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Student Loan Forgiveness Statistics

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Tracking the legal back-and-forth with President Joe Biden’s federal student loan forgiveness program is enough to give anyone whiplash.

As of December 2022, the program — which could provide up to $10,000 or up to $20,000 in federal student debt forgiveness depending on the scenario — was paused because of legal challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court in February 2023 is slated to consider two cases filed against the program, and the justices’ ruling will determine whether it proceeds.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision, the expansion of previously established federal student loan forgiveness programs has had a tremendous impact on borrowers.

To learn more about the impact of federal student loan forgiveness, LendingTree researchers dug into statistics from the U.S. Department of Education on how many borrowers have been impacted by the various programs and which states saw the biggest impact.

Key findings

  • President Joe Biden’s held-up student loan forgiveness plan would forgive about $430 billion of the $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt, according to estimates. But whether the plan becomes a reality is in question. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two related cases in February 2023.
  • Five student loan forgiveness programs are credited with wiping away $29.3 billion in student debt for nearly 1.4 million borrowers. According to available data from the U.S. Department of Education, forgiven amounts for the five programs range from $1.9 billion to $14.9 billion (more on this next).
  • More than half of that $29.3 billion has been discharged under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. $14.9 billion has been discharged for 233,000-plus borrowers through Oct. 31, 2022. The vast majority — $13.4 billion for nearly 216,000 borrowers — was discharged under the limited PSLF waiver program.
  • Another $6.5 billion has been discharged for 360,000 borrowers through the Total and Permanent Disability discharge. Totally and permanently disabled borrowers may qualify with documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Social Security Administration (SSA) or a physician.
  • Since 2009, $3.7 billion in student debt has been forgiven for about 434,000 borrowers under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. $253.7 million was forgiven in fiscal year 2021 (the latest available data) — the lowest since fiscal year 2012.

Latest on Biden’s proposed student loan forgiveness plan — and how much debt has been forgiven through other key programs

Other student loan forgiveness programs are available, but Biden’s widespread plan would forgive about $430 billion of the $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt.

Whether that plan will come to fruition is in question. The program is in the hands of the Supreme Court after being blocked by lower courts in two cases — one brought by six Republican-led states and another by two borrowers.

Biden’s plan would forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for eligible borrowers who took out Pell Grants and up to $10,000 for those without Pell Grants. Eligible borrowers must have an individual income below $125,000 (or $250,000 if married).

Unfortunately for borrowers, there’s a reasonable chance that the Supreme Court will strike down the forgiveness plan entirely,” says Michael Kitchen, LendingTree student loan expert. “But even if this happens, there’s a silver lining: The debate over student loan forgiveness has helped bring a lot more attention to the overall issue of how expensive higher education has become.”

As concerns mount over the rising cost of college debt, more colleges are working on solutions. For instance, a growing number of schools are adopting “no loan” policies in which they provide financial aid packages without the need for federal or private student loans.

Independent of Biden’s plan, five key federal student loan forgiveness programs have been responsible for eliminating $29.3 billion in student debt for nearly 1.4 million borrowers:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: $14.9 billion
  • Total and Permanent Disability: $6.5 billion
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: $3.7 billion
  • Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment: $2.4 billion
  • Automatic Closed School Loan Discharge: $1.9 billion

Total amount of student loan debt forgiven under 5 key programs

Loan programAmount forgivenBorrowersAverage amount forgivenNote
Public Service Loan Forgiveness$14.9 billion233,300$63,826Through October 2022
Total and Permanent Disability$6.5 billion360,000$18,056As of August 2022
Teacher Loan Forgiveness$3.7 billion433,500$8,460Through September 2021
Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment$2.4 billion174,600$13,549Through September 2022
Automatic Closed School Loan Discharge$1.9 billion153,100$12,344Through June 2022; includes pending discharges
Total$29.3 billion1.4 million$21,347May double count borrowers under multiple programs

Public Service Loan Forgiveness accounts for more than half of the $29.3 billion that’s been forgiven

Of the $29.3 billion that’s been discharged through the federal student loan forgiveness programs highlighted here, more than half was forgiven under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. This program forgives remaining Direct Loan balances after borrowers make 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying plan while working for a qualifying employer, though it’s seen recent (some temporary) updates.

Via the PSLF program, a total of $14.9 billion has been discharged through October 2022 for more than 233,000 borrowers.

