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Forty-three million Americans — or about one in six adults — owe some form of federal student loans. The most recent data from the Survey of Consumer Finance shows. As of 2019, the median household in the US owed $25,180[1] in loans.

President Joe Biden announced a one-time student loan cancelation plan in fall 2022 that would forgive $10,000 in student debt for many Americans with government-held loans. The amount of relief doubles to $20,000 for those with Pell grants who qualify.[2] So far, 26 million borrowers have applied for relief or have been approved for student loan forgiveness. But the student loan relief plan is on hold while the Supreme Court reviews legal challenges.

The Department of Education paused all student loan repayment, interest, and collections in March 2020, and has renewed that pause several times over the pandemic. That pause ends June 30, 2023, unless the Supreme Court makes a final decision on debt forgiveness before then.[3].

Student debt by the numbers

Family and individual median student debt has more than tripled since 1989, according to 2019 data from the Survey of Consumer Finance. But the median debt owed varies by household type; while median US household student debt was $25,180 in 2019, it was $34,340 for Black families.

Black families’ student loan balances rose 96% between 2010 and 2019, compared to a 44% increase for all families.

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Racial and gender disparities in student loan debt

Preliminary findings from Federal Reserve economists indicate that unique factors contribute to higher student loan debt for Black borrowers, such as remaining in school longer and being more likely to attend for-profit colleges.

The report found that women are more likely than men to enroll in college and complete their degrees. They are also more likely to take on debt. On average, women have $9,400 in student loans compared to $7,700 for men. Black men and women face a similar burden by taking on higher average debts than their white counterparts, which can eat into a greater share of their earnings.

The Federal Reserve found that young Black women are most likely to have student debt. Their average loan balance is $11,000. Because Black women take on more student debt than other students, it takes them longer to pay back their loans. Gender and racial disparities in student debt thus grow over time, according to the report.

student debt owed by race and gender

How could student debt cancelation change what borrowers owe?

Sixty-six percent of Pell Grant recipients came from families that made $30,000 or less annually in 2019–2020, according to the Education Department.

The department estimates 87% of relief will go to people making less than $75,000 per year. The remaining 13% make between $75,000 and $125,000. Approximately 20 million borrowers, or 45% of people with loans, will have their remaining balance fully canceled.

Borrowers of all ages will benefit from the cancelation. The Education Department estimates that 21% of borrowers who are eligible for student loan relief are 25 and younger. Forty-four percent are 26-39 and the remaining borrowers are ]40 and up. About 5% of seniors would be eligible for the relief.

For a state-by-state breakdown of number of student loan forgiveness applications see The White House Fact Sheet.

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Gender and Racial Disparities in Student Debt
Survey of Consumer Finances