Thursday, January 12, 2023

DOE plays Whack-a-Mole with the Student Loan Program: Not a safety net but a noose

According to Techopedia, the term “whack-a-mole” describes a process "where a pervasive problem keeps recurring after it is supposedly fixed."

That's a great description of what the Department of Education is doing with the federal student-loan program.  It's playing whack-a-mole.

Here's DOE's latest fun-house trick to create a "safety net" to "permanently fix a broken student loan system."

The Department is going to revamp its Rube Goldberg system of income-based repayment plans into a new program that will make college damn near free for millions of college students.

As DOE spokespeople explained, student debtors in income-based repayment plans will only be required to pay five percent of their discretionary income toward paying back their loans--no matter how much they borrow!

Pretty sweet. But the deal gets sweeter.  DOE's generous new repayment plan describes discretionary income as 225 percent of a person's income above the federal poverty level.

Here's an example of how DOE's new repayment scheme will work. Single student borrowers will only have to pay 5 percent of their annual income above $30,000 on their student debt. 

Let's suppose a single guy graduates from St. Nobody College owing $58,000 in student loans. (That's the average debt load for graduates of private schools.)

Let's further suppose our guy earns a salary of $55,000 a year, the average starting salary for a recent college graduate.

What will be our guy's monthly student-loan payment on the $58,000 he borrowed to attend St. Nobody? 

The math is simple. He will pay five percent of $25,000 ($55,000 minus $30,000). That's $1,250 a year or $104 a month.

And if our young scholar is married and has two children when he graduates from college, his discretionary income will be adjusted upward. He won't have to pay anything on his student loans--not one fuckin' dime!

Don't take my word for it. That's what DOE's January 10 press release reported. 

How about accruing interest? Under DOE's old income-based repayment plans, small monthly payments on student loans often don't cover accruing interest on the debt, so the debt grows larger with each passing month.

Again, no problem! Education Secretary Cardona's new student-loan bonanza won't charge you interest! 

In sum, Education Secretary Cardona is playing whack-a-mole with the student loan program. Instead of doing something to fix this trillion-dollar problem, he's rolling out a scheme that's designed so that most student borrowers don't have to pay back their debts.

James Kvall, Undersecretary of Education, described DOE's razzle-dazzle plan as a safety net.  But's he wrong. It's not a safety net; it's a noose designed to strangle American taxpayers.

Let's play whacka-mole!


  1. College degrees aren't worth the paper they are printed on, otherwise this wouldn't be such a disastrous issue.

  2. Does the new DOE plan really strangle the taxpayers?

    It might, but I would be cautious in saying this.
    Let me put out some rough numbers.

    1. There is about $1.6 trillion of outstanding student debt.

    2. A minority of this debt is private held, but the majority is owned by the federal government.

    3. Debt is normally deferred while a borrower is still in school

    4. In a normal pre-pandemic year, borrowers were making their IDR payments. (or in some cases no payments, and default was pending.)

    5. The total of IDR payments was (I am just guessing) maybe 5% of the total owed. Let's call that total $80 billion.

    6. If all debts are forgiven, the government loses $80 billion a year.

    Does that strangle the taxpayer? (leaving aside the question of whether it is fair)

    As you can tell, I am not a fan of the recent protocol which describes all government programs in 10 year blocks. I look at the annual cost.

    Comments welcome!