Reducing Interest Rates for Student Loans Won’t Solve Much
43.3 million Americans and counting are struggling under the weight of their student debts, according to the New York Federal Reserve. With so many voters dealing with the same issue, potential presidential candidates are all trying to climb onboard the student debt support bandwagon.
But some politicians are proposing plans that sound helpful in theory, while in practice could actually prove entirely ineffective for many Americans with student debt. Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton jumped to share her own plan for easing the total $1.2 trillion debt burden of post-college Americans.
One of her most radical suggestions was implementing a new four-year degree from public schools, completely debt-free. This is a plan that has worked in favor of universities in other developed countries to great educational and financial success. But it’s a plan that many Americans may not support.
Her main plan is one that is meant to assist people currently juggling student debt rather than preventing future students the same debt burden. The concept is a straightforward one: lower the interest rates.
It seems like a solid idea. The proposed strategy estimates that it would assist 25 million Americans by an average of about $2,000 each. It aims to make getting out from under student debt easier, faster, more affordable, and also ensure the government wouldn’t be the one profiting from the interest rates.
But does it actually work? Jason Delisle, director of the Federal Education Budget Project at the New America Foundation says no. This type of plan will only work for a few Americans, and not the right ones.
Reducing the interest rates on students loans will only benefit higher-earning borrowers. These are the graduates who typically completed more than four years of schooling to earn degrees in high-paying jobs as lawyers and doctors. While they did manage to rack up higher amounts of student debt, they’re also the borrowers who are most capable of comfortably paying off that debt.
Meanwhile, lower-earning borrowers are the ones who need assistance with their student debt the most, but will be unaffected by the reduced interest rates. According to Delisle, “It’s not even clear it’s an affordability problem. A lot of the non-repayment … is happening on loans that are smaller than $9,000, where the monthly payment is about $100.”
In 2014, the Brookings Institute found that higher-income/higher-educated families are more likely to hold large figures of student debt than their lower-income/less-educated counterparts. So refinancing student loans in order to take advantage of the reduced interest rates will automatically help borrowers who don’t particularly need the help, rather than the borrowers that do need assistance.
“You’re showering people with money who don’t necessarily need it and are struggling in order to make the problem go away for people who actually need a bit of help,” says Delisle.
A percentage cut will be a greater help to those with a six-figure student debt rather than those with just a few thousand in debt, because the borrowers with higher amounts of debt are of significantly higher income.
While it’s a good thought, it’s not the correct solution for the student debt problem that is preventing Americans from owning homes, getting married, having children, and creating retirement funds. A one-size-fits-all solution won’t cut it when there’s such a large income discrepancy between those with student debt.
Other plans designed to assist college-debt-ridden Americans are being proposed by politicians of every party, and will continue to be at the forefront of the debate in order to appeal to the issues faced by young voters.