Now that you’re out of college, want to skip out on making those pesky student loan payments until all your debts are paid off? No problem.
Under a program that reverses John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, loan forgiveness is available under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program created by Congress in 2007. Under this law, signed by President George W. Bush, once people holding full-time public jobs have completed 120 payments on their federal direct loans, the remaining balance can be forgiven, with no cap.
The list of qualifying public sector jobs is longer than my arm.
That’s because qualifying employment is “any employment with a federal, state, or local government agency, entity, or organization…”, including work for a qualifying not-for-profit employer “if it provides certain public services, such as emergency management, military service, public safety, or law enforcement services; public health services; public education or public library services; school library and other school-based services; public interest law services; early childhood education; public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.”
Good grief. Who isn’t qualified?
What supporters of loan forgiveness conveniently forget is that forgiving loans costs money, something that can’t be ignored when the the national debt exceeds $17 trillion.
Forgiving college loans also likely makes students less sensitive to tuition costs and schools more likely to encourage students to borrow for increasing college costs national debt, rather than pushing schools to figure out how to become more affordable.
The rationale for the creation of the program was that people in public service jobs make less money than those in the private sector, so government needs to add perks to make public service jobs more appealing to the well-educated.
The problem is that government salaries are not all necessarily lower than those in the private sector for comparable jobs, people in the public sector tend to have more generous retirement benefits and attempting to drive educated people to public sector jobs may not be the best use of American talent. At its root, the loan forgiveness program assumes that public sector jobs are inherently more valuable to the country, justifying foisting the unpaid portion of student loans on the American taxpayer.
Another argument made for this loan forgiveness program is that it stimulates the economy because it puts more money in American’s pockets instead of in loan repayment.
A Freakonomics post made hash of that argument, noting:
- If we are going to give money away, why on earth would we give it to college grads? This is the one group who we know typically have high incomes, and who have enjoyed income growth over the past four decades. The group who has been hurt over the past few decades is high school dropouts.
- If you want stimulus, you get more bang-for-your-buck if you give extra dollars to folks who are most likely to spend each dollar, like poor people.
- People who support this are a bunch of kids who don’t want to pay their loans back. And worse: Do this once, and what will happen in the next recession? More lobbying for free money…?
- Much of the rhetoric in support of loan forgiveness is, “Give free money to us, rather than corporations, millionaires and billionaires.” Why give money to college grads rather than the 15% of the population in poverty?
Finally, a good case can be made that we have too many people in the public sector and that the last thing we need to do is incentivize adding more.
Congress should abolish this loan forgiveness program, not expand it.