Top 6 Things Congress Could Change to Help Struggling Student Loan Borrowers

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On a national level, a debate rages over whether the country’s growing student loan debt will be the next bubble to devastate our economy.

But if you’re one of the more than 44 million Americans with student loans, you’re probably just struggling to make payments and wondering how you’ll ever pay off your five- or six-digit student loan debt.

The good news is that you have options to manage your debt right now. Strategies such as consolidation, income-based repayment, and private refinancing can ease the burden.

But what if our lawmakers got a little more involved? Here are some of the top ways Congress could help struggling student loan borrowers.

1. Pass a federal student loan refinance bill

The federal government is already involved with student loans, thanks to student aid such as the Direct Loan program. Though student loan servicing is contracted out to private companies, the government funds federal student loans.

But for years Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been trying to get a student loan refinance bill passed in Congress.

Though you can currently consolidate your loans through the federal government, you can only refinance privately. Refinancing your federal loans with a private company means giving up access to programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and income-driven repayment.

A federal refinancing program like the one Warren proposed would allow borrowers to refinance student loans at a lower interest rate — without losing the flexible repayment options and forgiveness opportunities that come with federal student debt.

Unfortunately, since her efforts began in 2014, they have been blocked. “Millions of young people are just stuck,” Warren said, according to The Hill. “They can’t buy homes, they can’t buy cars … all because they are struggling under the weight of student loan debt.”

2. Keep federal student loan interest rates low

Another crusade of Warren’s has been to keep student loan interest rates low. In fact, her first piece of legislation, introduced in 2013, was aimed at letting students borrow at the same rate as bankers.

“We shouldn’t be profiting from our students, who are drowning in debt, while giving a great deal to the banks,” said Warren, according to Time. “That’s just wrong.”

Congress sets federal student loan interest rates. Members of Congress could choose to allow students to borrow at much lower rates, similar to the rates the government charges big banks.

However, things are currently moving in the wrong direction. Federal student loan rates will be updated on July 1, 2017. The rate will be 4.45% on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans for undergraduates — an increase from the previous rate of 3.76%.

3. Stabilize the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program

This October, the first cohort of borrowers applying for forgiveness under Public Service Loan Forgiveness will become eligible to receive their rewards for working at a nonprofit or public service job.

However, the program’s future could be in trouble. The Department of Education may not honor PSLF certification letters. Plus, the proposed budget from President Trump would eliminate the program for future borrowers.

Brian Meiggs, the founder of Millennial Money Guide, said that, rather than ditching PSLF, Congress should move to shore it up.

“Congress should push to make the program more stable,” he said. “In an era where government programs are always shifting, this program should stay to help student loan borrowers.”

Meiggs went on to point out that there “is a lot of fine print in the PSLF paperwork that essentially translates, to laymen’s terms, ‘if everything goes to plan.’ Congress can help advance this program so that it is less of a gamble for public service employees.”

4. Incentivize employers to provide student loan benefits

Some companies are offering to help pay down student loan debt, much the same way they contribute to retirement plans. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t offer a tax benefit to employers the same way contributions to an employee’s 401(k) does.

“The fact that healthcare benefits and 401(k) plans are now widely offered by employers is a direct result of Congress passing legislation to encourage and incentivize those benefits through the tax code,” said Tim DeMello, the founder and CEO of Gradifi, a company that helps employers pay down its workers’ student loans.

Employers could use a nudge from Congress to make this benefit more widely available. “If Congress were to enact legislation to allow employees to receive tax-exempt contributions from employers, we would hope to see the number of employees getting student loan repayment assistance grow considerably,” said DeMello.

DeMello claimed that student loans impact seven out of 10 people graduating from college. With the financial stress of student loans weighing on borrowers, workers are less productive, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“It’s a real source of stress for employees entering the workforce,” DeMello continued. “Employers can help reduce the total cost and time to repayment.”

5. Require student loan servicers to provide better information

The Department of Education, led by Secretary Betsy DeVos, recently rolled back memos from the Obama Administration instructing federal loan servicers to work on behalf of students.

Even though servicers are supposed to share information about income-driven repayment and other programs with borrowers, many of them don’t.

A report from the Government Accountability Office indicated that the Department of Education doesn’t adequately prepare borrowers. On top of that, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reported that many borrowers aren’t enrolled in affordable repayment plans after defaulting on loans.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Jay Fleischman, a lawyer specializing in student loans. “Our government should be taking steps to help its citizens and protecting them from servicers. Instead, the focus seems to be on profits for the industry.”

If the Department of Education won’t act to hold student loan servicers accountable, Congress could pass laws requiring servicers to act in borrowers’ best interests. Congress could also move away from efforts to reduce the impact of the CFPB and instead provide the resources to allow the Bureau to enforce better practices.

6. Get rid of taxes on student loan debt forgiveness

Currently, if you are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, any loan balance remaining after 20 or 25 years is forgiven. The catch? You have to report that amount as income on your taxes.

Steven D. Snyder is a writer, actor, and comedian. He has two Master’s degrees and struggles with his student loan payments.

“Congress needs to get rid of the tax on student loan forgiveness,” Snyder said. “You’ve been paying for 20 or 25 years. You’ve paid interest and everything, and now when it’s forgiven it counts as income. If you have tens of thousands of debt remaining, that can be a devastating tax bill.”

There is already precedent for tax-free student loan forgiveness: PSLF won’t tax borrowers for forgiven loans. Congress could amend the current guidelines to give borrowers who earn loan forgiveness through other federal programs the same benefit.

What can you do to advance a student loan bill?

One of the most important things to remember is that Congress is supposed to represent us. If there is a piece of legislation you’re interested in or if you think your representative should introduce legislation to help student loan borrowers, contact them.

Not sure where to start? Enter your address and state into GovTrack.us and see exactly who your representatives are, what their contact information is, and how they’ve voted in the past. If you disagree with their voting record on student loan issues, be vocal and let them know about it.

You can also get involved at the state level. Many states are taking student loan relief into their own hands — just look at New York’s introduction of free college tuition. Lobby for such programs in your own state; your state’s legislature should have a website where you can look up your representatives.

Lastly, talk to your friends and neighbors about the national student loan burden and organize letter-writing or calling campaigns to let your representatives know what’s important to you. Whether you support a student loan refinance bill, an end to taxation on debt forgiveness, an expansion of PSLF, or any other policy you think would positively benefit a large number of Americans, speak up now to begin enacting change.

Want to learn more about student loan legislation that’s in the works? Check out our student loan bill tracker to see what’s on the horizon.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.