Finance

Public Lays Blame for Student Debt Forgiveness Limbo on Conservative Judges, Republicans in Congress

U.S. adults most likely to say they trust the Department of Education, Democratic lawmakers to handle country’s student debt burden

Photograph of student loan borrowers protest with sign reading
Student loan borrowers protest the GOP outside the Republican National Committee on Nov. 18, 2022, in Washington, D.C. A Morning Consult survey found that 48% of U.S. adults blame Republicans in Congress for postponing President Joe Biden's plan to cancel student loan debt, while an equal share said the same of conservative judges. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

With the possibility of $10,000 to $20,000 of debt forgiveness for federal student loan borrowers now stuck in the federal courts, a new Morning Consult survey finds that Americans are most likely to blame conservative judges and Republicans in Congress for the hang-up. And as two-thirds of federal student loan borrowers report having struggled to repay loans in the past, a majority still expects to have trouble repaying when the current moratorium ends.

Conservative Judges, Republicans in Congress Most Likely to Receive Blame for Blockage of Student Loan Forgiveness

Respondents were asked to what extent they blame the following for postponing President Biden’s plan to cancel student loan debt:

Survey conducted Nov. 18-21, 2022, among a representative sample of 4,421 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-1 percentage point. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

When it comes to student loan issues, the public is most likely to put its faith in the Department of Education

  • After several court cases, including an October ruling by the conservative 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that put a halt to President Joe Biden’s loan cancellation plans, U.S. adults were most likely to blame conservative judges and GOP lawmakers for blocking student loan forgiveness.  
  • When asked who they trust most to address how student loans are handled in the United States, 47% of adults named the Department of Education, followed by Biden and Democrats in Congress (45% each). 
  • About 4 in 5 Democrats said they trust the president and congressional Democrats to handle student debt, while about 3 in 5 said they trust liberal judges and the Department of Education. Republicans were most likely to trust congressional Republicans (69%) and conservative judges (57%) on the issue, while independents were lukewarm on the matter, with 37% saying they trust the Education Department, 32% saying they trust the president and 31% trusting Democrats in Congress.
Two-Thirds of Adults With Federal Student Loans Say They Have Struggled to Afford Payments

Adults with federal student loans were asked if they have ever had issues with having enough money to make student loan payments

Survey conducted Nov. 18-21, 2022, among a representative sample of 677 U.S. adults with federal student loans, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Federal student loan borrowers expect to have trouble affording their payments when moratorium ends

  • A majority of adults who currently have federal student loans said they have experienced hardship in affording their payments (66%). 
  • Among federal student loan borrowers, 59% said they may not be able to afford their loan payments when the current moratorium ends.  
  • The Biden administration aims to forgive $10,000 of debt for borrowers who make less than $125,000 annually (or less than $250,000 if married filing jointly), or $20,000 of debt for Pell Grant recipients. Even if the relief plan succeeds as originally designed, many borrowers may still be facing payments, as 48% of adults with federal debt said in the survey that they owe more than $20,000 in federal loans.

Relief for borrowers now in the hands of the Supreme Court

When the Biden administration opened the application for its student debt relief program in October, applications began flowing in. With payments slated to resume in January 2023, the administration had indicated that it would issue no further extensions of the moratorium on interest and payments, which was instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as legal challenges succeeded in appeals court and put the program on ice indefinitely, the administration was compelled to extend the pause a ninth time, with payments now resuming no later than 60 days after the June 30, 2023, deadline. 

The Education Department said the latest extension should give the Supreme Court time to review and rule on the case, as requested by the White House on Nov. 18.

The Nov. 18-21, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 4,421 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the share of federal student loan borrowers who expect to have trouble repaying when the current moratorium ends. It is a majority.