• Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    About Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

    Who is Nelnet?

    We are the Nelnet Total and Permanent Disability Servicer. We assist the U.S. Department of Education (called “the Department” throughout this site) in administering the total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge process. We manage this site and communicate with borrowers on behalf of the Department concerning TPD discharge requests.

    The terms "borrower," “you,” and “your” are used throughout this site to refer to any TPD applicant, including individuals who are applying for discharge of a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program service obligation. The terms “we,” “us,” and “our” are used to refer to the Nelnet Total and Permanent Disability Servicer.

    Has there been a change to the TPD discharge process?

    Yes. The information on this site has been updated to reflect changes to the TPD discharge process that were made by final regulations issued on November 1, 2012 (PDF, Text). These changes apply to all TPD discharge applications received on or after July 1, 2013.

    If your TPD discharge application was received before July 1, 2013, your application will continue to be processed in accordance with the procedures that were in effect prior to the regulatory changes. Those procedures are described on the application that you completed.

    What is TPD discharge?

    A TPD discharge relieves you from having to repay a William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loan, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loan, and/or Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program loan or complete a TEACH Grant service obligation on the basis of your total and permanent disability. Before your federal student loans or TEACH Grant service obligation can be discharged, you must provide information to the Department to show that you are totally and permanently disabled. The Department will evaluate the information and determine if you qualify for a TPD discharge.

    If you think you might qualify and want to apply for a TPD discharge, you must provide the information the Department needs to make a determination by completing a TPD discharge application and gathering supporting documentation that shows you are totally and permanently disabled. Depending on your situation, you will either attach the supporting documentation to your application or have your physician complete Section 4 of your application. Once everything is complete, you’ll mail the discharge application and, if required, the supporting documentation to us.

    How do I show that I am totally and permanently disabled?

    You can show that you are totally and permanently disabled in one of the following three ways:

    1 – If you are a veteran, you can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showing that the VA has determined that you are unemployable due to a service-connected disability;

    2 – If you are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you can submit a Social Security Administration (SSA) notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits stating that your next scheduled disability review will be within 5 to 7 years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination; or

    3 – You can submit certification from a physician that you are totally and permanently disabled. Your physician must certify that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:

    • Can be expected to result in death;
    • Has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months; or
    • Can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.

    Each option for showing that you are totally and permanently disabled has specific requirements for the supporting documentation that you must submit with your TPD discharge application. To review the supporting documentation requirements, click here.

    What should I do if I want to apply for a TPD discharge?

    You should let us know that you want to apply. You can do this by phone or email. Call us seven days a week at 888.303.7818 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern) or email us at DisabilityInformation@Nelnet.net. Another way to let us know that you want to apply is to start your TPD discharge application online. If you want to start your application online, click here.

    When you let us know that you want to apply for a TPD discharge, we will take the following actions:

    • First, we’ll provide you with the information you need to apply for a TPD discharge.
    • Second, we’ll review our records and identify your federal student loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation that may qualify for a TPD discharge.
    • Finally, we’ll contact your loan holders and instruct them to suspend collection activity on your loans for a period of up to 120 days. This means that during the 120-day period you will not be required to make payments on your loans.

    The suspension of collection activity will give you time to complete the TPD discharge application and return it to us for processing. If we do not receive your application within the 120-day period, your loan holders will resume collection activity on your loans, and you will again be required to make payments. 

    I want to apply for a TPD discharge, but I am also considering consolidating my loans or I am already in the process of consolidating my loans. What should I do?  

    If you have not yet submitted an application for a consolidation loan, you should not do so until after you have submitted your TPD discharge application and we have made a determination of your eligibility for TPD discharge. If your application is apporved and your loan(s) are discharged, you will no longer have any loans to consolidate. If your application is denied, you can then submit an application for a consolidation loan.

    If you have already submitted a consolidation loan application and it is being processed, you should contact the federal servicer that is processing your application for a consolidation loan and tell the servicer to suspend processing until after you have submitted your TPD discharge application and we have made a determination of you eligibility for TPD discharge. If your application is approved, you can advise the federal loan servicer to cancel your consolidation request. If your application is denied, you can instruct the federal loan servicer to move forward with the consolidation process.

