Note: Since this article was published, several lawsuits have temporarily blocked President Biden’s student debt relief program. Please refer to this post for more information.

President Biden on August 24 unveiled new initiatives to support federal student loan borrowers — including a plan that will grant eligible borrowers as much as $20,000 in debt forgiveness. 

It goes without saying that this is great news for the roughly 43 million borrowers who qualify for some relief. But while the majority of students take out loans to pay for college, the experience of living with student debt is still deeply personal, perhaps even more so with the end of federal student loan payment suspension looming just around the corner.

With that in mind, we wanted to dig deeper into what this debt forgiveness will mean to borrowers on an individual level — so we asked Candidly users to share their reactions to Biden’s announcement. Here’s what we learned: 

 

Across the board, borrowers are thrilled. 

“I’m beyond thankful and excited.”

“It will be life-changing!”

Excited. Relieved. Hopeful. Thankful. Ecstatic. It’s no surprise that the top five most popular adjectives our respondents used to describe their reactions to Biden’s plan are all optimistic. 

But the reasons they shared for why the forgiveness plan is welcome news reveal what’s been at stake — and what’s been sacrificed — while borrowers have been left to grapple with tens of thousands, if not more, in student debt. 

 

This relief will be life-changing.

“I’m the first in my family to attend and graduate college, and this forgiveness makes it financially possible to also earn a master’s degree.”

“This means I might be able to retire some day.”

“After being stressed about my debt for years, this is a fresh start.” 

 Many borrowers shared that student debt forgiveness means they’ll no longer struggle to afford day-to-day expenses or be able to start saving for the first time.  Others said that the initiative will allow them to focus on other goals, both personal — such as going back to school or changing careers — and financial — like qualifying for a mortgage or repaying private student loans, which are not eligible for forgiveness. 

Improved mental wellbeing was also a common theme in the responses, since the relief plan will alleviate some of the “significant” or “very significant” stress that 8 in 10 borrowers experience as a result of their loans.

 

But many borrowers are unsure of what exactly the plan means for them. 

“YES! Now to try to remember if I ever received a Pell Grant . . .”

“I’m just hoping I’ll get refunded for all the payments I made during the freeze.”

“My loans have been in deferment for almost ten years, so I’m not sure I even qualify for this.”

The most frequently shared point of uncertainty was about how much of their debt would be forgiven and what steps they’ll need to take to prove they meet the income requirements for forgiveness. But many also wanted to understand how the relief plan will impact more nuanced scenarios, such as implications for borrowers pursuing Public Service Loan Forgiveness or those whose loans were in deferment before federal student debt payments were suspended in 2020. 

Another notable point of confusion brought to light by the survey: the number of borrowers who shared that they don’t know if they received a Pell Grant. Under the new relief plan, borrowers who received a Pell Grant — a federal aid program reserved for low-income undergraduate students — are eligible to receive the maximum amount of forgiveness. But Pell Grants are typically awarded as just one component within a larger aid package and usually don’t have to be repaid, so it’s no surprise that this detail may be fuzzy for borrowers who left school years ago. 

 

And they’re eager to take the next steps. 

“This is a MAJOR relief. Between this new forgiveness and my progress towards PSLF, I’ll definitely be free and clear soon.”

“I’m so excited, but I hope I won’t have to wait too long before I can see my balance drop to zero!”

“I’m grateful for any amount forgiven, but it’s bittersweet because I’ll still owe $50,000 in federal loans. I really need to figure out how to get that paid off now that I know the bills will start again soon.”

“Now for my private student loans . . .”

In the hours after Biden made his official announcement, numerous reports emerged that the official website for the Office of Federal Student Aid and multiple student loan servicers’ websites had crashed due to an unprecedentedly high volume of visitors — a sure sign that borrowers are eager to claim their relief. 

The responses to our survey certainly echo this urgent enthusiasm. Many borrowers shared that they were disappointed that the Dept. of Education has not yet launched the application that borrowers will use to verify that their annual income meets the relief plan’s eligibility criteria. Others shared that they felt motivated to plan how they’ll pay off their remaining federal debt after forgiveness has been administered, or debt owed to private student lenders. And interest in learning more about the other federal student loan initiatives in Biden’s announcement — especially the new income-driven repayment plan — was shared all around. 

 

How we’re meeting borrowers’ needs.

Biden’s plan for student loan forgiveness has the potential to be the biggest financial turning point millions of Americans will ever experience. 

But that vision won’t become a reality unless every borrower is empowered to take full advantage of this opportunity. And that won’t happen unless innovation is embraced by stakeholders throughout every step of the plan’s execution — starting with thoughtful, consumer-grade tech.

 

Innovation enables accessibility.

Candidly was founded on the beliefs that student debt is everyone’s problem, and that smart, forward-looking technology is the best way to solve it. This ethos is affirmed by the enthusiasm with which stakeholders adopt our platform and the remarkable outcomes users achieve through our tools every day. 

Consider, for instance, the immediate success of our Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) tool. 

Historically, this federal student debt relief program’s success rate has been abysmal. As of last year, only 7.6 percent of eligible borrowers had ever applied for PSLF and just 2.1 percent of those applications had ever been approved — the results of fatal flaws in the program’s design and a needlessly convoluted application process. 

So when it was announced in October 2021 that the Department of Education was enacting a temporary waiver to ease the program’s rules so that more borrowers could qualify for PSLF, we knew that personalized, user-friendly technology would be key to maximizing the waiver’s impact. And sure enough, in the first two months following its launch, 80 percent of the applications facilitated through our PSLF solution were from first-time program applicants. 

This tech-centric approach is even more critical to the success of Biden’s new plan for widespread student loan forgiveness. 

As our survey results show, the most pressing challenge to solve is that a lot of borrowers have a lot of questions — and data intelligence that enables personalized guidance will be integral to scaling effective support.

That’s why we launched our new Federal Forgiveness Finder. This tool provides an estimate for how much forgiveness a user is eligible to receive by analyzing their income history, student loan data, and Pell Grant recipient status, all in a matter of minutes. 

And because the Finder is available exclusively through the Candidly platform or embedded API, it enables our partners to take an active, visible role in this life-changing moment for their employees, participants, and banking customers. Plus, because Candidly offers tools to support every phase in the lifecycle of education expenses, the Federal Forgiveness Finder will also help stakeholders build a foundation for long-term engagement.

Indeed, stakeholders can’t lose sight of what’s to come after forgiveness is administered. The majority of the 43 million borrowers who are eligible for relief owe more than what will be forgiven.  And this January, they’ll resume repaying their outstanding federal debt and be on the hook for monthly bills — and still in need of innovative, tech-driven guidance — for years, if not decades, to come.

Have questions about the Federal Forgiveness Finder, or what the debt forgiveness plan means for your team, or how to help employees prepare for the return of monthly student loan payments? Click here to set up a call.