Some important points about PSLF forgiveness:

  • Most of those debts — $13.4 billion for nearly 216,000 borrowers — were forgiven under the limited PSLF waiver program that ended in October 2022. This limited-time program allowed prior student loan payments on almost any type or plan to be covered under PSLF.
  • Because of the waiver program, the Department of Education reported that 97% of forms processed through October 2022 met the requirements for PSLF. This means that these applicants work for an eligible employer and have eligible loans. In stark contrast, only 3% of those forms did meet PSLF’s requirements under the traditional criteria.
  • More than $285 million of the discharged $14.9 billion was via the Temporary Expanded PSLF program. This program, introduced in 2018, was started to help people previously not eligible for PSLF.
  • The average PSLF amount discharged is a whopping $63,826, 79% more than the average Direct Loan balance of $35,587.

That $63,826 forgiveness amount has the power to have a significant financial impact on borrowers.

“It’s no secret that having a large debt load — whether student loans or other obligations — can keep you from key financial goals, such as buying a home or starting a business,” Kitchen says. “Getting five figures’ worth of debt forgiveness is a huge boost.”

Despite the PSLF program dismissing the largest amount of money of the five forgiveness programs, its borrower pool was only the third largest at 233,000-plus, compared with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness (about 434,000) and Total and Permanent Disability (360,000) programs.

The largest average amount discharged through the PSLF program was in the District of Columbia at $80,952. This could be explained by the large amount of government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) jobs in D.C. Florida ($73,126), Vermont ($71,688) and South Carolina ($71,481) followed.

At the bottom of the list is Iowa ($50,807), West Virginia ($51,027) and South Dakota ($52,258).

States with the highest average amount discharged through PSLF

RankStateAverage amount discharged through PSLF
1District of Columbia$80,952
2Florida$73,126
3Vermont$71,688
4South Carolina$71,481
5Utah$71,391
6Hawaii$69,494
7Louisiana$69,380
8Georgia$69,229
9Massachusetts$68,616
10Maryland$68,326
11California$68,031
12Mississippi$67,362
13Alaska$66,667
13Rhode Island$66,667
15Colorado$66,217
16Tennessee$66,047
17Nevada$65,882
18North Carolina$64,932
19Arizona$64,055
20Maine$63,934
21New Hampshire$63,252
22Pennsylvania$63,176
23Texas$62,853
24Illinois$62,798
25Washington$62,517
26Oklahoma$62,500
27Virginia$62,426
28Indiana$62,401
29New York$61,868
30Oregon$61,611
31New Jersey$61,004
32Ohio$60,913
33Connecticut$60,708
34Nebraska$60,482
35Alabama$60,136
36New Mexico$59,766
37Delaware$59,672
38Arkansas$59,358
39Missouri$59,147
40North Dakota$58,478
41Michigan$58,429
42Idaho$58,026
43Minnesota$57,910
44Kentucky$56,431
45Kansas$55,652
46Montana$55,046
47Wisconsin$54,625
48Wyoming$53,333
49South Dakota$52,258
50West Virginia$51,027
51Iowa$50,807

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. PSLF data was available through October 2022.

Using available data, we can’t calculate or estimate the percentage of borrowers who received PSLF. However, we can look at the counts of Direct Loan borrowers and those with loans discharged through PSLF to create a ratio of discharged borrowers to active borrowers to give a sense of the scale in each state.

D.C. tops the list again, followed by Vermont, Oregon and Montana. Interestingly, Montana was 46th among average amounts discharged.

