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Disability Student Loan Forgiveness Need to Knows

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge Guide
Nancy Bilyeau
Nancy BilyeauUpdated December 3, 2022
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If you’re totally and permanently disabled, you may qualify for a discharge of your federal student loans, which are no longer obliged to repay these loans.You can also be excused from fulfilling your obligations for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant if you are permanently disabled.Read on to learn the requirements for student loan forgiveness for a disability.

What Is Total and Permanent Disability Student Loan Forgiveness?

The total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge program provides complete forgiveness for eligible student loan borrowers who have direct loans, Federal Family Education Loans (FFELs), and federal Perkins loans.These rules were strengthened when, In August 2021, the U.S. Department of Education announced that over 320,000 federal student loan borrowers qualified for complete student loan forgiveness due to total and permanent disability. The new regulation forgave more than $5.8 billion in student loan debt.You can visit for more information on the student loan forgiveness disability, what disabilities qualify for student loan forgiveness, and the Total and Permanent Disability process.

What Is Total and Permanent Disability?

Total permanent disability (TPD) is a condition in which an individual is no longer able to perform their job due to injuries or a disorder or disease and may never be able to work again.It’s important to know that a person will probably not qualify for permanent total disability benefits until the associated medical condition is fixed and stable. As long as there are additional, curative treatment options available, or a doctor thinks you may improve over time, an insurance company will not call a person “permanently and totally disabled.” What disabilities qualify for student loan forgiveness? Some examples of the most common injuries which are considered a permanent disability include:
  • Amputation.
  • Cardiovascular or respiratory disease.
  • Hearing or vision loss.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders.

How Can You Prove that You Are Totally and Permanently Disabled?

To get student loan forgiveness for the disabled, you’ll have to prove your case. You need to qualify for a TPD discharge of student loan repayment, so you must complete and submit a TPD discharge application, along with documentation showing that you meet the Department of Education’s requirements for being considered totally and permanently disabled. The application needs to go to Nelnet, the government contractor responsible for administering the TPD student loan discharge program.You can show that you qualify for a TPD discharge by providing documentation from one of three sources:
  1. Doctor’s Certification
  2. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  3. The Social Security Administration

Doctor's Certification 

You qualify for a TPD discharge by having a physician certify on the TPD discharge application that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment that
  • can be expected to result in death,
  • has lasted for a continuous period of at least 60 months, or
  • can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 60 months.
“Substantial gainful activity” is a level of work performed for pay or profit that involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both.The physician who certifies your TPD discharge application must be a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy/osteopathic medicine (D.O.) who is licensed to practice in the United States.

VA Documentation

If you’re a veteran, you can qualify for a TPD discharge by providing documentation from the VA that shows you have received a VA disability determination because you have a service-connected disability that is 100% disabling, or are totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating.

Social Security Administration Documentation

If you’re eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, you can qualify for a TPD discharge if you provide a copy of your SSA notice of award or Benefits Planning Query showing that your next scheduled disability review will be five to seven years or more from the date of your last SSA disability determination.

Applying for Student Loan Discharge

You need to complete a TPD discharge application and send it, along with any required documentation of your eligibility for discharge, to Nelnet, the TPD discharge servicer. The TPD discharge application applies to all of your federal student loans and TEACH Grant service obligations. Nelnet assists the DOE in administering the TPD discharge process and communicates with borrowers and TEACH Grant recipients on its behalf concerning TPD discharge requests.To learn more about applying for a TPD discharge and to obtain a TPD discharge application, visit the TPD Discharge website at and select "Application Process."

How Long Do You Wait After Applying?

It typically takes less than 30 days to complete the Department of Education’s review of the TPD discharge application. If your discharge application is incomplete or if a physician’s response is held up, it can cause delays in the review process. In the case of a delay, Nelnet will notify you via mail.

Post-Discharge Monitoring 

Your obligation to repay your loans or complete your TEACH Grant service obligation will be reinstated if, at any time during the three-year post-discharge monitoring period, you receive
  • annual earnings from employment that exceed the poverty guideline amount for a family of two in your state, regardless of your actual family size;
  • a new federal student loan under the Direct Loan Program or a new TEACH Grant;
  • another disbursement (payment) of a Direct Loan or a TEACH Grant that was first disbursed (paid out) before your discharge was approved, and the new disbursement has not been returned to the loan holder or (for a TEACH Grant) to DOE within 120 days of the disbursement date; or
  • a notice from the SSA stating that you are no longer disabled, or that your next scheduled disability review will no longer be five to seven years from the date of your last SSA disability determination.

Resources for Those With Disabilities Who Don't Qualify for Discharge

If you don't meet the requirements for a TPD discharge, but you still have a difficulty keeping up with your monthly federal student loan payments because of your disability, there are assistance programs available that can help:
  • Medicare helps cover your medical costs if you have an eligible disability.
  • Medicaid helps cover your medical costs if you have a low income.
  • The Housing Choice Voucher Program, also called Section 8, can help pay part of your rent in an approved rental.

Other Ways of Dealing With Student Loans

In certain situations, you can have your federal student loans forgiven, canceled, or discharged. There are many different student loan forgiveness programs.If you served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or other branch of the U.S. military, you might be able to get help in paying down your student loans. Some military student loan forgiveness programs offer partial assistance toward your student loans, while others will cancel your debt in full. Most federal student loans are eligible for at least one income-driven repayment plan. If your income is low enough, your payment could be as low as $0 per month.

Employer Student Loan Repayment

With student loan balances soaring in recent years, many U.S. companies are adjusting their benefits programs to ease the burden their employees face and make it easier to attract young professionals.There are two ways employers help with student loans. The first method is a direct payment to the employee’s lender, every month for an unlimited or fixed period of time. There is typically a cap on the payment amount.With the second way, the employee pays at least a certain percentage of their income toward their student loans, with the company matching some or all of that amount with a contribution to the individual’s 401(k).

Student Loan Refinancing

When trying to deal with loan payments, you can take a look at federal vs. private student loans.  To take advantage of attractive interest rates and flexibility in repayment time frames, you may choose to refinance your federal student loans with a private loan servicer. The private company pays off the federal loan and begins a new loan with the customer.There are pros and cons to refinancing. By doing so, private loan holders lose out on some benefits available to those with federal student loans. Once the loan is refinanced, it is no longer eligible for federal programs.

The Takeaway

Student loan forgiveness due to disability requires a strict review process. If you can establish total and permanent disability, you can have your federal student loan discharged, which means you no longer have to make payments.Compare student loan refinancing rates with Lantern to see some options in this area. Remember, if you refinance a federal loan, that amount no longer qualifies for government loan forgiveness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which disabilities qualify for student loan discharge?
Can disability payments be garnished to pay back student loans?
What is considered a total and permanent disability for example?
Photo credit: iStock/dragana991

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau writes about student loans, mortgages, car insurance, medical debt and many other finance topics for Lantern. A veteran of the magazine business, she has edited stories on personal finance for Good Housekeeping and DuJour magazines and has written articles for The Wall Street Journal, Readers' Digest, Parade, Town & Country and Lifetime/A&E, among others. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
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