Showing posts with label Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2019

Democrats are "woke" about Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Senators Kaine and Gillibrand file legislation to overhaul PSLF

The Trump Administration hates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, PSLF allows student-loan debtors who work in public-service jobs to have their student loans forgiven if they make 120 student-loan payments in a qualified repayment plan.

The first PSLF participants to have accumulated 120 student-loan payments became eligible for debt relief in 2017--10 years after the program was introduced. As has been widely reported, the Department of Education approved less than 1 percent of the applications for PSLF forgiveness that it had processed as of  September 2018.  In fact, DOE said 70 percent of the applicants were not eligible for PSLF participation.

So far, over one million student-loan borrowers have applied to DOE to have their employment certified as PSLF eligible, and millions more are counting on PSLF for debt relief but haven't applied yet. It's a mess.

And it is especially a mess for people who borrowed $100,000 or more to get a law degree or other graduate degree. According to the American Bar Association, the average debt load for people who attended a private law school is $122,000. For many of the people who accumulated six-figure student-loan debt to finance their graduate studies, PSLF is the only viable option for debt relief.

Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education, apparently does not care that her agency has frightened or angered millions of people who are counting on PSLF to manage their student loans. According to a news report, a senior DOE official said that DOE does not support PSLF and would not implement it if it were not legally obligated to do so.

But the Democrats are "woke" about this problem. This week, Senators Tim Kaine and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill to overhaul the PSLF program. Thirteen Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors, including all the U.S. Senators running for President (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker).

The Kaine-Gillibrand proposal defines eligible public-service organizations broadly to include all federal, state, and local government agencies and all charitable organizations that qualify  for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3) of the tax code. As Jason Delisle pointed out in a 2016 analysis of PSLF, that definition applies to one quarter of the American workforce.

In fact, the bill's definition of public service differs markedly from the one developed by DeVos's DOE. DOE defines a public service organization as one that is primarily involved in public service,thus excluding organizations like the American Bar Association, which is primarily devoted to serving the legal profession, although it engages in some public service work.

The Kaine-Gillibrand bill also specifies that all student-loan debtors qualify for PSLF, regardless of the federal loan program or repayment plan they are in. This provision also expands eligibility for PSLF participation far beyond what the DeVos DOE permits.

I support passage of the Kaine-Gillibrand bill, and I hope it is enacted by Congress. But we should not deceive ourselves about the cost of PSLF. Thousands of people seeking debt relief under PSLF owe $100,000 or more. Most of these people are making income-based monthly payments on their loans that are not large enough to cover accruing interest. Their debt load is increasing month by month as accrued interest gets capitalized and added to their loan balances. If these people's student-loan debts are forgiven after 10 years, the government will essentially be forgiving the entire amount that was borrowed plus a lot more due to the accrued interest that will also be forgiven.

Remember Josh Mitchell's story in Wall Street Journal about Mike Meru, who borrowed $400,000 to go to dental school? Dr. Meru is making payments of about $2,000 a month in an income-based repayment plan, but his debt has grown to $1 million due to accrued interest. If Meru gets a qualified public-service job and holds it for ten years, DOE will forgive the entire $1 million plus additional interest!

This is a huge problem, and the Kaine-Gillibrand bill won't solve it. Under the GRAD Plus program, graduate students can borrow the total cost of their graduate education--tuition, books, and living expenses--no matter what the cost. It is not surprising then that graduate-school tuition prices went up dramatically after the GRAD Plus program was enacted.

If the bill becomes law, the Kaine-Gillibrand proposal will give relief to millions of student-loan borrowers. But the bill is just a stop-gap measure. As I have said, the only solution to the student-loan crisis is bankruptcy relief for honest debtors who can't pay back their student loans.  More than 45 million Americans have outstanding student loans. I think most of them would vote for a presidential candidate who endorses bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan debtors.




Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Department of Education slow rolls the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program: Like a drunk weaving through traffic

For many years, the Department of Education has managed the federal student-loan program like a drunk creeping through heavy traffic. It has stumbled, reeled, dissembled, weaved and bobbed, but always avoided a head-on collision with reality.

But that time is over. Under Betsy DeVos's colossal mismanagement (and her predecessors), DOE has messed up the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), thereby telegraphing to 44 million student-loan borrowers that Betsy Devos is either fiendishly devious or spectacularly incompetent.

The PSLF program is not complicated.  Under federal law, student-loan borrowers who work for a qualified employer (governmental agency or non-profit) and make 120 student-loan payments under an approved repayment plan are eligible to have remaining student-loan debt cancelled. (It's a little more complicated than that, but not much.)

Almost 1.2 million borrowers have applied to have their employment certified for PSLF eligibility. More than a quarter million applications were denied. That alone is a startling fact.

