Congress, pass this easy fix so more young people can get student loan relief

Legislation to ease restrictive rules on public service loan forgiveness would help graduates who choose careers aimed at doing good to benefit the rest of us.

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A graduating college students wears a necklace made of dollar bills to symbolize student loan debt.

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If there’s any group of young people who deserve student loan forgiveness, it’s those young people who’ve made a career out of doing good.

It’s an easy call, in our view, to cancel burdensome student debt held by teachers, doctors, nurses, nonprofit employees and others who chose a career in public service, most often forgoing a big paycheck in the process.

That’s what the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was meant to do. Young college graduates in public service jobs would make 10 years of regular payments on their student loans and then become eligible to have the outstanding loan balance forgiven.

It’s never been quite easy.

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Confusing eligibility rules, errors made by private loan servicing firms and program mismanagement under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — the billionaire who never met a student loan relief plan that she didn’t try to screw up — have hindered loan forgiveness for tens of thousands of borrowers.

In 2018, a mere 1% of applicants had their loans forgiven, federal data showed. By 2020, that figure rose — to a still-abysmal 3%.

Lawmakers must fix the problems. They can start with a bill recently proposed by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., as a small but necessary step.

Foster’s bill would help those borrowers enrolled in repayment plans who are not eligible for the program, such as graduated or extended-payment plans. Many borrowers in those plans mistakenly believed they would be eligible and made their required 10 years of payments, only to be turned down when they applied for forgiveness.

Under the bill, young people in those plans would be able to incorporate those loan payments toward forgiveness as long as they switch to an eligible repayment plan within five years.

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It’s a simple fix with rare bipartisan support, as Foster pointed out to us.

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding,” Foster said. “People have made years of payments and all of a sudden they’re told, ‘Oh, this doesn’t count.’ ”

Should the bill pass both houses of Congress, we hope it’s a sign that Washington is getting serious about tackling the nation’s $1.7 trillion student debt crisis.

One bill is not enough.

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