Government Approves Student Loan Forgiveness For 16 Million

Debt relief will only go through if Biden’s student loan relief program survives a Supreme Court battle

A student sits on the step of a university with a laptop.

Xavier Lorenzo/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The White House said more than 16 million people were fully approved for its student loan forgiveness program.
  • The program, which launched in October, was halted by a federal judge in Texas in November and remains paused amid a number of opposing lawsuits.
  • In under a month, 26 million borrowers applied for debt relief.
  • The Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning the plan beginning on Feb. 28.

More than 16 million student loan borrowers have been approved for forgiveness—aid they’ll only get if President Joe Biden’s relief program survives a legal challenge in the Supreme Court next month.

The White House announced last week that the list of "fully approved" applicants had been sent to loan servicers. About 26 million people applied for debt relief on their federally held loans between when applications opened in October 2022 and when lawsuits opposing the program halted the process in November.

The Department of Education has yet to resume accepting applications but is processing those already received while the legal battle unfolds. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case Feb. 28. 

The program would forgive up to $10,000 for borrowers with federal student loans, and up to $20,000 for Pell grants recipients. Individuals making less than $125,000, and families with income below $250,000 would be eligible, meaning 95% of all student loan borrowers would qualify.

Forgiveness is the centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to give financial relief to student loan borrowers. As many as 43 million people would be eligible for some amount of forgiveness under the plan, and almost half would have their loans completely erased, the White House estimates.

Opponents of Biden’s program say that broad debt relief is too expensive and that the extra money in borrowers’ pockets will help stoke inflation—estimates for the total cost vary but go as high as $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Conservatives have also criticized the program on the grounds that it’s unfair to people who paid their student loans on their own.

Various opposition groups launched at least six lawsuits challenging the program, arguing that the Department of Education doesn't have the authority to forgive loans en masse without approval from Congress. A federal judge in Texas struck down the plan in November, prompting the White House to close the Department of Education’s application portal. 

The pause on payments and interest for federally held student loans will continue while the legal battle plays out, ending 60 days after litigation is resolved or after June 30, whichever comes first.

Article Sources
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  1. The White House. "FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Releases New Data Showing 26 Million People in All 50 States Applied or Were Automatically Eligible for One-Time Student Debt Relief."

  2. The White House. "President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most."

  3. Penn Wharton. “The Biden Student Loan Forgiveness Plan: Budgetary Costs and Distributional Impact.”

  4.  Federal Student Aid. “COVID-19 Emergency Relief and Federal Student Aid.”