Student loan forgiveness statistics 2024

Author pictureAuthor picture
Author picture
Author picture
Edited by:
college students walking in campus

The total balance of all U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1.7 trillion for the first time at the start of 2021 and has remained at or near a record high in each quarter since.

The Biden-Harris administration has taken steps to eliminate student loan debt for millions of borrowers, approving the relief of $167 billion in debt for more than 4.7 million Americans. But millions of Americans still have student debt, with the vast majority of that debt ($1.75 trillion as of the start of 2024) stemming from federal loans.

If you are one of the more than 40 million borrowers who still have student debt, student loan forgiveness programs may provide relief by reducing or eliminating your outstanding debt based on specific eligibility criteria.

Unlike separate efforts by the Biden-Harris administration to cancel debt for broad groups of borrowers, forgiveness is generally only available for individuals who work in a certain industry or profession, including teachers and government employees.

Key insights

Student loan debt in the U.S. totaled more than $1.75 trillion in the first quarter of 2024.

Jump to insight

Nearly 43 million borrowers still have outstanding federal student loans as of the second quarter of 2024.

Jump to insight

Among U.S. borrowers who have outstanding debt for their own education, the median amount of education debt in 2023 was between $20,000 and $24,999.

Jump to insight

The Biden-Harris administration has approved $167 billion in student loan debt forgiveness for more than 4.7 million borrowers.

Jump to insight

Between October 2021 and May 2024, more than 942,000 borrowers have had loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.

Jump to insight

Student loan forgiveness statistics

While total student loan debt in the U.S. has surged to record highs in recent years, only a fraction of borrowers have benefited from student loan forgiveness, which is the elimination of some or all of a borrower’s outstanding debt.

Between October 2021 and May 2024, the Department of Education approved forgiveness for more than 942,000 borrowers through the PSLF Program, with nearly $68 billion in debt eliminated. Still, most applicants haven’t met the requirements for forgiveness, which include having made 120 monthly debt payments at the time of applying.

More borrowers have instead benefited from other debt cancellations through actions taken by the Biden-Harris administration. While the administration’s plans to eliminate up to $20,000 in student debt for individuals making less than $125,000 annually have been blocked by legal challenges, it has taken more limited steps to cancel outstanding debts.

Student debt totals

As of the first quarter of 2024, Americans had a total of more than $1.75 trillion in outstanding education debt. Over 91% of that debt, nearly $1.6 trillion, came from federal student loans held by more than 43 million borrowers.

While student loan forgiveness and cancellation have increased in recent years, the total student debt balance remains near the record high of nearly $1.78 trillion set in the first quarter of 2023. A little more than a decade earlier, at the start of 2012, the student debt balance among all U.S. consumers was below $1 trillion.

The total number of borrowers with federal student debt has also climbed significantly in recent years, rising from 28.3 million in 2007 to 43.8 million at the start of 2023.

Student loan debtor demographics

Americans ages 35 to 49 held more student loan debt than any other age group as of the second quarter of 2024, with nearly $635 billion in outstanding education debt. Those in the 25 to 34 age group represented the largest number of borrowers, however, making up 14.8 million individuals.

As of the end of March 2024, California had more than 3.9 million people with outstanding federal education debt, making it the home of more federal student loan borrowers than any other state. Texas followed with more than 3.8 million federal student loan borrowers.

Washington, D.C., had an average balance per federal student loan borrower of over $54,000, which was higher than any state or Puerto Rico. North Dakota was the only state where the average federal student loan borrower owed less than $30,000.

Who is eligible for student loan debt forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness is generally available for people in select professions who have been making payments on their loans for around 10 years or more.

The PSLF Program is available to those who have made 120 qualifying monthly payments on their loans while working in many types of government and public education positions. Those who work at certain nonprofit or not-for-profit organizations may also qualify.

Between October 2021 and October 2022, the Department of Education made a temporary change to the program that qualified an additional 662,000 borrowers for PSLF.

Certain teachers may qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program if they have taught full time for five consecutive years in a low-income school or educational service agency.

Borrowers who have made payments through an income-driven repayment plan for more than 20 to 25 years may also be eligible to have the remainder of their outstanding balance forgiven.

Student debt cancellation qualification

Separately from the typical student loan forgiveness programs, the Biden-Harris administration has taken more than two dozen executive actions to eliminate the student loan debt of millions of borrowers. Those actions include changes to the PSLF Program and canceling debt for certain borrowers who have been in repayment for more than 20 years.

