Most Borrowers Don’t Think Trump Will Be So Bad for Their Student Loans

Many borrowers actually like an idea about student loan repayment Trump mentioned in a speech during his campaign.

Nearly 40% of student loan borrowers are concerned that Donald Trump’s administration will negatively impact their student loans, according to a new survey from Student Loan Hero. As the country moves into a new era of governance, some graduates are concerned that an already-difficult student debt situation will get worse.

In fact, more than one-fourth (26.6%) of survey respondents admitted they believe a Trump administration will have a “very negative” effect on their student loans. On the other hand, about 40% said they think Trump will have neither a positive nor a negative effect on their student loans, and the remaining respondents (about 20%) said they think he will have a somewhat or very positive effect on their student loans.

These figures come from a poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of Student Loan Hero from Jan. 6 to 9, and the results are based on a nationally representative sample of 1,001 adults with student loans living in the United States.

In the last few years, there’s been quite a lot said about the growing student loan crisis. But what can be done? Student loan borrowers have some idea of policy changes they’d like to see implemented during the Trump administration.

Borrowers Want More Student Loan Forgiveness Options

When asked which student loan changes they would like to see implemented under Trump’s administration, nearly half (44.3%) of respondents chose “federal loan forgiveness after 15 years.” In a speech during his campaign, Trump mentioned something along those lines, proposing a repayment plan in which borrowers pay 12.5% of their income for 15 years, after which any remaining balance would be forgiven. (Whether or not that’s a viable proposal is another matter.)

Currently, student loan borrowers can have their loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years of payments on a federal income-driven repayment plan. There is also a program for federal student loan forgiveness after 10 years in a qualifying public service job (only payments made after Oct. 1, 2007 count). Additionally, borrowers in certain industries can qualify for partial loan forgiveness. However, not everyone qualifies for these forgiveness programs; of those who do, not all will actually have any debt left over by the time the repayment term is up.

It’s not surprising many student loan borrowers expressed interest in a federal loan forgiveness program that discharges student debt after 15 years. According to the survey, 25% of respondents have either stopped making student loan payments or have lowered the amount they put toward repayment in the hope that the government will forgive student loan debt in the future.

Borrowers Also Want Refinancing Options

Student loan borrowers aren’t just asking for forgiveness. Close to one-third of respondents (31.4%) would like to see a program to refinance federal student loans implemented during a Trump administration.

Currently, it’s only possible to refinance through private lenders — the federal government doesn’t offer a refinancing option. The problem is that refinancing federal loans with a private lender means losing access to federal protections such as income-based repayment, deferment, forbearance and some forgiveness programs. Not to mention, borrowers are subject to credit checks and other underwriting criteria that’s at the discretion of each individual lender.

A federal refinancing program could help more borrowers gain access to refinancing options, retain their federal benefits and allow them reduce their interest charges.

How Much Debt Do Student Loan Borrowers Have?

Addressing student loan debt is likely to be on the radar for the incoming administration, especially with nearly $1.4 trillion in student loan debt outstanding.

According to the survey, more than one-third (36.4%) of student loan borrowers have more than $30,000 in debt. Nearly one-fifth (19%) have more than $50,000 in student loan debt. Interestingly, 7.5% of the survey’s respondents aren’t even aware of how much debt they have.

It’s yet to be seen how Trump or Betsy DeVos, his nominee for Secretary of Education, will handle what many consider to be a crisis, but the consensus seems to be that something needs to be done. In response to a request for elaboration on Trump’s student loan repayment proposal, a spokeswoman from his transition team said, “If confirmed, the Secretary designate looks forward to working with the President-elect, the Congress and other stakeholders to address the issues of student debt and repayment.”

No matter who is president, student loan debt can seriously impact your financial situation, including your credit score. (You can see just how much by reviewing the two free credit scores you can get through Credit.com, which are updated every 14 days.) Knowing your options when it comes to student loan repayment and refinancing will be crucial over the next four years and beyond.