Ratio of discharged PSLF borrowers to Direct Loan borrowers

RankStateCount of Direct Loan borrowers (thousands)Count of borrowers with loans discharged through PSLF (thousands)Ratio of discharged borrowers to active borrowers
1District of Columbia108.11.71.55%
2Vermont72.40.81.06%
3Oregon504.74.80.95%
4Montana118.91.10.92%
5Maryland785.26.80.87%
6New York2,289.019.50.85%
6South Dakota109.20.90.85%
8Alaska62.90.50.81%
9Washington738.15.90.80%
10Virginia1,026.08.10.79%
11Minnesota741.35.80.78%
12Wisconsin684.95.10.74%
13Idaho207.51.50.73%
14Missouri766.45.50.72%
15Nebraska232.61.70.71%
15Wyoming50.80.40.71%
17Hawaii112.50.80.70%
17Kansas359.22.50.70%
19Iowa411.02.90.69%
19Maine176.71.20.69%
19West Virginia213.01.50.69%
22New Hampshire179.91.20.68%
23Colorado727.34.90.67%
24Pennsylvania1,702.511.00.65%
25Massachusetts853.25.50.64%
25Michigan1,313.78.40.64%
25Ohio1,670.410.60.64%
28New Mexico208.91.30.61%
29South Carolina695.34.10.59%
30Rhode Island135.40.80.58%
31Illinois1,518.28.70.57%
32North Dakota82.30.50.56%
33Arkansas360.71.90.52%
33California3,604.718.90.52%
33Florida2,449.412.70.52%
33Utah290.61.50.52%
37Connecticut472.92.40.51%
37Georgia1,559.07.90.51%
37Indiana845.84.30.51%
40Alabama593.72.90.50%
40Delaware122.30.60.50%
42Arizona822.04.00.49%
43Kentucky558.22.70.48%
44New Jersey1,132.95.30.47%
44North Carolina1,243.75.90.47%
44Oklahoma441.32.10.47%
44Tennessee806.33.80.47%
48Nevada322.71.40.42%
49Louisiana595.52.40.41%
50Mississippi407.01.60.40%
51Texas3,399.112.70.37%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. Direct Loan borrower counts are as of June 30, 2022, while discharged loan borrower counts are as of Oct. 31, 2022.

$6.5 billion has been discharged through Total and Permanent Disability

Yes, PSLF forgiveness stands out among the programs we’ll discuss. But there have been significant amounts discharged under other programs.

In fact, 360,000 borrowers have received forgiveness through the Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge to the tune of $6.5 billion.

The TPD program, as its name implies, is for borrowers who are totally and permanently disabled. To qualify, borrowers who are permanently disabled may qualify by presenting documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Social Security Administration (SSA) or a physician. The VA or SSA may send a letter that you’re eligible (without an application) based on an agreement with the Department of Education.

Broken down, the program has, on average, forgiven $18,056 per borrower. The TPD program ranks second in terms of both the number of borrowers receiving forgiveness and the amount of debt forgiven.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness has provided relief to largest amount of borrowers

Despite only having the third largest amount of debt forgiven — $3.7 billion since fiscal year 2009 — the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program had, by far, the largest amount of borrowers forgiven.

About 434,000 borrowers have seen their loans discharged through Teacher Loan Forgiveness. (This figure is almost certain to be higher now as the latest data is through September 2021, so there’s a lag of more than a year.) That total approaches double the amount of PSLF borrowers (233,000), which boasts the largest amount of debt forgiven.

Broken down, this comes out to $8,460 forgiven per borrower, dramatically lower than the $63,826 average for the PSLF program. That being said, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program forgives a maximum of $17,500, while there’s no PSLF cap. As for the borrower count, it’s also an easier qualification process. Qualifiers must teach for five complete and consecutive years at a qualifying low-income school or educational service agency to be eligible for that maximum amount. (Your teaching subject impacts whether you qualify for up to $17,500 or up to $5,000, too.)

During fiscal year 2021, $253.1 million was forgiven through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness — the lowest amount forgiven since fiscal year 2012.

Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment applications increase by 73%

The Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment forgiveness program allows for the forgiveness of debt if a school engaged in misconduct or misled borrowers.

In a recent example from November 2022, a federal judge approved the forgiveness of $6 billion in student loans for about 200,000 borrowers involved in a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Education. These borrowers argued they’d been defrauded by their schools, a total of 153 colleges (most of which were for profit).

As of Oct. 31, 2022, this forgiveness program has received more than 712,000 applications. As of Sept. 30, 2022, it has forgiven a total of $2.4 billion. (The Department of Education released different data on this forgiveness program at the end of September and October, with the October update not including dollar amounts.)

Per the most recent data, those applications are at the following stage of the process:

  • 56.1% are pending
  • 26.6% have been approved
  • 15.4% have been rejected
  • 1.9% have been closed

On average, Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment discharges are $13,549. Similar to PSLF, we can’t calculate or estimate the percentage of residents by state who’ve looked into Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment. But we can use the total applications received in each state and compare that to the count of Direct Loan providers to create a ratio that looks at scale.