    Requesting a TPD Discharge

    How do I obtain a TPD Discharge application?

    To obtain a TPD discharge application, you may choose one of the following options:

    • Start TPD Discharge Application Online – This option allows you to start your TPD discharge application online. We’ll use your answers to specific questions to enter information into the application and then provide you with a partially completed application. We’ll provide the partially completed application to you in a PDF file that you can download and/or print.

      After you print your partially completed TPD discharge application, you’ll need to complete Section 3 of the application. Next, you’ll either attach your supporting documentation to your application or have a physician complete Section 4 of your application. Finally, you’ll mail your discharge application and, if required, your supporting documentation to us.

      To start your TPD discharge application online, click here.
    • Download and/or Print Blank TPD Discharge Application – This option allows you to download and/or print a blank PDF of the TPD discharge application. You can choose to open the PDF and print the blank application or to save the PDF to your computer and then print it. In either case, you’ll need to complete sections 1 through 3 of the blank application. Next, you’ll either attach the supporting documentation to your application or have a physician complete Section 4 of your application. Finally, you’ll mail the discharge application and, if required, your supporting documentation to us.

      To download and/or print a blank TPD discharge application, click here.
    • Request TPD Discharge Application by Phone or Email – This option allows you to contact us by phone or email and ask that we send you a paper TPD discharge application through the mail. After you receive the blank paper application, you’ll complete sections 1 through 3. Next, you’ll either attach the supporting documentation to your application or have a physician complete Section 4 of your application. Finally, you’ll mail the discharge application and, if required, your supporting documentation to us.

      To request a TPD discharge application by phone or email, call us seven days a week at 888.303.7818 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern) or email us at DisabilityInformation@Nelnet.net.

    Where do I send my completed TPD discharge application?


    When your TPD discharge application is complete, mail your application and, if required, your supporting documentation to us at the following address:

    U.S. Department of Education
    P.O. Box 87130
    Lincoln, NE 68501-7130

    Can my representative apply on my behalf and assist me throughout the process?

    Yes, your representative can complete and submit your TPD discharge application on your behalf, and assist you throughout the discharge process. However, you and your representative must complete an Applicant Representative Designation form. We must receive and process this form before we can work with your representative. You must submit this form even if you have a power of attorney for your representative.

    To download and/or print the Applicant Representative Designation form, click here.

    My federal student loans are with several loan holders. Do I need to complete more than one TPD discharge application?

    No. You only need to submit one TPD discharge application to cover all of your federal student loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation. When we receive your discharge application, we’ll contact the holders of all of your federal student loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation and keep them informed throughout the process.

    I currently receive Social Security disability benefits. Does that mean I automatically qualify for a TPD discharge of my federal student loans?

    Not necessarily. The Department’s standard for TPD discharge purposes may differ from disability standards used by other federal agencies (such as the SSA) or by state agencies. Eligibility for Social Security disability benefits does not mean you are automatically eligible for TPD discharge. You can demonstrate your total and permanent disability through the use of your SSA notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits only if the award statement shows that your next scheduled disability review will be within 5 to 7 years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination.

    If your SSA notice of award does not indicate when your next scheduled disability review will occur, you can obtain this information by calling your local SSA office or by calling 800.772.1213 and requesting a Benefits Planning Query. The Benefits Planning Query will show when your next review is scheduled to occur.

    What types of doctors may certify my total and permanent disability on the TPD discharge application?

    If you will show the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled through a physician’s certification, only a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or osteopathy (D.O.) licensed to practice in the United States (including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau) may certify your total and permanent disability.

    Other medical professional who are not eligible to certify your total and permanent disability include: chiropractors, herbalists, physician assistants (PAs), registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), Ph.D.s, and residents in training who are not yet fully licensed M.D.s or D.O.s. A podiatrist or psychologist cannot certify the TPD discharge application, unless he or she is also an M.D. or a D.O.

