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Biden’s Unending Student Loan Forgiveness Run


May 23, 2024

On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced $7.7 billion in student debt cancellation for about 161,000 borrowers, equating to about $48,000 per borrower. Compared to what has already been spent on loan forgiveness since the pandemic began, that’s an enormous drop in a gargantuan bucket.

AEI’s Student Debt Forgiveness Tracker, which I run, tracks all student loan revenue from the US Treasury that has been forgone or forgiven during the Trump and Biden presidencies. With Tuesday’s addition of $7.7 billion, the tracker’s total now sits at about $405 billion.

A single, one-time announcement of $7.7 billion might not make a splash in the news, but the Biden administration has made many such announcements, and they add up, quickly. Earlier this week, on May 21, the Biden administration announced $7.7 billion in forgiveness. At the beginning of the month, on May 1, the Biden administration announced $6.1 billion in forgiveness. Just a few weeks before that, on April 12, the Biden administration announced $7.4 billion in forgiveness. And just a few weeks before that, on March 21, the Biden administration announced nearly $6 billion in forgiveness.

That’s an astonishing—and strangely consistent—pace of forgiveness. $7.7 billion in forgiveness since May 1 comes to about $4,460 per second. That’s right, per second. Per hour it was over $16 million. Similarly, $6.1 billion between April 12 and May 1 comes to roughly $3,720 per second, and $7.4 billion between March 21 and April 12 comes to roughly $3,890 per second. Over the whole period, the pace of forgiveness was over $14 million per hour and over $4,000 per second.

That seems like an unsustainable pace, but you have to give it to them, they have kept it up. Over the past year, the pace of forgiveness has been an astonishing $3,400 per second. That’s right: $3,400 every second for a whole year. Now, included in that rate is some forgiveness due to the Pandemic Student Loan Payment Pause, which some might argue is not strictly forgiveness (but which is inarguably foregone student loan revenue). But even putting aside the Pause, the pace of forgiveness was over $2,800 per second, or over $10 million per hour, non-stop for an entire year. 

That is quite a run—and I don’t mean that in a good way. All signs point to an indefatigable administration determined to keep on running up the total. But the question I have is which will be exhausted first: the administration’s ambitions or the American people’s patience.