To Borrow is Human; to Forgive, Divine.

In our last post, we talked about Obama’s plan to cap student loan payments at 10% of monthly income. Today we’re looking at another part of program, the loan forgiveness clause. When student debt payments drag on until the 20 year mark, the government automatically erases the debt. For those working in the public sector, the government takes over the debt after 10 years.

Student Loan, Obama Higher Education Reform

Uncle Sam forgives the remaining student loan debt after ten years for those working in the public sector.

The challenge with such a program is, as with anything anywhere, preventing people from taking advantage of the rules. Politico brought one such case to light recently, related to the 10 year forgiveness plan for public sector employees. Law schools at Georgetown and other universities advertised programs requiring no student loan payments ever, partly because of government programs.

In a sense, it is a generous program. Georgetown offers to make ten years of loan payments for law graduates that work in the public sector. But then, the government takes care of the rest, and this is even advertised on the program website. Check it out here.

With income-based payments, borrowers obviously make less progress on the underlying principal, meaning a larger amount is still outstanding after ten years. For professional school graduates, that amount can easily reach beyond $100,000.

For reference, here’s the politico story:

It is not quite as scandalous as an iPhone pic of a private part, but it is hard to believe this is what lawmakers were hoping for when they passed the original law in 2007 or when Obama shortened the time limits and lowered the income caps last year. (nor what Apple was hoping for when it created the iPhone).

When the government caps the payments at 10% of income, one would assume it is the borrower making those 10% payments, not their former university or anyone else. Does that count as extra income, for example? If so, do they have to recalculate the 10%? This is only one case, of course, and not an egregious one, but my guess is there will be more, especially as the program expands.

All that being said, an average participant in the program does get a lighter load in leaner times and still has responsibility for the loan. That’s what the program should do. Graduates don’t get out of the debt by making lower payments. They just extend the amount of time they will be paying on the loan, which of course means more interest payments long term. But they get a break, when they need it.

While the government will forgive the loan after 20 years (10 years in the public sector, as I mentioned above), 20 years of paying 10% of your income and still being in debt does not seem like getting off that easily. People are creative, though. Going forward, we’ll see how many more stories come up involving imaginative ideas for offloading loans at that ten or even twenty year mark. Feel free to share any such ideas in the comments section.

In our next post, we’ll look at the cost control aspects of Obama’s plan.