    We cannot process TPD discharge applications that are signed by anyone other than a licensed M.D. or D.O.

    I live outside the United States. Can I still apply for a TPD discharge?

    Yes. However, you will need to have your TPD discharge application completed by a physician who is licensed in the United States. Your local physician may work with a physician in the United States to help you apply for discharge.

    How Disability Is Determined

    What happens after I mail my TPD discharge application?

    After we receive your TPD discharge application, we will take the following actions:

    • First, we’ll contact the holders of your federal student loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation and instruct them to suspend collection activity on your loans while we determine your eligibility for discharge. This means that you will not be required to make payments on your loans while we evaluate your discharge application.
    • Second, we’ll review the TPD discharge application that you submit along with any supporting documentation to ensure that the application is complete, and that it includes information that indicates you may qualify for a discharge.
    • Finally, once we have received all required documentation and have determined that you appear to meet the eligibility requirements for a TPD discharge, we’ll forward your request on to the Department for a final decision.

    What happens if the Department approves my TPD discharge request?

    This will depend on how you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled.

    If you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled based on the VA’s determination of unemployability due to a service-connected disability or service-connected disabilities, the following will occur:

    • We’ll notify you and the holders of your loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation of the approval.
    • We’ll instruct the loan holders to return any loan payments received on or after your disability date to the person who made the payments. For this purpose, your “disability date” is the effective date of the VA’s determination that you were unemployable due to a service‑connected disability.
    • After being notified that the Department has approved your discharge request, your loan holders will discharge your loans.

    If you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled based on SSA documentation or physician certification and the Department approves your TPD discharge request, the following will occur:

    • We’ll notify you and the holders of your loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation of the approval.
    • We’ll instruct the loan holders to return any loan payments received after your disability date to the person who made the payments. For this purpose, your “disability date” is the date we received the documentation of your SSA notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits, or the date the physician certified your discharge application, depending on the type of documentation you provided to show that you are totally and permanently disabled.
    • After being notified that the Department has approved your discharge request, your loan holders will transfer your loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation to us for discharge. You will then be subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period that begins on the date the discharge is approved. There are requirements that you must meet during the post-discharge monitoring period. Click here for detailed information regarding the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period requirements.
    • We will reinstate your obligation to repay your discharged loans or complete your discharged TEACH Grant service obligation if at any time during the 3-year monitoring period you do not meet the requirements of the post-discharge monitoring period.

    What happens if the Department denies my TPD discharge request?

    This will depend on how you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled.

    If you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled based on the VA’s determination of unemployability due to a service-connected disability or service-connected disabilities, the following will occur:

    • We’ll notify you of the denial by mail.
    • We’ll instruct your loan holders to resume collection activity on your loans.
    • The letter that we send will include the reason for the denial and information on how you may request a re-evaluation of your application by submitting additional documentation from the VA.

    If you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled based on SSA documentation or physician certification, the following will occur:

    • We’ll notify you of the denial by mail.
    • We’ll instruct your loan holders to resume collection activity on your loans.
    • The letter that we send will include the reason for the denial and instructions on what you can do if you have questions about the basis of the decision or believe there is other information that the Department should consider.

    Note: If you receive a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant before the Department grants a discharge, the Department will deny your discharge request and instruct your loan holders to resume collection activity on your loans.

    What happens to my federal student loans and/or TEACH Grant service obligation if the Department denies my TPD discharge request?  

    If you do not qualify for a TPD discharge, you will again be responsible for repaying your loans or completing your TEACH Grant service obligation. Click here for detailed information regarding loan repayment options available to you.

    • We’ll instruct your loan holders to resume collection activity on your loans; your loan holders will contact you to let you know the date you must resume making payments on your loans.
    • Your loans will return to the status they were in before you applied for a TPD discharge, as though you had not applied for discharge; for example, if you were in default on your loans before you applied for a TPD discharge, the loans will be returned to default status.
    • Interest that accrued on your loans while your TPD application was being reviewed may be added to the principal balance of your loans (this is called capitalization).

