The economy is on a slow recovery, but one factor holding it back is the enormous student loan debt built up by many young college graduates who are now unable to repay the money.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is renewing her push for legislation that would allow borrowers to refinance their federal student loans at lower interest rates. President Obama talked about the problem of crippling student indebtedness last week in his State of the Union speech. He should get behind Gillibrand’s bill, which is a good first step toward easing that burden.
This is not a new effort. The senator last May introduced the Federal Student Loan Refinancing Act, which she said could affect nearly nine in 10 federal student loans by allowing borrowers with high interest rates to refinance at a fixed rate of 4 percent. Most rates for federal student debt are higher than 6 percent, she said.
Kevin Stump, higher education program coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that the “perfect storm” of a vulnerable economy, skyrocketing college costs, inadequate state grants, a surge in college enrollment and a bleak job market “has quickly pushed student loan debt to become one of the most threatening social and economic issues we face today.”
There is an estimated $1 trillion in student debt nationwide. New York college graduates carry an average of more than $27,000 in debt.
Last year, Congress nearly went in the wrong direction when it allowed rates on Stafford loans to spike. After an outcry, both houses approved a bill to retroactively drop the rate on Stafford loans back to 3.86 percent. The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013 also ties interest rates to the 10-year Treasury note and locks in individual rates for the life of each loan. Although rates can change for new borrowers, the law sets caps at 8.25 and 9.5 percent for subsidized and unsubsidized loans, respectively. If the economy improves and interest rates reach the cap, students will face the double whammy of ever-rising tuition costs and high-interest loans. There should be more of an effort to keep interest rates down across the board.
Paying for a college education tends to involve a complex array of financing with complex problems. Gillibrand’s bill would help a great many students who want to pay their loans, but are not yet earning enough to do so. The Department of Education says nearly 11 percent of New York State graduates, or 24,800 borrowers, defaulted on their student loans between 2009 and 2012, or were more than nine months delinquent on their payments. That is bad for the students, bad for the lenders and bad for the economy.
There is a huge push to get high school graduates to attend college. We have to find a way to allow them to get that education without sentencing them to a lifetime of burdensome debt. Gillibrand’s bill is something that can help immediately.