By Ed Trust

Approximately 45 million Americans carry $1.7 trillion in student loan debt, but the financial challenges facing Black borrowers are numerous. Black students are more likely to borrow, borrow more, and are more likely to struggle with repayment than their peers, because they collectively have fewer resources due to the generational and ongoing effects of structural racism. This debt burden has far-reaching financial consequences, and research also shows that student debt contributes to poor mental health. In fact, the toll of student debt on people’s mental health can be just as devastating as the financial harm it can cause.

Drawing on survey responses from our National Black Student Debt Study, this brief describes how student debt has affected Black borrowers financially and mentally—with 64% of survey participants reporting that student debt negatively impacted their mental health.


Student debt is growing, as is the mental health crisis among Black borrowers. But while the situation is dire, it’s also a byproduct of failed and intentionally racist policies that go back generations,  which means it can be solved by better public policies, like those listed below.

More than 80% of the participants in the “Jim Crow Debt” study think the federal government should cancel all student debt, and policymakers would be wise to listen to them and help ease their debt burden. The Education Trust supports canceling at least $50,000 of federal student debt per borrower and opposes limiting eligibility for cancellation by income, loan type, or degree level (e.g., undergraduate versus graduate degree).

In addition to total broad-based debt cancellation, the Biden administration should make significant improvements to income-driven repayment (IDR) plans to make monthly payments more affordable, reduce negative amortization, ensure reliable loan servicing, and shorten the time-to-forgiveness window.

To make college more affordable, Congress should double the Pell Grant and create federal-state partnerships to make public college debt-free. A higher education should be the key to a better future, instead of a lifetime debt sentence. It’s up to the Biden administration and Congress to end the student debt crisis and make college affordable for future students.