Banking

2 senators launch bipartisan effort to ease student-loan forgiveness for service members

  • Marco Rubio and Maggie Hassan introduced a bill to expedite loan forgiveness for service members.
  • A GAO report found the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program rejected 94% of service members.
  • Biden campaigned on reforming PSLF — something lawmakers have been urging for years.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Service members are currently eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, in which they can enroll in income-based repayment plans that could lead to loan forgiveness after 10 years. But if a service member is deployed and puts payments on pause, that time doesn’t count toward loan forgiveness, extending the period they have to keep paying.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire want to change that.

Rubio and Hassan introduced the Recognizing Military Service in Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Act on Friday, which allows service members who deferred their student loan payments while deployed to count that period of time toward their PSLF progress. Currently, putting loans into deferment or forbearance while deployed don’t count as qualifying payments, and this new legislation would expedite the process for service members to get earned student loan forgiveness.

“Service members take enormous risks to protect our freedoms, and it is unacceptable that members of the military can return home after active duty and not be any closer to receiving loan forgiveness,” Hassan said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill is a commonsense fix to help some of our country’s most deserving public servants get out from under the burden of their student debt more quickly.

According to a bill summary, this legislation would count military student loan deferment and forbearance as qualifying payments toward PSLF, including for:

  • Active-duty service members deployed overseas;
  • Active-duty service members deployed away from their families and home station;
  • National Guard and Reserve members brought onto active duty for more than 30 days;
  • And National Guard members brought onto state active duty.

The PSLF program allows government and non-profit employees with federally-backed student loans to apply for loan forgiveness after proof of 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan. But the PSLF program is flawed — according to a Government Accountability Office report, as of January 2020, 287 Dept. of Defense personnel received loan forgiveness, while 5,180, or 94% of DOD borrowers, were denied.

Even beyond service members, 98% of all borrowers from the general public have been rejected from the program.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a statement after the GAO’s findings were released last week, calling PSLF “nothing short of a disaster.”

“Our student loan system is utterly broken, and the best way to deliver relief to borrowers and service members crushed by student loan debt is to cancel their debt — and not after 10 years of bureaucratic torture and miscounted payments, but today,” Warren said.

She also introduced legislation last year to improve the program. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was sued multiple times over the program’s high denial rate, and President Joe Biden even campaigned on reforming PSLF to ensure that borrowers can the student loan forgiveness they deserve, but reforms have yet to be made. 

Rubio said “service members make an incredible sacrifice to serve our country, and we should do everything in our power to recognize their service and provide them with the option for loan forgiveness.”

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