15 million student-loan borrowers would be completely debt-free if Biden fulfilled his campaign promise

President Joe Biden at a podium at the White House.
President Joe Biden.
  • Fifteen million borrowers would have their student debt completely wiped out with Biden's $10,000 forgiveness promise.
  • Data obtained by Sen. Elizabeth Warren also found 36 million borrowers would be debt-free if Biden were to forgive $50,000 per borrower.
  • Biden has yet to fulfill his campaign promise as pressure ramps up for broad student debt cancellation.

President Joe Biden campaigned on canceling $10,000 in student debt per borrower. He has yet to fulfill that promise, and Education Department data provided to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren shows why so many borrowers are counting on it.

Warren, who has been a leading lawmaker calling for broad student debt cancellation, asked the Education Department in April for information on how many borrowers would benefit from various levels of loan forgiveness. The department delivered in August, showing that of the 45 million borrowers bearing the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis, over 15 million would have their student debt completely wiped out if Biden fulfilled his promise.

Under Warren's proposal to cancel $50,000 in student debt per borrower, more than 36 million would see their balances turn to zero.

"Cancelling $50,000 in student debt would completely wipe out student loans for 84% of borrowers, including more than 3 million borrowers who have been repaying their loans for more than 20 years," Warren told Insider. "This is the single most effective executive action President Biden could take to jumpstart our economy and begin to narrow the racial wealth gap."

The data also revealed that of the 10.3 million borrowers in default on their debt, 9.8 million of them would see their burdens completely forgiven with $50,000 in cancellation.

In nearly 100 days, millions of student-loan borrowers will have to start making payments on their debt after a close to two-year pause. Though the Education Department is reportedly preparing a "safety net" for borrowers to restart those payments, broad student-debt cancellation doesn't appear to be one of the relief measures under consideration.

While Biden has canceled $11.5 billion in student debt so far for targeted groups of people, like those defrauded by for-profit schools and borrowers with disabilities, he has not responded to lawmakers' and advocates' calls for broad debt cancellation. The urgency of ths move is ramping up as the pandemic freeze on student-loan payments is set to lift on February 1.

The review on Biden's legal ability to cancel student debt broadly has been in the works for over 6 months

White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Politico in April that Biden had asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to create a memo on the president's legal authority to forgive $50,000 in student loans per person. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in February that Biden would also ask the Justice Department to review his authority to use executive action to cancel student debt, but it's unclear when the department began that review.

Given that details of the reviews had still not been made public, two weeks ago, a group of House Democrats led by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar gave the Education Department 14 days to release the memo. They wrote in a letter to Cardona that with the pandemic pause on student-loan payments lifting in February, borrowers were "anxiously awaiting the administration's actions."

"The time has come to release the memo and cancel student debt," they added, setting a deadline of October 22.

Psaki said during a press briefing earlier this month that she did not have any update on the memos, but that Biden would support legislation brought to him from Congress to cancel student debt.

But Warren previously said that she didn't want to go the legislative route.

"We have a lot on our plate, including moving to infrastructure and all kinds of other things," Warren said, adding: "The president can do this, and I very much hope that he will."

Do you have a story to share about student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at [email protected]

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