Where Does Hillary Clinton Stand On Student Debt? Here's What To Know

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
Young voters, without a doubt, have many issues that they care about.

But for those living solely on Cup Noodles two weeks out of the year because their college loan payments make it difficult to stock up on groceries, there’s one issue that might take precedence.

Student debt, which hit an estimated $1 trillion in late 2011, became a major factor in the 2016 primary elections. Throughout the Democratic primary, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made addressing the student loan crisis a central part of his platform. The ultimate Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, has pledged to address the issue, as well.

But what has she actually said? Here are a few things to know. And if you want to know more about what Trump has said on these issues, you can learn about that here.

Clinton advocates access to tuition-free college for students who can’t afford the costs.

In a stance that may have been inspired by former opponent Sanders, Clinton promises to make college tuition-free for students whose families make less than $125,000 a year and are willing to attend in-state public schools. Under her plan, the federal government would give grants to states that "commit to ensuring" debt-free education for qualified students.

According to her campaign site, the change would start with families that make less than $85,000 a year and gradually be expanded to include families making more. Given that the median family income in the United States was under $55,000 in 2014, it would cover about 80% of families once it hits the $125,000 mark. Clinton would also make community college entirely free for all students, following President Obama's proposal that would have the federal government pay 75% of costs, with states covering the rest. Unfortunately, Clinton’s plans won’t necessarily cover the cost of room and board or books and supplies, which can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

For those already in debt, Clinton supports allowing former students to refinance their loans.

The U.S. government doesn’t allow student borrowers to refinance their federal college loans — the only option is to turn them into private loans, losing access to forgiveness programs or income-based repayment. Clinton would change that, allowing borrowers to refinance at current interest rates — which are significantly lower than the existing federal rates. The campaign estimates that this would save 25 million borrowers an average of $2,000 over the life of a loan.

Clinton’s plan also proposes to streamline income-based repayment programs and make them more accessible to the average borrower. There are currently four kinds of income-based repayment for federal loans, all programs that borrowers have to opt into. Clinton would consolidate them into one payment plan and make enrollment automatic.

She proposes capping the amount that borrowers can be expected to pay per month and forgiving debt after a certain amount of time.

The average student loan payment in 2016 is about $350 a month, or $4,200 annually, according to Forbes. For new grads making entry-level salaries, that can be a big chunk of change. Clinton’s plan would cap the total amount that borrowers can be expected to pay back at 10% of their total income.

Also important for long-term borrowers, Clinton proposes a debt forgiveness plan for those with a history of steady payments. Remaining debt from federal loans would be forgiven for borrowers after 20 years. Those working in public service would have an even shorter time to wait — Clinton promises to forgive debt after 10 years if a borrower is working “in the public interest,” a category which includes AmeriCorps teachers or teachers in subjects with instructor shortages.

She doesn’t mention bankruptcy as a way to discharge student debt.

Student debt is one of the few kinds of debt, along with mortgages, that is difficult to discharge in bankruptcy procedures. That means that even after filing for bankruptcy, former students may remain tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Unfortunately for those in financial distress, that doesn’t seem likely to change under Clinton. So, make those loan payments — or they will keep coming back to haunt you.
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