Timeline: How Student Loan Forgiveness Reached Its Turning Point

Student loan forgiveness went from a longshot campaign promise to a reality and is now disputed in the Supreme Court

U.S. President Joe Biden walks to the West Wing after returning to the White House on January 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. Biden had traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, to talk about how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law's funds are slated to help replace the 150-year-old Baltimore to Potomac Tunnel.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In 2019, broad-based student loan forgiveness was just a campaign talking point. It could become a reality this year, if the Supreme Court allows it.

Of all the financial changes brought by the pandemic, student loan forgiveness could prove to be among the most important, at least to the 43 million Americans with federal student loans.

Borrowers are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether Biden’s plan to erase up to $20,000 of their debt is legally allowed. The case is especially consequential for what the government estimates to be 20 million borrowers whose loans would be wiped out completely.

The timeline below shows the key events that brought broad-based student loan forgiveness to this decisive point

In 2019, student loan forgiveness became an issue in the presidential campaign when presidential hopeful Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren put forward the idea of forgiving $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower. 

The idea gained traction after the pandemic hit in early 2020 and put millions out of work, prompting the government to suspend payments and interest for federally-held loans. Amid the economic upheaval of the first wave of COVID-19, Joe Biden, the eventual winner of the primary and the presidency, went on the record calling for at least $10,000 of forgiveness as a pandemic relief measure.

Student loan borrowers have existed in a state of limbo ever since. The pause on student loan payments and interest was renewed multiple times through the Trump and Biden administrations and has yet to end.

If the Supreme Court strikes down forgiveness, many student loan borrowers will likely struggle to keep up with their payments as borrowers face more financial pressures than before the pandemic.

In August, Biden attempted to settle the issue by ordering up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness, as he made preparations to finally restart payments and interest. The effort was thwarted by legal challenges that have now made their way to the Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments next week, with a ruling likely to be announced by the end of June or early July. 

Correction, Feb. 23, 2023 : A date on the timeline was mislabeled. This story was originally published on Feb. 21, 2023.

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  1. White House. "Fact Sheet: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most."

  2. Team Warren. "I’m calling for something truly transformational: Universal free public college and cancellation of student loan debt."

  3. Twitter, "@JoeBiden, 7:28 p.m., March 22, 2020."

  4. Supreme Court. "Argument Calendar, For the Session Beginning February 21, 2023."