I’m one of the 43 million Americans in student debt

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced he would do so extension of moratorium on student loan debt until 31 August. This extends a pandemic policy that has allowed more than 43 million Americans owed $ 1.6 trillion in student debt to defer payments.

I am one of those 43 million.

When I started college at Seattle Pacific University in 1998, I was planning to become a Spanish high school teacher. That changed after my first lesson in Christian theology. My professor, Dr. Kerry Dearborn, showed me that a woman could teach theology and lead a church. Growing up in a conservative, evangelical home, I had never met such a kind, loving God. I chose to dedicate my life to sharing the good news of God’s intentions for the world.

With a little help from family, on-campus jobs, scholarships and fellowships, I completed two Bachelor of Arts degrees without debt. But my postgraduate scholarships did not cover 10 years of full-time postgraduate work, forcing me to take out loans every six months. When I completed my PhD, my loans totaled $ 89,000. This is a little less than debt average $ 101,918 PhD holders attending private, non-profit schools. Today, almost nine years after I graduated, my total debt is $ 95,000. Although I never failed, there were two periods of time, totaling 16 months, during which I defer payments due to unemployment and financial hardship.

My experience has convinced me that higher education needs to be upgraded as a public good. To get there, President Biden will have to use his executive power to provide a complete student debt waiver and help Congress get through it. College Law for Allwhich abolishes tuition at public colleges and universities for families earning up to $ 125,000 and makes community college free for all.

In 2019, three years after achieving my dream of teaching theology at my university, university administrators reduced my tenure to balance the budget. Overwhelmed, I went to church service in the Presbyterian Church. Since then, I have been serving small churches with shrinking budgets.

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Before the pandemic, I made monthly student loan payments through it income-based repayment plan. This federal student loan program, which is enrolled 8.5 million borrowers, adjusted the amount I owed each month based on income and family size. But my payments under this program often did not cover the accrued interest on my loans. When an increase in income allowed me to pay more, the increase in my capital prevented me from making a dent in my total debt.

At the same time, My husband, a clinical social worker, also repaid student loans. In total, our debt burden in March 2020 was $ 157,000. We lived from month to month, unable to save money for big tickets, retirement or our son’s college education – much less for emergencies. Repaying our loans was like carrying a second mortgage. Debt trapped us.

We held out hope that at least his loans could eventually be forgiven through the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), a public service program launched by Congress during the Bush administration. After one participant has made eligible monthly payments for 120 months while working full time for an approved employer in a public services related field, PSLF forgives the rest of the Direct Loans. But the PSLF was full of problems arising from strict and complex requirements. 98% of the applicants refused the forgiveness of their loans.

In July 2021, the Biden government extended the eligibility of the PSLF to clergy and other religious lenders. My challenge is to find a church that can afford to pay me full time so that I can qualify for the program.

In my field, securing a full-time teaching position at a college or university is almost impossible. If I can remain a full-time church employee, I have payments of at least five years until I can receive a PSLF-based pardon. Assuming I can afford to make these payments without interruption, I will be 47 years old, with a son in high school and no retirement or college savings.

“Repaying our loans was like carrying a second mortgage. “Debt has trapped us.”

Shannon Smith

Biden government disputes whether to grant large-scale student loan cancellation, but Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Educationhas legal authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel all student loans without permission from Congress. With the prospect of a large-scale loss to the Democrats in the midterm elections, it is economically and politically expedient for Biden to use his power to enact a full student loan cancellation.

Such a move is also consistent with Biden’s deep faith. Quoting St. Augustine in his own opening speech, threw a vision for an America defined by our shared love of things like dignity and opportunity. How can we achieve this vision in a higher education system in which 43 million Americans are incarcerated with $ 1.6 trillion in debt?

Shannon Smythe is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She lives with her family in Morrisville, Pa.

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