But it gets worse. About 28,000 people who are in the PSLF program (or at least believe they are in it) applied to have their student loans forgiven based on their representation that they had made the 120 required student-loan payments. How many people have obtained debt relief so far? Less than 100!

What are we to make of this gigantic snarl?

First, DOE has made the PSLF program needlessly complicated. After all, the government only needs to answer two questions to determine who is eligible for debt relief. Did the applicant work for an approved employer for 10 years? Did the applicant make 120 one-time payments on his or her student loans?

Second, the PSLF program was poorly designed, and DeVos's DOE has reached the startling realization that the program is astonishingly expensive.  In my opinion, DOE is dragging its feet about processing PSLF claims to postpone the reckoning day, when it will have to publicly admit that PSLF is going to cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report almost two years ago that concluded DOE had underestimated the cost of various student-loan repayment options. I'm guessing DOE did not figure on the huge debt loads some PSLF applicants were accumulating from going to graduate school: MBA degrees, medical degrees, law degrees, etc.

According to GAO, the average amount of forgiven debt for the first 55 people who received student-loan forgiveness is almost $58,000. If  this average continues to hold, and all 890,000 people whose loans and employment were certified eventually get debt relief, the cost will be $50 billion! Meanwhile, DOE can expect PSLF requests for certification and debt relief to continue being filed into the indefinite future.

No wonder DOE is slow rolling the PSLF loan-forgiveness process.



 References

Stacy Cowley. 28,000 Public Servants Sought Student Loan Forgiveness. 96 Got It. New York Times, September 27, 2018.



Friday, September 21, 2018

Department of Education's New Report on Student-Loan Casualties: A Dr. Strangelove Moment

You remember that great scene from the movie Dr. Strangelove.  U.S. President Muffley (played by Peter Sellers) worries about the consequences of nuclear war with Russia. "You're talking about mass murder," President Muffley muses.

But General Turgidson (played by George C. Scott) is not concerned. "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops."

Betsy DeVos is our modern day General Turgidson. The student loan program is shattering the lives of about 20 million Americans.  But in DeVos' mind, that's a small price to pay for a program that enriches her buddies in the for-profit college industry.

And so without further ado, I will summarize the Department of Education's most recent report on the student-loan debacle.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans. As DOE reports, more and more distressed student borrowers are being herded into income-driven repayment plans (IDRPs). As of June, 7.1 million people are enrolled in IDRPs, a 20 percent increase from just a year ago.

Student borrowers in IDRPs are America's new serfs. They pay a percentage of their income for 20 or 25 years to repay the student loans they took on to attend some raggedy-ass college that didn't prepare them for a job.

Of course, IDRP monthly payments are generally low. In fact, IDRP participants who live below the poverty line make monthly payments of zero. But virtually everyone in these plans--7.1 million suckers--will die without ever paying back their loans. In fact, for most of them, their loan balances are going up with each passing month due to unpaid accruing interest.

Borrower Defense to Repayment. According to DOE, 166,000 student borrowers filed so-called "borrower defense" claims. These claimants are seeking loan forgiveness on the grounds they were defrauded by the colleges they attended. Thousands of these claims were filed by people who attended just two for-profit institutions that went bankrupt: Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech.

As of June 30, two thirds of these claims are still pending, and only 80 percent of the processed claims were approved.  Meanwhile, borrowers who have pending claims are still obligated to make their monthly loan payments.

Delinquency Rates. Delinquency rates are down slightly, DOE assures us, but almost a quarter million borrowers defaulted on their student loans during the third quarter of this year.  That's 2755 people going into default every day.  A high percentage of these defaulters attended for-profit colleges. But apparently those casualties are acceptable to Betsy DeVos.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Hundreds of thousands of student debtors have taken jobs in the public sector in belief that their student loans would be forgiven after 10 years under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). It now seems they were deluded.

PSLF was enacted by Congress in October 2007, so the first people entitled to PSLF relief became eligible in October 2017. So far, 28,000 people have applied for PSLF relief, but only 300 claims have been approved and only 96 people have actually had their loans forgiven!

If Betsy DeVos and her gang of former for-profit-college hacks continue to refuse to implement PSLF in good faith, hundreds of thousands of college borrowers who relied on PSLF will suffer incalculable hardship.  For example, thousands of people have graduated from third- and fourth-tier law schools with six-figure debt, and they can't find law jobs in the private sector that pay enough to service their student-loan obligations. As Paul Campos pointed out in his book Don't Go to Law School (Unless), PSLF is these people's only viable option for paying off their law-school loans.

Conclusion: The Student Loan Program is in Fine Shape: "10 to 20 Million Casualties, Tops!"