    If the Department determines that I am not eligible for a TPD discharge, can I appeal the determination?

    If you have questions about the basis for the Department’s decision or believe there is other information that should be considered, please contact us to discuss. You can call us seven days a week at 888.303.7818 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern), or you can email us at DisabilityInformation@Nelnet.net.

    If you provide us with additional information that supports your eligibility for discharge within one year of the date of your denial letter, we will reevaluate your application for a TPD discharge without requiring you to submit a new application.

    If you do not provide us with additional information that supports your eligibility for discharge within one year of the date of your denial letter, but you still want the Department to reevaluate your eligibility for discharge, you must submit a new TPD discharge application.

    I have a partial disability that limits my ability to work. I am able to work, although on a very limited basis. Am I eligible for TPD discharge?

    Maybe. As explained earlier, there are three ways you can show the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled.

    1 – If you are a veteran, you can submit documentation from the VA showing that the VA has determined that you are unemployable due to a service-connected disability;

    2 – If you are receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, you can submit an SSA notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits stating that your next scheduled disability review will be within 5 to 7 years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination; or

    3 – You can submit certification from a physician that you are totally and permanently disabled. Your physician must certify that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that:

    • Can be expected to result in death;
    • Has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months; or
    • Can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.

    If you will show that you are totally and permanently disabled by submitting a physician’s certification, the physician will need to certify that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity is defined as a level of work performed for pay or profit that involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or both. If your condition allows you to work at a level that would be considered substantial gainful activity, you cannot be considered totally and permanently disabled.

    I have a disability that prevents me from working in the occupation for which I was trained. Can I get a discharge?

    To be eligible for a TPD discharge, your disability must make you unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity, as defined earlier. If your disability prevents you from working in the occupation for which you were trained, but you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity involving a different type of work, you would not qualify for a TPD discharge.

    How does the Department monitor my earnings from employment?

    If you showed the Department that you are totally and permanently disabled based on SSA documentation or a physician certification and the Department approves your TPD discharge request, you will be subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period that begins on the date the discharge is approved. There are requirements that you must meet during the post-discharge monitoring period.

    One of the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period requirements is that your annual employment earnings cannot exceed the Poverty Guideline amount for a family of two in your state, regardless of your actual family size. The Department will monitor this requirement through your annual completion of a form that documents your earnings from employment. We will send the form to you on the Department’s behalf when it is time for you to complete it.

    For detailed information regarding the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period requirements, click here.

    My employment earnings exceeded the poverty guidelines for a family of two in the calendar year during which I submitted my TPD discharge application, but this was the result of employment that occurred before the date the physician signed my application. What should I do?

    If you are subject to the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period, we will monitor your annual earnings from employment for a 12-month period that begins on the date the Department approved your TPD discharge. This period is different from a calendar year. We will provide the exact dates of the period for which we are requesting earnings information on the form that you will complete annually to document your earnings. If needed, we will assist you in documenting the period during which you earned the income on the form. You may need to supply pay stubs and/or a letter from your employer to verify when you received the earnings.

    I receive disability and/or retirement pay. Will that count as employment earnings?

    No. The Department only considers earnings received from employment. However, in some cases you may be required to provide documentation of the disability/retirement pay to show that the income was not from work.

    Discharge Processing

    How long does the TPD discharge application process take?

    Our review of your TPD discharge application typically takes less than 30 days to complete. However, incomplete discharge applications and, if applicable, the response time of your physician can delay our review process.

    We will notify you in writing if there is a delay in processing your TPD discharge application and let you know what information is needed for us to resume processing.

    How do I know if I will be subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period?

    If you are approved for a TPD discharge based on SSA documentation or a physician’s certification, you will be subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period that begins on the date the discharge is approved.

    If you are approved for a TPD discharge based on a VA determination of unemployability due to a service‑connected disability, you will not be subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period.

    If I’m subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period, what will happen during the monitoring period?

