Democrats have used generous student loan repayment plans and dramatic proposals about cutting the cost of college as a way to court young voters this election.
Now Donald Trump is doing the same.
The GOP candidate promised at a campaign event in Columbus Thursday that if elected, he’d implement an income-based repayment plan that's more generous than any of the existing government plans. Graduates would pay 12.5% of their income for 15 years before the remaining balance would be forgiven. Trump also said he turn a "confusing maze" of repayment plans into one simple income-driven option. Democrats and consumer advocates have also pushed for reducing the number of repayment plans to make it less confusing for borrowers.
“The debt should not be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives, and that’s what it is," Trump said in the speech. "We’re gonna work it out.”
About 4 million borrowers are currently enrolled in an income-based repayment plan, a number that’s surged in recent years. Yet the earliest you can have debt forgiven under those plans is 20 years. Current versions of income-based repayment were developed during George W. Bush’s administration and limited payments to 15% of income, with outstanding debt forgiven after 25 years. The Obama administration then built on that, lowering the payments to 10% of income with a 20-year period for forgiveness, and more recently, the government expanded who qualifies for income-driven plans.
It’s worth noting, though, that under current plans, any debt that’s forgiven is considered taxable income, so borrowers could still be left with a tab to the IRS in thousands of dollars, depending on how much is forgiven. Trump didn’t specify in his speech whether amounts forgiven would also be taxed, and one sentence in the speech sounded as if Trump might eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which forgives the debt of government and non-profit workers after just 10 years, in favor of putting all borrowers in the same plan.
Income-based repayment plans have been largely heralded by student and consumer advocates. But some economists and many Republicans have criticized them as too expensive and even regressive, since the borrowers who receive the biggest boost from forgiveness are graduate degree recipients with unusually high six-figure debt.
This isn't the first time Trump has made comments about higher education and student loans that align him more with Democrats than with Republicans. Last year, for example, he criticized the federal government for making a profit off of student loans, an argument that progressive Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also has made.
But Trump also promised some more recognizably Republicans college reforms Thursday. He said he'd push colleges to cut tuition and that the "skyrocketing" cost of college is due to administrative bloat on campuses. He said he’d reduce federal regulations on colleges, so they don’t have to spend as much on compliance and that they can then pass on those savings to students. And if colleges don't devote more money to making their degrees more affordable for students, colleges would face penalties, Trump said, including possibly losing tax-exempt status for large endowments.
Hillary Clinton has endorsed the current 10% of income, 20-year forgiveness plans, and she's also said she'd simplify the number of plans. The major part of her college costs proposal, though, is an idea to make public college tuition-free for families earning up to $125,000.