Student Loan Forgiveness: 2023 Facts and Statistics

Biden's student loan forgiveness plan failed to pass, but historically, some borrowers have qualified for debt cancellation or discharges through alternate programs.
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
Updated on July 14, 2023
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Jordan Stewart-Rozema writes data-driven education content focusing on higher education trends, student finances, and alternative education pathways such as coding bootcamps. She previously worked to promote online learning and media literacy educati...
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Data Summary

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    In August 2022, President Biden announced he would cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt for borrowers making less than $125,000 a year, impacting nearly 38.6 million borrowers.[1]
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    In June 2023, the Supreme Court blocked Biden's student debt forgiveness plan.[2]
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    In July 2023, the department of education finalized a plan to erase $39 billion in student loan debt for over 800,000 borrowers enrolled in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan.
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    As of January 2021, only 32 borrowers had ever received IDR student loan forgiveness after more than 20 years of repayment.[3]
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    2 million borrowers eligible for public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) have not received forgiveness.[4]
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    Thousands of public service professionals who were formerly ineligible to receive forgiveness may be eligible through temporarily expanded PSLF.Note Reference [4]
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    The average amount forgiven through PSLF is about $69,000.Note Reference [4]
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    Before Biden's August 2022 announcement, his administration had canceled about 2% of the federal student loan debt, affecting 3.7% of all borrowers.[5], [6]

The federal student debt balance has risen to over $1.6 trillion,Note Reference [6] with the typical borrower owing $20,000-$25,000 in loans.[7] It's no wonder that many Americans want student loan debt canceled: In a 2020 survey by BestColleges, 40% said they supported federal student debt cancellation. And almost three-quarters (72%) of indebted students said they supported cancellation.

Even though student loan forgiveness programs have existed for years, program flaws have kept millions of eligible borrowers from actually receiving forgiveness.

In 2022, Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt for low- and middle-income borrowers. However, the Supreme Court ruled against this plan in June 2023.

This report covers the latest updates on student loan forgiveness, answers who would benefit from sweeping forgiveness, and shares the data from current student loan forgiveness programs.

Student Loan Forgiveness in 2023

The Biden administration estimated that:Note Reference [1]

  • Roughly 38.6 million borrowers would have benefited from this student loan forgiveness plan in total.
  • About 24.8 million Pell Grant recipients would have benefited from the plan.
  • Nearly 90% of forgiveness dollars would go to borrowers making under $75,000 annually.
  • The measure would have fully canceled loan debt for almost 20 million borrowers.

An October 2022 BestColleges survey showed that most students would feel angry or disappointed if Biden's student loan forgiveness plan failed to pass.

Before the White House announced this loan forgiveness plan in August 2022, the Biden Administration had canceled close to $32 billion in student loan debt for 1.6 million borrowers.Note Reference [5] That's about 2% of the total federal student loan debt balance and 3.7% of all borrowers.Note Reference [6]

Student Loan Forgiveness by State

Here's how many borrowers may have been expecting student loan forgiveness from Biden's plan in each state.

Additional Student Loan Forgiveness Updates

  • The PSLF waiver — which allowed borrowers to count late payments and other non-qualifying payments toward their eligibility for PSLF — expired on October 31, 2022.[8]
  • In January 2023, ED proposed changes to the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) IDR plan, including cutting undergraduate borrowers' monthly payments in half. The reforms could lead to faster forgiveness for borrowers who qualify.[9]
  • A new IDR plan, the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, is scheduled to be available in late summer 2023.

Economic Impact of Student Loan Forgiveness

Additional student loan forgiveness could bring relief to many who are struggling to repay student debt.

In a February 2022 survey of nearly 24,000 student loan borrowers:[11]

The pending student loan forgiveness program also costs the government money — approximately $400 billion over the next 30 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Facts About Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

The federal government runs the forgiveness programs listed below. These programs only apply to federal student loans. Private loans generally do not qualify for loan forgiveness.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The PSLF program grants federal loan forgiveness to borrowers who work full time in public service.

The program can be difficult to qualify for. Borrowers must make monthly payments for 10 years on a qualifying repayment plan.

Recent temporary changes to PSLF have allowed more borrowers to qualify for the program. These program adjustments include:

  • Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF): Since 2018, this has allowed borrowers to count payments made on certain non-qualifying plans toward the 120 they need for forgiveness.[12]
  • PSLF Limited Waiver: This waiver allowed borrowers to count late payments and payments made on additional non-qualifying plans toward their eligibility. It expired in October 2022.Note Reference [8]

PSLF Statistics

Most PSLF forgiveness has occurred due to these recent temporary changes to the program.

