Getting Out of Default Through Fresh Start: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
On April 26, 2022, the Department announced Fresh Start, a temporary program to eliminate some of the negative consequences of default and provide borrowers with an opportunity to get out of default. Fresh Start is a time-limited initiative set to expire one year after the end of the payment pause. The Department is still working on implementing Fresh Start, and it plans to reach out to borrowers with more information about the program.
Below are some common questions related to the Fresh Start Program.
1. Are my defaulted loans eligible for Fresh Start?
The vast majority of defaulted federal student loans are eligible for Fresh Start benefits. Eligible loan types include Perkins loans held by ED, Direct Loans, and most Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans (both ED-held and commercially-held).
However, a small minority of defaulted federal student loans may not be eligible for Fresh Start. Loans that are ineligible for Fresh Start include: Health Education Assistance Loan (HEAL) loans, defaulted Perkins loans held by schools, and loans placed with the U.S. Department of Justice for ongoing litigation.
Additionally, Fresh Start only applies to loans that entered default before the payment pause (i.e., before March 2020). Any loans that go into default after the end of the pause on student loan payments will not be eligible. FFEL loans that defaulted during the COVID-19 payment pause will be taken out of default automatically, and borrowers will not have to request a Fresh Start for such loans.
If borrowers are unsure about their eligibility, they should contact either the Default Resolution Group (DRG) or their Guarantee Agency (GA).
2. What Fresh Start benefits do borrowers have to request?
Some Fresh Start benefits, such as the 1-year additional pause on collection activity after the end of the payment pause and temporary restoration of eligibility for financial aid are automatic. However, borrowers will have to take action to have their loans removed from default long-term and transferred to a non-default servicer. If borrowers do not act, then their loans will be back in default, and they will face collection again one year after the payment pause ends.
Additionally, if borrowers want to participate in an income-driven repayment plan (IDR), then they will have to provide income information to enroll. IDR plan could offer monthly payments as low as $0. Fresh Start also restores access to loan forgiveness programs (including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)); and short-term relief options, including deferments and forbearances.
3. What do I need to do to have my loans removed from default under Fresh Start?
The process is simple and can be done over the phone, online, or by mail. Borrowers with eligible Direct Loans or other Department held loans can request the removal of their loans from default by contacting the Default Resolution Group. Borrowers with eligible commercial-FFEL loans should contact their respective Guaranty Agency to have their loans transferred to the Default Resolution Group, which will then remove their loans from default and assign it to a non-default servicer. You can also call the Default Resolution Group at 1-800-621-3115 if you are unsure or do not know which Guaranty Agency holds your loans.
Three Ways to Request a Fresh Start
This process can take less than 10 minutes.
- Online—Go to myeddebt.ed.gov and log in to your account. Borrowers can also create an account if they do not already have one. This is likely the easiest option for most borrowers.
- Phone—Call the Default Resolution Group at 1-800-621-3115 (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, the TTY number is 1-877-825-9923). Borrowers should also call this number if they do not know whether their loan is held by the Default Resolution Group or a Guaranty Agency.
- If the borrower has a commercially-held FFEL loan, they must call their guaranty agency to opt-in to FreshStart.
- Mail—Write to P.O. Box 5609, Greenville, TX 75403. In your letter, include your name, social security number, date of birth, and the following: “I would like to use Fresh Start to bring my loans back into good standing.”
4. What should I do before calling the Default Resolution Group or my Guaranty Agency about Fresh Start?
Before calling, look up your income on your most recent federal tax return (line 11 of IRS Form 1040) so that you can also see if you’re eligible to sign up for an affordable income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. But if you can’t find it or didn’t file taxes, don’t worry—you should still call! If you didn’t have taxable income last year, you may qualify for a $0 payment plan.
5. What should I say when I contact the Default Resolution Group or my Guaranty Agency?
When a borrower first calls in—to either the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency—the first thing they should do is tell the Customer Service Representative that they want to be enrolled in Fresh Start to get out of default. Once the borrower indicates they would like to get a “Fresh Start” on their account, the Default Resolution Group or the Guaranty Agency must begin the process of transferring the account to a non-default servicer. The enrollment process into Fresh Start via phone will take about 10 minutes.
