The Impact Of Student Loan Forgiveness: Who It Affects And How It Works?

Student loan forgiveness has become a pressing topic in recent years, garnering attention from policymakers, economists, and individuals grappling with the burden of educational debt. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, many graduates face significant financial strain, often resulting in prolonged repayment periods and limited opportunities for financial growth. The concept of student loan forgiveness aims to alleviate this burden, but the impact extends far beyond just the borrowers themselves, influencing various stakeholders within the economy and society at large.

Understanding Student Loan Forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness refers to programs or policies designed to cancel some or all of an individual’s outstanding student loan debt. These programs can be initiated by the government, educational institutions, or through employment in specific fields or sectors. The primary objective is to provide relief to borrowers who may struggle to repay their loans due to financial hardship or other circumstances.

Several types of student loan forgiveness programs exist, each with its own eligibility criteria and requirements. Some of the prominent forgiveness programs include:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): This program forgives the remaining balance on federal Direct Loans after borrowers have made 120 qualifying monthly payments while working full-time for qualifying employers, such as government organizations or non-profits.
  • Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Forgiveness: Borrowers enrolled in income-driven repayment plans may qualify for forgiveness after making payments for 20 or 25 years, depending on the specific plan. Any remaining balance at the end of the repayment term is forgiven.
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Teachers working in low-income schools or educational service agencies may be eligible for forgiveness of up to a certain amount on their federal student loans after completing five consecutive years of teaching.

Who Is Impacted by Student Loan Forgiveness?

Borrowers and Graduates:

  • Immediate Financial Relief: For borrowers struggling with hefty student loan debt, forgiveness programs offer a lifeline, reducing or eliminating their outstanding balances. This financial relief enables them to redirect funds toward other essential expenses, such as housing, healthcare, or savings.
  • Enhanced Financial Stability: Loan forgiveness can significantly impact borrowers’ financial stability, enabling them to make long-term plans, such as purchasing a home, starting a family, or pursuing further education without the shackles of existing debt.

Economy and Society:

  • Economic Stimulus: Forgiving student loan debt injects money directly into the economy. Freed from monthly loan payments, borrowers may increase spending on goods and services, thereby stimulating economic growth.
  • Increased Entrepreneurship: With reduced financial burdens, individuals might feel more confident in starting their own businesses or pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, fostering innovation and job creation.
  • Improved Workforce Mobility: Debt forgiveness can encourage individuals to pursue careers aligned with their passions and skills rather than choosing jobs based solely on income potential. This flexibility could lead to a more efficient and productive workforce.

Taxpayers and Government:

  • Cost and Fiscal Impact: Implementing widespread student loan forgiveness programs incurs costs borne by taxpayers and the government. The impact on the federal budget and deficit remains a topic of debate and concern among policymakers.
  • Social Impact: Advocates of loan forgiveness argue that investing in education and relieving student debt contributes to a more equitable society by providing equal opportunities for economic advancement, particularly for marginalized communities.

How Does Student Loan Forgiveness Work?

The process of student loan forgiveness varies based on the specific program or policy. Generally, borrowers interested in loan forgiveness must meet specific criteria, such as making a certain number of qualifying payments, working in specific fields or sectors, or meeting income-related requirements.

To apply for forgiveness, borrowers typically submit an application form to their loan servicer or relevant authority, providing documentation to verify their eligibility. Upon approval, the remaining eligible debt is forgiven, and borrowers receive confirmation regarding the discharge of their loans.

However, the complex nature of these programs, coupled with evolving eligibility criteria, administrative hurdles, and occasional challenges in accessing accurate information, often make navigating the forgiveness process cumbersome for borrowers.

Who Will Benefit From $10,000 in Student Loan Forgiveness?

The 2021 SIPP data show that the plan to reduce student loans by $10,000 would completely wipe out balances for 29.0% of those with student debt and that certain demographic groups would benefit more than others.

Some of the largest reductions are expected among Hispanic individuals with an associate degree. A $10,000 reduction in student loans reduces the percentage with any student debt from 14.4% to 7.7%.

While the estimated erasure of student loans is largest for non-Hispanic associate degree holders who are Black alone (identified as Black through the rest of this story) — from 19.9% to 12.6% — this reduction is not statistically different from the reduction for any other race-by-education group.