    The Department will monitor specific items to ensure that you continue to qualify for a TPD discharge. These items include your annual earnings from employment, your receipt of new federal student loans, and, if applicable, changes in your SSA determination or review period. You will have responsibilities during this monitoring period.

    The Department will reinstate your obligation to repay your discharged loans or complete your discharged TEACH Grant service obligation if at any time during the 3-year monitoring period:

    • You have annual employment earnings that exceed the Poverty Guideline amount for a family of two in your state, regardless of your actual family size;
    • You receive a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant;
    • A disbursement of a Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant that you received before the discharge date is made, and you do not ensure the return of the full amount of the disbursement within 120 days of the disbursement date; or
    • You receive a notice from the SSA stating that you are no longer totally and permanently disabled, or that your disability review will no longer be the 5-year or 7-year review period indicated in your most recent SSA notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits.

    In addition, during the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period, you must promptly notify or respond to the Department if:

    • 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;
    • There is a change in your address or telephone number;
    • You receive a request to provide the Department with documentation of your annual earnings from employment; or
    • You receive a notice from the SSA that you are no longer totally and permanently disabled, or that your disability review will no longer be the 5-year or 7-year review period indicated in your most recent SSA notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits.

    If the Department grants a TPD discharge of your federal student loans or TEACH Grant service obligation, you will not be eligible to receive a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant in the future unless:

    • You obtain a certification from a physician that you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity; and
    • You sign a statement acknowledging that the new loan or TEACH Grant service obligation cannot be discharged in the future on the basis of any injury or illness present at the time the new loan or TEACH Grant is made, unless your condition substantially deteriorates so that you are again totally and permanently disabled.

    In addition, if you request a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant during the 3-year post‑discharge monitoring period described earlier, you must resume repayment on the previously discharged loans or acknowledge that you are once again subject to the terms of your TEACH Grant service obligation before you can receive the new loan or TEACH Grant.

    If I’m subject to a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period and my obligation to repay my federal student loans or complete my TEACH Grant service obligation must be reinstated, what will happen?

    If your obligation to repay your federal student loans or complete your TEACH Grant service obligation is reinstated under the conditions described earlier, you will again be responsible for repaying your loans or completing your TEACH Grant service obligation. However, you will not be required to pay interest that would have accrued on the loans during the time your loans were discharged due to total and permanent disability.

    If your obligation to repay your federal student loans or complete your TEACH Grant service obligation is reinstated, we will notify you of the reinstatement by U.S. Mail and return your loans to the status that existed at the time you applied for a TPD discharge. The notice of reinstatement will include:

    • The reason(s) for reinstatement
    • An explanation that the first payment due date on the reinstated loans will be no earlier than 60 days after the date of the notification of reinstatement
    • Information on how you may contact the Department if you have questions about the reinstatement or believe that the Department’s determination was based on incorrect information

    Are there any tax implications after approval and discharge of my federal student loans?

    The Department reports the discharge of any loan debt totaling $600.00 or more to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the year that the loan was discharged. If your loans are discharged, we will send you an IRS Form 1099-C that will identify the total amount of your discharged debt. The amount of the discharged debt will be considered income for federal tax purposes and possibly for state tax purposes. You may want to consult with a tax professional to determine how this may affect your personal taxes.

    What happens if I want to return to school and receive new loans after receiving a TPD discharge?

    If the Department grants a TPD discharge of your federal student loans or TEACH Grant service obligation, you will not be eligible to receive a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant in the future unless:

    • You obtain a certification from a physician that you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity; and
    • You sign a statement acknowledging that the new loan or TEACH Grant service obligation cannot be discharged in the future on the basis of any injury or illness present at the time the new loan or TEACH Grant is made, unless your condition substantially deteriorates so that you are again totally and permanently disabled.

    In addition, if you are approved for TPD discharge based on SSA documentation or a physician’s certification, and you request a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant during your 3-year post‑discharge monitoring period, you must resume repayment on the previously discharged loans or acknowledge that you are once again subject to the terms of your TEACH Grant service obligation before you can receive the new loan or TEACH Grant.

     

     
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