The University Network

How The 2020 Candidates Will Address Student Loan Debt

As graduating seniors unravel their freshly-printed diplomas, it’s hard for them to see anything but a bill.

Today, U.S. college students are paying more in student loans than ever before. Seventy percent of students take out student loans, and they accumulated an average debt of $37,172 per person.

Overall, Americans owe more than $1.56 trillion in student loans, which is $521 billion more than the total credit card debt in the United States.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Increasingly, high tuition costs are forcing students and their parents to take out high-interest-rate loans that can take decades to pay off. But recent graduates’ wallets aren’t the only thing to be worried about. Student debt greatly impacts the economy. It hinders young people’s ability to buy a home, start a business or be an active consumer.

As we approach the 2020 primaries, some bold solutions to alleviate student debt have already been proposed by the 2020 candidates.

Here is how the candidates plan to address student loan debt:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Recently, Sen. Warren proposed a progressive plan that would cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million borrowers. It is estimated that the debt cancellation plan would create a “one-time” $640 billion cost to the government.

But, to Warren, alleviating one generation’s student loan debt isn’t enough. She also wants to make all public colleges free through her Universal Free College Program, so America never has another student debt crisis.

In total, Warren’s Universal Free College Program and plan to eliminate student debt would cost an estimated $1.25 trillion over 10 years. To pay for it, Warren suggests implementing a 2-percent annual tax on the 75,000 richest families in the United States. Her campaign estimates the tax would bring in $2.75 trillion over 10 years.

“We can address the student loan crisis and cancel debt for families that are struggling,” Warren wrote in a post. “We can provide truly universal free college. We can fix some of the structural problems that are preventing our higher education system from fairly serving lower-income students and students of color. We can make big structural change and create new opportunities for all Americans.”

To read Elizabeth Warren’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sanders recently announced a new plan to cancel $1.6 trillion in student loan debt for more than 45 million borrowers. The plan would be funded by a Wall Street tax on stock transactions, bond trades, and derivatives transactions. He expects the tax could collect more than $2 trillion over the course of 10 years. 

“During the financial crisis, Wall Street received the largest taxpayer bailout in American history, Sanders recently tweeted. “Now it is Wall Street’s turn to help rebuild the disappearing middle class.”

To read Bernie Sanders’ positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

Harris has supported refinancing student loan debt and improving student loan forgiveness. Namely, she has advocated for allowing borrowers to discharge student loans when filing for bankruptcy. 

Recently, Harris also announced a plan that would relieve some borrowers of up to $20,000 in student loan debt. To qualify, however, borrowers must be a Pell Grant recipient, start a business in a disadvantaged community, and run it for three years.

Additionally, she is a leading advocate against for-profit higher education programs, which account for 35 percent of student loan defaults despite accounting for only 10 percent of students. As attorney general, Harris filed a lawsuit against Corinthian Colleges, a now-defunct for-profit higher education company that at its peak operated over 100 campuses across North America, alleging that it had followed predatory model and deceived students. In 2017, she worked with other Senate Democrats to reintroduce the Students Before Profits Act, which seeks to protect students against predatory practices from for-profit colleges.

To read Kamala Harris’ positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)

To alleviate the financial burden placed on current student loan borrowers, Sen. Booker has vocalized his dedication to both protecting students from predatory loans and resolving the “backlog” of student loan forgiveness requests.

But he is more focused on making education affordable for those who have yet to go to college.

Policy-wise, he helped push forward the Debt-Free College Act of 2018, which would simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form and encourage states to invest more money into providing grants for students seeking higher education, particularly for low-income students and students of color. Ideally, the grants would cover the “full cost” of a college education, which includes textbooks, living costs and transportation. Under this plan, students would no longer accumulate debt.

“We constantly tell young people that higher education is the key to success. Yet, our current system punishes them for seeking an education through predatory loans and saddling them with outrageous debt,” Booker said in a statement. “For the millions of students across the country, we must do better … .”

To read Cory Booker’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

Eliminating student debt is one of Sen. Gillibrand’s top priorities. She introduced the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow students to refinance their loans from 6.8 percent — what they are paying now — to 4 percent.

“Student debt is at a crisis level in this country, and it holds our whole economy down,” she tweeted. “One of the first things I’d do as president is [to] allow all students to refinance their loans at 4%. The federal government shouldn’t be making money off the backs of our students, period.”

To read Kirsten Giilibrand’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Andrew Yang, N.Y. Entrepreneur

As a borrower, himself, Yang understands how student loans can hamper a young person’s ability to finance their adult life. He is in support of increasing student loan forgiveness efforts to help those who have already graduated from college. He also wants colleges to be more transparent about their students’ post-graduation debt and salary figures.

