Biden wants student loan forgiveness from Congress, but lawmakers urge him to use executive action

Here's what the federal government is doing for student borrowers

While prominent Democrats have called on President Biden to use executive authority to cancel student loan debt, the White House indicated that the president is waiting on Congress to take action. (iStock)

It may be up to Congress to help President Joe Biden enact student loan forgiveness legislation following comments made by press secretary Jen Psaki at a Dec. 14 press conference

When asked by reporters about student debt cancellation, Psaki indicated that Biden is waiting on lawmakers to author a bill on debt forgiveness, adding that his presidential authority to cancel student loans is "under review."

Her comments came amid repeated calls from prominent lawmakers who have urged the president to cancel federal student debt through an executive order.

"If Congress sends him a bill, he's happy to sign it. They haven't sent him a bill on that yet."

- White House press secretary Jen Psaki

As a presidential candidate, Biden campaigned on canceling up to $10,000 worth of federal student loan debt per borrower, pledging that it "should be done immediately" in a November 2020 speech he made as president-elect. However, the Biden administration has not enacted widespread student loan cancellation thus far.

Keep reading to learn more about student loan forgiveness, as well as your alternative debt repayment options like refinancing. You can browse interest rates from real private lenders in the table below, and visit Credible to see your estimated rate in just a few minutes.


Progressives urge Biden to cancel student debt with executive action

Some prominent Democrats have continuously called for President Biden to cancel student loan debt using his executive authority. That could, in part, be because enacting student debt forgiveness legislation through Congress would be a difficult task since Republicans and some moderate Democrats might not support it.

In a Dec. 8 letter addressed to the president, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley urged Biden to cancel student debt using an executive order. 

Citing a recent analysis by the Roosevelt Institute, the lawmakers said that "the cancellation of up to $50,000 of student debt would relieve an enormous burden from borrowers while pumping billions of dollars per year back into our national economy."


Other progressives who have been outspoken in calling on the president to forgive student loan debt include Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal.

However, not all Democrats agree that Biden can use his presidential powers for debt forgiveness. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that student loan cancellation must "be an act of Congress."


Student loan forgiveness would face challenges in Congress

Passing student debt forgiveness legislation through Congress would be a difficult task, even with Democrats holding the majority in both the House and the Senate. Moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona haven't expressed support for canceling student debt, but their votes would be critical in making it happen. 

Student loan forgiveness is also unpopular among GOP lawmakers. Four House Republicans — Reps. Ted Budd, Warren Davidson, Scott Perry and Barry Loudermilk — sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona arguing that the Biden administration doesn't have the authority to cancel student debt.

"Indeed, mass cancellation of student loan debt would not only be a clear violation of the separation of powers but would also be an affront to the millions of borrowers who responsibly repaid their loan balances," the letter states.

With the future of broad student loan forgiveness unclear, borrowers may be looking for other debt relief options as federal payments are set to resume in just a few weeks. One alternative is to refinance to a private student loan at a lower interest rate — but keep in mind that this would make borrowers ineligible for federal protections, including select student loan forgiveness programs.

If you're considering refinancing, visit Credible to compare interest rates across multiple lenders for free without impacting your credit score.


Biden has canceled $11.5B worth of student debt for some borrowers

Although the Biden administration has been unable to enact widespread student debt cancellation, it has forgiven $11.5 billion worth of federal student loans for about 580,000 borrowers who qualified for several federal forgiveness programs:

  • Total and permanent disability discharges (TPD). Since Biden has taken office, the Department of Education has forgiven $7.1 billion worth of student loan debt for 364,000 borrowers who suffer from a total and permanent disability.
  • Closed school discharges. 133,000 borrowers who attended a school that closed while they were enrolled have qualified for $1.6 billion worth of student debt forgiveness under the Biden administration.
  • Borrower defense to repayment. Biden's Education Department has approved $1.5 billion worth of borrower defense claims for students who were misled by a school that was involved in misconduct while they were enrolled.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). The Biden administration made sweeping changes to the PSLF program in Oct. 2021, resulting in 22,000 eligible public servants becoming immediately eligible for $1.74 billion worth of loan cancellation.

Still, about 43 million borrowers still owe a total of $1.75 trillion worth of student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative. And with federal student loan payments set to resume in February 2022, borrowers may be looking for alternative college debt repayment plans.

One way to reduce your monthly student loan payments is to refinance to a longer-term loan with a lower interest rate. Student loan refinance rates are near record lows, presenting an opportunity for borrowers to save more money than ever on their student debt.

Student loan borrowers who refinanced to a longer-term loan saved more than $250 on their monthly payments, according to a recent Credible analysis. Use a student loan refinance calculator to determine your potential savings. 

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