or more of payments but never got the relief they were entitled to.

•   $1.2 billion for nearly 22,000 borrowers who have a total or permanent disability who have been identified and approved for discharge through a data match with the Social Security Administration.

Recommended: Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness

Whose Student Loan Cancellation Is Not Federally Taxed?

As stated earlier, under the provisions of the ARP Act, any student debt (private or federal) for post-secondary education that was or is forgiven in the years of 2021 through 2025 will not be federally taxed. This means that the borrowers just listed above were not required to report their discharged loan amount as earned income, and therefore taxable.

Outside of the special five-year window of tax exemption provided by the ARP Act, participants in the Public Service Federal Loan program who receive forgiveness also don’t have to worry about paying taxes on the canceled amount. The program explicitly states that earned forgiveness through PSLF is not considered taxable income.

Recommended: A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Whose Student Loan Cancellation Is Federally Taxed?

Borrowers who receive loan cancellation after participating fully in an income-driven loan repayment plan can generally expect to pay taxes. Again, those whose debt was discharged in 2021 and 2022, or will be discharged in 2023, 2024, or 2025, will not need to pay federal taxes on their forgiven loans.

Forgiven amounts that are taxable are treated as earned income during the fiscal year it was received. Your lender might issue tax Form 1099-C to denote your debt cancellation.

💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

Which States Have Said They Will Tax Forgiven Student Loans?

Typically, states follow the tax policy of the federal government. But some states have announced that their residents must include their forgiven or canceled student loan amount on their state tax returns.

As of October 2023, the states that say forgiven loans are taxable are Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, and possibly Arkansas, depending on an upcoming vote in its legislature. More states could decide to do so.

It’s important to consult a qualified tax accountant or someone knowledgeable about forgiveness of student loans in your state to confirm the latest information of how much you owe.

Preparing to Pay Discharged Student Loan Taxes

If you’re anticipating a tax liability after receiving loan forgiveness, there are a few steps you can take today to get ready.

Step 1: Estimate Your Bill

The first step when bracing for a student loan forgiveness tax bill is calculating how much you might owe come tax season. This factor can be influenced by factors including the type of forgiveness you are receiving and the forgiven amount.

To avoid sticker shock, you can use a student loan forgiveness tax calculator, like the Loan Simulator on It lets you see how much of your student loan debt might be forgiven, based on your projected earnings.

Step 2: Choose the Right Plan

Enrolling your federal student loans into an IDR plan can help you keep your monthly payments to a manageable amount while you’re awaiting loan forgiveness. All of these repayment plans calculate your monthly payment based on your income and family size.

The newest IDR program is the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, which offers unique benefits that will lower payments for many borrowers, to as low as 5% of disposable income in 2024 for those who qualify.

Recommended: The SAVE Plan: What Student Loan Borrowers Need to Know

Step 3: Prioritize Saving

If you’re expecting loan forgiveness after 2025, it might be advantageous to allocate extra cash flow toward a dedicated tax savings fund. Incrementally setting money aside over multiple years can ease the burden of a sudden lump sum tax bill down the line.

Paying Taxes on Canceled Student Loan

If you can’t afford to cover an increased tax bill, contact the IRS to discuss your options. Inquire about payment plans that can help you pay smaller tax payments over a longer period of time. However, be aware that fees and interest will likely accrue.

💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

The Takeaway

Thanks to a special law passed by Congress in 2021, post-secondary education loans forgiven from 2021 through 2025 will not count as earned income and will not be federally taxed. That said, state taxes may be due, depending on where the borrower lives.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


Is loan repayment considered taxable income?

If your employer offers loan repayment assistance benefits, they would typically be considered taxable income. However under the Cares Act, loan forgiveness payments — and employer assistance loan payments up to $5,250 — made each year from 2021 through 2025 are tax-free.

Will refinancing my student loans help me avoid taxes?

Student loan refinancing simply involves reworking one or more existing student loans into a new private loan with more favorable terms. It’s a repayment strategy that does not incur a tax liability.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


Read more
Guide to Student Loan Certification

Guide to Student Loan Certification

After getting approved for a student loan, there is one more step that must be completed before your funds are disbursed: the loan certification process. This step is designed to protect you as a borrower.

Keep reading to find out more about student loan certification, how long it takes, and the process for federal and private student loans.

What Is Student Loan Certification?

Student loan certification is a mandatory step before loan funds can be sent to your school. Your school will verify enrollment details, such as your expected graduation date, your year in the program, and the loan amount.

For private student loans, a Private Education Loan Applicant Self-Certification form is required. This highlights borrower-protection language, informs you of your ability to submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and explains how a private loan might affect your other financial aid awards. The self-certification step also provides your lender with your enrollment details and financial aid received.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Why Do Lenders Need Student Loan Certification?

Student loan lenders must secure a certification before disbursement because it’s required by law, under the Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Truth in Lending Act.

