Are Forgiven Student Loans Taxed?

By Jennifer Calonia · November 13, 2023 · 5 minute read

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 Are Forgiven Student Loans Taxed?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) generally requires that you report a forgiven or canceled debt as income for tax purposes. But forgiven student loan debt is different.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act specifies that student loan debt discharged between 2021 and 2025, and incurred for postsecondary education expenses, will not be counted as income, and therefore does not incur a federal tax liability.

This includes federal Direct Loans, Family Federal Education Loans (FFEL), Perkins Loans, and federal consolidation loans. Additionally, non-federal loans such as state education loans, institutional loans direct from colleges and universities, and even private student loans also qualify.

However, some states have indicated that they still count canceled student loans as taxable income. Read on for more information about which discharged student debt is taxable and by whom.

Different Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Federal student debt can be canceled via an income-driven repayment plan (IDR) or forgiveness programs.

While President Joe Biden’s plan to offer federal debt cancellation of up to $20,000 to those with qualifying income failed — struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court — other forms of student loan forgiveness have been strengthened.

In October 2023, the White House announced at least $127 billion in student loan relief for nearly 3.6 million Americans:

•   $5.2 billion in additional debt relief for 53,000 borrowers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs.

•   Nearly $2.8 billion in new debt relief for nearly 51,000 borrowers through fixes to income-driven repayment. These are borrowers who made 20 years or more of payments but never got the relief they were entitled to.

•   $1.2 billion for nearly 22,000 borrowers who have a total or permanent disability who have been identified and approved for discharge through a data match with the Social Security Administration.

Recommended: Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness

Whose Student Loan Cancellation Is Not Federally Taxed?

As stated earlier, under the provisions of the ARP Act, any student debt (private or federal) for post-secondary education that was or is forgiven in the years of 2021 through 2025 will not be federally taxed. This means that the borrowers just listed above were not required to report their discharged loan amount as earned income, and therefore taxable.

Outside of the special five-year window of tax exemption provided by the ARP Act, participants in the Public Service Federal Loan program who receive forgiveness also don’t have to worry about paying taxes on the canceled amount. The program explicitly states that earned forgiveness through PSLF is not considered taxable income.

Recommended: A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Whose Student Loan Cancellation Is Federally Taxed?

Borrowers who receive loan cancellation after participating fully in an income-driven loan repayment plan can generally expect to pay taxes. Again, those whose debt was discharged in 2021 and 2022, or will be discharged in 2023, 2024, or 2025, will not need to pay federal taxes on their forgiven loans.

Forgiven amounts that are taxable are treated as earned income during the fiscal year it was received. Your lender might issue tax Form 1099-C to denote your debt cancellation.

💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

Which States Have Said They Will Tax Forgiven Student Loans?

Typically, states follow the tax policy of the federal government. But some states have announced that their residents must include their forgiven or canceled student loan amount on their state tax returns.

As of October 2023, the states that say forgiven loans are taxable are Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, and possibly Arkansas, depending on an upcoming vote in its legislature. More states could decide to do so.

It’s important to consult a qualified tax accountant or someone knowledgeable about forgiveness of student loans in your state to confirm the latest information of how much you owe.

Preparing to Pay Discharged Student Loan Taxes

If you’re anticipating a tax liability after receiving loan forgiveness, there are a few steps you can take today to get ready.

Step 1: Estimate Your Bill

The first step when bracing for a student loan forgiveness tax bill is calculating how much you might owe come tax season. This factor can be influenced by factors including the type of forgiveness you are receiving and the forgiven amount.

To avoid sticker shock, you can use a student loan forgiveness tax calculator, like the Loan Simulator on It lets you see how much of your student loan debt might be forgiven, based on your projected earnings.

Step 2: Choose the Right Plan

Enrolling your federal student loans into an IDR plan can help you keep your monthly payments to a manageable amount while you’re awaiting loan forgiveness. All of these repayment plans calculate your monthly payment based on your income and family size.

The newest IDR program is the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, which offers unique benefits that will lower payments for many borrowers, to as low as 5% of disposable income in 2024 for those who qualify.

Recommended: The SAVE Plan: What Student Loan Borrowers Need to Know

Step 3: Prioritize Saving

If you’re expecting loan forgiveness after 2025, it might be advantageous to allocate extra cash flow toward a dedicated tax savings fund. Incrementally setting money aside over multiple years can ease the burden of a sudden lump sum tax bill down the line.

Paying Taxes on Canceled Student Loan

If you can’t afford to cover an increased tax bill, contact the IRS to discuss your options. Inquire about payment plans that can help you pay smaller tax payments over a longer period of time. However, be aware that fees and interest will likely accrue.

💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

The Takeaway

Thanks to a special law passed by Congress in 2021, post-secondary education loans forgiven from 2021 through 2025 will not count as earned income and will not be federally taxed. That said, state taxes may be due, depending on where the borrower lives.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


Is loan repayment considered taxable income?

If your employer offers loan repayment assistance benefits, they would typically be considered taxable income. However under the Cares Act, loan forgiveness payments — and employer assistance loan payments up to $5,250 — made each year from 2021 through 2025 are tax-free.

Will refinancing my student loans help me avoid taxes?

Student loan refinancing simply involves reworking one or more existing student loans into a new private loan with more favorable terms. It’s a repayment strategy that does not incur a tax liability.

Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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