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How High Can Your Student Loan Debt Go?

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It’s not unrealistic for a student starting college this fall to end up with more than $100,000 in student loan debt by the time they’ve earned a bachelor’s degree. The average annual tuition and fees at a private, four-year college is $32,410, according to the College Board, and that doesn’t include money to pay for course materials or living expenses. Even at an in-state, four-year public school, the average tuition and fees are at $9,410. Unless you’re raking in a bunch of scholarships or have significant savings, extending your education beyond high school is going to put you tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

For some people, that’s only the beginning. Graduate school, medical school, law school — advanced degrees can double your pile of debt (or worse). When you add interest — and, if you’re not careful, late fees — to the mix, your student loan balance could quickly grow. We’ve written before about people with more than a quarter of a million dollars — even half a million dollars — in student loan debt. Is there a limit to how bad it can get?

Not really. There’s no set limit at which your balance will just stop accruing interest or will no longer be subject to fees. At the same time, student loan debt isn’t exactly limitless.

“[I] wouldn’t say balance would grow forever because if [you’re] not making payments, that would result in default,” said Richard Castellano, Sallie Mae’s vice president of corporate communications, in an email. If you default on your student loans, that balance would be subject to debt collection activity, and you may have the option to settle the debt for less than you owe.

How to Tackle Big Student Loan Debt

If you have federal student loans, you may be able to enter an income-driven repayment plan, apply for public-service student loan forgiveness or rehabilitate your defaulted student loans. Under federal income-driven repayment plans, any remaining balance at the end of your repayment period can be forgiven. So, even if your balance grows while you’re making an income-driven payment, try to not get discouraged: It won’t hang over your head forever.

“Looking into loan consolidation, income-based, and income-contingent repayment plans, is often as far as one needs to go,” Michael Bovee, a founder of the Consumer Recovery Network, wrote in an email to Credit.com.

Preventing a Big Balance Is Easier Than Repaying One

There are borrowing limits in place to help consumers avoid a situation where they feel their education debts are growing with no sign of stopping. Dependent students are limited to borrowing $31,000 in federal loans for an undergraduate degree (with no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans, meaning the Education Department pays the interest while you’re in school). Independent students are limited to $57,500 for an undergraduate degree (same limit on subsidized loans), and graduate and professional students are limited to $138,500 of federal loans (only $65,500 can be subsidized). That $138,500 includes any unpaid balances from undergrad.

Private lenders and schools themselves also set limits.

“Private lenders like Sallie Mae assess the stability, ability, and willingness to repay before making a lending decision,” Castellano said. “Also, while undergraduate federal loans have limits, those borrowing federal PLUS loans and grad PLUS loans can borrow up to the school’s cost of attendance.”

When you receive a financial aid award letter that also lists loans, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to borrow the full amount you’re offered — it’s up to you to determine how much you need. Avoiding over-borrowing can help you keep things in control after you graduate.

Given that interest is the key reason a student loan balance grows, that’s another place to look when you’re trying to save on student loan debt. While the government doesn’t offer student loan refinancing programs, you could consider refinancing your debt with a private lender at a lower interest rate, though refinancing federal student loans means you lose the benefits and programs that come with those loans.

When it comes to keeping your student loan debt in check, there’s a lot to consider: interest rates, length of repayment, negotiating student loan repayment into an employment benefits package, applying for loan forgiveness and, of course, borrowing an appropriate amount in the first place. It’s not easy, but it’s important, because repaying your student loans on time can help you build and preserve good credit, as well as open the doors to other financial goals, like buying a home. To understand how your student loans and other debts affect your credit, you can get two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Convent Tells Woman She Can’t Become Nun Until Student Loans Are Paid Off

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A New York woman who wants to become a nun has been told she’ll have to wait to take her vows until she pays off her student loans.

