As Broad Student Loan Relief Hangs in the Balance, Biden Has Already Forgiven $66 Billion

resident Joe Biden delivers remarks on the debt ceiling at the White House on May 09, 2023 in Washington, DC. President Biden spoke following a meeting with Congressional lawmakers as they continue to negotiate raising the debt ceiling to avoid a government default

Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

While President Joe Biden’s controversial plan for broad student loan forgiveness has grabbed headlines, the administration has quietly forgiven $66 billion for 2.2 million borrowers in specific situations. 

That’s according to data released earlier this month, which showed that as of May 8, the Department of Education had forgiven billions for public servants, people allegedly misled by their schools, disabled people, and borrowers whose schools closed down.

The forgiveness doled out so far is modest compared with Biden’s proposal to forgive $10,000 per borrower of federally-held loans, or $20,000 for those who went to school on Pell grants, as long as they made less than $125,000 a year individually or $250,000 for a family. 

It’s also had less than half the financial footprint of the pandemic relief pause in student loan payments and interest. The pause–which started under Trump in 2020 and is set to continue until the fall— has saved borrowers $195 billion, the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated in April. 

Biden’s plan, which is on hold while the Supreme Court considers whether to uphold it or strike it down, would eliminate what the Congressional Budget Office estimated to be $430 billion of the total debt, setting it back to the same level it was in 2015.

Everything put together is enough to put a dent in the $1.6 trillion owed in federal student loans by all borrowers. 

The largest chunk of Biden’s forgiveness given out so far comes from the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, a program established in 2007 that lets public servants have the remaining balances of their loans wiped out if they make payments for 10 years. Biden overhauled the program in 2021, making it far easier to qualify for and granting $42 billion in forgiveness to 615,000 people. 

Another $13.3 billion went to nearly 1 million who filed “borrower defense claims” against mainly for-profit colleges, alleging their schools cheated them, after Biden’s Department of Education stopped fighting against lawsuits by students. On top of that, 469,000 permanently disabled borrowers got $9.8 billion in relief because of new rules, and 107,000 people who went to the now-closed ITT Technical Institute had loans forgiven because their school shut down, for a total of $1.26 billion.

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  1. Department of Education "U.S. Department of Education Announces $42 Billion in Approved Public Service Loan Forgiveness for More Than 615,000 Borrowers Since October 2021"

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

  3. Brookings Institution. "Student loan pause has benefitted affluent borrowers the most, others may struggle when payments resume."

  4. Congressional Budget Office. "Costs of Suspending Student Loan Payments and Canceling Debt."

  5. Federal Student Aid. "Federal Student Loan Portfolio." Download spreadsheet.

  6. Federal Student Aid. "Public Service Loan Forgiveness Data."

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