Refinancing 17 March 2023

How to Get Student Loans Forgiven after 20 Years and Loans that Qualify

If you have any outstanding balance on your student loan, it may be forgiven after 20 years. Keep reading to find out more about the eligibility requirements.

Loan forgiveness after 20 years

By the time they graduate college, most students in the United States have a lot of debt that follows them well into old age and interferes with their quality of life. Loan forgiveness is an essential topic for all students. However, many need to be made aware of the options available. One point of confusion is this: Can student loans be fully forgiven after 20 years? Yes, it is possible – but only under certain circumstances. 

There is a 20-Year Rule under which, after 20 years, student loans are forgiven based on certain circumstances. This blog talks about what the 20-Year rule is, how to get it including its eligibility and application, and loans that qualify for forgiveness.

What is the 20-Year Rule?

The 20-year rule is when any leftover debt you have is fully forgiven after 20 years of making payments. It applies only to people with certain federal student loans under Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans. The 20-year rule is part of the student loan forgiveness initiative to make student loans more manageable.

20-Year Rule Pros & Cons

It’s important to be aware of the benefits, as well as the potential drawbacks that come with student loan forgiveness and the 20-year rule.


  • Reduces financial strain

Most students in the United States graduate with a lot of debt that they cannot pay well into their old age. Eliminating student debts minimizes the financial strain student debts cause, especially in middle-income households.

  • Reduces the racial wealth gap

Black and Hispanic students take out more loans than white students and are less likely to finish paying their debt within the repayment period. The 20-year rule will reduce the financial restraint on the monthly budget of these two groups, helping them to live more comfortably. 

  • Enables more people to reach essential milestones 

Student debt prevents many people from accomplishing goals, such as buying a house or investing in a retirement plan. Eliminating student loans will allow more financial freedom and the opportunity for better savings plans.


  • It’s expensive to cancel 

The 20-year forgiveness rule will cost the U.S. Government billions of dollars. As a result, it is a solution that will be temporary.

  • The 20-year rule is not a fair solution 

Many people work multiple jobs at the expense of their health to repay their student debts as fast as possible. Implementing the 20-year rule leaves out this group of people. 

  • Canceling student loans may increase the cost of tuition

Educational institutions may take advantage of the student loan forgiveness plan to increase the cost of tuition. The more people borrow, the higher the subsidies.

Eligibility Requirements

Student loan forgiveness programs are designed to cater to various needs and thus have different eligibility requirements. Knowing the eligibility requirements for the 20-year rule is essential to avoid missing opportunities that will make your student loans more manageable and, in some cases, disappear entirely.

Must be under the income-driven repayment plan (IDR)

If after 20 years you want to get your student loan forgiven, you must have been making payments on your loan for 20 years under the IDR plan. Twenty years of payments equal 240 qualifying monthly payments. 

Must have a direct loan

Direct loans issued by the U.S. Department of Education qualify for the 20-year loan forgiveness rule. These loans include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, as well as Direct PLUS Loans.

How to Apply for 20 year student loan forgiveness?

Completing the application for student loan forgiveness is a simple process:

Begin by filling out a form on that may include the following information:

  • Name
  • Social Security number
  • Date of birth
  • Phone number
  • Email address

After filling out the form, you will be asked to provide an electronic signature and check a box certifying that the information provided is correct and not misleading before submitting. To ensure that the 20-year forgiveness rule applies, you must be enrolled in one of the IDR plans and not the Standard Repayment Plan. Also, remember to always make the correct payment at the right time.

Loans that Qualify for Forgiveness After 20 Years

The 20-year rule is one such instance where student loans can be forgiven. In order to access student loan forgiveness, one has to be aware of the type of loans that qualify:

Federal Student Loans

Student loan forgiveness is one of the benefits that come with federal student loans. There are multiple student loan forgiveness programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, and IDR Forgiveness.

Below are the types of federal student loans that are eligible for student loan forgiveness after 20 years.

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct subsidized loans are available to undergraduate college students based on financial need and do not accumulate interest while the student is in school or during the grace period after graduation. This is because the government pays for it. The 20-year rule applies to students with direct subsidized loans as long as they are under one of the IDR plans. 

Direct Unsubsidized Loans 

Direct Unsubsidized Loans, on the other hand, are not need-based and are available to undergraduate and graduate students. Since they are not subsidized, their interest accrues when the student is in college and during the grace period. Undergraduate students with any IDR plans are eligible to have their loans eliminated after 20 years. For graduate students under the Revised Pay-As-You-Earn (REPAYE) plan, on the other hand, the timeframe is extended to 25 years. 

Direct PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS loans apply to graduate and professional students, as well as parents with dependent undergraduate students. All the IDR plans apply to Direct PLUS loans, and the forgiveness period is extended to 25 years for graduate students paying their Direct PLUS loans under the REPAYE plan. Parents with Direct PLUS loans must consolidate their loans for the 20-year loan forgiveness rule to apply. 

