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Congress just made it possible for student-loan borrowers who combined their balances with a spouse to separate their debt and receive federal loan forgiveness

Rep. David Price and Sen. Mark Warner
Rep. David Price and Sen. Mark Warner.
  • Congress passed a bill to allow student-loan borrowers with spousal loans to separate their debt.
  • Until now, law prohibited the separation of spousal loans because Congress shuttered the program in 2006.
  • This barred those borrowers from accessing federal benefits like PSLF and broad loan forgiveness.

Student-loan borrowers with spousal loans can finally separate their balances and receive federal debt relief.

Congress shuttered the spousal joint consolidation loan program in 2006, which allowed married couples to combine their student debt balances with the idea that a single payment, with one interest rate, would be a more affordable repayment option. But once that program ended, those borrowers were stuck with the combined balances because law prohibited them from being separated, effectively blocking them from consolidating their debt into federal direct loans and taking advantage of federal relief, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and blanket loan forgiveness.

Over a decade later, those borrowers are finally seeing relief. On Wednesday, the House passed the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act of 2021, which allows those with spousal loans to separate their balances. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. David Price, this legislation will ensure the borrowers no longer have to keep paying off debt with a former partner that was abusive and will ensure that the borrowers that are still together can each apply for federal loan forgiveness.

"They will be immediately able to apply for the severance of their loan," Price told Insider in a Monday interview. "If a couple wants to wants to sever the loans for whatever reason, maybe they want to take advantage of a lower interest rate or maybe one of them is eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, there may be various reasons that apply."

"The critical thing is that this bill also allows a disadvantaged spouse to apply," Price added. "If their spouse is unresponsive, abusive, or economically irresponsible, the spouse can apply for the severance of the loan, where his or her portion of it is assigned."


The bill passed the Senate unanimously in June, but faced a longer path in the House due to opposition from Republican leadership, including top Republican on the House education committee Virginia Foxx. During a Rules Committee discussion on Monday, Foxx said that while she supported what the bill was trying to accomplish, she had concerns with how the bill was worded and did not support the legislation in its current form.

On Tuesday, she even introduced the Simplified Joint Consolidation Separation Act as a counter to the original bill, saying in a statement that it would "help borrowers without handing Washington bureaucrats more control over the nation's student loan programs."

Still, the bill made it through House opposition and now heads to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law. Price noted that the bill is "far from" partisan, with some Republicans sponsoring the legislation, but due to committee leadership pushing back, the bill could not take the same route as the Senate, requiring it to be brought to the House floor through regular order.

The passage of this bill comes at a critical time for student-loan borrowers with spousal debt. They will now be able to apply for the PSLF waiver that expires on October 31, which allows past payments to count toward forgiveness progress, along with taking advantage of Biden's recently announced $20,000 in federal debt cancellation through an application form set to become live in early October.

Insider previously spoke to two couples with spousal loans who spent decades in public service but were prohibited from taking advantage of PSLF — and each of them expressed hopelessness that they would ever be able to get the debt relief they qualified for.

"If divorce allowed us to separate our loans, we would absolutely divorce and then remarry," one borrower said. "Because it's crazy to think, essentially, because you're a married couple, you're now being penalized."

Now, that can change.

"For too long, individuals have been tied to abusive or unresponsive ex-partners through joint student loans," Warner said in a statement. "This legislation offers financial freedom to those who have spent decades unfairly held liable for their former partner's debt. I am thrilled to see the House of Representatives pass this legislation and look forward to getting it in front of President Biden as quickly as possible to start offering relief to borrowers." 

Read the original article on Business Insider

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