Growing up, my generation had one thing hammered into our heads: to succeed in life, you have to go to college. However, few teenagers, myself included, really understood how this debt would affect their lives in the long run. When I was signing my student loan paperwork before my freshman year of college, all of those zeros didn’t seem real.
Now, over a decade out of school, I am still paying back the loans I agreed to when I was 18. Many people in my generation find themselves in the same boat.
Student debt is a looming threat to the economic future of Colorado and the country. According to the Student Borrower Protection Center, over 44 million Americans are burdened with student debt. That translates to $1.5 trillion in outstanding debt, and one of every four borrowers is behind on their payments. Today, the average student in Colorado graduates with over $34,000 in debt. Even a slight decline in the overall economy could send millions of borrowers into economic ruin, and the whole of the U.S. economy along with it.
Instead of addressing the student debt crisis, the current administration has refused to take the smallest steps to alleviate the problem. Instead of protecting our basic rights, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney are leaving borrowers across the nation to the mercy of unscrupulous and unaccountable lenders and loan servicers.
There are some ambitious programs being floated to address the student debt crisis, such as student loan forgiveness and free college for all. Tax increases to make college more affordable seem to be a non-starter (see the defeat of Amendment 73 in this year’s election). In the meantime, there are steps we can take to mitigate the burden of student debt.
The first and most common sense step is for states to take the lead and pass laws regulating student debt loan servicers. If someone wants to pay off their loan, they should be able to trust that they are being given accurate information so that they can pay back their loans in the fastest and cheapest way possible.
In the next legislative session, State Sen. Faith Winter will introduce the Student Debt Servicer Accountability Act, which would make student loan collectors follow the same rules as lenders in other sectors, such as credit cards, mortgages or car loans. It would provide oversight so that students don’t have to worry about loan servicers overcharging or steering them into more expensive repayment plans.
Young people turned out in record numbers in the last election. It is time for us to raise our voices and demand legislation that addresses our concerns.
We need to fight to ensure that our leaders recognize the critical role they must play in protecting student borrowers. We need to elevate the voices and stories of borrowers who have been taken advantage of by their student loan servicers. We need to encourage borrowers to take concrete action to affect change.
My generation values education. We want to repay our loans. All we are asking for is a fair and just process so that we can get on with our lives.
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