Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, explained


President Biden is forging a new path to reduce or eliminate federal student loan balances for tens of millions of borrowers, holding firm to a campaign promise to ease the burden of college debt.

The proposed forgiveness plan announced Monday is an alternative to the sweeping $400 billion debt relief program that Biden announced in 2022 and the Supreme Court blocked last summer. Since that court defeat, the Biden administration has worked through a negotiated rulemaking process to craft a regulation that achieves large-scale debt cancellation, albeit with a much more targeted approach than the last plan.

The Education Department will release a draft rule on the forgiveness plan to solicit public comment in the coming months. But the Biden administration is releasing more details of how the proposal will accomplish the president’s goal of sweeping debt reduction.

What does Biden’s student loan relief plan do?

The new plan will expand federal student loan relief to several categories of borrowers. It will eliminate up to $20,000 in accrued interest for borrowers who owe far more than they originally borrowed because of unpaid interest. Borrowers could get all of their interest wiped away if they are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and have an annual income under $120,000 for an individual or under $240,000 for couples. The White House estimates that 25 million people will benefit from this feature of the new plan, including 23 million who could have their unpaid interest completely forgiven.

Once the plan is finalized, another 2 million borrowers could automatically have their loans canceled because they’re eligible for existing forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but never applied. The proposed plan will also automatically cancel the loans of people who have been in repayment on undergraduate loans for at least 20 years, and graduate loans for 25 years or more. It would also forgive the debt of borrowers who attended career training programs that led to high debt loads or low earnings.

A fifth category of borrowers would receive debt relief if they are facing hardships, such as high medical debt or child-care expenses, that prevent them from repaying their student loans. The specific terms of each category will be fleshed out in the formal rule due out soon.

The administration plans to roll out the interest education feature this fall, and the remaining features could be implemented next summer.

Who is eligible for student loan forgiveness?

The majority of Americans with federally held student loans will qualify for some level of relief under the new plan.

How is this different from the plan rejected by the Supreme Court?

President Biden’s 2022 student loan forgiveness plan relied on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (Heroes) Act of 2003, which lets the secretary of education “alleviate the hardship that federal student loan recipients may suffer as a result of national emergencies.” The president argued that the coronavirus pandemic created economic hardship for borrowers that required government intervention of up to $20,000 in loan cancellation for 40 million borrowers. But in striking down the debt plan, a majority of Supreme Court justices said the Heroes statute was not designed for policy with such a “staggering” economic impact.

This time, instead of the 2003 law, the Biden administration anchored its new plan with authority in the 1965 Higher Education Act, which allows the education secretary to compromise, waive or release loans under certain circumstances. Critics of Biden’s plan question whether the 1965 law permits expansive debt relief envisioned by the administration, and note that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his opinion last year that the act can be used to cancel debt in “certain limited circumstances.”

The Biden administration said the new plan is composed of interventions that address specific circumstances in ways that are covered by the Higher Education Act. The president is confident he is acting within the scope of the law, according to the White House.


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