SAVE won’t save you from debt

André Averion | Mercury Staff

The Biden Administration’s most recent plan to relieve student loan debt is a practical starting point for those eligible, but ineffective for the original audience Biden promised to help nor even solving the actual crisis.

The Biden Administration is still fighting to forgive student loan debt after the Supreme Court struck down the Biden-Harris Student Debt Forgiveness plan that promised $10,000 in relief to nearly 9 million students with loans. His latest $39 million plan, Savings on A Valuable Education, addresses an estimated 800,000 borrowers by shrinking the monthly payments of eligible borrowers and regulating a lower rate of interest for them. However, this does nothing for recent graduates. Only borrowers who have had federal student loan debt for 20 to 25 years would be eligible for this plan and it does not address the issue of the debt itself — rather curbing future interest rates for specific individuals.

A large portion of this battle is little more than political theater before election season — which is unfortunate, since the majority of young voters from Generation Z to millennials put their faith in Biden in the 2020 Presidential election. While this new plan has the potential to help thousands of former students, it’s a far cry from the initial goal, and it will not address the problem of student loan debt that 40 million alumni have accumulated since graduating in 2020.

However, the initial plan wasn’t the right way to tackle student debt either. The 2022 original debt plan was deemed unlawful by Congress for overstepping authority and being unconstitutional. According to a recent poll, 63% of Americans sided with the ruling amid projected tax hikes since the $400 million funding would come from our pockets. It’s more of the messaging that’s misleading — even if Biden was not aware at the time that the plan would be unfeasible, it feels like a slap in the face for the new plan to not address the people who were most looking forward to debt relief. It feels like we’re watching politicians saving face rather than working hard for the interests of young people.

To be fair, SAVE would make a ripple in the over $1.5 trillion in debt students have accumulated since 2012. It will make it so that eligible borrowers would only have to pay back an average estimate of $6,121 every $10,000 instead of $10,956 every $10,000, according to the Department of Education. If it successfully makes it past Congress, this plan should be available sometime in July 2024. Legally, experts say it’s a sound plan. As opposed to the old plan that would have erased debt with taxpayer money, this new plan is focused on income-driven repayment plans. As opposed to relying on Presidential powers from 2003 for national emergencies, this new plan relies on the powers Congress has already given the Department of Education since 1994. However, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School announced a recent budget model identifying that this could cost the federal government $475 million over the next 10 years instead of the planned $39 million budget the Biden Administration has set up, with what role taxpayers will play being uncertain as of now. So even if the Supreme Court doesn’t shut down this new program, there’s a chance the program may not be able to sustain itself.

Of course, if this goes through, it still doesn’t address the other 39 million people with student debt, which is anticipated to get worse. Since March 2020, the average federal student interest rates have been temporarily frozen by for undergraduates at 5.5% and 7.05% for graduates until Sept. 1 when rates will continue to grow. Currently this interest has contributed to 36% of all US debts at around $1.5 trillion. It’s suspected this amount will climb higher after the ruling, according to a recent survey reporting that one out of three spent extra money assuming their debts would be relieved. 

You could argue that this proves borrowers in debt are irresponsible, but it doesn’t draw away from the fact that the average university tuition in the United States is the second most expensive in the world, with our own university averaging $14,564 per semester as opposed to the $10k average. Most students without a scholarship will graduate here having spent around $116,512. To put it further into perspective, if you borrowed a semester’s worth, you’d have to pay a total of $18,966 over ten years.

Lawmakers could holistically confront debt interest rates or initiate bills lowering tuition for higher education institutions —as we’ve seen in Germany and other countries of similar educational achievement, it doesn’t take a life-altering tuition cost to present effective education. Additionally, extending existing forgiveness programs that have historically worked could support millions of Americans, and could have done more to help people during this current presidential term. And even more realistically, this current plan could be revised to include more age groups, particularly millennials and Gen Z, who will be entering strenuous and competitive job markets with wages that may not reflect.

SAVE is sound overall for its eligible members, but it’ll have to save itself amongst lawmakers and political tantrums to make any progress. If Biden is true to his election promises, he should direct these last 18 months in office towards saving recent graduates from debt, especially if he expects college students to vote for him again.

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