Advocates press for reform before student loan repayment deadline

Piggy bank With Graduation Cap and money on table or student loan

In January, student loan borrowers will have to start paying off their loans again, as the pandemic-related pause on payment is set to expire. Now, a new report looks at ways to fix problems in the student loan system.

Report co-author Michelle Dimino – senior education policy advisor at Third Way, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C. – said the repayment programs are far too complex, especially for teachers, health workers, and social workers who apply for the public service loan forgiveness program.  “Right now, only about 1% of applicants who are submitting for public-service loan forgiveness actually see their applications approved,” said Dimino.

The report also found that the income-driven repayment plan is reaching far too few people. Many borrowers become discouraged when their payments only cover the interest and not the principal on the loan.  In the U.S, 45 million borrowers are struggling under $1.6 trillion in student loan debt.

Dimino said now is the time to consider proposals to cap interest on student loans, to limit interest to the amount required to service the loan, or to transition to upfront one-time fees instead of charging interest.  “It’s an opportunity in the lead-up to the lifting of the repayment freeze to really think about whether there are alternatives to interest,” said Dimino, “lower interest rates, grace period with interest, or other policies – that could help to ensure that borrowers are actually paying down the principal that they’ve taken out.”

Starting in October, the U.S. Department of Education’s new committee on student loan reform will tackle these issues in a monthly series of meetings. The hearings will be open to the public via live stream.