With this specific type of forgiveness, Hawaii has a ratio of applications to Direct Loan borrowers of 3.38% — highest in the U.S. Hawaii’s followed by Nevada (2.94%), California (2.85%) and Georgia (2.73%). On the flip side, these states had the smallest applicants to Direct Loan borrowers ratios: Vermont (0.55%), Maine (0.68%) and Rhode Island (0.74%).

Ratio of Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment applications received to Direct Loan borrowers

RankStateCount of Direct Loan borrowers (thousands)Total Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment applications received (thousands)Ratio of applicants to active borrowers
1Hawaii112.53.83.38%
2Nevada322.79.52.94%
3California3,604.7102.82.85%
4Georgia1,559.042.52.73%
5Florida2,449.466.52.71%
6Illinois1,518.237.42.46%
7Washington738.116.32.21%
8Alabama593.712.42.09%
8Arizona822.017.22.09%
10Tennessee806.315.51.92%
11South Carolina695.313.11.88%
12Indiana845.815.61.84%
13Texas3,399.161.61.81%
14North Carolina1,243.722.31.79%
15Missouri766.413.51.76%
16Mississippi407.06.91.70%
17Virginia1,026.016.81.64%
18Maryland785.212.51.59%
19Ohio1,670.426.31.57%
20Colorado727.311.31.55%
20Oregon504.77.81.55%
22Louisiana595.59.01.51%
23Utah290.64.31.48%
24Kentucky558.28.11.45%
25Massachusetts853.212.01.41%
25Michigan1,313.718.51.41%
27District of Columbia108.11.51.39%
28Wyoming50.80.71.38%
29Pennsylvania1,702.523.31.37%
30Delaware122.31.61.31%
30Minnesota741.39.71.31%
32West Virginia213.02.71.27%
33Idaho207.52.61.25%
34New Mexico208.92.61.24%
35Wisconsin684.98.31.21%
36Arkansas360.74.31.19%
37New Jersey1,132.913.31.17%
38Oklahoma441.35.11.16%
39Alaska62.90.71.11%
39Kansas359.24.01.11%
41Nebraska232.62.20.95%
42New York2,289.021.20.93%
43Iowa411.03.70.90%
44North Dakota82.30.70.85%
45Montana118.91.00.84%
46New Hampshire179.91.50.83%
47Connecticut472.93.90.82%
47South Dakota109.20.90.82%
49Rhode Island135.41.00.74%
50Maine176.71.20.68%
51Vermont72.40.40.55%

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Department of Education data. Direct Loan borrower counts are as of June 30, 2022, while Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment applications are as of Oct. 31, 2022.

Interestingly, the number of applications for the Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment program spiked by 72.7% (or about 300,000 applications) between October 2021 and October 2022. Similarly, approved applications rose by 63.6% during that same period.

This may be due to the approval of multiple lawsuits in 2022 against schools such as DeVry University, Westwood College, ITT Technical Institute and Minnesota School of Business/Globe University.

Applications for Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment spiked in the following areas:

  • Mississippi (114.0%)
  • Georgia (110.9%)
  • Oregon (100.4%)

These states had the smallest percentage increases in applications, though still substantial:

  • California (32.9%)
  • West Virginia (42.5%)
  • Arkansas (43.7%)

$1.9 billion forgiven through Automated Closed School Discharge

Automatic Closed School Discharge is a forgiveness program that completely discharges Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans or federal Perkins Loans if borrowers meet the following criteria:

  • They were unable to complete their program because their school closed
  • They were enrolled when their school closed
  • Their school closed while they were on an approved leave of absence
  • Their school closed within 120 days after withdrawing (if their loans were first disbursed before July 1, 2020)
  • Their school closed within 180 days after withdrawing (if their loans were first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020)

As of June 2022, this program has approved $1.9 billion in forgiveness for more than 153,000 borrowers. This comes to a total of $12,344 per borrower, on average.

Of those borrowers, 96% have had their loans discharged as of June 2022. Another 7,400 cases are pending as of publication with a cumulative $78.2 million.

Methodology

LendingTree researchers analyzed the latest available data for forgiven debts and debtors under five federal forgiveness programs:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (through October 2022)
  • Total and Permanent Disability (based on forward-looking estimates provided by the Department of Education as of August 2022)
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness (through September 2021)
  • Borrower Defense to Loan Repayment (dollar amounts through September 2022, application counts through October 2022)
  • Automatic Closed School Discharge (through June 2022; includes pending discharges)

The Direct Loan portfolio data is as of June 2022.

 

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