The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A better plan than blanket student-debt forgiveness

Activists hold signs at a rally near the White House on April 27. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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Bravo and thanks for The Post’s June 1 editorial “Stop the student loan stunt.” Even with a $150,000 income cap, the Biden administration’s plan would be wasteful and regressive, and it would set a dangerous precedent. The repayment zeal of new borrowers could be affected by the possibility of future election-year cancellations. Our hope is that, instead of broad student debt forgiveness, President Biden will expand and improve the income-based repayment provisions of current law that were highlighted in The Post’s April 29 editorial “The better course on student debt.”

As that editorial pointed out, under current law, a borrower’s monthly payments can be limited to a percentage of his or her income (generally 10 or 20 percent of discretionary income) with any remaining balance canceled after 20 or 25 years, thus enabling borrowers, in The Post’s words, to “pursue their desired careers without worrying how they will pay off their student loans.” Those income-based repayment authorities were enacted with bipartisan support under President Bill Clinton and then expanded under President Barack Obama. Unfortunately, most borrowers have not taken advantage of them, likely because of inadequate consumer information and counseling.

Assuming the president has adequate legal authority, he should make the existing income-driven plans immediately available to all borrowers whose debts are delinquent, including those who initially chose more traditional payment schedules. Another positive step would be to reduce the time period before the remaining balance is canceled. Mr. Biden should also consider making all repayment plans income-contingent. Those steps would involve new costs, but nothing like the huge costs of immediate broad-scale cancellation of current debt. Plus, the benefits would be individually targeted, and their delivery could utilize existing mechanisms instead of requiring the creation of new procedures.

Robert Davidson and Elizabeth Davidson, Falls Church

Robert Davidson is a former official at the U.S. Education Department; Elizabeth Davidson is a former director of financial aid at American University.