What Is Total and Permanent Disability Discharge?

If you are permanently disabled, you can apply to have your federal student loans discharged. According to a recent NPR report, about 365,000 Americans are potentially eligible for a disability-based discharge of their student debt but haven’t applied for relief. This article will offer some basic information about the discharge process for federal student loan borrowers with a permanent disability.

What does “permanently disabled” mean? 

Total and Permanent disability (TPD) is a term used in the law and the insurance industry which means that an individual is no longer able to work due to injuries. As a general rule, anyone who receives Social Security disability benefits is likely to be eligible for a Total and Permanent Disability discharge of federal student loans.

To qualify for TPD discharge, an individual must be unable to work because of a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for at least five years.

How long does the process take?

Your application should be reviewed within 30 days. While your application is processing, you won’t be required to make payments on your loans. If your application is approved, your loans will be discharged.

Depending on how you proved qualification for TPD, this discharge may be conditional. If this is the case, you’ll be subject to a three-year monitoring period to ensure you remain eligible. During this time you will have to send documentation to the Department of Education to prove you are indeed still permanently disabled and to show your income has not risen to a level where you would be able to pay back the debt.

It is vital that during this time you send any requested information to the Department of Education in a timely manner. Failure to do so could mean having your loans reinstated (starting payments again) or forcing you to go through an appeals process.

If you successfully complete the three-year income monitoring period, the Department of Education will officially discharge your loans. You may be refused a conditional discharge, in which case you may have to provide additional documentation or file an appeal of the decision.

These discharges are not taxed on a federal level, but they may be taxed on a state level depending on your state. 

How do I apply for the program?

You can apply and find more information about the program through Nelnet, the student loan servicer that manages disability discharge for the Department of Education. 

You begin the process by filling out an application and attaching any relevant documentation needed. If additional documentation is needed, Nelnet or the Department of Education will be in contact with you via mail.

If you are initially refused eligibility, you may be able to appeal the decision.


If you are unable to earn income due to a physical or mental impairment, you may be eligible for a disability discharge of your federal student loans. To apply and for more information, visit the Department of Education’s disability discharge website by Nelnet.