During the campaign, Biden expressed support for $10,000 in student loan forgiveness, but he’s under pressure to increase the amount to $50,000. That’s the difference between an overall national student loan burden of $1.3 trillion vs. $700 billion, down from $1.7 trillion. Under the $10,000 forgiveness plan, 14.4 million people would be freed from federal student loan debt, while under the $50,000 forgiveness plan, 36 million people would see their debts erased.
Biden has already cancelled loan debt for about 72,000 students defrauded by for-profit colleges and paused student loan payments, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he has the authority to do much more.
“You don’t need Congress,” Schumer has said. “All you need is the flick of a pen.” Still, any student loan debt cancellation is likely to draw legal challenges.
But Biden and Democrats have to be aggressive on this one. Student loan debt is choking off the futures of millions of people, leaving them with debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy and may follow them for their entire lives, leaving them unable to buy homes or take professional risks or chase their dreams, and stifling the opportunities even of their children.
One student borrower recounted at Daily Kos how, after the very common experience among lower-income students of taking years of part-time school and multiple tries before graduation, they graduated with six figures of student debt.
“I am finally in a good job, and can finally make my monthly payment of $776,” they wrote. “My loans, some of which were taken out 33 years ago, are not scheduled to be paid off until the year I turn 80. It keeps me from buying a house and severely restricts saving for retirement. I admit I agreed to take on this debt. But poverty didn’t leave me a lot of choices if I wanted to change my circumstances. If I had given up on school after the first try, I’d still have the original debt and would not have advanced to an income level where I would ever be able to pay it off. Finishing college did improve my life, but it also shackled me to permanent debt.”
The experience of owing student debt into retirement is not unique. It’s common enough that the AARP warns, “If you’ve defaulted on a federal student loan, beware: The federal government can take up to 15 percent of your Social Security benefit”—a phenomenon that has soared in recent years.
In fact, a Trump administration official overseeing student loans resigned from the Education Department in 2019, calling the system “fundamentally broken” and calling for significant student loan forgiveness. “We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files—it rides on their back—for decades,” A. Wayne Johnson said at the time.
President Biden should dot every I and cross every T and fortify against legal challenges—and then he should forgive as much student debt as he possibly can.