6. How do I enroll in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan?
After the borrower contacts the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency and requests removal from default, the Customer Service Representative will ask the borrower if they are interested in an Income-Driven Repayment plan, which could offer them a lower monthly payment based on their income. If the borrower says yes, the Customer Service Representative will then ask a series of four to five questions related to the borrower’s income and living situation. When the borrower provides their income and living status, the customer service representative should be able to tell the borrower what their monthly payment will be under an IDR plan. However, the borrower will not be immediately placed into an IDR plan. Instead, the customer service representative will record that information and pass it on to the new servicer during the transfer process, which will then enroll the borrower in IDR. That should occur within 30-45 days after the borrower’s first contact. Importantly, borrowers will not have to make payments on their new IDR plan if the payment pause is still in effect.
7. When will I receive notification that my loans have been removed from Default?
After the borrower makes the initial request with Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency, the customer service representative will then begin the process to remove the loan from default and transfer it to a non-default servicer. The entire process, from the initial contact with the Default Resolution Group or Guaranty Agency to the time the borrower gets notification from National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) that their loan has been fully removed from default, should take between 30-45 days. The borrower should contact the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency for a status update if they do not receive a notification within 45 days.
8. How will Fresh Start impact my future options to get out of default? Will it count against my one-time rehabilitation?
Fresh Start will not impact borrowers’ future options to get out of default if they default again. It will not count towards the one-time limit on rehabilitating loans out of default. This means that if a borrower fresh starts on a defaulted loan and then ends up defaulting again, they will still have the ability to rehabilitate out of default if they have not done so prior to the pandemic.
9. Will Fresh Start affect my applications for other relief?
No, Fresh Start won’t affect your applications for other relief. If you use Fresh Start to get out of default, the Department of Education will process most types of discharge applications before transferring your loan to your new non-default servicer. If you have a borrower defense application, that information will be shared with your new servicer.
10. What are helpful resources for borrowers who think Fresh Start is a good option for their student debt situation?
Studentaid.gov should be the first and primary resource for all Fresh Start-related information and updates. The Department keeps all its most up-to-date information on this website. If you have more questions about how Fresh Start impacts you or if you are having problems accessing a Fresh Start on your loans, you may also submit questions to the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman or by using the “contact us” link on the studentaid.gov website.
11. Are the Guaranty Agencies currently honoring Fresh Start requests?
Yes! Guaranty Agencies are currently honoring Fresh Start requests. The Department of Education gave guidance to Guaranty Agencies on Fresh Start in this letter.
12. Is there a downside to a borrower contacting the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency now versus waiting until the Supreme Court rules on Biden’s student debt cancellation plan?
There is really no downside to getting out of default through Fresh Start now. The program is available now, and borrowers are encouraged to contact the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency as soon as possible.
In August 2022, President Biden announced a one-time debt relief plan to cancel up to $20,000 for eligible borrowers earning less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for spouses filing jointly). The debt relief plan is currently under review by the Supreme Court. Enrollment in Fresh Start will not affect a borrower’s eligibility for the one-time debt relief.
13. Will borrowers with defaulted Spousal Consolidation Loans need BOTH spouses to “opt-in” to Fresh Start benefits?
No. Fresh Start will only require one party on the loan to opt in.
14. How should a borrower whose loan account still remains with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) inquire about the Fresh Start program?
First, the borrower should contact the Default Resolution Group. The Default Resolution Group may have information that the account has already been deemed to be eligible for Fresh Start. If the account is not eligible, borrowers should contact the FSA Ombudsman Group about their options for getting out of default.
15. Is Fresh Start available to incarcerated borrowers? If so, how can they take advantage of the program?
Yes, Fresh Start is available to incarcerated borrowers. The Department of Education is in the process of rolling out an additional telephone number that incarcerated borrowers can use to contact the Default Resolution Group or their Guaranty Agency to get their loan out of default. Additionally, incarcerated borrowers will have the option (available to all borrowers) to send a written request through the mail. In their communication, the borrower should inform the Department that they are incarcerated because the Department does not have that information on file.