Teacher With $303K Student Debt Says Biden’s $10K Relief Plan Not Enough

  • Reports have suggested Biden is considering $10,000 in student-loan relief for federal borrowers.
  • Cheryl told Insider that amount wouldn’t make a difference to her $303,000 student-debt load.
  • She said she has no problem paying back what she borrowed, but the interest just keeps growing.

If it weren’t for compounding interest, Cheryl — who requested her last name be withheld for privacy concerns — thinks President Joe Biden’s plans to forgive $10,000 in student debt for federal borrowers might have made a difference for her.

But with $303,000 in federal student debt — and an additional $20,000 in private student loans — the president’s plan just isn’t enough.

“It’s not even a drop in the bucket,” Cheryl, 53, told Insider. “If you wanted to make a real difference, you could do away with half the interest we’ve accrued, but for now I’ll never be able to cover the payments.”

As a teacher in Massachusetts, Cheryl had to take out student loans for her bachelor’s degree in English and her master’s degree in education. While she said she has no problem paying back the debt she borrowed, the problem is the interest that accrued while she was in school and her loans were in forbearance. That’s making it nearly impossible for her to touch her principal balance at her current income level.

Biden has not confirmed an amount for any student-loan forgiveness he might implement, but recent reports have suggested he is looking at $10,000 in relief for federal borrowers making under $150,000 a year. While that’s an amount he pledged to fulfill on the campaign trail, many Democratic lawmakers and advocates had hoped he would go bigger and are disappointed he appears to be settling on an amount that would hardly make a dent in the US’s $1.7 trillion student-debt load .

“At the end of the day, we have to recognize that $10,000 is not enough,” Wisdom Cole, the national director of the NAACP Youth & College Division, previously told Insider. “$20,000 is not enough. $30,000 is not enough. We have to cancel a minimum of $50,000 or more. Isn’t the goal to get the most amount of relief to the most borrowers?”

‘I’m totally screwed’ when student-loan payments restart

The Biden administration has emphasized that before student-loan payments are set to resume after August 31, it will make an announcement on broad relief. But if it’s $10,000 in forgiveness, Cheryl said she will not be able to afford her federal debt bill on the income she makes right now — especially as she’s getting ready to send her nephew, who she is financially supporting, to college.

“I’m totally screwed,” Cheryl said. “And now I’m trying to put a kid through college and he got a good scholarship, but it doesn’t pay for everything. I have no idea how I’m going to do it, I guess I’ll have to get another job.”

During the payment pause, Cheryl was still making around $400 monthly payments on her private student loans, and not having to make the $200 federal monthly payments under her income-driven repayment plan provided a slight financial reprieve that helped her afford other basic necessities.

“I have $200 to get gas, and groceries and everything else, and there’s not much left after that,” Cheryl said. “It keeps you in this nasty little loop that you can’t get out of because I can’t afford to pay it down and the interest keeps coming.”

Although Cheryl’s profession technically qualifies for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student debt for public servants after ten years of qualifying payments, she was denied due to what she said was her time spent in payment forbearance while in school.

The Education Department has announced actions to allow past payments to be counted toward forgiveness, but Cheryl is still waiting and said “the money made from teaching will never come close to what you need to borrow to become one.”

How lawmakers are reacting to the potential $10,000 in relief

Biden himself has not confirmed an amount of student debt he will cancel for federal borrowers, but when he said $50,000 in relief was off the table last month, some Democratic lawmakers and advocates grew concerned. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — one of the leading voices for broad student-loan forgiveness — released data that emphasized how going bigger on relief will be much more impactful.

The data found that $50,000 in debt relief would zero out balances for 30 million, or 76%, of all federal borrowers, compared to 13 million borrowers for $10,000 in relief.

“As this analysis clearly shows, canceling student debt is a matter of racial justice and about providing relief to millions of hard-working people who invested in their education but are now drowning in debt,” Warren said in a statement. “The more President Biden cancels, the more we narrow the racial-wealth gap among borrowers and the bigger the boost to Americans’ economic futures. This is the right thing to do.”

But Republican lawmakers are saying the exact opposite. Insider previously reported on GOP concerns that Biden is canceling student debt to win Democratic votes at the midterms, and Virginia Foxx — a top Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor — has frequently said canceling student debt would exacerbate inflation and cost taxpayers, referring to the $150 billion cost of the pandemic pause on payments.

For Cheryl, the issue is simple — she wants to pay back what she borrowed, and nothing more.

“I don’t mind paying back the money I borrowed,” Cheryl said. “But I do mind the government making their money off my back.”

Do you have a story to share about student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at asheffey@insider.com.

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