Curious borrowers crashed the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid website and jammed up the website and phone lines of Nelnet, one of the main federal loan service providers, on Wednesday following President Biden’s announcement about student loan forgiveness.
Nelnet’s outages continued into the evening, according to Downdetector and IsitDownRightNow, another tracking site. Nelnet said in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that it was “experiencing extremely high website and phone traffic.”
It directed borrowers to StudentAid.gov, which was also experiencing issues, saying: “We know you have questions on student loan cancellation. The Department of Education determines eligibility.”
Biden’s plan will forgive up to $10,000 of federal loans for people making less than $125,000 a year, or less than $250,000 for married couples who file jointly, and forgive up to $20,000 if they had received a Pell Grant. He also announced that federal student loan repayments would be paused “one final time” through Dec. 31.
The spikes in online traffic represented the magnitude of the announcement. More than 45 million borrowers hold $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt, according to the White House.
The Biden administration estimated that as many as 43 million of those borrowers would benefit from the loan forgiveness, with about 20 million having their balances erased completely.
Borrowers checking to see whether the relief had hit immediately — if they were able to access their accounts — were sure to be disappointed, as the process has only just begun. According to the Federal Student Aid website, the Biden administration “will launch a simple application in the coming weeks” for the majority of borrowers, whose income data was not readily available to the Education Department.
The plan is also likely to face legal opposition, experts say. Some doubt had been raised over whether Biden had the legal authority to make such a decision, and Republicans have criticized the forgiveness as unfair and a political ploy ahead of the midterm elections.