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Who Will Cancel My Student Loan Debt? A Complete Guide To 2020 Candidates's Higher Education Plans

From one-time forgiveness plans to alternative solutions, and everything in between

Welcome to Got Issues?, MTV News’s candidate-by-candidate breakdown of your biggest concerns and questions about the 2020 race.

If you log into your student loan provider’s app once a month, groan at the balance, and put your phone back down, some of the 2020 presidential candidates want to help you — and the other Americans who collectively hold $1.56 trillion in student loan debt.

At the second round of the Democratic primary debates in Detroit, Michigan, on July 30 and 31, candidates’s views on debt forgiveness and the overall cost of higher education took center stage. Senator Elizabeth Warren even worked her own experience into her closing remarks, noting that when she attended college, it cost $50 a semester. (That’s not a typo.) But while some candidates want to completely forgive debtors’s student loans, others are more hesitant to wipe the slate clean, and instead want to focus reform on the collegiate pricing system so that future students don’t face the same mess we’re in right now.

So where do the candidates stack up? Here’s what we know, what it means for your bottom line right now, and how it could change the college game in the future.

Michael Bennet

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Does he want to wipe your debt? It’s not clear.

… which is weird for a candidate whose political history includes time spent overseeing the school district in Denver, Colorado. This should be your wheelhouse, my guy! Still, he has only released three main plans: on the climate crisis, healthcare, and broadly reforming politics. All very worthwhile causes. Will his plans for those issues make a dent in your loan balance? Probably not.

Joe Biden

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Not really!

Biden’s plan for education reform is comprehensive, but it doesn’t dive into the schematics of paying for college. While the plan does promise providing high school students with Pell grants so they can take on dual studies at community college, that doesn’t entirely offset the often-insurmountable debt students accrue once they leave 12th grade. The former Vice President also wants to revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program so that public school teachers can receive support; the program is geared for government employees and those who work for certain non-profit organizations. Everyone else will have to make those payments as usual.

Cory Booker

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Not completely.

Booker’s plan is a continuation of work he’s done in the U.S. Senate; in March, he introduced the Debt-Free College Act, which would incentivize states and schools to help students pay for higher education. He also believes in reforming existing financial aid at the federal level and is a champion of so-called “baby bonds,” or funds in which the government would deposit a variable amount of money each year until a child turns 18. In theory, that newly-minted adult could use that money for college or a down-payment on a house.

Steve Bullock

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Not completely.

His plan promises to incentivize companies to help their employees pay off their student loans — and those employers wouldn’t be allowed to count the contributions as income. He also wants to make community college and Tribal Institutions free for students, and cap tuition costs elsewhere. Like Biden, he also wants to revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and provide Pell grants and tax credits to young people looking to achieve workforce training.

Pete Buttigieg

Does he want to wipe your debt?  Not really!

Perhaps the most millennial thing about the millennial candidate is his student-loan debt: He and his husband Chasten are looking at a combined balance of $130,000, though that number might have dropped minimally since the Associated Press reported on it in June. (Set up auto-payments, y’all.) He’s indicated that he’s not opposed to wiping away debt — his words were that it should be “considered” — but his plan also advocates for Pell grants and partnerships to lower the cost of tuition rather than reset the clock at zero for everyone.

Julián Castro

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Yep — in 20 years.

Yeah, 240 months. Make your monthly dues for two decades, and policies implemented by the Castro administration will wipe the remainder of the debt you owe. The former Housing Secretary also wants to ensure that people making less than $30,350 a year, or 250 percent of the federal poverty line, pay zero dollars a month until they hit that threshold; they’ll then be expected to pay no more than 10 percent of their monthly income. He also wants to do away with students paying tuition for public schools, and make it a balance of federal and state responsibility to ensure the schools are properly funded. Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions will also receive an extra boost, to the tune of $3 billion a year.

Bill De Blasio

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Nope!

He wants to focus instead on early childhood education, which is definitely necessary… but given the ways in which young people are having fewer and fewer children later and later in life, you might not (indirectly) benefit from that plan at all.

John Delaney

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Not exactly.

For starters, he’d like to “reduce costs” of existing student loans and provide grants for low-income students. He also thinks that student loans should be included within bankruptcy proceedings, but that is often a last resort for many low-income people. It’s unclear how that would prove to be a viable path for most people with student loan debt.

Tulsi Gabbard

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Does she want to wipe your debt? Nope.

