From health care to the economy, voters had many concerns in mind as they headed to the polls for this year’s midterm elections.
But one major issue that might not have gotten as much attention in news coverage was the government’s handling of student loans, a subject which impacts 44 million Americans. As our national student debt has exceeded $1.5 trillion, many borrowers are hoping for relief.
But while Democrats call for an expansion of financial aid and forgiveness programs, conservatives warn that increasing aid could be a burden for taxpayers.
Given the election results that gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House of Representatives, we might see them looking to influence the education policies moving forward. Still, they won’t have much hope for passing their own legislation without working out deals with the Republican-led Senate and White House.
On the other hand, a few ballot measures across the country and the presence of some lawmakers with a personal interest in student debt are enough to cast educational debt in a bigger spotlight.
Whether you’re a student, loan borrower or parent preparing for the costs of colleges, find out what the 2018 midterm election results could mean for you.
Democrats to weigh in on education policies
While some races are still too close to call, Democrats have locked in a majority in the House of Representatives, taking the gavel from the Republicans, while the GOP has added to its majority in the Senate.
This shift in the House could mean Democrats have greater influence when it comes to Department of Education policies, particularly those related to for-profit colleges and student loan forgiveness programs.
Critics of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have accused her of protecting for-profit schools at the expense of students. They have also objected to her efforts to scale back certain Obama-era protections, such as borrower defense to repayment, which discharges loans for defrauded borrowers.
Democrats have sent letters objecting to education policies under the Trump administration, but as the minority, they were unable to conduct oversight of the department. Now that they lead the House, however, Democratic members will likely be active on this front.
“Expect a Democrat-led House, for instance, to conduct hearings, demand documents and press the Trump administration on its appointment of officials with ties to for-profit colleges — and its reversal of Obama-era policies meant to crack down on the industry,” wrote Michael Stratford, education reporter for Politico on Tuesday.
Ally Bernstein, legislative counsel for the Association of Young Americans (AYA) agreed, “The [Democrats will] hold the department’s feet to the fire on its controversial rewrites of rules governing for-profit institutions, including whether federal student loan borrowers are protected from continuing to repay loans if these institutions committed fraud against them.”
The free-college movement shows up at local level
When running for president in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) supported the movement to provide free public college for all. In 2017, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) proposed a bill that would provide $41 billion a year to states to help eliminate tuition.
While there hasn’t been much progress on the national level, various state politicians have voiced their support for free community college during this midterm election season. For example, Ned Lamont, who won his bid for governor of Connecticut, supports two years of community college for state residents who agree to remain in state following graduation.
In fact, both the Republican incumbent Larry Hogan and his Democratic opponent for the governor’s seat of Maryland, Ben Jealous, proposed expanding Maryland’s free tuition college program, which currently provides no-cost community college to residents. Hogan, who won the race, said he supported expanding the tuition-free program to include four-year institutions.
And it’s not just the state governments. Seattle voters approved a measure to offer two free years of community college for public school students. The move will be funded by a property tax hike which the city predicts will raise over $600 million over several years.
So although the free college movement hasn’t gained much traction nationally, these city- and state-level victories could be signs of changes to come.
Politicians have student debt, too
For some politicians in this election, student loans are a personal issue. According to CNBC, one in 10 current members of Congress are repaying student loans, either for themselves or a family member.
Some of them are also trying to address the issue more broadly. Consider Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who was re-elected to the House Tuesday.
“This is an area that affects the futures of so many young men and women, and it’s time to address the issue before it gets even worse,” Reed told Student Loan Hero in an interview earlier this year. “We’re shackling our children and grandchildren to debt if we don’t do something.”
Reed introduced a bill this year that would force some universities to use a portion of their endowments to help low- and middle-income students. (You can keep up with all higher education legislation using our Student Loan Bill Tracker.)
And there may be more such elected officials on the way, as millennials join the political arena and move up the ranks of state government.
Natalie Higgins of Massachusetts and Matt Lesser of Connecticut are two re-elected state representatives who have been open about their struggles with student debt.
Higgins, for example, borrowed more than $130,000 to pay for law school.
Lesser, also a student loan borrower, has made student debt a signature issue in his past few years on Connecticut’s state senate. In 2015, he sponsored a “student loan bill of rights,” aimed to make student loan companies follow consumer protection rules.
Committed to easing the burden for student borrowers, both Higgins and Lesser introduced a state bill requiring student loan servicers to abide by consumer protections.
“Having representatives who have experienced or are still experiencing student loans and understand the burdens and problems is really important,” said Ben Brown, founder of AYA.
Student loan legislation remains murky
With divided affiliations in Congress, competing visions for higher education from the Republicans and Democrats look less likely to become law.
Late last year, Republicans proposed the PROSPER Act, which would reduce regulation of for-profit schools, limit student loan forgiveness and increase funding for community colleges and apprenticeships, among other things.
While the Republicans could pass PROSPER during the “lame duck” session before the new Democratic-majority House sits, any overhaul of the student loan system by the new Congress would require a deal between the two sides.
Student loans have become a political issue
With millions of Americans dealing with student loans, and with the cost of college higher than ever, it’s not surprising that higher education issues are increasingly part of the political conversation.
Now that Democrats have won a majority in the House, the current push to roll back Obama-era protections is likely to come under a lot more scrutiny. Likewise, previous plans for major changes to student debt through the PROSPER Act might need bipartisan consensus to move forward.
As a student loan borrower, make sure to stay informed about any changes to federal programs, such as income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness. Also know that even though the election is over, you can still make your voice heard. Contacting your elected officials is easy and can have an impact if enough people take action.
Even if these debates feel far away, they could have a very real effect on your life and finances.
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.50% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.82% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.43% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.21% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 17, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/17/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.45% effective May 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.43% – 7.21%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 6.65%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 6.59%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.44% – 6.87%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.46% – 7.08%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.93% – 9.67%6||Undergrad & Graduate|