Obtaining a college degree is essentially a necessity in the United States today. If one wants a job that is not flipping burgers or waiting tables, then one must pursue some form of higher education - whether it be a four-year public college, a private liberal arts college, a trade school, or a certification program.
Unfortunately, students in the US cannot attend college for free (unlike many students in Europe). In fact, student loan debt in the United States reached the staggering figure of $1.2 trillion this year.
Students are not going to stop going to college due to the costs, and costs do not show signs of decreasing anytime soon (The cost of a four-year, public institution has raised 357% over the past 30 years...). So, what is the best way to combat the rising cost of education and student loan debt?
Those at American Student Assistance (ASA), a non-profit organization whose goal is to educate students about their debts and help them manage their repayments, believe that the best way to combat the problem, with current means, is to educate students about student loan forgiveness programs: "There needs to be more awareness about these programs," stated Betsy Mayotte, director of regulatory compliance at ASA.
These student loan forgiveness programs are not meant miracle programs that eliminate all debt magically, but rather programs designed to aid those who have made consistent payments for a number of years and receive a paltry salary for their work. Most of the people who qualify for the programs are those who work in the public sector, for non-profits, as teachers, and other low-paying professions.
For those who work in a public service job, their student loan debt from the federal government will be forgiven after 120 consecutive payments and a proven history of low-pay. Teachers who work in low-income areas for a period of 5 years can also have their remaining government debt forgiven, as long as they have maintained a good payment history.
For those who receive little to no money from their jobs, but do not work for the public sector, there are two options which will aid in repaying government loans. The first is to set-up an IBR (Income Based Repayment) schedule for one's loans. In this repayment scheme, a person makes the largest payments they can for 25 years, after which the remaining amount will be forgiven.
A second route toward loan forgiveness for low-income earners who first accumulated loans after October of 2007 is the Pay as You Earn program. This program works very similar to the IBR program, but one's loans are forgiven after 20 years.
These methods only work for those students who have borrowed money through the federal government, though. For those students who have had to borrow privately, there are yet to be any similar solutions. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently released a report, however, in which they proposed an option to allow those with private loans to transfer the outstanding amount to a federal loan. Through this method, the federal government would essentially buy the loan from the private companies, which would allow the borrower to take advantage of one of the forgiveness plans mentioned above.
The best solution would be to lower the cost of college, of course. Certain states, such as Georgia, already offer free tuition for in-state students. Other colleges, such as Adrian College (a private, liberal arts college in Michigan), have offered to help students repay their loan debts if they graduated and are unemployed or underemployed.
Whatever the solution, one needs to be found soon. One of the many reasons the US faces a struggling economy at the current moment is due to the lack of investment and business from recent college graduates. Those who have $30,000 in college debt cannot afford to invest their money in the stock market or be entrepreneurs. Until the federal government finds a way in which to make higher education more affordable, the market of the US will become more and more stagnant.
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