Per Forbes, she wants to eliminate tuition at public four-year institutions, community college, and vocational schools. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the debt you already have.

Kirsten Gillibrand

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Does she want to wipe your debt? Not really!

Gillibrand’s plan is all about the lowest available rate, as well as expanding and revamping the GI Bill to benefit more people. She also wants to tap into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and ensure that for each year of public service, eligible people can earn two years of education at a public school.

Kamala Harris

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Does she want to wipe your debt? Yes, if you are a “Pell Grant recipients who start[ed] a business that operates for three years in disadvantaged communities.”

It’s that specific — and is part of a larger initiative to support HBCUs and Black entrepreneurs. Given that about 40 percent of Black Americans between 25 and 55 have student loan debt, this would be extremely helpful for a sorely underserved group. But even with that narrow option, there are other pathways available to the greater public: Harris also wants to help current debt-holders refinance their loans and qualify for manageable income-based repayment, make community college free, and target for-profit colleges that prey on students.

Jay Inslee

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Does he want to wipe your debt? Yes, if you’re committed to fighting the climate crisis.

If you’re weighing the options of what to do with the rest of your life (NBD!), perhaps consider “entering clean energy, sustainability, and climate science-related jobs” — that’s how you’ll qualify for a student loan forgiveness program in an Inslee administration. If that isn’t a job for you, he does want to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, offer free or low-cost public college for low-income and middle-class families, and help undocumented students receive necessary funding for their education.

Inslee dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Wednesday, August 21.

John Hickenlooper

Does he want to wipe your debt? Not completely.

Hickenlooper’s plan includes wiping about $4,000 of your debt, on average, which he’ll accomplish by capping interest on student loans at 2.5 percent (according to NerdWallet, the current rate is 4.53 percent). That reduction in interest could net you up to four grand in savings — if you make all your payments on time. Hickenlooper also wants to make community college free, and provide more funding to public schools, and is looking to expand CareerWise, an internship program he oversaw as Governor of Colorado, that would ostensibly earn students both college credits and a paycheck… if they can land and maintain a job while juggling the increasingly heavy burden of school and extracurriculars.

Hickenlooper dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Thursday, August 15.

Amy Klobuchar

Does she want to wipe your debt? Nope!

While the senator says she’d make community college free, and supports refinancing existing student loans for lower rates, she stops short at offering voters a chance at what she has called a “free college diploma,” saying it would be too unrealistic.

Wayne Messam

Does he want to wipe your debt? Yes.

He wants to forgive all student debt — both federally and privately held — with a one-time cancellation. He’ll make up the $1.5 trillion difference by taxing certain companies just that much more, and believes that jumpstart will stimulate the economy. He also wants to expand Pell grants and make community college more accessible for students, as well as work with colleges to lessen the inflation rate of tuition. His plan is comprehensive and turns a particular eye to the burdens faced by Black and Latinx students, as well as women borrowers, but it places the bulk of its work on loans currently in existence rather than future loans for would-be students.

Seth Moulton

Does he want to wipe your debt? Nope.

… But he does want future generations of college-aged people to enlist. Really — that’s the catch: Sign up for the corps, and the amount of time you serve will reflect in the amount of funding provided to you for one to three years. If you already have student loan debt, sorry, you’ll still have to pay that off yourself.

The plan is based off his time as a Marine, and Moulton wants “every American to have an opportunity to serve like I did,” even if such service really isn’t in their greater life plan. He’s also planning to create a Federal Green Corps, which would work to fight the climate crisis and natural disasters that stem from it.

Moulton dropped out of the 2020 presidential race on Friday, August 23.

Beto O’Rourke

Does he want to wipe your debt? Yes, if you’re a public school teacher.

The bulk of O’Rourke’s plan focuses on forgiving student loan debt for teachers, many of whom he notes have about as much total debt as they make in a single year at public schools. He also wants to restructure the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan so that those who qualify will see 10 percent of their current debt forgiven for each year of work. (For the rest of us, there’s always refinancing… right?) He has said that he “is not for free college for all,” and while he supports free community college, would want to shift thinking towards a “debt-free” four-year college experience over a “tuition-free” one.

Tim Ryan

Does he want to wipe your debt? Nope!