As of March 2023:Note Reference [4]

  • Just 2.2% of borrowers who met employment eligibility qualified for PSLF under the original rules.
  • Over 489,000 additional borrowers have received loan discharges through the TEPSLF and limited waiver.
  • The PSLF limited waiver reached more than 38 times the number of unique borrowers as the number of borrowers who qualified for traditional PSLF.
  • This waiver forgave more than 26 times more debt than the original PSLF.
  • There are over 2 million PSLF-eligible borrowers who have not received forgiveness. Their total debt is over $179 billion.
Loan Forgiveness Amounts Granted via PSLF as of March 2023
PSLF Forgiveness Type Number of Recipients Total Amount Forgiven (Approximate) Average Amount Forgiven Per Borrower
PSLF (Original) 12,509 $1.2 billion $97,981
TEPSLF 6,495 $285 million $43,916
PSLF Limited Waiver 482,908 $32.8 billion $67,918
All of the Above 500,519 $34.3 billion $68,547
Source: Federal Student AidNote Reference [4]

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

If a borrower teaches full-time for five consecutive years in a low-income school, they could be eligible for teacher loan forgiveness (TLF). Under the TLF program, math and special education teachers can receive up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. Other teachers may qualify for up to $5,000. Borrowers cannot get credit toward the TLF and PSLF programs simultaneously.[14]

  • In 2022, about 23,100 borrowers had more than $223 million forgiven through TLF.[15]
  • Since 2009, $3.87 million has been forgiven among roughly 485,000 borrowers.Note Reference [15]

Income-Driven Repayment Loan Forgiveness

The government offers four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. IDR plans have lower payments than the standard planand last 20-25 years. The federal government is supposed to forgive any remaining balance at the end of the term.Note Reference [15] However, very few IDR enrollees receive forgiveness.

  • As of June 2021, the ED approved forgiveness for just 157 IDR loans, out of roughly 7,700 that could be eligible.[16]
  • As of January 2021, only 32 IDR borrowers had ever received forgiveness after more than 20 years of repayment.Note Reference [3]
  • The IRS taxes borrowers who receive IDR loan cancellation on the amount forgiven, causing borrowers to face a sudden, unaffordable tax bill. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 paused this practice, but it's scheduled to resume after 2025.[17]
  • Currently, nearly 9 million borrowers are on an IDR plan.[18]
  • In July 2023, Biden introduced an IDR waiver to cancel $39 billion in student debt for over 800,000 borrowers.

Borrower Defense

Borrower defense refers to the process where former students can seek loan forgiveness if their college misled them or participated in misconduct. For example, students can seek borrower defense if their school falsely promised student loan forgiveness.

  • In June 2022, the ED approved the largest single student loan forgiveness amount ever — $5.8 billion of debt cancellation for students who attended Corinthian Colleges
  • In August, it offered $3.9 billion in forgiveness to 208,000 ITT Technical Institute attendees.
  • Together, the Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute settlements amount to roughly $9.7 billion in borrower defense forgiveness. That's five times the $1.9 billion balance that had been forgiven through borrower defense up to that point.
  • In November 2022, ED amended borrower defense rules to expand the criteria for borrowers to make claims.[19]
  • As of December 2022, the government had canceled $3.9 billion in borrower defense.[20]
  • In January 2023, roughly 465,000 borrower defense applications were pending approval.Note Reference [20]

Other Student Loan Discharges

The government may cancel or discharge your student loans in a few other situations, as well.

Closed School Discharge

The government might cancel your loan debt if your school closes while you're enrolled.

  • More than 153,000 borrowers are eligible for a closed school discharge.Note Reference [14]
  • As of June 2022, just over 148,000 borrowers had received more than $1.8 billion in closed school discharges.Note Reference [14]

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharges apply to some borrowers who become disabled and face difficulties repaying their loans.

Recent updates to the TPD discharge program have made it easier for eligible borrowers to receive the loan forgiveness owed to them.

TPD Discharge Program: 2021 Updates and Impact
Policy Update Number of Borrowers Who Benefit Balance Discharged
The Social Security Administration now automatically identifies borrowers with disabilities, so they don't need to self-enroll. 323,000 $5.8 billion
Borrowers no longer need to provide information on their earnings. 41,000 $1.3 billion
Source: U.S. Department of Education[21]

Death Discharges

Student and Parent PLUS loans are discharged after the borrower's death. The borrower's family or representative must provide the loan servicer with a copy of a death certificate.

Learn More About Student Loan Debt Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions About Student Loan Forgiveness

Will Biden forgive student loans?

In August 2022, President Biden announced a plan to forgive student loan debt for close to 39 million borrowers.Note Reference [1] In June 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against Biden's plan.Note Reference [2] Pell Grant recipients would have been eligible for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. Other qualifying borrowers would have received up to $10,000 in loan cancellation.

Currently, Biden is pursuing loan forgiveness through another means — a process called negotiated rulemaking.

Who qualifies for student loan forgiveness?

A borrower may qualify for student loan forgiveness through fulfilling a commitment to teaching or public service (as in the case of TLF and PSLF programs) or unforeseen circumstances (like death, disability, or school closure).

Additionally, borrowers enrolled in an IDR plan qualify for forgiveness after making 20 years of qualifying loan payments.

What is student loan forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness means that the federal government eliminates at least some of what student loan borrowers owe on the amount they borrowed from the government to pay for school.

Student loan forgiveness is sometimes referred to as student loan cancellation or discharge.