• The president’s plan for student loan forgiveness for millions of borrowers remains stuck in the courts.
  • Congress could forgive student debt, but with split power in the next session, the chances of success are unlikely.
  • The Education Department, meanwhile, is weighing extending the payment pause, among other options.

President Joe Biden’s plan for mass student loan forgiveness is at the mercy of federal judges, which means borrowers’ hopes for relief are also on hold. 

The legal delay comes at the same time as the end of a freeze on student loan bills approaches, leaving borrowers with questions about whether they will be expected to resume payments in 2023 without wider debt relief. 

The Education Department and the White House would not say publicly whether there are plans to extend the payment pause or what alternatives they were considering beyond using the president’s executive authority to cancel student loan debt. 

But in a recent court filing, Education Department Undersecretary James Kvaal wrote that without wider debt cancellation, the agency expects a “historically large increase in the amount of federal student loan delinquency and defaults as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He wrote that the agency was “examining all available options” to address that concern, though he warned the cost might be high.

What’s next? US judge strikes down student loan forgiveness plan

“The Department estimates that if it temporarily extends the existing COVID-19 pandemic payment and interest accrual pause for federal student loan holders, it will cost taxpayers several billion dollars a month in unrecovered loan revenue,” Kvaal wrote. 

Kvaal didn’t expand in his filing on what the other options might be, but there are only so many forms debt relief might take. Congress could cancel debt on its own, though with Republicans claiming a majority in the House after the midterm elections, that option seems unlikely even given Democrats’ hold on the Senate. 

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The Education Department has canceled billions in debt through its existing relief programs, but there are limits to who qualifies for those programs, and they often require borrowers to make years of payments before seeing relief. 

The Job Creators Network Foundation and six conservatives states have brought separate legal challenges that hobbled the president’s plan for mass debt relief, though the administration has said it will fight the challenges in court. 

Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett has twice dismissed emergency appeals from other groups seeking to temporarily halt the president’s plan while the litigation continues, but she did so without comment and without referring the requests to  the full court, where conservatives hold a 6-3 majority.

More:With student loan forgiveness in legal limbo, Feds bet on other debt relief options

Will the president extend the pause on student loan payments?

The administration could extend the payment pause again, though federal officials said the most recent extension would be the final one.