I escaped generational poverty by amassing college debt. Loan forgiveness will change lives.
My own children have never experienced coming home to no lights or running water. They will never have to escape from poverty because they don't come from it and I don't know that I'd be able to say the same if I didn't make the choice to accept student loans.
I don't come from money. In fact, I come from the stark opposite. My mother was one of nine children who grew up in an abusive household that was well below the poverty line and her mother grew up poorer than she did. This cycle of poverty goes back as far as I can trace, so it's no surprise that I also grew up poor. There were days when the only thing we had to eat was peanut butter on a spoon during the day to keep us satiated until dinner because it was the only meal that day.
That's not for lack of trying on my parent's part. My stepdad worked a full-time job and lived the hustle life before it became coined by millennials and slapped on a mug. The one thing that was consistently impressed upon me by my parents was the importance of going to college so I could do better than the generation before me. But there wasn't a roadmap for me to follow. Neither of my parents had gone to college at the time and really didn't know the requirements to get in nor the process of applying for financial aid. Since this was before Google, there was no information readily available at my fingertips. There was no financial literacy to pass down to their children when their only goal was survival.
The Biden Administration has done something unprecedented in the history of the United States by forgiving $10,000 of student loan debt for Americans making less than $125,000 a year (less than $250,000 if married or head of household). If you received Pell Grant assistance while in college, you qualify for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. To qualify for the Pell Grant you have to be in great financial need, which means I also received this money to assist with college expenses. But contrary to what some believe, the Pell Grant isn't a large sum of money, so loans are still necessary, even for people like me who worked while in school. Escaping poverty is expensive and exhausting and a program like this will help others break the cycle.
While most are focused on the loans being forgiven, there's a piece of information being overlooked that could make a big impact on people's lives. Under the new debt relief plan, people who are on an income-based repayment plan can now cap their monthly payments at 5% of their income. Previously the repayment amount was capped at 10% of a person's income.
Obviously such a big move has set off a firestorm of conversation around who should and shouldn't get it, or if it should be done at all. But the conversations around student loan forgiveness don't account for the fact that not everyone starts from the same place at the starting line. It's easy to say people should know what they're getting into when signing up for student loans if you grew up with a different set of circumstances.
For people like me, student loans were the only way out of poverty and I'd do it again. Because I took out debt to pay for a college education, my children won't have to do the same. They will now have a financially literate parent to walk them through the process, explain complicated forms and help them find more cost-effective alternatives. My own children have never experienced coming home to no lights or running water. They will never have to escape from poverty because they don't come from it and I don't know that I'd be able to say the same if I didn't make the choice to accept student loans.
While forgiving $10,000 to $20,000 worth of student debt for a select group of people isn't ideal, this could open up the door to future borrowers. The awareness around predatory lending to students, the continuously growing cost of college and the stagnation of wages could lead to real policy change that would impact everyone. No student should be saddled with insurmountable debt just for getting an education and this is hopefully the first step toward ending this practice.