Personal Finance

As the Supreme Court weighs Biden's student loan forgiveness, education debt swells

Key Points
  • As the Supreme Court weighs President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, college tuition keeps climbing.
  • This year’s incoming freshman class can expect to borrow as much as $37,000 to help cover the cost of a bachelor’s degree, according to a recent report.
Here's the best way to pay for college
The best way to pay for college

Regardless of where the Supreme Court comes out on President Joe Biden's student loan forgiveness plan, education debt isn't going away.

College is only getting more expensive. Tuition and fees plus room and board at four-year, in-state public colleges rose more than 2% to $23,250, on average, in the 2022-23 academic year; at four-year private colleges, it increased by more than 3% to $53,430, according to the College Board, which tracks trends in college pricing and student aid.

Many students now borrow to cover the tab, which has already propelled collective student loan debt in the U.S. past $1.7 trillion.

Typically, 7 in 10 college seniors graduate in the red, owing an average of nearly $30,000 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

Students, families are taking on more college debt

This year's incoming freshman class will rely on loans even more in pursuit of a degree at a public college or university, a new report shows.

A 2023 high school graduate could take on as much as $37,300, on average, in student debt to earn a bachelor's degree, according to a NerdWallet analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

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The share of parents taking out federal parent PLUS loans to help cover the costs of their children's college education has also grown, NerdWallet found.

The report factors in that it now takes an average of five years to complete a four-year degree, given that more undergraduates are putting their education on hold.

Don't 'assume future forgiveness'

If the Supreme Court fails to affirm Biden's plan, millions of federal borrowers would likely be disappointed with the president for failing to deliver sweeping cancellation, legal experts predict.

And even if the justices rule in favor of the Biden administration's initiative to provide debt relief to low- to middle-income borrowers, students and their parents should not assume this would happen again going forward, according to Kalman Chany, a financial aid consultant and author of The Princeton Review's "Paying for College." 

Nobody should assume future forgiveness as they make borrowing decisions today.
Rick Castellano
Sallie Mae spokesman

"Such broad relief as was announced last August citing the financial harms of the pandemic is not likely to occur again," he said.

"Nobody should assume future forgiveness as they make borrowing decisions today," added Rick Castellano, spokesman for education lender Sallie Mae.

Loans 'shouldn't be the first step' to cover costs

Experts say reducing the amount you borrow at the outset will go a long way to easing your long-term debt burden.

Castellano advises families to explore "free money" like scholarships and grants first and get in line for other aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

"Borrowing can be important step, but it shouldn't be the first step," Castellano said. Further, "when it comes time to borrow, it's critical to do so responsibly and not overborrow," he added.

There are several strategies that can help, but a "good rule of thumb is never to incur more debt than the annual salary one will receive at their first job after having been graduated," Chany said.

For those already struggling under the weight of student debt, borrowers have a little more time without a student loan bill, although the U.S. Department of Education indicated that the payment pause could end as soon as August.

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