For people facing student debt, help may be on the way — but there could be a legal challenge

Biden’s new student debt relief plan

Biden's new student debt relief plan

Student loan debt is a subject very much on the mind of University of Minnesota junior Addie Zinck.  

She says she’s paying roughly $30,000 a year for college.

“You have your education, but you want to have that education be worth it,” Zinck declares. “And sometimes, if the loan is too big, it’s really a sacrifice. Is it worth it?”

But for some students, help may be on the way.

The Biden administration Friday announced it is forgiving $39 billion in student loan debt, for 800,000 borrowers. A one-time fix for ‘administrative errors’ that denied relief to some applicants because of mistakes in tracking payments.

“People come out of college with six-figure debts, they basically have to make their college education a 30-year loan they’re paying back,” says David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. “We know that student debt is at a record level, approximately $1.8 trillion in student loan debt, that’s twice what credit card debt is in the United States.”

That one-time program is separate from a new income-driven repayment plan called ‘Saving on Valuable Education’ — or SAVE, for short.

It will lower monthly payments from 10% to 5% of a person’s discretionary income.

Borrowers making less than about $33,000 a year won’t owe loan payments.

“Honestly, it relieves a lot of stress for me,” explains Tamarra Golden, a U of M sophomore who’s majoring in economics.

The 19-year-old says she expects to owe $90,000 by the time she graduates.

She says her most recent loan was about $5,000.

But Golden worries about the national debt that she believes she and others will be paying for in the future.

“We talked about this in my economics class… about forgiving student loans and all of that, and the effect it would have,” she notes. “As a student, I’m very grateful it happened, so I’m very conflicted about it all. At the same time, it could be so much better.”

The SAVE plan announcement comes a few weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the administration’s push to cancel $430 million in student loan debt.

Republicans have fought against the plan, saying it oversteps the president’s authority and is unfair to the nearly 90% of Americans who don’t have student loans.

Schultz says there’s another wrinkle.

“There’s nothing in here that really creates a disincentive to colleges in terms of cutting costs,” he says. “We’re sort of dealing with the symptom, that is, the high cost of education, without trying to address the core issue — the high cost of education.”

Opponents say it’s just a matter of time before the repayment plan faces a legal challenge.

But Schultz says since it’s a modification of programs already in place, it stands a better chance of being upheld by the high court — if it gets that far.

Borrowers will be able to apply with the SAVE program starting later this summer.

Zinck says she hopes it will help.

“Definitely nice to hear,” she notes. “Just like comforting, because it’s like you’re about to become an adult, you don’t want to start so massively behind all of the debt.”