College affordability and the student debt crisis have become widely discussed issues in the 2020 presidential election. There’s certainly a consensus that increasing tuition and trillions of dollars in student debt are growing problems, but candidates hold different propositions on how to respond, and student loans play different roles in their overall economic policy plans.
Below is a summary of where the democratic candidates stand on this topic and what it would mean for student debt borrowers. We will update this article as the presidential race develops.
Stance: cancelling the country’s outstanding $1.6 trillion student debt
Senator Bernie Sanders made headlines for his plans to erase the $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt. Erasing student debt is just one part of Sanders’ “College for All Act”, the most ambitious plan proposed by any of the candidates. This plan also includes making public colleges and universities tuition free.
To pay for this plan, Sanders would introduce a new tax on financial transactions, like buying and selling stocks, bonds, and derivatives. This tax is expected to sum to $2.4 trillion in revenues over the next 10 years.
Bernie Sanders built his plan around his belief that “in the richest country in the history of the world, everyone who has the desire and the ability should be able to get a college education regardless of their background and ability to pay.”
Click here to learn more about Bernie Sanders' plan.
Stance: expanding public service loan forgiveness
Biden’s student loan history is more controversial: in 2005, he was a key proponent of a bill, colloquially known as the "bankruptcy bill", that prevented $150 billion worth of private student debt from being discharged, rescheduled, or renegotiated as other forms of debt can be in bankruptcy court.
For his 2020 campaign platform, he plans on forgiving student loans for people making less than $30,000 a year, as well as decreasing the monthly payment of people on income driven repayment plans to 5% of their discretionary income. Currently, borrowers on income-driven repayment plans pay 10-15% of their discretionary income.
Although Joe Biden is receiving less attention for his comparatively moderate student loan stances, advocates say his propositions are more likely to be enacted than radical changes like free college for all or massive forgiveness efforts.
Fun fact: Joe Biden borrowed over $280,000 in student loans to put three kids through college and graduate school.
Click here to learn more about Joe Biden’s plan.
Stance: cancel some student debt depending on borrowers’ incomes
Elizabeth Warren is proposing to cancel a certain amount of debt depending on borrower's incomes. Households that make less than $100,000 a year will be eligible for $50,000 of their student debt to be forgiven. Households that earn between $100,000 and $250,000 would be eligible for forgiveness on a sliding scale: the debt forgiveness amount reduces by $1 for every $3 a person earns over $100,000. Households that make more than $250,000 a year won't be eligible for any debt forgiveness.
Warren is also advocating for universal tuition-free public colleges in an effort to make higher education more accessible to low-income Americans.
These reforms would be paid for by the “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” she plans to introduce, which is a 2% annual tax for families earning more than $50 million.
Elizabeth Warren has a tool available on her campaign's website that allows you to calculate if your loans would be forgiven under her proposals based on your outstanding student loan debt and yearly income. You can use the tool here.
Click here to learn more about Elizabeth Warren’s plan.
Stance: encouraging income-based repayment plans and forgiveness after a 10 years of payments
Yang plans to enable all student loan borrowers to automatically enroll in a repayment plan that takes 10% of their salary. After 10 years of repayment, the outstanding loan balance would be automatically forgiven. He refers to this plan as "Bailout for the people", and will combine that proposal with efforts to make student loans easier to discharge in bankruptcy.
Click here to learn more about Andrew Yang’s plan.
Stance: lower student loan interest rates and making efforts towards understanding where the student debt crisis comes from
From Bloomberg himself: “Here’s a simple idea I bet most Americans agree with: No qualified high school student should ever be barred entrance to a college based on his or her family’s bank account. Yet it happens all the time.” He incorporated this statement into an article he wrote for the New York Times entitled “Why I’m Giving $1.8 Billion for College Financial Aid”.
While Bloomberg hasn’t released a plan specific to student loans yet, he has acknowledged the rising costs of education and expressed that the federal government should lower student loan interest rates. He also mentioned that he would be opposed to forgiving all student debt, but thinks that some debt should be forgiven and greater effort should be employed to determine where the debt is coming from.
In 2018, Bloomberg donated $1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, to create a fund that supports undergraduate financial aid.
Click here to learn more about Michael Bloomberg's plan.
Stance: make college free for low-income families to confront the student loan problem
According to Pete Buttigieg’s proposal on higher education, he plans on making public colleges free for low-income families. He’ll make this possible by introducing a state-federal partnership and by massively increasing access to Pell Grants. His plan accounts for a $500 billion investment in higher education, which includes a $50 billion investment in HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and MSIs (Minority Serving Institutions).
Buttigieg also wants to expand support for borrowers and require more transparency and accountability for for-profit colleges.
Fun fact: Pete Buttigieg himself owes six figures in student debt.
Click here to learn more about Pete Buttigieg's plan.
Stance: make community college free and give free tuition across the board for families making less than $125,000
In the tweeted words of Representative Tulsi Gabbard, “The cost of a college education is unattainable for too many, we can guarantee #CollegeForAll by taxing Wall Street and investing in people.”
She co-sponsored Bernie Sander’s College for All Act while in Congress, which plans to make tuition free for families earning less than $125,000 and supports making community college free universally. As a combat veteran herself, she has also been vocal about veterans’ access to higher education and introduced legislation in 2018 to increase benefits that veterans can use to pay for their education.
Click here to learn more about Tulsi Gabbard’s plan.
Stance: free two-year college and encourage refinancing at lower interest rates
Senator Amy Klobuchar has expressed that she's against tuition-free college for all, citing the high costs and tax increases associated with such a drastic change. This reflects her greater campaign values of pragmatism aimed towards realistic policy changes on important issues.
She is in support of many other efforts to provide affordable higher education for Americans, such as expanding Pell Grants for low income students, offering refinancing options with rates as low as 3.0%, encouraging income-based repayment plans, and even creating state micro-grants for students experiencing financial hardship.
Click here to learn more about Amy Klobuchar's plan.
Update: Kamala Harris has dropped out of the 2020 presidential race as of December 3, 2019
Stance: Make income driven-repayment plans the default plan for all borrowers, cap interest rates to 3.5%, and lower tuition fees
Kamala Harris proposed several reforms to help borrowers avoid delinquency or default. In her words, “students shouldn’t fear decades of debt just because they want to pursue an education." She suggests making income-driven repayment plans the norm as opposed to the standard repayment plan, as well as encouraging student loan refinancing and lower interest rates. She also supports making public four-year colleges and community colleges tuition-free for students, and investing more federal resources into HBCUs.
Lastly, Senator Harris proposed a hybrid student loan and small businesses program where Pell Grant recipients that start businesses in disadvantaged communities can have their loans forgiven.
Click here to learn more about Kamala Harris’ plan.
Update: Cory Booker has dropped out of the 2020 presidential race as of January 13, 2020.
Stance: lower interest rates and expand student loan forgiveness for public school teachers
Cory Booker's past legislative efforts have been geared towards making it easier for borrowers to refinance student loans. He has made multiple statements on expanding student loan forgiveness for public school teachers.
He also proposed giving a $1,000 “Baby Bond” to every American child that could be used towards educational expenses and would be eligible for a $2,000 deposit each year that grows depending on family income. The account would earn around 3% in annual interest and would be available to the student when they turn 18.
Click here to learn more about Cory Booker’s plan.
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