Specifically, if elected president, he has vowed to propose a “Student Loan Emancipation Act,” in which the federal government would buy all student loan debt, and borrowers would then pay the federal government 10 percent of their annual salary until they have paid off their loans. If they still owe money after 10 years, their loans will be forgiven.

Additionally, as part of his long list of suggestions, Yang has committed to ask colleges and universities to forgive some, or all, of the loans taken out by students who failed to graduate. He also has proposed allowing students to discharge their student loan debt through bankruptcy, which he believes will force lenders to work with students “in good faith.”

To read Andrew Yang’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana

Buttigieg, as a millennial who has had to pay off his own student loans, understands the need to lower student debt. He recently told Claremont Colleges’ student newspaper that he would approve of legislature that would allow students to refinance their loans at lower interest rates, and he supports improving accessibility to the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness Program. Specifically, he wants it to be easier for teachers and public servants to have their student loans forgiven.

To read Pete Buttigieg’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Julián Castro, Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary

In addition to making tuition free at all public colleges, universities, community colleges and technical and vocational schools, Castro’s “People First Education Plan” seeks to alleviate the burden of student loan debt by making sure no borrower pays “more than their income allows.”

Specifically, under his plan, borrowers wouldn’t have to pay until they are earning at least 250 percent of the poverty level. Until that point, monthly loan payments of those borrowers would be $0, and half of their unpaid interest would be exempted after three years.

And even when borrowers are earning enough to start paying back their loans, their monthly payments wouldn’t exceed 10 percent of their monthly income. After 240 monthly payments, including months when the repayment amount was capped at $0, if any, the remaining amount would be forgiven.

Wayne Messam, Mayor of Miramar, Florida

Messam presents a “straightforward” solution to the student debt crisis: cancel all debt. According to Messam, alleviating all student debt would provide “immediate financial relief” for all borrowers, and allow them to save or invest their money.

“The economic benefits would be felt nationwide,” he states on his website.

He cites research conducted by economists at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College that claim eliminating all student debt would reduce unemployment, create jobs and raise the number of degrees achieved, among other things.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

Recently, Sen. Klobuchar asked the U.S. Department of Education to address the mounting student loan forgiveness requests from borrowers who have been “cheated or defrauded.”

“Students should never have to worry about these scams as they look to improve their lives & careers,” she tweeted.

Specifically, she has co-sponsored the Keep Student Loans Affordable Act and the Student Loan Affordability Act, both of which would keep student loan interest rates from rising. She has also co-sponsored the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act and the RED (Reducing Educational Debt) Act — both acts would allow borrowers to refinance their loans at lower interest rates.

To read Amy Klobuchar’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Beto O’Rourke, Former Democratic Representative of Texas

O’Rourke wants to cancel all student loan debt for public school teachers. Under his plan, all public school teachers who have worked for at least five years would have their debt relieved.

In the past, he expressed a few more ideas during a Q&A with The Cougar — the University of Houston’s student-run news organization.

“One is if you agree to come back and serve your community in an in-demand, under-served area, we should wipe your debt clean or not allow you to accrue it to begin with,” he said. “Second, if we’re going to subsidize federal student loans and federal grants, then when (sic) should have a commitment from institutions of higher learning that they’re going to curb the inflation for tuition, room and board.”

To read Beto O’Rourke’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)

Gabbard has voiced her support of Sen. SandersCollege For All Act, which primarily aims to eliminate tuition and fees for families making under $125,000 per year. But the Act also suggests some measures to address the student loan crisis.

Under the Act, undergraduate student loan interest rates would drop to 2.32 percent. It would also allow those who have already graduated from college to refinance their loans to match the rates that would be available to current students. Lastly, it would ensure that interest rates could never climb higher than 8.25 percent.

To read Tulsi Gabbard’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

Joe Biden, Former U.S. Vice President

Biden has been heavily criticized for a bill he helped push forward while he was a senator in 2005, which made it impossible for student loan borrowers to discharge their loan debt in bankruptcy.

However, in his recently published education plan, he voiced the need to make sure teachers and other educators are able to pay off their student loans. Specifically, he vowed to “see to it that the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is fixed, simplified, and actually helps teachers.”

To read Joe Biden’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.

President Donald Trump

In Trump’s proposed 2020 budget, he suggests creating one uniform student loan repayment plan, in which borrowers would pay a monthly fee of 12.5 percent of their discretionary income.

In his proposed budget, Trump also suggests eliminating the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. If his budget is approved, undergraduate loans would be forgiven after 15 years of payment, and graduate school loans would be forgiven after 30 years.

To read Donald Trump’s positions on higher education and other key issues, click here.