Local student loan borrowers await debt relief decision

PORTSMOUTH — In remarks delivered last week, President Biden disclosed that he was “taking a hard look” at canceling additional federal student loan debt beyond the $10,000 in relief per borrower promised on the campaign trail.

However, Biden dismissed rumors that he’d cancel up to $50,000 per borrower. Despite pressure from affected students and activists, the president indicated that he could be prepared to announce a concrete amount of additional debt relief within the coming weeks.

Many local students saddled with such debt, however, might urge the president to look a bit harder as the cutoff for paused payments creeps closer. Though the Biden-Harris Administration has taken steps to ease financial hardship for borrowers during the pandemic—including extending the payment pause set into place by the Trump Administration and streamlining repayment programs for those working in public service—many feel that such actions simply aren’t enough to absorb such financial hardship.

Andrew McManus—a Scioto County native and returning student with The Ohio State University—says that his path to a college degree was a winding one that included a couple of missteps. Though McManus attended his freshman year at age 18 with financial grants which do not require repayment, the extra money, and the comfort it afforded other students around him was too apparent to ignore: both private and federal student loans soon followed.

When McManus paused his time at OSU to pursue work, it was time to pay the piper.

“The interest rates [on the private loan] are so high, the balance is higher than what I originally took out,” McManus recalls. “And I’ve paid roughly $35,000 since I began. I originally took out 15 grand.”

McManus is far from the only young professional struggling under the weight of federal student debt. Ciara Conley, an intervention specialist and SSU graduate, stated that despite making every effort at financially sound decisions in college, she’s still overwhelmed with debt years later.

“I went to postsecondary classes at Shawnee State University my junior and senior year of high school because I did not take the financial decision lightly. I knew it would put me ahead and save me a little bit of money in the long run. I had to take out loans because my mom was a single mom on a waitress salary, and I was a server throughout college,” Conley said.

After graduation, pursuing a master’s degree provided a higher career salary and more employment opportunities for Conley, but more debt as well. When coupled with the high cost of living in her urban school district, her debt began to feel insurmountable.

As local college students and graduates wait for President Biden’s additional plans to take shape, many can’t help but imagine a world with less student debt.

“I wouldn’t have to decide which bills I’m going to pay, and which ones are going to be late,” Conley said. “Otherwise, it would take about four full years of my salary to pay off the balance on my own.”

If McManus could offer one piece of advice to his younger self, he would urge more financial literacy and education for prospective student loan applicants.

“It’s hard to really see the full picture when you’re just a kid. I feel that many borrowers are urged to sign up [for loans] and worry about the rest later,” McManus said.

Although mandatory entrance counseling from lenders helps students understand that loans should be repaid, a lack of real-world experience with high interest rates, the cost of living in their area and other expenses they might accrue, renders many borrowers susceptible to loan practices.

Despite such perspective from affected borrowers, support for student debt relief or reduction is not always present among politicians and voters who would label such relief an unearned handout.

“It’s just unfortunate that with all the hate and anger on both sides of the issue that something as pure as helping out a whole generation is thought of so negatively,” McManus said.

By Kasie McCreary

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Reach Kasie McCreary at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931, or by email at [email protected].

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