Who Benefits from Student Debt Cancellation?

14 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021

Date Written: March 18, 2021


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused historic levels of unemployment and economic hardship while student debt balances are also at record levels. We use administrative banking and credit bureau data to estimate how the benefits of different debt cancellation scenarios would be distributed by household income, borrowers’ remaining time to pay off their debt, and borrower race and ethnicity. We examine four scenarios: (1) universal cancellation of up to $10,000 of every debtor’s balance; (2) cancellation of up to $50,000 of debt for people earning less than $125,000; (3) cancellation of up to $25,000 for people earning less than $75,000 and phasing out at $100,000; and (4) cancellation of up to $50,000 with the same income phase-out as scenario 3. We find that income cut offs significantly reduce the total amount of debt forgiven and make cancellation less regressive, while all cancellation scenarios we examine distribute forgiveness across borrowers by race in roughly the same way. In general, cancellation disproportionately benefits middle- and high-income families, though income targeting makes cancellation less regressive. Most notably, the $25,000 cancellation with income phase-out cancels the same amount of debt as the $10,000 universal cancellation while completely wiping out debt for a higher fraction of low-income borrowers.

Keywords: student debt, student loan debt, student debt cancellation, student loan cancellation, student loan forgiveness, student debt forgiveness

JEL Classification: I22, I24, I28, H52

Suggested Citation

Greig, Fiona and Sullivan, Daniel M, Who Benefits from Student Debt Cancellation? (March 18, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3808242 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3808242

Fiona Greig

Vanguard ( email )

Daniel M Sullivan (Contact Author)

JPMorgan Chase Institute ( email )

601 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004
United States

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