Alida Taylor, 28, told New York’s CBS2 that her desire to become a nun happened after she graduated from the University of Louisiana, moved to New York and took a job with a Broadway costume designer.

“When I moved to the city, I had all these desires. I wanted to have a career, a family and marriage, but your heart begins to shift,” she told CBS2.

Alida was hoping to join the Sisters of Life Convent on the city’s Upper West Side, but was told she has to pay off her student debt first.

“That financial debt, having that be resolved allows her to freely enter into her vocation,” Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei of the Sisters of Life told CBS2.

Alida had planned to pay off her student loans over the next 10 years. Now, she’s set up a Go Fund Me page to help pay off the $18,000 in time to make the convent’s September deadline.

Why is the convent so strict about the debt? A job outside the convent is not an option, and the convent does not provide a salary or stipend for nuns.

“Religious life is a full-time job, so to speak, so she wouldn’t be able to work and enter into religious life,” Sr. Mariae Agnus Dei told CBS2.

Dealing With Student Loan Debt

If your student loans are standing in the way of you achieving your personal or financial goals, you can consider ways to pay off your student loans early, or you can see if you qualify for student loan forgiveness.

If you’ve fallen behind on student loan payments, keep in mind that they could have a direct impact on your credit scores. You can do serious damage to your credit, particularly if your loans go into default. To see how your payment history is impacting your credit, you can check your two free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

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How Do Forgiven Student Loans Impact Your Credit?

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The idea of having your student loan debt forgiven might sound like a dream come true, but there are a few things you’ll want to consider should you be among those eligible for student loan forgiveness.

It turns out that there are many ways to get federal student loans forgiven. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a few years ago estimated that more than a quarter of working Americans are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, but only a small percentage are actually using it.

And while student loan forgiveness in and of itself may not negatively impact your credit, the status of your loans before and after you enter into a forgiveness program could, so it’s important to thoroughly discuss with your lender how your loan discharge will be reported.

“Before entering into a loan forgiveness program, be sure you understand how the loan will be reported on your credit report,” said Rod Griffin, director of Public Education at credit bureau Experian. “For there to be no negative impact on your credit scores, the loan must be reported as if it were paid according to the original contract terms.”

That means you might need to negotiate if you’ve made any late payments or gone into default.

Let’s say you qualify for forgiveness because of a disability, and you fell behind on your student loans due to medical bills, inability to work and other factors that might impact your finances. If, when your loan is discharged, the servicer reports the missed payments to the credit bureaus, your balance will show up as zero, but those late payments will remain on your credit report.

You can try to persuade the lender (or collector if it’s gone that far) to remove the blemish from your reports, and they might consider it if you have a good explanation as to why it happened.

Also, if the lender indicates that the account was settled for less than originally agreed, that could also hurt your credit scores, Griffin said.

“It should indicate it is paid in full and that there are no delinquencies in the credit history” in order to not negatively affect your credit, he said.

Errors in your payment history also can negatively impact your credit score, so it’s a good idea to check your credit reports before entering into a student loan forgiveness plan. By doing so, you’ll be able to dispute any errors on your student loan accounts and have them corrected. You can start that process by checking your free credit scores, updated monthly on Credit.com, which will also show you major credit scoring factors like payment history. You can also get a free copy of your credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus annually.

[CREDIT REPAIR HELP: If you need help fixing your credit but don’t want to go it alone, our partner, Lexington Law, can manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844)346-3295 for a free consultation.]

Will You Pay Taxes?

Certain types of student loans that are forgiven are not taxable, but other types are, so it’s good to know where you stand so you aren’t shocked by a big tax bill. A good place to begin your research is our primer on taxes after student loan cancellation. While President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal seeks to exclude Department of Education loan forgiveness programs from taxable income, it will require Congressional action to make that happen.

If you’re already behind on payments, there are some options available to help you get back on track, even if forgiveness isn’t one of them. To get out of default, you can combine eligible loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, or you can go through the government’s default rehabilitation program. If you make nine consecutive on-time payments (these can be extremely low), your account goes back into good standing, and the default is removed from your credit report.

