No, President Joe Biden didn’t break his campaign promise on student loan forgiveness.

Here’s what you need to know.

Student Loans

Some progressives have claimed that Biden already has broken a key campaign promise: wide-scale student loan cancellation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, for example, Biden campaigned on two main types of student loan cancellation:

  • Student Loan Cancellation: $10,000 of student loan forgiveness due to the Covid-19 pandemic; and
  • Student Loan Forgiveness: Grant federal student loan forgiveness to all student loan borrowers from public colleges and universities who earn up to $125,000 per year. This student loan forgiveness also would apply to private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).

To date, Biden has not implemented either one of these plans for student loan cancellation. Does this mean Biden broke a campaign promise? No, Biden didn’t break any campaign promises on student loans or student loan cancellation. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Biden paused student loans on his first day in office

On the first day of his presidency, January 20, 2021, Biden enacted immediate student loan relief for millions of student loan borrowers. The nine-month extension of student loan relief continued a policy started by former president Donald Trump, and before that, the Cares Act (the $2.2 trillion stimulus package). Through September 30, 2021:

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  • No federal student loan payments are owed
  • No new interest will accrue on your federal student loans
  • No student loans in default will be collected

Biden sought to ensure that student loan borrowers had extended student loan relief during the Covid-19 pandemic. Will this student loan payment pause be extended? It’s too early to tell, but don’t expect the payment pause to be extended beyond September 30, 2021. The rationale is similar to why you shouldn’t expect a 4th stimulus check.


2. Biden has cancelled $2.3 billion of student loans

While Biden hasn’t enacted wide-scale student loan cancellation, he has aggressively moved to cancel $2.3 billion of student loans on a targeted, piecemeal basis. First, Biden cancelled $1 billion of student loans for 72,000 student loan borrowers and second, he cancelled another $1.3 billion of student loans for 41,000 borrowers with total and permanent disability. While some have complained Biden has only cancelled a fraction of the $1.7 trillion of outstanding student loans, others have reacted differently to Biden’s student loan cancellation.


3. Student loan cancellation on campaign trail is different than policy

It’s common for presidential candidates to campaign on policies they support and hope to implement in office. However, a president can’t pass legislation and is somewhat limited by executive action. As a candidate, Biden said he would work with Congress to implement student loan cancellation. Biden supports $10,000 of student loan cancellation for borrowers immediately due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Biden has said Congress, not the president, should pass legislation to forgive student loans and he would sign the legislation. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), also a former presidential candidate, supported student loan cancellation for 95% of student loan borrowers. Today, she and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are hoping Biden will cancel up to $50,000 of student loans by executive order. As a candidate, Biden didn’t expect, nor support, members of his own party to challenge him on wide-scale student loan forgiveness. Congress has the authority to cancel student loans, but doesn’t have the votes to pass legislation on student loan forgiveness.


Will your student loans get cancelled?

Many student loan borrowers wonder: “Will my student loans get cancelled?” It’s a stretch to claim that the president has broken a campaign promise when he’s been in office less than three months. It’s possible to debate whether the president has executive authority to cancel student loans, although it’s not the mainstream view and Biden has said he doesn’t believe he has such authority. That said, Biden has committed to have experts review the law and policy. For example, Biden has asked the U.S. Department of Education to review the law on a president’s unilateral authority to cancel student loan debt, including under the Higher Education Act of 1965. The legal review could provide further guidance on student loan cancellation, including the arguments for and against student loan debt cancellation; how much student loan debt, if any, to cancel; who may qualify for student loan cancellation, and alternative ways to provide student loan relief in addition to student loan cancellation.

After the legal review, it’s possible that student loans get cancelled — although there is is one problem. Student loan cancellation isn’t guaranteed. Ultimately, Biden will make the final determination whether he can cancel student loans. If he has such authority, there’s no guarantee that he will cancel any more than $10,000 of student loans, which he has publicly supported, or if every student loan borrower will qualify. If you’re waiting for student loan cancellation, make sure you also evaluate all your options for student loan repayment. Here are some smart options to consider to save money:


Student Loans: Related Reading

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Student loan relief for 1 million more borrowers—After $2.3 billion of student loan cancellation

Stimulus checks are coming soon, but student loan cancellation may take longer