Are Private Student Loans Eligible For 20-Year Student Loan Forgiveness?

Private student loans are not eligible for loan forgiveness. Private lenders fully control how they design their loans, eligibility requirements, and repayment terms and are less likely to cancel loans. Alternatives to student loan forgiveness for private student loans include loan refinancing and consolidation. Student loan refinancing is when a lender pays your existing loans in exchange for one new loan. Students refinance their loans hoping to get much lower interest rates, but this heavily depends on their credit score. There are circumstances where you have federal loans but still don’t qualify for student loan forgiveness – this is when consolidation will be most beneficial. Student loan consolidation is combining all your deferral loans into one new loan.

Useful Tips to Get Loans Forgiven after 20 years

Keep in mind the following tips to ensure that the process of getting student loans forgiven after 20 years is a smooth one.

Stay organized 

Keep a record of all your loans, their amounts, and repayment terms, especially the interest rate and loan term. The interest rate determines your monthly loan payments, so it is crucial to keep track of it.

Submit all paperwork

Missing paperwork is the main reason why a number of loan forgiveness applications get rejected. Make sure you have all your documents in one place and in the correct format to ensure that everything is submitted by the deadline.

Track your payments 

It is essential to record monthly loan payments to ensure that all payments have been successful. Tracking your payments will also help you see how long the payments need to continue in order to qualify for loan forgiveness. 

Student Loan Forgiveness Alternatives

Take a look at the following options available for student loan forgiveness, where the 20-year rule applies.

Student Loan Forgiveness PlanEligibility
(% of discretionary income
Repayment terms
Income-Driven Repayment Forgiveness (IDR)If consolidated:

  • Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • FFEL PLUS Loans
  • FFEL Consolidation Loans
  • Federal Perkins Loans
15% of discretionary incomeMin: 20 years

Max: 25 years

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
  • Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Direct PLUS Loans.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
15% of discretionary incomeMin: 10 years

Max: 20 years

Teacher Loan Forgiveness
  • Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans
  • Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans
10% of discretionary incomeMax: 10 years
Military Service Loan Forgiveness
  • Direct Subsidized Loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  • Direct PLUS Loans.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans
15% of discretionary incomeMin: 10 years

Max: 20 years

Income-Driven Repayment Forgiveness (IDR)

Income-driven Repayment Forgiveness was created to help people who could not afford to repay their student loans under the ten-year standard repayment plan that all borrowers automatically get until they enroll in alternative repayment plans. The IDR plan calculates your monthly loan payments based on your discretionary income and family size. IDR plans include Revised Pay-As-You-Earn (REPAYE), Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), and income-Based Repayment plans (IBR), and have a repayment term between 20 to 25 years, at the end of which you may be eligible for 20-year loan forgiveness. 

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) applies to full-time employees of non-profit organizations or government agencies. To be eligible, you must make 120 qualifying payments under a fitting repayment plan, including IDR and standard repayment. The 20-year rule applies to PSLF. 

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Teacher Loan Forgiveness targets teachers who worked full-time in low-income elementary and secondary schools for five full academic years. To qualify, you must have deferral direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans. You may get up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness if you qualify. 

Military Service Loan Forgiveness

Military Service Loan Forgiveness is a program available to qualifying borrowers who have made 120 on-time payments while in qualifying military service, which must be under its own qualifying repayment plan. It offers the potential of up to 100% loan forgiveness and has a 20-year rule in place, where any remaining debt after 20 years will be forgiven. This program is available for different types of federal loans, and qualifications vary depending on the type of loan. 


Do student loans ever expire?

No, student loans don’t expire. However, depending on the type of loans you have, they can be fully forgiven after 20 years.

Are student loans forgiven after 20 years?

Yes, in some cases. It is a part of student loan forgiveness and applies only to people with certain federal student loans under Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans.

Which loan repayment plan forgives remaining debt after 20 years of payments?

Direct Federal Loans that are issued by the U.S. Education Department including Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans are eligible for forgiveness after 20 years of payments. You must be under the income-driven repayment plan (IDR) to qualify.

What happens if I don’t pay my student loans?

Not paying your loans every month earns you default status. Default status negatively affects your credit, impacting your ability to take out more loans.

Can student loans be forgiven if unemployed?

For your loans to be forgiven, you must have been making 240 monthly payments for twenty years. If you are unemployed, the best option would be to apply for a deferment for a maximum of three years while you find a job.

Final Thoughts

Student loans have the potential to be forgiven by using the 20-year rule, which is a valuable tool when managed properly. Although not the perfect solution, the rule brings relief to borrowers, helping them to escape their debts and financially start afresh. Despite its complexity at times, applying the 20-year rule to your student loan forgiveness programs might be the best way to get your loans discharged after 20 years. Its online process does not require Federal Student Aid ID. By conducting thorough research on the available forgiveness options, you can help increase your chances of getting student loan forgiveness.