Student loan debt in the United States has reached over $1.53 trillion – a figure the Federal Reserve suggested is discouraging young people from buying homes. While that number continues to rise, some in Congress have taken notice of its consequences and seek to implement changes in repayment options to provide desperately needed relief for nearly 40 million borrowers. 

In a speech delivered this month, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) laid out a blueprint for broad changes to the system for financial aid and student loan repayments.  

Alexander, who chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, suggested two changes specifically regarding repayment.  First, he proposed a repayment plan based on a borrower’s income. Under the plan, a borrower would never be required to make payments of more than 10% of their income. “It makes sure if there were no money earned, there would be no money owed,” Alexander said. “And that would not reflect negatively on a borrower’s credit.” Second, the Senator proposed a standard 10-year payment plan, with equal monthly payments, that he compared to a 10-year mortgage. In addition, Alexander suggested creating a system of accountability that would be based on whether borrowers were repaying their student loans.  While he offered no specifics on what that accountability program would look like, Alexander indicated that it should lower the cost of tuition for certain programs and discourage schools from offering programs that “are not worth it to students.” 

According to Alexander, the goal of these three proposals is to help students afford college while simultaneously ensuring that the degree they earn is worth the time and money they invest in it.  

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell has previously acknowledged the implications of rising student loan debt, largely on millennials.  Powell has suggested that student loan debt could derail an otherwise flourishing economy by negatively affecting individuals’ economic standing and credit ratings, thus hindering consumers’ ability to enter into traditional financial transactions such as investments and home and motor vehicle purchases. 

Troutman Sanders will continue to monitor and report on important developments involving the changing landscape of the student loan industry.