Figure 1. Share With Student Debt Before and After Proposed Debt Forgiveness by Race and Education: 2020

Individuals with advanced degrees are expected to experience some of the smallest reductions in student loan holding, varying from 1.6 to 3.2 percentage points across race and ethnic groups. These reductions are also small compared to the percentage who held any student debt before forgiveness.

The likely reasons for the differences by education: larger amounts of debt or higher incomes making them ineligible for loan forgiveness. Advanced-degree holders on average had higher student debt ($69,000) than associate-degree holders ($22,000).

Based on income, the share of advanced-degree holders with student debt eligible for debt forgiveness ranges from 75.6% of non-Hispanics who are neither Black nor White to 85.6% of Black borrowers. People who are neither Black nor White include Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and mixed-race individuals. 

However, over 90% of borrowers with an associate degree in all race groups would qualify.

Women typically earn less than men and are more likely to not only have student debt but to owe more than men. As a result, they may have a harder time paying off student loans.

It’s estimated Black and Hispanic women are expected to experience some of the largest reductions in the percentage with any student loans from the $10,000 relief plan: 5.4 and 4.7 percentage points, respectively.

White men are expected to experience among the smallest reductions (2.4 percentage points).

Figure 2. Share With Student Debt Before and After Proposed Debt Forgiveness by Race and Sex: 2020

How Much of a Difference Can $10,000 in Student Loan Relief Make?

Because student debt burden is sometimes high relative to income, student loans can go hand in hand with other types of unsecured debt. This means student loan forgiveness is expected to have a significant impact on individuals’ overall unsecured debt burden.

Unsecured debt — such as student, credit card or medical debt — is not backed by an asset the way a house backs a mortgage because lenders cannot repossess someone’s education if the individual fails to pay a student loan.

The $10,000 reduction in student debt would decrease the amount of total unsecured liabilities owed by 33.0% on average of those who have any student debt.

Hispanic individuals with a high school degree but no college degree (43.2%) and associate degrees (38.4%) are expected to experience among the greatest reduction in what they owed in unsecured loans. Non-Hispanic individuals who are neither White nor Black with a high school degree, but no college degree (51.7%) and associate degrees (52.2%) are also expected to experience among the greatest reduction of unsecured amounts owed.

Figure 3. How Much Proposed Debt Forgiveness Policy Would Cut Unsecured Debt by Race and Education: 2020

The $10,000 reduction in student loans is expected to have some of the smallest impacts on unsecured amounts owed by those with advanced degrees: between 17.5% and 24.2% in unsecured debt across race and ethnic groups.

Hispanic women (40.4%) are expected to experience among the largest shares of unsecured debt relief.

Figure 4. How Much Proposed Debt Forgiveness Policy Would Cut Unsecured Debt by Race and Sex: 2020


Student loan forgiveness has emerged as a critical tool to address the growing crisis of educational debt. Its impact is multifaceted, affecting borrowers, the economy, society, taxpayers, and government policies. While it offers immediate relief to individuals burdened by student loans, its broader implications on the economy and social equity continue to fuel debates and discussions at both the national and global levels.

Efforts to address the complexities of student loan forgiveness, including the need for clearer policies, streamlined processes, and considerations of long-term fiscal implications, remain essential. Balancing the alleviation of individual financial burdens with broader socioeconomic benefits remains a challenging yet crucial endeavor in shaping a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.


The Case For Forgiving Student Loans: An In-Depth Analysis


How does student loan forgiveness affect borrowers?

  • Immediate Financial Relief: Borrowers experience relief from the burden of student loan debt, allowing them to redirect funds toward other essential expenses and achieve financial stability.
  • Enhanced Opportunities: Loan forgiveness may enable borrowers to pursue homeownership, start families, or further their education without the constraints of existing debt.

Who bears the cost of student loan forgiveness?

  • Taxpayers and Government: Widespread student loan forgiveness incurs costs that are often covered by taxpayers and impact government budgets, raising concerns about fiscal implications.

Are there different types of student loan forgiveness programs?

Yes, several programs exist, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Forgiveness, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, and others, each with distinct eligibility criteria and requirements.

How does student loan forgiveness contribute to social equity?

Advocates argue that forgiving student loan debt promotes social equity by providing equal opportunities for economic advancement, especially for marginalized communities hindered by the burden of educational debt.

What is the long-term impact of student loan forgiveness policies?

Long-term impacts can include economic growth, increased workforce flexibility, improved access to education, and a potentially fairer and more inclusive society.

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