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Student Loan Debt Haunts Parents After Son’s Death

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The tragic death of a Maine man in 2012 has prompted federal legislators to introduce a bill that seeks to eliminate tax penalties for families whose student loans are forgiven after the death or permanent disability of their child.

Keegan Brennen died at the age of 22 from a brain aneurysm just six months after graduating from college. His parents, Donald and Nora, were successful in having his $78,000 in student loan debt forgiven, but were hit with $30,000 in taxes owed to the state and federal government. That’s because the IRS considers the forgiven loan amount as taxable income.

That could soon change, however, if Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has his way. King introduced on April 14 a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) that would eliminate this tax, which the legislators say “simply replaces one financial burden with another and serves no public policy purpose.”

The bill also would allow a parent whose child develops a total and permanent disability to qualify for student loan discharge. While the federal government forgives certain federal student loans in the case of the death or disability of the borrower, the IRS still levies an income tax on this cancelled debt which can result in tens of thousands of dollars in immediate tax liability.

While the IRS considers most types of cancelled debt as taxable income (lenders must report cancelled debts of $600 or more to the IRS on a 1099-C form), not all cancelled student loan debt is taxable. There is, however, no tax break for student loan debt that has been cancelled due to death (if someone besides the deceased was also a borrower) or disability, despite the fact that borrowers who qualify for cancellation are considered totally and permanently disabled, and may never work again. In fact, the Department of the Treasury has specifically stated that student loans cancelled due to the Death and Disability Discharge (Section 437(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965) are taxable.

“To think that a person who becomes disabled or a family that loses a child would be forced to reach into their pocket to pay the IRS taxes on student loans that have already been forgiven is just wrong,” Sen. King said in a statement on his Senate website. “It’s unfair, and it only serves to heap totally unnecessary financial hardship on folks when they’re already trying to cope with personal tragedy. This fix is not only common sense, it’s just the right thing to do, and I hope we can act on this bill soon so that no one else in Maine or across the country has to be the victim of this senseless policy.”

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The bill comes at a time of heightened awareness around student loan debt.

In fact, the Obama administration announced in mid-April a plan to forgive $7.7 billion in federal student loans held by an estimated 387,000 permanently disabled Americans, of which roughly half (179,000) are in default.

While the administration tried to streamline the discharge of student loans for the permanently disabled four years ago, few eligible borrowers took advantage. Now, the Department of Education is starting to identify and reach out to eligible borrowers to help them take the necessary steps to discharge their loans.

As King’s legislation proposal wends its way through Congress, it’s important to remember that keeping current with student loan payments is essential because defaulting on a loan seriously damages your credit score. And because student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, the debt can beat down on you for decades. (You can see how your student loans are currently impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

There are some options for people who are behind on payments to get back on track, though, even if forgiveness isn’t an option. To get out of default, you can combine eligible loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, or you can go through the government’s default rehabilitation program. If you make nine consecutive on-time payments (they can be extremely low), your account goes back into good standing and the default is removed from your credit report.

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Corinthian Fined Nearly $1.2 Billion. Will Students Get Any of It?

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Following lengthy investigations that precipitated its domino-like collapse, Corinthian Colleges was slapped with a massive fine for a slew of illegal practices, including false advertising to students and unlawful debt collection tactics.

The latest judgment handed down from San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow this week goes on for 21 pages, outlining the ways the now-defunct for-profit education company defrauded students and investors, concluding that Corinthian must pay nearly $1.2 billion in restitution and penalties as a result.

The office of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, who had sued the school for various infractions, now has the authority to distribute whatever funds it obtains from the judgment to students who attended Corinthian and its related schools in California from 2010 onward, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The thing is, Corinthian doesn’t have the money to give. The company filed for bankruptcy last year after shuttering the few remaining open campuses on April 27, 2015.