The administration’s broadest plans for debt cancellation have been stalled, however. In 2022, the administration sought to provide up to $20,000 in student debt relief for borrowers earning less than $125,000 per year, regardless of how long a borrower had been making loan payments.

Estimates from the Biden-Harris administration suggested that more than 40 million borrowers would have qualified for the program, meaning the plan would have affected the vast majority of borrowers with federal student debt. In the span of less than four weeks that the application was available, 26 million people had either applied for relief or were deemed eligible by the Department of Education, and nearly 16.5 million borrowers were approved for debt elimination before the plans were blocked.

How much student loan debt has been eliminated?

As of May 2024, the Biden-Harris administration had approved $167 billion in student debt relief for 4.75 million Americans.

One of the largest categories of student debt relief includes $28.7 billion of debt relief approved for more than 1.6 million borrowers who attended certain defunct schools. The administration has also approved the elimination of $14.1 billion in debt for more than 548,000 borrowers who have total and permanent disabilities.

Between October 2021 and May 2024, more than 942,000 borrowers had nearly $68 billion in debt discharged through the PSLF Program. Prior to President Biden taking office, only 7,000 people had received forgiveness through the PSLF Program.

How many borrowers have their applications for forgiveness accepted?

While the Biden-Harris administration has ramped up efforts to reform the PSLF Program and increase the amount of student debt forgiven, few applications are approved through the program’s typical process.

Between November 2020 and June 2023, just over 121,000 of nearly 4 million PSLF applications met the full requirements of the traditional PSLF Program, making for an approval rate of just over 3%. Most forms were rejected because the borrower hadn’t met the condition of making 120 qualifying payments, i.e., making every monthly payment for 10 years.

The number of borrowers granted forgiveness has risen significantly since then, with many approved under a temporary waiver from the Department of Education. But the number of people forgiven remains significantly below the estimated 2 million borrowers with eligible employment qualifications, according to the department's June 2023 estimate.


How many people actually receive student loan forgiveness?

Under the PSLF Program, the Biden-Harris administration has eliminated nearly $68 billion in student debt for more than 942,000 borrowers. But the program has historically seen few applications accepted. Prior to 2021, just 7,000 borrowers had loans forgiven through PSLF.

What are the acceptance rates for student loan forgiveness?

Under the traditional requirements for the PSLF Program, which include 120 qualifying payments while working in government or at a qualifying nonprofit, acceptance rates for student loan forgiveness have traditionally been low. The Department of Education found just 3.3% of applications qualified for forgiveness between November 2020 and June 2023 among more than 3.7 million that met the basic employment requirements for consideration.

Who qualifies for student loan forgiveness?

In order to qualify for PSLF, the most common program for student loan forgiveness, borrowers are required to have made 120 qualifying payments on their loans while working in government or at a nonprofit organization. Other ways to qualify for student loan forgiveness include teaching at a low-income school for five consecutive years or making payments for upward of 20 to 25 years through an income-driven repayment plan.

Will everyone get student loan forgiveness?

No, not everyone will get their student loans forgiven. Requirements for student loan forgiveness are stringent, and only borrowers who have made consistent payments over many years qualify. Ultimately, only a small percentage of applicants for student loan forgiveness see their loans forgiven.

How many Americans have student debt?

Nearly 43 million Americans have outstanding federal student loans as of the second quarter of 2024. In 2023, the median amount of education debt that borrowers owed was between $20,000 and $24,999.


  1. ”Consumer Credit Outstanding (Levels).” Federal Reserve Board. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  2. “Biden-Harris Administration Announces Additional $7.7 Billion in Approved Student Debt Relief for 160,000 Borrowers.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  3. ”Federal Student Loan Portfolio.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  4. “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2023 - May 2024, Higher Education and Student Loans.” Federal Reserve Board. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  5. “State-by-State Breakdown of Borrowers Approved for Forgiveness.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  6. “FACT SHEET: Biden-⁠Harris Administration Releases New Data Showing 26 Million People in All 50 States Applied or Were Automatically Eligible for One-Time Student Debt Relief.” The White House. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  7. “FACT SHEET: President Biden Cancels Student Debt for more than 150,000 Student Loan Borrowers Ahead of Schedule.” The White House. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  8. “Student Loan Forgiveness.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  9. “Public Service Loan Forgiveness Data.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here
  10. “From Federal Student Aid’s Chief: How Public Service Loan Forgiveness Can Free You From Federal Student Loan Debt.” U.S. Department of Education. Evaluated May 31, 2024.Link Here


Back to ConsumerAffairs

Journal of Consumer Research