Certification ensures that the lender and your school have done their due diligence to inform you about federal financial aid options, confirm that you meet academic enrollment requirements for the loan, and disclose the difference between your school’s cost of attendance (COA) and the financial assistance you’ve received for that period.

Recommended: The Ultimate Student Loan Terminology Cheat Sheet

Do Federal and Private Student Loan Lenders Need the Same Certification?

No, the loan certification process is different for federal vs. private student loans.

For federal aid, your school is responsible for determining the type of student aid you’re eligible for, including federal student loans. If your school finds that you’re eligible for federal loans, it will record its certification of your eligibility into the Common Origination and Disbursement system. This system tracks your loan data throughout your academic career.

The loan certification process for private lenders has a different intent. Your lender can request a completed Self-Certification form from you, which includes a section for your institution to fill out. Alternatively, your lender can communicate directly with your school for its certification sign-off.

Here’s a helpful refresher on how student loans work.

What Is the Process of Student Loan Certification?

After a lender approves your loan application and you accept the loan and its terms, the student loan certification process is automatically initiated. As a student borrower, you may not need to do anything. However, make sure to follow the process, via any emails or notifications from your lender or school, to make sure everything runs smoothly and no additional information is needed from you.

1. Lender Sends Loan Details to the School

The lender forwards your loan information to your school for certification. This includes details you’ve submitted during your application, like your personal information, enrollment information, and the loan amount requested.

2. School Reviews Loan Details

During this step, your school will certify that your enrollment details are correct, the estimated COA for the enrollment period, and how much aid you are receiving during the period.

Private student loan amounts can’t exceed a student’s COA, minus existing financial aid. If your loan details are correct and the amount is within the unfunded COA gap, the school can certify your loan with no changes.

Alternatively, the school can certify your loan with changes, either to reduce the loan amount or correct your enrollment information, if needed. It can also deny the loan certification, which might happen if it can’t verify that you’re enrolled or you already have sufficient financial aid to cover your COA.

Recommended: How To Apply for Student Loans

3. Your Lender Provides a Final Loan Disclosure

Your lender will notify you when your student loan certification is complete. At this time, it will provide you and your student loan cosigner, if applicable, with the final loan disclosure.

If your loan amount was lowered by your school, this is where you’ll see the new amount outlined in the updated disclosure agreement.

4. “Right-to-Cancel” Waiting Period

After the borrower has signed the final loan disclosure, lenders are not allowed to disburse funds right away. Federal law requires a waiting period of three business days after the lender sends you the final disclosure.

This is another layer of borrower protection that gives you time to cancel the loan, if desired, with no penalty.

5. Lender Disburses Loan Funds

After the waiting period expires, the lender can send certified student loan disbursements directly to your school, on the date requested by your institution.

How long school certification takes for a loan varies by school. Generally, it can take up to five weeks for schools to complete student loan certification, but sometimes it’s longer.

Additionally, loan certification is often done in the weeks before the start of classes. Enrollment status can change at the last minute, as when a student drops out or reduces their course load. The timing helps schools process certifications based on the most current information.

Is There Anything Student Borrowers Can Do to Hurry Along the Certification Process?

It’s true that the loan certification process can be lengthy. But there’s not much that can be done to hasten it. The best that student borrowers can do is to stay on top of emails and account notifications from their lender, informing them of status updates and next steps.

What Happens if a School Doesn’t Certify That You Are a Student?

If your school doesn’t certify your enrollment status, your lender can’t legally disburse the loan funds to your school. At best, this results in payment delays as you sort things out with your financial aid office. At worst, it halts disbursement entirely, if your school can’t certify that you are, in fact, an enrolled student.

What to Do if It Is the School’s Error

If you believe a mistake has been made on your student loan certification, contact your financial aid department immediately. Find out what the school needs from you to certify your enrollment and loan.

Additionally, ask what will happen to your enrolled courses while you figure out a resolution. The last thing you want is to get dropped from your classes.

What to Do if It Is the Student’s Error

Student loan certification might be in limbo because of an oversight on your part. This can come up, for example, if you forget to enroll in classes.

If you’re in this situation, reach out to your school’s admissions and records department, or your degree program’s department, for guidance about what you need to do. Make sure to note that you are waiting on private student loan certification needed for disbursement.

The Takeaway

The loan certification process can feel like another hurdle to overcome in financing your education. However, it’s a step that’s meant to protect student borrowers and keep you aware of your rights. The process and intent of certification are different for private student loans and federal student loans. If you do not get certified, don’t panic. Discuss the issue with your school to find out if the error is yours or the school’s, and take immediate steps to resolve it.

If you’ve exhausted your aid options and need additional funds to pay for school, consider a SoFi private student loan. Eligible borrowers can borrow up to their school’s cost of attendance, and there are no fees at all. Checking your interest rate online takes just minutes.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


Read more
TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender