Biden has been assessing the legality of canceling $50,000 in student debt for millions of Americans. After several months, there’s still no word.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. AP Photo/Evan Vucci
  • Early in his term, Biden asked the Education and Justice Depts. to review the legality of canceling student debt.
  • They are assessing $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student debt being canceled per person, and no update has been released.
  • Some Democrats remain adamant that Biden can cancel student debt under the Higher Education Act.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Imagine getting your student debt canceled. President Joe Biden campaigned on it, vowing that he would “immediately” wipe out thousands of dollars in debt for every borrower if he was elected.

Six months in, though, the White House is still reviewing the legality of doing that.

Early in his term, Biden asked the Education and Justice Departments to review his legal authority to cancel $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student debt per borrower by executive order. The $US50,000 ($AU67,902) figure wasn’t his idea; Sen. Elizabeth Warren campaigned on canceling that amount, while Biden said he’d wipe out a more moderate $US10,000 ($AU13,580) per borrower.

During a CNN town hall in February, Biden began to change his tune, saying he didn’t believe he had the legal ability to cancel $US50,000 ($AU67,902) per borrower.

Soon afterward, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in February that Biden had asked the Justice Department to conduct a review on his ability to cancel $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student debt per borrower using executive powers.

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Politico in April that Biden had also asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to create a memo on the president’s legal authority to forgive $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student loans per person. He said Biden will “look at that legal authority.”

“He’ll look at the policy issues around that, and he’ll make a decision,” Klain said. “He hasn’t made a decision on that either way, and, in fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision.”

So when will Biden be getting those memos?

Neither the Education nor the Justice Department responded to Insider’s requests for comment, leaving borrowers with no timeline on when Biden will get the information he needs to make a decision on broad student-debt cancellation. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment.

In terms of what experts think will come of the reviews, opinions differ. Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on student loans who has published bestselling books on the subject, told Insider last month that if the departments are truly conducting these reviews, they will find Biden “does not have that authority” under the Higher Education Act.

“He has asked the Department of Justice and US Department of Education to give them a report on whether he has that authority,” Kantrowitz said, “and if they’re honest, they’re going to say ‘no.'”

Kantrowitz said the Democrats pushing for $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student debt cancellation are taking a section of the Higher Education Act out of context, and it’s Congress that has “the power of the purse” and ultimately holds the authority to wipe out debt. He referred to the section of the Act that says the Education Secretary can “…modify, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption.”

Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, which protects borrowers’ rights, told Insider last month that the findings should be “crystal clear.”

“Any kind of deliberate, straightforward reading of the Higher Education Act makes it very clear that the Education Secretary has broad discretion to cancel debt and help student loan borrowers,” Frotman said.

The leading Democrats pushing for $US50,000 ($AU67,902) in student debt cancellation – Sen. Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer – agree with Frotman. Since Biden took office, they have remained adamant that the Higher Education Act would permit the president to wipe out student debt for borrowers, and they are urging him to act as soon as possible, even before the results of the reviews are released.

Warren previously told Insider that she thinks the reviews are a step in the right direction, and for this article, referred Insider to a letter from the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School that detailed the Education Secretary’s legal ability to cancel student debt.

“President Biden can cancel $US50,000 ($AU67,902) of student loan debt with the stroke of a pen,” Warren told Insider in June. “He doesn’t need Congress to act, he can do it on his own, and I hope that’s what he’s going to do.”