The White House and U.S. Department of Education last month released new details about how many borrowers are expected to receive federal student loan forgiveness in each state.
When President Joe Biden announced the debt forgiveness plans in August, it was clear they would cover most of the roughly 45 million people who owe money on federal student loans. The plan calls for forgiving up to $10,000 for many borrowers, and up to $20,000 for borrowers who received federal Pell Grants when they were in college — students who likely came from low-income families. Individuals who make up to $125,000 per year and couples filing taxes jointly who make up to $250,000 per year qualify.
Since then, the administration has shared more information about who, exactly, is likely to receive forgiveness. Almost 90% earn under $75,000 annually, and almost 20 million borrowers could have their entire remaining loan balances wiped away.
It also released a breakdown of the states and territories where borrowers who qualify for the debt relief plan live. We visualized that data below to offer some insight for college leaders who want to know more about how the debt relief program is likely to play out publicly and politically in their institutions’ home states.
A quick note on this data: The Biden administration released it before it said last week that borrowers whose federal loans are held by private companies won’t qualify for debt forgiveness, a move widely seen as trying to avoid another in a string of legal challenges to the debt forgiveness plan. The Education Department didn’t immediately respond to a question about how the data used in this piece might change. But officials have said about 770,000 borrowers could be affected. While that’s a lot of people, it’s only about 2% of the borrowers mapped below. Still, please remember that there’s some uncertainty at the margins here.
Now, let’s start by looking at a map that uses darker shades to show states and territories where more borrowers are expected to be eligible. California and Texas clearly lead here. But that’s not a surprise, because those states also have the largest populations in the country. The shading in the map below tracks closely with population.
How many people in each state qualify to receive federal student loan forgiveness?
To account for eligible borrowers tracking so closely with population, let’s take a look at the number of student loan borrowers expected to be eligible for relief as a percentage of the total population in each state or territory. (Population data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 estimates for the states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. That dataset didn’t include other U.S. territories for which the Biden administration released debt relief estimates, so we used the Census Bureau’s 2020 Island Areas Censuses for their populations.)
The differences between this map and the one above are notable. California, at about 9%, and Texas, at about 11%, slip behind states with a larger share of their populations qualifying for debt forgiveness. Those include Washington, D.C. at nearly 16%, and Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia, with around 14% each.
What percentage of a state’s population qualifies to receive federal student loan forgiveness?
Another interesting way to interpret this data is to ask how many borrowers from low-income backgrounds are likely to receive debt forgiveness in each state. To do that, let’s map borrowers who qualified for Pell Grants as a percentage of all borrowers projected to receive forgiveness.
Puerto Rico and Mississippi are among jurisdictions with the highest shares of borrowers who received Pell Grants, at almost 88% and 76%, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, only around half of those set to receive forgiveness in several New England states qualified for Pell Grants.
The range here is notable. More than half of those receiving debt forgiveness qualified for Pell Grants in the vast majority of states. The lowest share is 48.7% in New Hampshire.
What percentage of borrowers qualifying to receive federal student loan relief received Pell Grants?
Below you can see the data we used. To limit the number of columns and keep things as legible as possible on the page, we broke it into two charts. Please note that neither include about 3.8 million borrowers for whom the Education Department doesn’t have residency data.
First are the number of borrowers and Pell borrowers eligible, plus the state and territory population figures.
Estimated number of borrowers eligible for federal student debt forgiveness
Now, here are the percentages we calculated.