DOE's own data shows us that the federal student loan program is a disaster: high default rates, income-driven repayment plans that don't allow people to pay off their loans,  borrower-defense rules that DOE administers incompetently, and a PSLF program that DOE refuses to implement in good faith. Meanwhile, the for-profit gang is getting rich.

Literally, there are at least 20 million casualties. Betsy DeVos must think 20 million casualties is acceptable, but I do not. Why don't our  politicians--Republicans and Democrats-- begin to behave like grownups and impeach Betsy DeVos, who is running DOE like a character in Dr. Strangelove.

10 to 20 million casualties--tops!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a train wreck, and $350 million won't fix it.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), created by Congress in 2007, allows people in public service jobs to make income-based student-loan payments for ten years. If they make 120 payments, their loan balances will be forgiven and the amount of the forgiven debt isn't taxable to them.

Such a deal!

Thousands of student debtors relied on PSLF to manage huge debt burdens. In fact, as Paul Campos correctly noted in his book Don't Go to Law School (Unless), people who graduate from bottom-tier law schools with six-figure student debt have only one option for paying off their student loans: the PSLF program.

Last fall, the first wave of PSLF participants became eligible to have their loan balances forgiven, but Betsy DeVos' Department of Education put impediments in the way and told some student debtors they were not eligible. The American Bar Association sued DOE after it declined to honor an application by ABA employees for public-service loan forgiveness.

Prompted by Democratic legislators--notably Senator Elizabeth Warren--Congress set aside $350 million to pay off student loans owed by people who failed to qualify for PSLF through no fault of their own.

That's a good first step, but $350 million won't fix this problem. As Jason Delisle explained in a 2016 report for the Brookings Institution, the PSLF program has problems DOE didn't anticipate, and those problems will be expensive to fix.

First of all, public service employment as Congress defined it includes anyone who works for federal, state, or local government and anyone who works for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. As Delisle pointed out  (p. 3), that definition encompasses about one quarter of the American workforce.

In fact, nearly all the doctoral students I've taught over the last 25 years work in public sector jobs; and most of them have student-loan debt, which they expect to shed through the PSLF program. For example, one of my recent doctoral graduates accumulated $140,000 in student-loan debt on her journey to obtaining an Ed.D. degree. PSLF is her only escape hatch for shedding this enormous debt.

Without any question, the PSLF program was poorly designed. The category of eligible participants was defined far too broadly.  Although program defenders say PSLF is intended to aid firefighters, police officers, and teachers, it also benefits public-service lawyers, lobbyists, and accountants.

Furthermore, Congress placed no cap on the amount of student debt that can be forgiven under PSLF. At roughly the same time Congress enacted the PSLF program, it approved the Grad PLUS program, which allows graduate students to borrow the entire cost of their graduate or professional education with no dollar limit.

Apparently DOE was surprised by the enormous debt loads carried by people seeking to shed their student loans through PSLF.  But it should have been obvious to everyone that law-school and business-school graduates with $200,000 in student-loan debt and no prospect of a well-paying private-sector job would look to PSLF to manage their debt.

In short, DOE underestimated the number of people eligible for PSLF and the amount of money they owe. Taxpayers are going to spend a lot more on PSLF than DOE anticipated.

So what to do?

In my view, the Department of Education should forgive student-loan debt for everyone who has accumulated 10 years of public service since the PSLF program was enacted in 2007--regardless of whether the PSLF applicant filled out the proper paperwork. And it should allow everyone currently working in  a public service job to participate in the PSLF program and receive loan forgiveness after they've made 120 payments.

And then Congress needs to amend the program to put a cap on the amount of student-loan debt that can be forgiven under PSLF, and it should limit future participation to people working in hard-to-fill public sector jobs--police officers, fire fighters, teachers, etc.

No doubt about it--PSLF is a colossal train wreck; and it will cost the federal government billions of dollars to fulfill the promises Congress made eleven years ago. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that PSLF and income-based repayment programs together will cost taxpayers $12 billion over the next ten years (as reported by Jason Delisle). The $350 million Congress appropriated last March is but a small down payment.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a Train Wreck.

References

Stacy Cowley. Student Loan Forgiveness Program Approval Letters May Be Invalid. New York Times, March 30, 2017. 

 Jason Delisle. The coming Public Service Loan Forgiveness bonanza. Brookings Institution Report, Vol 2(2), September 22, 2016.

Andrew Kreighbaum. New Fix for Public Service Loans. Insider Higher Ed, May 24, 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. Senate Democrats want Public Service Loan Forgiveness Fix in budget agreement. Inside Higher Ed, February 16, 2018.

Jordan Weissmann. Betsy DeVos Wants to Kill a Major Student Loan Forgiveness ProgramSlate, May 17, 2017.