What Donald Trump’s Radical Approach to Student Loans Means for Borrowers and Taxpayers


This week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump released his plan for student loans. In an attempt to connect with voters coping with student loan debt, it offers significant changes to our current systems to reduce the financial burden.

Trump’s student loan plan

During a rally in Ohio, Trump outlined the highlights of his proposal. Under his plan, the government would cap payments at 12.5 percent of the borrower’s income. If the borrower keeps up with payments for 15 years, the government would forgive the remaining loan balance.

Trump’s plan would also consolidate the current repayment programs in place and allow them to apply to both federal and private loans. (Currently, only federal student loans are eligible for income-driven repayment plans.) According to Trump, the new plan would be funded by reining in federal spending and the subsequent decrease in student loan defaults.

“Students should not be asked to pay more on the debt than they can afford,” said Trump at the rally, “And the debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives.”

His proposal is a radical shift to the current government programs. Today, borrowers have access to income-driven repayment plans such as Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) and income-based repayment (IBR). But under those plans, the government does not forgive the balance of the debt until after 20-25 years of on-time payments.

Breaking with party lines

Trump’s plan raised some eyebrows, as it goes against the position the Republican party has held for years. Republicans have protested current income-driven repayment plans, saying the country could not afford the expense.

Even at a slightly higher payment cap – a proposed 12.5 percent of the borrower’s income, rather than the present 10 percent – the shorter repayment period of 15 years to earn loan forgiveness would result in a major cost. The government would end up forgiving massive amounts of debt, collect less in student loan payments, or both.

But Trump combats those projections by saying he will work to keep tuition costs low. He says he will require colleges to spend their endowments to lower the cost of attendance and decrease student loan debt.

However, critics say the math doesn’t add up, and that it could end up costing taxpayers significantly more than they pay now.

While Trump hasn’t released projected costs of his plan, the government would likely collect less from borrowers repaying student loans under his proposed plan.

For example, checking the math based on what we know about Trump’s plan: a borrower with $80,000 in federal student loan debt at a weighted average interest rate of 5.5% and starting salary of $55,000 would pay a total of about $14,000 less under Trump’s plan compared to repayment under Pay As You Earn.

While this would be great news for student loan borrowers, it’s possible the overall costs for the federal government and taxpayers will increase beyond what some lawmakers already consider to be too expensive.

Clinton’s proposal

Donald Trump’s new plan is very different than that of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. She released her plan last year at the start of her campaign. Clinton proposes capping payments at 10 percent of discretionary income (as they are currently) and forgiving the balance after 20 years, like current income-driven repayment plans.

Notably, she also wants to allow borrowers with federal student loans to refinance their debt at current interest rates. Right now, the only refinancing options for federal borrowers is through private lenders.

Finally, Clinton wants to make state colleges free for students from families who make less than $125,000 a year. Her campaign says the plan would cost $350 billion over the course of 10 years. But the government would pay for it by cutting tax deductions for high-income taxpayers.

“No family and no student should have to borrow to pay tuition at a public college or university,” said Clinton at a campaign stop. “And everyone who has student loan debt should be able to finance it at a lower rate.”

Additionally, she wants to develop programs for nontraditional students, such as adult learners returning to school and immigrants to the United States.

But opponents on the other side of the aisle say her plan is built on assumptions. The proposal could be more expensive than Clinton even predicts as the size and scope changes.

Student loans in the news

Student loans have become a major discussion point in both Trump and Clinton’s campaigns. As both candidates attempt to court young voters, student loans are a serious concern.

Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student loan debt spread across 43 million borrowers. The average graduate from the class of 2016 who took out loans to pay for school has $37,173 in student loans, a six percent increase from the previous year.

Students loans are responsible for delaying borrowers from starting businesses, changing jobs, getting married, and buying homes. Many Americans are utterly broke because they cannot keep up with their loan payments.

With such controversy and need for reform, young voters are pressuring the presidential candidates to come up with serious proposals for change.

Student loans and politics

Millions of Americans are burdened with student loans and struggling to keep up with their payments. It is one of the most important concerns facing young voters today. That issue makes it a major point of contention for politicians, especially for Trump and Clinton who are engaged in a bitter battle.

While their approaches are very different, Trump and Clinton are in agreement in one area: the student loan system needs reform. Both candidates have presented significant changes to federal loans, signifying the seriousness of the issue.

This election has serious ramifications, including reforms to the student loan system. If you want to see change, cast your vote in November.

Photo credit: Evan El-Amin / Shutterstock.com

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