Canceling student debt isn't as easy as it seems, a top student-loan official says: 'There's a lot of twists and turns'

Canceling student debt isn't as easy as it seems, a top student-loan official says: 'There's a lot of twists and turns'
US President Joe Biden looks on prior to a signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 25, 2022.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
  • Under Sec. of Education James Kvaal said that canceling student debt is not as easy as it seems.
  • He noted he is still continuing to examine Biden's authority to enact $10,000 in relief without Congress.

It's a question millions of student-loan borrowers want an answer to: Why is it taking so long for President Joe Biden to cancel their debt?

Under Secretary of Education James Kvaal said it's just not that easy.

"We've been working hard on it," Kvaal told YouTube personality Philip DeFranco in an interview this week. "There's a lot of twists and turns, and I know that from the outside these do seem like easy questions, but it's not a question of yes, you have the authority, or no, you don't have the authority, there's a lot of hoops we have to go through."

Kvaal did not elaborate in the interview on what exactly those hoops are, but he did note that whether Biden has the authority to enact broad student-loan forgiveness is something the Education Department is continuing to examine — specifically, whether the president can wipe out $10,000 in debt "without an act of Congress." Biden is reportedly considering $10,000 in relief for federal borrowers making under $150,000 a year. A White House spokesperson recently confirmed to Insider that he's still planning to make that announcement before August 31, when the pause on payments is set to expire.

While Biden campaigned on $10,000 in loan forgiveness, many advocates and Democratic lawmakers have been pushing him to go bigger. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for example, championed $50,000 in relief as part of her presidential campaign, but Biden expressed hesitancy with his legal authority to wipe out that amount of relief. He said in April $50,000 is off the table.


It's unclear, though, what authority the department is continuing to examine, as Kvaal noted, because redacted documents last year revealed that the department produced a memo on Biden's legal authority to cancel student debt. While the actual conclusion of the memo is not available to the public, the fact the memo exists and was circulated within the White House suggests there is an answer on that authority, but borrowers do not yet know what that answer is.

Republican lawmakers have remained adamant that Biden does not have the authority to wipe out student debt, but Democrats have maintained the opposite. "Higher education is supposed to level the playing field, but our current financing system widens the racial wealth gap. It's time for bold reforms—and that includes President Biden using his executive authority to #CancelStudentDebt," Warren wrote on Twitter.

A possible reason for the hold-up could be related to inflation. As Insider previously reported, Biden wants to ensure any relief does not exacerbate already high prices in the country, and his top economic advisers said that canceling student debt around the time of the payment restart could balance out any inflationary impacts.

Still, the payment pause ends in just over a month, and Democrats, Republicans, advocates, and borrowers have said an announcement on any upcoming relief is overdue.