Kamala Harris on Student Loan Debt
Kamala Harris on Student Loan Debt
By most polls, California Senator and former state attorney general Kamala Harris is currently running third in the Democratic primary. She’s behind former Vice President Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. She’s ahead of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in some polls and behind in others.
We tackled Biden’s track long and controversial record on student loans and bankruptcy reform here. We address the expansive Bernie Sanders plan for universal student loan forgiveness here. And we go through the Warren Plan in detail here.
Senator Harris, in contrast to the others, has not advanced a fully-formed, detailed plan to forgive large amounts of student debt. Nor does she have Biden’s long legislative track record in the Senate and history as Vice President to look at. So there’s less raw material for us to dig into when it comes to Kamala Harris’s student loan plan.
But on the important matter of student loans, here’s what we do know about Harris:
The Debt-Free College Act
Senator Harris is one of nine co-sponsors for of the Debt-Free College Act. She signed on early, along with Senator Booker, Senator Warren, and Senator Gillibrand. This bill would establish a state-federal partnership that provides a dollar-for-dollar federal match to state higher education appropriations. In return, states would commit to helping students pay for the full cost of attendance without having to take on debt.
“Students in America should be able to go to college to further their careers without going deep into a financial hole,” said Senator Harris in a press statement. “The student loan debt crisis will continue to grow worse every year unless we take decisive action to provide relief for students and make college debt-free for everyone.”
Currently, the Debt-Free College Act is bottled up in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Additionally, Kamala Harris’s student loan plan includes allowing student loan borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates. She would cap those rates at 3.5%. However, unlike her fellow Democratic presidential candidates Senator Corey Booker (NJ) and Senator Kristen Gillibrand (NY) she has not yet signed on as a co-sponsor for S. 1845, the “If It’s Good Enough for Banks, It’s Good Enough for Students Act.” This bill would allow student loan borrowers to pay the same interest rates the Federal Reserve charges banks when they borrow money at the discount window.
Make Income-Driven Repayment Plans the Default Setting
She has proposed expanding income-driven repayment plans by making them the default option. Currently, borrowers have to affirmatively opt-in to income-driven repayment plans. These cap repayments at 10 to 20 percent of the borrower’s monthly disposable income. These last for up to 25 years. After 25 years of on-time payments, the remaining balance is forgiven on qualified federal loans. Otherwise, the current default option is to set a payment schedule that pays off the loan over ten years.
By having students automatically enrolled in these income-driven plans, Harris hopes to hold default rates down. That would help make the lower interest rates she advocates a little more sustainable. Right now, the government is projected to lose money on its student loan operations, net of operating expenses and defaults.
She has proposed making community colleges free, and four-year universities debt-free.
Harris also wants to reform and streamline the process of applying for financial aid.
You can find a brief synopsis of the Kamala Harris student loan plan and higher education platform on her campaign website, here.
Jason Van Steenwyk is an experienced financial industry reporter and writer. He is a former staff reporter for Mutual Funds, and has been published in SeekingAlpha, Nasdaq.com, NerdWallet, Value Penguin, RealEstate.com, WealthManagement.com, Senior Market Advisor, Life and Health Pro and many other outlets over the past two decades. He is also an avid fiddle player and guitarist. He lives in Orlando, Florida.