Millions of borrowers across the country await the Supreme Court’s decision on President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.

Though, for many in this group, especially borrowers of color, defaulting on payments and filing for personal bankruptcy appear to be the only vehicles to obtaining financial security in the future.

The program has faced backlash from politicians and taxpayers alike since its inception, with Republican members of the House of Representatives going as far as instituting a Congressional Review Act in May to overturn the president’s plan — a resolution that the Senate passed at the beginning of this month.

Jonathan Petts, co-founder and CEO of national bankruptcy nonprofit Upsolve, said many of his organization’s clients would benefit immensely from the student loan forgiveness plan surviving the Supreme Court, and its failure could lead to countless others resorting to filing for bankruptcy.

“$10,000 to $20,000 is a really significant amount of money that will put a big dent in many people’s student loan debt,” Petts said.

Upsolve helps low-income individuals start afresh in their financial journeys by filing for personal bankruptcy, a process that either absolves filers of existing debt or offers multi-year plans for borrowers to repay debts owed at a more manageable rate.

Petts said many of Upsolve’s clients go into debt pursuing higher education in the first place expecting to land a stable job with a promising salary and healthcare benefits. However, a rocky employment market and fluctuating economy have made this goal less attainable for recent college graduates. As a result, low-income borrowers connect with organizations like Upsolve with skyrocketing medical bills, credit card fees and student loan debt.

“We as a society have really stigmatized individuals who this happens to, and oftentimes through no fault of their own,” Petts said. “We have many users who have $40,000 in medical debt from an accident that could happen to anyone. That’s something that’s unique to the United States.”

Filing for personal bankruptcy commonly occurs in two forms: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The types of assets and debt accumulated should determine the type of bankruptcy pursued by the borrower.

Student loan debt has historically posed a challenge to be eliminated via bankruptcy filings, but guideline changes instilled by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education last year have simplified the process for borrowers who need it. Petts said absolving student loan debt by means of personal bankruptcy formerly involved hiring a lawyer charging up to $40,000 for services, making it a resource that a majority of borrowers in need couldn’t afford.

“It’s an enormous change, opening up an avenue for borrowers that didn’t exist in years past,” Petts said.

The announcement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision draws closer as the lifting of the student loan payment pause also approaches, with more than 40 million borrowers slated to resume monthly payments starting this fall.

Petts said the pause on mandatory loan payments first issued at the start of the pandemic offered relief to millions of borrowers also burdened by rising costs of living and employment uncertainty at the start of the decade. The reinstatement of payments could financially burden borrowers even further, depleting workers of wages and tax credit refunds and increasing the number of personal bankruptcy cases filed across the country.

“[The pause] has given people breathing space to navigate the pandemic and to come out the other side and in the place they are,” Petts said. “It’s a scary moment for many people, and it’s sadly going to result in bankruptcy being the only option for many low-income borrowers.”

Though Supreme Court disapproval seems inevitable, Petts said student debt forgiveness for borrowers isn’t completely out of reach. The court has surprised the public with its decisions on controversial cases in the past, notably with its ruling in favor of DACA recipients over the Trump administration’s attempted termination of the policy in 2020, and recently with its 5-4 decision in Allen v. Milligan, where justices ruled the redistricting of Alabama’s 2022 election map unconstitutional, solidifying a win for Black voters in the state.

The court is expected to release its decision by the end of this month and as soon as Friday.

“There’s a whole community of student loan borrowers who think that their life is over, that there’s no way they can dig out of this debt,” Petts said. “If the Biden plan goes forward, it shows there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it creates hope for people that have lost it.”