voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.

The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.

“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”

announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.

But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.

Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.

Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.

Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.

scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.

Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.

But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.

will be restored to good standing.

Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.

“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”

Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.

Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.

“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”

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Troubled Student Loan Forgiveness Program Gets an Overhaul

The Education Department outsources the work of billing borrowers and guiding them through the repayment process to hired vendors. FedLoan, which holds a contract to manage the accounts of borrowers pursuing public service loan forgiveness, told the agency this summer that it would not renew its contract when it lapses at the end of the year. It said that the “increasingly complex and challenging” work of servicing federal loans had become too costly.

Another major servicer, Navient, said last month that it, too, is resigning to focus on its other lines of business. Those defections and those of several smaller servicers mean that the Education Department will need to move at least 16 million accounts to new servicers in the coming months — a process that has in the past been filled with confusion and mistakes. Agency officials said they did not yet have a successor to FedLoan lined up.

Kristi Jacobson, a second-grade teacher at George R. Moscone Elementary School, in San Francisco, was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of relief.

Ms. Jacobson learned in June that none of the payments she had been making on her loans since 2005 qualified for forgiveness. She had also been submitting the annual paperwork for the program since 2014. She found out when she filled out a form on the Education Department’s website that advised her to consolidate her loans into one that qualified for public service loan forgiveness. The news stunned her.

“I got goose bumps,” she said. “I read it over and over.”

The 54-year-old had been looking forward to retiring in nine years. Instead, she would be restarting the clock on 10 more years of payments on her $86,000 loan, at $550 per month, after she consolidated her Federal Family Education Loans into a qualifying loan this summer.

“I don’t think I should get a free ride,” Ms. Jacobson said. “I borrowed this money for my education, and I should pay it back. But to be 54, and to think: Oh, I’ll never buy a house. It’s like being in a Kafkaesque tunnel.”

“I’ve been told that good things are on the way,” she added, “but I can’t believe it until it happens.”

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Family Federal Education Loan Borrowers Get a Reprieve if They Have Defaulted

About a million student loan borrowers who were left out of earlier relief efforts are getting a reprieve — but only if they defaulted on their loans.

The Education Department said on Tuesday that it will temporarily stop collecting on defaulted loans that were made through the Family Federal Education Loans program and are privately held.

“Our goal is to enable these borrowers who are struggling in default to get the same protections previously made available to tens of millions of other borrowers,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

The change, however, still leaves millions of other borrowers in that program responsible for payments while the bulk of the country’s student loan borrowers have had theirs paused.

borrowers who are still making payments on those privately held F.F.E.L. loans or have fallen only a few months behind. There are around 5.4 million borrowers in that category, who together owe $134 billion, according to Education Department data.

Tuesday’s announcement is intended to prevent defaulted borrowers from having their tax refunds seized by the Treasury Department through a program that is often used to collect overdue student loan debts. Any seized refunds or wage garnishments that were taken since March 2020 will be retroactively refunded, the Education Department said.

The freeze will extend through Sept. 30, when collections are scheduled to restart on all federal student loans. Nearly everyone who is eligible for the freeze has taken advantage of it: Of the nearly 43 million people with federally owned loans, only 400,000 are still making payments, according to Education Department data.

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Education Department scraps a Trump-era policy that limited debt relief for defrauded students.

Tens of thousands of borrowers who attended for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute that defrauded students will have their student loan debts eliminated after the Education Department rescinded some changes made during the Trump administration that gutted a relief program.

“Borrowers deserve a simplified and fair path to relief when they have been harmed by their institution’s misconduct,” said Miguel Cardona, the education secretary. “We will grant them a fresh start from their debt.”

The change will eliminate around $1 billion in student loan debt owed by around 72,000 borrowers, the department said. Most of them attended ITT and Corinthian, institutions that abruptly shut down years ago.

The relief program, known as borrower defense, allows those who can demonstrate that they were substantially misled by their school to have their federal student loans forgiven. Once little-used, the system was flooded with claims during the Obama administration after a series of large for-profit chains collapsed following a government crackdown on schools that saddled their students with high debts for a low-quality education.

imposed a complicated new methodology that led to only partial relief for many successful applicants. Some whose claims were approved were told they would get $0 in relief.

Mr. Cardona said the department will abandon Ms. DeVos’s methodology and retroactively give those with approved claims a full discharge.

“I’m in a state of shock right now,” said Albert Paul Cruz, who earned an associate degree in computer networking systems in 2010 but never worked in that field. Last year, he received a letter from the Education Department telling him that his borrower defense claim had been approved but that none of his debts would be eliminated.

Mr. Cruz has around $60,000 in student loan debt; his late and missed payments on it have harmed his credit score and made it challenging to obtain a car loan. The debt was “nerve wracking” and kept him up at night — and the prospect of finally being free from it was amazing, he said.

“If this does wipe all the negatives off my profile, I just may finally get a piece of the American dream,” Mr. Cruz said.

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