Will Biden and Harris Cancel Student Loan Debt?

The amount of outstanding student loan debt in the United States is $1.6 trillion. More than 9.5 million people owe between $20,000 to $40,000 in student loans. An estimated three million borrowers owe more than $100,000. Paying off these loans can take years and have lasting financial impacts that cause people to delay things like buying a home or starting a family.

[Read: The Best Private Student Loans of 2020 ]

Helping borrowers deal with their student loan debt is part of a larger plan released by the Biden-Harris campaign. The plan focuses on increasing access to higher education, with an emphasis on community colleges. And the Biden-Harris proposal provides relief to those struggling to pay back their loans. Of course, implementation depends on whether or not Biden wins the election. Even then, the path for his plan to become a reality is far from guaranteed.

Biden’s education plan, explained

Biden’s education plan can be split into two broad categories: community colleges and debt relief. The first is about opening the door to higher education for more people. The second focuses on reducing or minimizing student loan debt.

Community colleges

The proposal is vague in some areas, but one part is clear: Biden and Harris want to provide two years of free community college to “every hard-working individual, including those attending school part-time and DREAMers.” The program would be paid for through a joint agreement between the federal government and the states, with the federal government covering 75% of the costs.

The other parts of the Biden-Harris plan call for creating a new grant program that would help community colleges better meet the needs of its students. Biden-Harris also plan to remove barriers that prevent people from completing community college, but no detail has yet been provided about how this would happen. Finally, the Democratic presidential nominee wants to increase funding for community colleges in the areas of technology and maintenance.

Debt forgiveness

The Biden-Harris platform includes different approaches to helping people minimize or eliminate their student loan debt. To start, in response to the pandemic, Biden has called for legislation that would cut $10,000 from what a borrower owes. He has also made recommendations to forgive undergraduate federal student loan debt in the following cases:

  • If you make less than $125,000 a year.
  • If you attended a public college or university.
  • If loans were used for undergraduate tuition.

Biden would also seek relief to borrowers enrolled in income-driven repayment plans by placing a cap on how much a person pays each month. He would also create a new program that would provide $10,000 in undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for each year of national or community service. In this case, that means people who choose to work in schools, with the government or a nonprofit.

Can Biden and Harris cancel student debt?

Biden would need Democrats to keep their majority in the House while also winning a majority in the Senate. Even then, the passage of Biden’s proposal isn’t guaranteed without a change to the filibuster rules. As it stands, 60 votes are needed in the Senate for a measure to pass. Senate Republicans have shown reluctance toward large-scale efforts to provide student loan debt forgiveness. It seems plausible that if Biden wins and Democrats hold a majority in both chambers, a deal would still need to be struck with Senate Republicans for any legislation to become law without eliminating the filibuster. 

[ Read: Best Student Loan Refinance Companies ]

“Presidents technically do not have the executive power to cancel debt without the help of Congress,” says Adem Selita, Co-founder and CEO of The Debt Relief Company. “So, unless Biden has the backing of Congress, this plan will be quite difficult to effectively execute.”

The impact of student loan debt forgiveness

The median income for workers in the United States is $47,216 per year as of 2019. The average monthly student loan debt payment is between $200 to $300. The average debt load for the graduate of a public university is more than $26,000, and it’s more than $32,000 for those who go to a private college.

Say you make the median income, and you graduated from a public university with $26,000 in debt. If Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan were to come to fruition, then both the amount you pay each month and your overall debt would go down significantly, if not be erased completely.

“Student loan forgiveness would decrease a significant amount of monthly expenditures for Americans that carry student loan debt, therefore allowing borrowers to keep more of their take-home pay and put it towards investments, savings or even spending,” said Selita.

It’s important to remember that borrowers are seeing relief right now. In early August, President Trump issued a memorandum that extended an earlier order that allowed people to opt out of paying their loans. The order also set interest rates on these loans to 0%. The president’s memorandum extended these policies to the end of the year. But borrowers will need to continue replaying loans after the period ends and consider exploring consolidation and refinance options.

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In this article

    Eric Wilson Edge

    Contributing Writer

    Eric Wilson-Edge is a freelance journalist who has covered personal finance, banking, the economy and other topics for The Simple Dollar, The Seattle Times, Narratively and elsewhere.