Washington (CNN) — US President Joe Biden is looking closely at writing off some federal student loan debt, but even a broad forgiveness plan could leave out some of the 43 million borrowers.
The president plans to announce his decision on Wednesday, CNN has learned.
Biden has indicated that if he takes steps to provide more student loan debt forgiveness, he can limit the relief to $10,000 per person, as well as exclude wealthier borrowers.
His administration has already canceled nearly $32 billion of the $1.6 trillion in outstanding federal student debt by expanding existing forgiveness programs for public sector workers, disabled borrowers and students who were swindled by for-profit colleges. In addition, he has extended the pandemic-related pause on student loan payments multiple times.
But those actions fall short of Biden’s campaign promise to write off student debt more broadly. He, too, faces pressure to do more from other Democrats who are urging him to write off $50,000 per borrower.
Here’s what we know so far about who might benefit if the president takes action to pay off more student loan debt:
Relief for those earning less than $125,000
Excluding borrowers who earn more than a certain amount is one way Biden could reduce student debt relief.
White House officials are leaning toward writing off $10,000 in debt for each borrower making less than $125,000 a year, CNN reported earlier this week.
Earlier this year, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president is using his campaign’s comments about student loan forgiveness for people making less than $125,000 a year as a framework for your current considerations.
His campaign proposal called for the immediate cancellation of a minimum of $10,000 in student debt per person in response to the pandemic, as well as the forgiveness of all federal student debt related to undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities in two and four years for those borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year.
How many households could benefit?
About 19% of households with total incomes below $125,000 have student loan debt, according to an analysis earlier this year by Matthew Chingos, vice president of education data and policy at the Urban Institute. He based the estimate on the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances conducted by the Federal Reserve.
That means about 81% of households earning less than $125,000 a year have no student loan debt and would not see a benefit if Biden takes further action.
Most households still wouldn’t benefit even if the president didn’t set an income threshold. Only about 18% of households with incomes over $125,000 have student debt.
How much debt could be canceled?
Biden has consistently resisted political pressure to write off $50,000 per borrower. In late April, he reiterated that if he did grant additional loan forgiveness, it would not be a reduction of up to $50,000.
The White House has long maintained that the president would support writing off $10,000 per borrower.
Penn Wharton’s budget model estimates that writing off $10,000 for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year would cost the government about $298 billion.
Chingos estimated earlier this year that the action would result in the forgiveness of a total of $277 billion in student loan debt.
(He assumed the relief is phased out for married and single borrowers earning between $75,000 and $125,000 a year. That means borrowers earning less than $75,000 a year would receive $10,000 in forgiveness, and the benefit would be reduces as income increases, leaving those borrowers earning more than $125,000 a year without any debt relief).
Who would see the greatest benefit?
Penn Wharton’s budget model also breaks down the portion of debt forgiven by income group, assuming $10,000 is written off for borrowers earning less than $125,000 a year and households earning less than $250,000 a year. year.
It found that a third of the canceled dollars would go to households earning less than $50,795 a year. Just over half of the debt relief would go to those earning between $50,795 and $141,096.
About 14% of the canceled dollars would go to households earning more than $141,096 a year.
Proponents of canceling student debt argue that it would help close the racial wealth gap, because black students are more likely to take on student debt, borrow larger amounts and take longer to pay it off than their white peers.
But economist Adam Looney, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues that there are better ways to address the racial wealth gap because relatively fewer black students go to college.
Chingos’ model found that 62% of canceled student loan dollars would go to white borrowers, while 25% would go to black borrowers if Biden writes off up to $10,000 for those making less than $125,000 a year. .