When it comes to the student debt crisis, prepare for the worst

The Biden administration is trying, but it feels like we’re left stranded fending for ourselves.

(Andrea Orozco / Daily Trojan)

When it comes to anything pertaining to the federal government, I tend to be skeptical. So, when the Biden-Harris administration announced its plan to alleviate the student debt crisis, I was skeptical — bordering on cynical. The plan sparked controversy, as well as hope, as it involved forgiving a maximum of $20,000 in student loan debt for individuals who used Pell Grants to finance their college education, and up to $10,000 for the majority of other borrowers. 

However, on June 30, the Supreme Court swiftly took away students’ saving grace in its 6-3 decision ruling against the Biden-Harris administration’s student loan forgiveness plan. You can call me pessimistic all you want, but SCOTUS hasn’t given me a reason to be optimistic lately. 

On Aug. 22, President Joe Biden released his video announcement of the administration’s new Saving on A Valuable Education income-driven repayment plan after plan A fell through. Similar to conventional IDR plans, SAVE determines monthly payments according to income and family size, irrespective of outstanding student debt, with the possibility of $0 payments for eligible borrowers. But now, borrowers who make full payments do not accrue unpaid interest. 

In other words, students now have another loan repayment option, and according to Biden himself in his announcement of SAVE, “It’s the most affordable student loan plan ever.” However, I’m not sure I fully agree.

X user @MATTtheG shared on Aug. 14, “The Biden administration’s new Saving on a Valuable Education plan would cost me an extra $80 a month in student loan payments.” 

With 44 million Americans owing a combined $1.7 trillion for their education, asking borrowers to pay more each month is like slapping a fancy bandage on a wound that needs intensive care. 

But, here’s where my cynicism really comes in: If the Supreme Court blocked Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, what’s stopping them from blocking the SAVE plan? The SAVE plan was initially announced last year but remained largely eclipsed by Biden’s loan cancellation plan. 

In the majority opinion that blocked Biden’s initial plan, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “We hold today that the [HEROES] Act allows the Secretary to ‘waive or modify’ existing statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to financial assistance programs under the Education Act, not to rewrite that statute from the ground up.” It’s hard to say how much is too much for SCOTUS these days, so it’s a real possibility that SAVE might not hold up, either.

NAACP’s president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in an interview with NPR KQED, “I see it as an unfortunate reality that in a country where we bail out Fortune 100 companies, where we bail out banks that have not been good actors, that this Supreme Court would allow that to happen” while millions of student borrowers are “stuck in a vicious cycle of debt.”

Biden doesn’t have much to be proud of when it comes to the SAVE program. Without any legislation moving forward with capping rising tuition fees, increasing housing and healthcare accessibility or increasing state funding for higher education, students might save a thousand or two on their education, but it’s still not worth it if they find themselves in debt for 20 years. 

The Atlantic writer Mike Konczal states that “student loans have become the 21st century version of indentured servitude.” This may be a bit extreme considering indentured servitude was a method of exploiting immigrants and former slaves for cheap labor. However, when you consider that those in the 25th percentile income bracket owe about 96% of their annual income to student loans, the analogy is not too far off.  

Coming from a home of immigrants who were barely able to complete high school, I was taught to value education as it would give me the freedom to do what my parents couldn’t. But education isn’t freedom when students’ futures are bound by debt.

Current and future borrowers have their work cut out for them, and while the SAVE plan isn’t great, it’s still worth looking into and applying for. It only takes 10 minutes, and the worst that could happen is that they say no — or that the plan falls through like its predecessor. With loan repayments starting back up and due in October, it’s time to sit yourself down and come up with your own plan. With how things are turning up in the White House, you’re better off preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.

Learn more about federal loan options, the SAVE plan and how to apply at

​​Helen Nguyen is a graduate student writing about law and social issues. Her column, “Law & Disorder,” runs every other Wednesday. 

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