Students who were attending Corinthian schools at that time, including Everest, WyoTech or Heald colleges, have been able to apply for closed school loan discharge from the federal government, though some former students believe more should be done to relieve the debt burdens of hundreds of thousands of people who felt they did not get what Corinthian Colleges promised them.

In a March 25 blog post, activist group the Debt Collective, made up of former Corinthian Colleges students, commented on the judgment and restated its call for the Education Department to automatically discharge affected students’ debt.

On top of taking out expensive loans to pay for an education they say they never received, some borrowers say they have sustained credit damage and employment problems as a result of their time at Corinthian schools. (You can see how your student loans may be affecting your credit scores by viewing your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

The Debt Collective has long argued that requiring borrowers to apply for loan discharge puts the burden of relief on the victims of fraud. In the absence of such a sweeping action, this latest judgment could at least help Corinthian student loan borrowers make their case for relief under the Education Department’s Borrower Defense to Repayment Loan Discharge.

Getting Student Loan Relief

Borrowers can submit a claim to have their federal student loans forgiven if their school “committed fraud by doing something or failing to do something, or otherwise violated applicable state law related to your loans or the educational services you paid for,” according to the Education Department. According to its website, the department is working on creating a process to “make it as easy as possible” for such borrowers to apply for the loan discharge.

You can find details on the current discharge process here. Harris’s office has also set up a website for affected Corinthian students.

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Have Student Loans Created a New Generation of Payday Loan Addicts?

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My wife and I were watching a news program the other day when a commercial for a prescription medicine piqued my interest.

The drug was designed to treat an ailment that, as it turns out, comes from taking another prescription medicine made to treat something else.

The absurdity of that inspired me to think about other instances where this might also be the case. Because of my predisposition to view such things in a financial context, I recalled a report I’d recently read on consumer-financing trends.

It touched upon an important reason why a rapidly growing number of 20- and 30-year-olds are signing up for loans from alternative finance companies — firms that pitch payday, tax-refund, auto-title and pawn-shop loans: Because their other debt obligations are leaving them short on funds.

Researchers at George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center analyzed a 5,500 subsample of millennials who participated in the Financial Industry Regulator Authority’s (FINRA) 2012 National Financial Capability Study. They found that 42% of that subsample are currently or expect to soon become alternative financing company customers.

Why are so many 20- and 30-somethings apparently willing to risk their longer-term financial security by doing business with firms that are known for charging higher rates and fees than traditional lenders?

They haven’t much choice.

The researchers found that more than half of those surveyed were carrying credit card balances. Nearly 30% were overdrawing on their checking accounts and 20% had borrowed or taken hardship withdrawals from their retirement accounts. As such, their creditworthiness is, in a word, impaired.

What’s more, since budgeting is a zero-sum game and 54% of the surveyed millennials also said that they were concerned about their ability to repay their higher-education loans, it’s reasonable to conclude that these are the debt obligations that underlie the problem. Money woes related to student loan debts isn’t all that surprising: Roughly half of the student loans currently in repayment are either past due, in default, in forbearance or being accommodated by one of the government’s many relief programs.

So it’s quite possible that the reason why alternative finance companies are in such great shape is because the loans their customers had previously undertaken are making them sick.

Which brings me back to the absurd premise of needing a second medication to counteract the first.

If we are truly concerned about the increasing use of alternative financing products by consumers with worsening credit, it would make sense to address a fundamental reason why that deterioration is occurring in the first place: student loans.

We can start by abandoning the nickel-and-dime approach we’ve taken thus far and re-price the entire loan portfolio at rates that correspond with the government’s actual costs to fund and administer these contracts, and extend their repayment durations so that installments consume no more than 10% of a typical borrower’s monthly earnings.

Student loans would then become more affordable, and, as a direct result, the need for financing products that have the potential to compromise consumers’ longer-term financial health can mostly become a thing of the past.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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