While Ryan supported a number of bills that would reform student debt in 2018, he has yet to release a presidential platform mirroring any of the ideas in the College For All Act, the Debt-Free College Partnerships Act, or the Aim Higher Act. For now, his campaign is touting a platform that would support students at the grade-school level — he name-drops LeBron James’s I Promise school in Akron, Ohio, as a key example, but adds “you shouldn’t need a superstar to come from your community to fulfill the guarantee of a high-quality education in this country.”

Joe Sestak

Does he want to wipe your debt? Nope.

“No, the government should not cancel existing student debt,” he told the Washington Post  in 2019. Instead, he wants to hold schools accountable to their cost of tuition, and withhold government funds from schools that do not commit to keeping tuition below the national level of inflation. He also wants to make it so that the government cannot profit on the loans it holds, and ensure that if you do transfer colleges, that new school will accept your past credits. That way, you wouldn’t have to take out even more loans to extend your time in school. As for current debt, well, best of luck.

Tom Steyer

Does he want to wipe your debt? We don’t know yet!

While Steyer has talked and tweeted about “relieving the burden of student loan debt,” he has yet to unveil a broader forgiveness plan. Education is covered under what he calls “the 5 rights” on his website, but it remains to be seen how he’ll propose any debt forgiveness or reform.

Bernie Sanders

Does he want to wipe your debt? Yes!

All $1.56 trillion of it. Really. He also wants to strengthen Pell grants for low-income students, do away with tuition at public schools, and invest in HBCUs and MSIs, among other plans. All of this would cost approximately $2.2 trillion, per the campaign’s estimate, but Sanders has proposed a tax on Wall Street, which would make up the difference for that astronomical number: “If Wall Street can be bailed out for several trillion dollars, 45 million Americans can and will be bailed out of the $1.6 trillion burden of student loan debt and we can provide free college for all,” his campaign website reads.

Donald Trump

Does he want to wipe your debt? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHA.

Bear in mind that Trump is the same Trump of Trump University, a “school” that was ruled to have defrauded students so severely, a class-action lawsuit was eventually settled in 2017 for $25 million. As in, while he was living in the White House. As president. The president had to settle a lawsuit about a fake school. His 2020 budget proposed a 10 percent decrease in funds for the Department of Education. Among the changes are plans to make school more expensive in the long run, not less.

Elizabeth Warren

Does she want to wipe your debt? Mostly!

In April, the Senator unveiled a comprehensive plan that would forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt for people who make less than $100,000 a year. Make more than that, and the plan will subtract $1 for every $3 above that threshold. Do the math, and you’ll find the plan caps at $250,000, so anyone making more than that will need to pay their debt off in full. (Don’t feel too badly for them, because the system still works for them in plenty of ways.) Per her calculations, 95 percent of people with student debt would benefit from the plan; Warren’s two-cent tax on ultra-millionaires would ultimately pay the difference in forgiven debt. It would also fund a $50 billion fund for HBCUs and MSIs, in an effort to further support schools dedicated to helping underserved groups so that more of their students see their education through to the end.

Bill Weld

Does he want to wipe your debt? Who’s to say?

Weld, the only person to officially challenge Trump as a Republican, has not yet listed any major policies on his website. As Governor of Massachusetts, he signed a statewide Education Reform Act in 1993, and he has worked as an executive at the now-closed Decker College, a vocational school in Louisville, Kentucky that filed for bankruptcy.

Marianne Williamson

Does she want to wipe your debt? We don’t think so?

She definitely wants to address students’s “heart and soul as well as [their] intellect.” This is a real quote. Meander through Williamson’s manifesto on education and you’ll understand why she’s made millions as a motivational speaker and life coach. But while she advocates for “student loan amnesty” and reducing repayment plans for people who qualify Public Service Loan Forgiveness from 10 years to five years, and wants to make college and technical school free for future students, she is also upfront about the fact that her administration might not be able to “find ideal offsets” for such a promise.

Andrew Yang

Does he want to wipe your debt? Not completely.

For existing student loan debt, Yang is open to what he calls a “blanket partial reduction of outstanding student loans,” so a chunk of your balance might be dealt with from the jump. He also wants to explore a plan in which the government would buy your loan, so that you would pay the government 10 percent of your salary for ten years, at which point the rest of your balance would be forgiven. He also wants to make community colleges and other institutions more affordable, so that future students aren’t as in as much of a mess as the rest of us. He also wants to give you a base salary of $1,000 a month, which is the founding principal of nearly every single one of his policies (really). Whether you put that money towards your debt, however, is up to you.