Student Loan Forgiveness Is Almost a Beat Unto Itself

Education Resources, Finance 411, Student Loans,

Student holding books

By Michael Koretzky

Student loans are confusing. Student loan forgiveness is worse.

Once you understand that the federal government offers programs that do different things but sound very similar — Income-Contingent Repayment vs. Income-Based Repayment, for example – you realize something …

When you cover student loan forgiveness, it’s almost more important to know what not to write about.  

To explain forgiveness, you first have to explain just enough about student loans themselves. There’s a three-step secret to doing that, and it involves admitting to your readers that this is a more complicated topic than taxes and mortgages. 

1. Figure out what’s being forgiven

You’re not making a documentary, so your first step is figuring out the most specific angle you can find. For example, more than 40% of President Biden’s executive orders about loan forgiveness have been changes to a single program — called Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

While navigating PSLF is typically complicated, explaining the concept is easy: After 10 years of making their monthly payments, borrowers who work for the government or at qualified nonprofits can get the rest of their loans wiped off the books. 

The idea is that certain professions are a direct benefit to the public, so they deserve a break. Think about firefighters, cops, nurses, teachers, librarians, and soldiers, just to name a few. 

If Biden makes more changes to the PSLF, the easiest approach is to explain, “The president just forgave Blank Amount in a popular program for public service workers. Created in 2007, it wipes out federal student loans for government and certain nonprofit employees after a decade of making regular payments.”

Then you’re off to the races, with the hardest part of the story done.

2. Don’t give a lot of details if you don’t have to  

Say you’re doing a story about PSLF. If you look up the federal government’s online description, you’ll go down a rabbit hole …

Do I need to go on?

If you’re covering this story as general news, no need to report on the details of exactly how each program works. Better to stick to the total amount the Biden administration is forgiving — and the amounts he’s forgiven in the past. While Biden has forgiven as little as $1.2 billion in February and as much as $39 billion last summer, all of his moves has cumulatively forgiven $136.6 billion for 3.5 million borrowers.

It’s crucial to put that in perspective, however: About 40 million Americans owe nearly $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt. That’s less than 10% of loans for less than 10% percent of borrowers. Those numbers resonate with viewers and readers more than the details of “income-driven repayment plans.”

3. Be specific with localized consumer stories

The one time to get very specific is when you localize forgiveness stories for your state. Thankfully, that info is easier to acquire than explain. For example, Biden’s latest forgiveness announcement came with a helpful chart. The Education Department press release contains a list with the amounts forgiven and the borrowers affected — broken down by state.

 Then you’re reporting stories like NBC 10 Boston: Biden administration to cancel $19.5M in student debt for almost 2,500 Mass. borrowers

For stories like this, you can add a “who qualifies?” angle. That’s the singular instance where you dive into explanations of these confusing programs. CBS News recently did a solid “Here’s who qualifies” story by using the tried-and-true FAQ tactic: Pose the question (example: “What is the SAVE plan?”) and then answer it as generally and as briefly as possible. Then include a link to the federal government page where those borrowers can get more information.

The logic is simple: Details that glaze the corneas of general viewers and readers will fascinate those who stand to gain thousands of dollars.

Bottom line

Despite Biden’s seemingly random executive orders that seem to make as much sense as an IRS auditing process revision, there are standard approaches that don’t have to stress you out. But you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise until now.

Additional Resources: 

Department of Education’s SAVE Plan Info Page

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Student Loan Forgiveness

Michael Koretzky is Editor-in-Chief of, which has helped millions of people get out of more than $12 billion in debt since its launch last decade. Finance 411 is a bi-monthly feature, presented by RTDNA and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Interested in becoming a contributor? Email for more information.