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The pandemic forbearance for federal student loans was recently extended for a sixth time—marking a historic thirty-month pause on federal student loan payments. The first post in this series uses survey data to help us understand which borrowers are likely to struggle when the pandemic forbearance ends. The results from this survey and the experience of some federal borrowers who did not receive forbearance during the pandemic suggest that delinquencies could surpass pre-pandemic levels after forbearance ends. These concerns have revived debates over the possibility of blanket forgiveness of federal student loans. Calls for student loan forgiveness entered the mainstream during the 2020 election with most proposals centering around blanket federal student loan forgiveness (typically $10,000 or $50,000) or loan forgiveness with certain income limits for eligibility. Several studies (examples here, here, and here) have attempted to quantify the costs and distribution of benefits of some of these policies. However, each of these studies either relies on data that do not fully capture the population that owes student loan debt or does not separate student loans owned by the federal government from those owned by commercial banks and are thus not eligible for forgiveness with most proposals. In this post, we use representative data from anonymized credit reports that allows us to identify federal loans, calculate the total cost of these proposals, explore important heterogeneity in who owes federal student loans, and examine who would likely benefit from federal student loan forgiveness.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought substantial financial uncertainty for many Americans. In response, executive and legislative actions in March and April 2020 provided unprecedented debt relief by temporarily lowering interest rates on Direct federal student loans to 0 percent and automatically placing these loans into administrative forbearance. As a result, nearly 37 million borrowers have not been required to make payments on their student loans since March 2020, resulting in an estimated $195 billion worth of waived payments through April 2022. However, 10 million borrowers with private loans or Family Federal Education Loan (FFEL) loans owned by commercial banks were not granted the same relief and continued to make payments during the pandemic. Data show that Direct federal borrowers slowed their paydown, with very few making voluntary payments on their loans. FFEL borrowers, who were not covered by the automatic forbearance, struggled with their debt payments during this time. The difficulties faced by these borrowers in managing their student loans and other debts suggest that Direct borrowers will face rising delinquencies once forbearance ends and payments resume.
Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today released its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Creditfor the second quarter of 2021. It showed that overall household debt increased at a quick clip over the period, with a $322 billion increase in balances, boosted primarily by a 2.8 percent increase in mortgage balances, a 2.2 percent increase in credit card balances, and a 2.4 percent increase in auto balances. Mortgage balances in particular were boosted by a record $1.22 trillion in newly originated loans. Although some borrowers are originating new loans, struggling borrowers remain in forbearance programs, where they are pausing repayment on their debts and creating an additional upward pressure on outstanding mortgage balances.
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
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