Many advocates and former students seeking relief have applauded President Joe Biden’s decision to cancel some student loan debt for millions of Americans, but borrowers must meet certain criteria to qualify for forgiveness.
After weeks of deliberation, Biden unveiled the three-part plan on Wednesday. For months, borrowers and advocates have lobbied the president to assist them in getting out from under what can often be crippling school debts. Some have praised the new plan as a good measure of relief, while others have criticized it for also providing relief to higher-income Americans who can afford to repay their loans.
The detailed plan and its requirements raise an important question: Who is eligible for loan forgiveness?
There is an income limit. Borrowers cannot earn more than $125,000 per year, nor can households earn more than $250,000. Loan forgiveness is also restricted to federal loans.
Furthermore, Pell Grant recipients will be eligible for up to $20,000 in debt cancellation. Borrowers who meet income requirements but did not receive a Pell Grant can receive up to $10,000 in relief.
The White House says it will launch an application website for borrowers to submit their income qualifications in the coming weeks. Because the Education Department already has their income information, approximately 8 million former students who qualify will receive automatic relief.
“A college degree or certificate should give every person in America a leg up in securing a bright future,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement released Wednesday. “However, for far too many people, student loan debt has hampered their ability to pursue their dreams, such as purchasing a home, starting a business, or providing for their families. “Getting an education should set us free, not bind us. We are providing targeted relief to ensure that borrowers are not placed in a worse financial position as a result of the pandemic and to restore trust in a system that should be creating opportunity, not a debt trap.”
The plan also includes a cap that prevents borrowers from paying more than a certain percentage of their discretionary income on loans each month, which could assist former students with routine payments.
By expanding forgiveness programs to public workers, disabled students, and those defrauded by predatory for-profit colleges, Biden’s administration has already canceled more than $30 billion in student debt.
However, Dominique Baker, associate professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University, believes that Biden’s plan should not be the end of reforming the country’s student loan system.
“When we talk about the need for large-scale reform of the student loan system,” Baker told NPR, “this would be one of those things.” “This is an excellent first step.”
On Wednesday, Biden also extended the moratorium on student loan repayment. The pause was implemented after the COVID-19 crisis arrived in the United States in order to assist individuals and families struggling in a down economy.
The pause was supposed to end on August 31, but Biden extended it until December 31, meaning payments will resume in January.
Following Biden’s announcement on Wednesday, there was a surge in traffic to two student loan-related websites: the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid website and the website for Nelnet, one of the major providers of federal student loans. Due to heavy traffic, the department’s website briefly crashed.
Following Biden’s announcement, StudentAid.gov also saw a surge in traffic.
The White House said that more than 45 million borrowers hold $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt. Biden’s plan estimates that as many as 43 million of those borrowers will qualify for loan forgiveness — and almost half of those former students will have their balances wiped out entirely.