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More than 200,000 student debtors in Idaho to benefit from loan forgiveness, White House says

Winter Commencement, Evening/PM Ceremony, photo by Priscilla Grover
A graduate from Boise State University at a recent commencement ceremony. (Priscilla Grover, courtesy of Boise State University)
Winter Commencement, Evening/PM Ceremony, photo by Priscilla Grover

Federal loan data suggest one in three Idahoans could have federal student debt wiped out

Almost all Idahoans with federal student loans will qualify for some student loan forgiveness under a Biden administration program rolling out this fall, according to data released Tuesday by the White House.

An Idaho Capital Sun analysis of federal loan data shows that the forgiveness program also would wipe out the federal student debt of more than 73,000 Idahoans — roughly one in three Idahoans who have federal loans — because they owe less than $10,000.

“College is supposed to help people up the economic ladder, but for far too many borrowers — and especially borrowers of color — student debt becomes an anchor that weighs them down,” said U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary James Kvaal during a press briefing on the newly released data.

There were about 217,000 student loan borrowers in Idaho as of March, according to federal student loan data. The White House estimates that 201,400 people in Idaho will be eligible to have at least some of their federal loan debt forgiven.

That does not include private student loans or government-backed loans held by commercial lenders.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little cosigned a letter to President Joe Biden this month, opposing the program. The letter raised concerns that debt cancellation would encourage more borrowing and worsen tuition increases and overall inflation.

“For those who aren’t dealing with student loan debt right now, it may be hard to see just how soul crushing this debt can be,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, during the briefing. “People are frightened by what it means for their futures and ashamed of what it says about their pasts. Student debt is a burden they carry every single day.”

The program includes an extra layer of forgiveness for borrowers from low-income households. Those who received need-based federal Pell grants can have another $10,000 of their federal loans forgiven. The White House estimated 144,900 Idahoans would qualify for that.

More than 90% of the student debt cancellation will go to people who make less than $75,000 a year, Kvaal said.

In response to criticism that the program forces taxpayers to foot the bill for people who made poor financial decisions, Deputy Director for Economic Mobility Carmel Martin argued that reducing debt would strengthen the economy.

“They'll be able to think about buying houses, starting businesses, be in a better financial position for retirement which will, you know, benefit the economy overall,” she said. “... Many of the Republicans and conservatives making the argument (against student debt relief) oversaw increasing deficits each year of the prior administration, adding $8 trillion in unpaid for tax cuts and spending during periods.”

Half of Idahoans with outstanding federal loans are under age 35, according to federal loan data. Tens of thousands of Idahoans have student debt in their 40s and beyond.

Idaho college students who graduated in 2020 had an average of $24,983 in student loan debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. About 58% of all Idaho graduates that year took on loans to pay for school, the higher-education research and advocacy organization said.

Not all of that was federal student loan debt that could qualify for the forgiveness program, though.

The organization’s latest report on student debt said that 7% of Idaho’s higher-education graduates in 2020 had taken out private loans to pay for their education. Their privately held student debt averaged $21,544, the report said.

Idaho graduates had among the lowest average student loan debt in the U.S. that year, the report said.

The report recommended policy changes that could help ease the financial burden on students who seek education beyond high school.

“Continued state investment and strong oversight, particularly to address educational quality and persistent equity gaps, is critical to make college more affordable and help more students graduate,” the report said.

Among the recommendations was for state policymakers to exempt forgiven federal student loan debt from state income taxes, which Idaho already does.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.