Raychel Gadson has never tried to finance a new car or looked into buying a house. For years, the approximately $28,000 she owes in student loans held her back from taking on any additional debt.
The 29-year-old Johns Hopkins University student, who is working on a doctorate in political science, will see most of her debt wiped away by the recently announced plan to forgive a portion of federal student loans. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that those with federal student loans will see $10,000 of their debt forgiven; those who received federal Pell Grants will see $20,000 forgiven. Recipients must make below $125,000 a year individually or below $250,000 as a household to qualify.
Payments on student loans, which have been paused since the onset of COVID-19, will resume in January.
Borrowers like Gadson are starting to breathe a hesitant sigh of relief.
“I’m trying not to get my hopes up too incredibly high about this,” Gadson said. “I think this means that I get a fresh financial start in life — which is amazing, especially because the only debt I’ve incurred in my life is something I agreed to when I was 18 years old.”
According to LendEDU, which analyzed student loan debt at hundreds of colleges and universities, Maryland ranks 43rd when it comes to student loan debt, with the average student loan debt at $32,165.
All by herself
When Gadson started her undergraduate career at the University of Tampa in 2011, she was on her own. Her divorced parents, who Gadson said made less than $50,000 a year combined, were unable to help her pay for school. She ended up transferring and finishing her degree at Kansas State University so she could move back home to Manhattan, Kansas.
“I’m happy that they are, like, taking the step to provide more forgiveness for people who did qualify for Pell Grants, because I think it’s one of the best indicators of whether or not you had, or could have, family support in college,” Gadson said. “It was not an option for my family. I’m sure they would have loved to help, but they could not.”
While Gadson will still owe about $8,000, she feels fortunate to have all federal loans and a relatively low amount of debt compared with some of her peers.
While grateful for Biden’s recent move, Gadson doesn’t think it’s enough. She wants to see more debt forgiven, student loans to be made interest-free and, eventually, for college to be free.
“I think for a lot of people, you know, student loans hold them back from being able to just live well, from being able to do other things and make other plans,” Gadson said.
A debt-free future
For Heather Kangas, $10,000 in student loan forgiveness is “life-changing.”
Kangas, 34, graduated from the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2014. A year later, she started making payments on her nearly $30,000 in school debt.
Today, she owes a little over $8,000. All of her debt will be forgiven under Biden’s plan.
Kangas said she’s privileged to have reached this point. Her parents covered her undergraduate degree at Towson University, and she’s previously received the Maryland student loan debt relief tax credit, which she used to pay down some of her debt. The last day to apply for the credit, available to Maryland taxpayers who incurred at least $20,000 in debt and have at least $5,000 outstanding, is Sept. 15.
Kangas, a licensed clinical worker, says she will be able to pay off some credit card debt and put money into savings. She also doesn’t have to rely on receiving public loan service forgiveness, a plan that could have influenced her future career moves.
Still, Kangas is worried about the mental and behavioral health career paths if students have to amass large debts to reach their dream jobs.
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“Something needs to be done to fill these in-demand jobs and careers without making all of us struggle who did choose these paths,” Kangas said.
A good ‘first step’
Justin Evans, 23, gets to celebrate the news that he’ll receive $20,000 in loan forgiveness as he heads into his senior year at Coppin State University.
Evans will still owe about $15,000 when he graduates. But he’s more worried about his peers, some of whom he’s seen drop out before finishing their degree because the cost is too high. He said Biden’s recent announcement is a good “first step.”
“I don’t have that much debt myself,” Evans said. “While I’m grateful for the elimination of some student debt, a lot of people I know are still left with crazy amounts of debt that they still can’t pay back.”
Evans said he’s looking forward to hopefully not having to pick among which bills to pay when he graduates.
But in terms of long-term fixes, he wants to see high student loan interest rates addressed.
“You’ve got these low-income families who can’t pay these loans back,” Evans said. “They’re automatically starting in the hole when you start out going to college.”