Most voters support student debt cancellation, according to new polling from Courier Newsroom and Data for Progress. But some Michigan graduates don’t have to wait on President Joe Biden to make up his mind.
MICHIGAN— More than 1 million Michiganders are holding their breath this week, as they wait for news about whether their federal student loan bills might be paused again, or even cancelled altogether.
If President Joe Biden takes either of these steps, he’d be lightening the financial load for about 1.4 million Michiganders who are reportedly in debt to government loan programs after attending or helping their kids attend college. Biden would also be doing something that 58% of Americans support, according to a new Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll. Loan forgiveness could be announced this month.
But student debt holders in Michigan might not need to wait. Here’s a list of tools available to help people with student loans right now:
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
An estimated 154,000 Michiganders working in public service were recently determined to be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program—which provides direct federal student loan relief to those who work in government and at eligible nonprofit organizations, including early childhood education providers, tribal government, and health and elder care providers. Recent updates to the program have also allowed previously ineligible borrowers to cash in on more credit toward loan forgiveness, so it’s worth finding out if you qualify. Here’s a simple-to-use website that can help.
To date, more than 6,000 Michiganders have had $358 million in loans forgiven. And much more is still available to eligible borrowers. They just have to ask for it, according to state officials.
From now until Oct. 31, the US Department of Education is offering public service employees a second chance to qualify for student loan forgiveness, including those with non-direct loans, who are not enrolled in an income-driven repayment plans or who have missed a repayment.
Among those who can apply for loan forgiveness: Nearly 50,000 state of Michigan employees.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with employees to help them take full advantage of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program,” said Liza Estlund Olson, director of the Office of the State Employer in a release. “We urge borrowers to take a second look to see if they qualify for student loan relief and encourage more Michiganders to join the public sector workforce.”
Bryan Van Dorn, a state employee in East Lansing, said he tried to apply for the program in 2010, but was denied—forcing him to chip away at interest and barely make a dent in his loan. When the rules changed last fall, all of the payments he made over the last 10 years were found retroactively eligible for forgiveness and his remaining balance fell to zero.
“As a son of teenagers just trying to get by, we didn’t have much. My single mother did everything she could, but other than a small Pell Grant, I had no help to afford college. Loans were the only way to get the education that no one in my family had,” he said. “Having these loans forgiven all but guarantees that my daughter won’t have to shoulder the same burden.”
To apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness waiver, borrowers should:
- Click here to verify their employer qualifies for PSLF.
- Submit a certified copy of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Employment Certification form to the U.S. Department of Education before Oct. 31.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
After five academic years of teaching full-time in a low-income school or other educational service agency, Michigan teachers are eligible for forgiveness of up to $17,500 on both subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
It’s worth noting: Borrowers cannot receive credit toward Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness for the same period at the same time. That means if you seek and receive Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the five-year period of service that supported your eligibility will not also count toward PSLF. Changes cannot be made after borrowers receive either type of loan forgiveness.
Michigan State Loan Repayment Program
This program is designed to help employers recruit and retain primary medical, dental and mental health care providers by paying back the student loans of those who take on certain “service obligations”—like working in an area of the state that’s short on health care staff.
Through the program, eligible borrowers can receive up to $300,000 in tax-free funds to repay their educational debt over a period of up to 10 years. In turn, they may be required to stay employed full time in certain regions of the state, or at eligible nonprofit health care practices.
The state of Michigan has been providing myriad financial assistance programs for college students since 1964—amounting to about $4 billion in scholarship assistance, more than $15 billion in guaranteed loans and the issuance of about $3 million in private loans to date.
Most People Support Loan Forgiveness
That’s right: Polling shows nearly six in 10 voters support extending the pause on federal student loan payments, a moratorium which began in March 2020 because of the pandemic and is now set to expire at the end of August. And support for extending the pause is particularly high among voters under age 45, two-thirds of whom support postponing the loan payments.
In contrast, only 37% of voters oppose extending the pause.
Of that 58% majority of voters who support the pause on student loan repayments nationwide, well over half also want to see the moratorium extended either indefinitely, or for at least a year.
The margin of support for cancelation of federal student loan debt was even higher—with 58% of voters supporting some amount of debt cancelation, including 45% who support canceling at least $25,000. That compares to only 34% who oppose cancelation entirely.
Again, voters under 45 were especially supportive of canceling federal student debt.
That already-strong level of support climbed even higher when voters were asked if they supported debt cancellation for middle- and low-income borrowers. Sixty-three percent of voters said they supported canceling at least $10,000 in debt for these populations.
Biden—who has been contemplating canceling $10,000 in debt for every borrower earning under $125,000 per year since the start of his presidency—has faced pressure from young Americans, student loan borrowers, activists, and progressives to cancel an even higher amount of debt. More recently, the concept has emerged as just one viable response to rising rates of inflation and stagnant wages.
Supporters of cancelation argue that erasing student debt is both morally just and politically beneficial, pointing out that Biden’s approval rating—which is dismal with voters under 35—would benefit from cancelation. Advocates have also contended that large-scale debt forgiveness would provide an immediate boost to the overall economy by easing the financial burden on 43 million Americans.
The recent polling data suggests the salience of this argument; canceling some amount of the $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt is popular and an electoral winner with young voters, who overwhelmingly lean Democratic when they vote.
But the Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress survey did not show that such a move would drastically shift voter turnout. When asked whether they’d be more likely to vote if Biden canceled some amount of student debt, a majority of respondents overall said cancelation would not impact their plans to vote.
Forty-four percent of voters under age 45 said they would be more likely to vote if the Biden administration canceled debt, and 8% said it would make them less likely to vote. Forty-eight percent said it would make no difference.
When asked whether Biden canceling debt would make them more or less likely to vote for Democrats specifically, 41% of voters under 45 said they’d be more likely to vote for Democrats, compared to only 18% who said they’d be less likely and 41% who said it’d make no difference.
Some critics of student loan cancellation have argued that it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, since future generations will simply accumulate more debt as the cost of higher education continues to surge.
This is a point worth noting, and supporters of cancellation broadly agree that the exorbitant cost of education needs to be addressed and resolved. Their approach can perhaps best be summed up as “why not both?” Why not help people who are suffering now, and prevent people from suffering in the future?
While the Courier Newsroom/Data for Progress poll found that most Americans support canceling some amount of student loans, an even higher number of Americans support addressing the root causes of the outrageous cost of higher education.
An overwhelming 84% of voters believe that we should lower public college tuition or make it free, compared to only 12% who believe the cost of public college should remain the same.
Even though there is enormous support for reducing the cost of public universities and colleges, actually reforming higher education will require concerted political action across all levels of government—federal, state, and local.
Until lawmakers find the political will to focus efforts on an issue that 84% of voters stand behind, student debt cancellation may be the best way any administration in any party can help pull millions of Americans out from under the weight of crushing debt.