As Americans wrestle with over $1.5 trillion in student debt, the 2020 Democratic field has a variety of plans to confront the issue.
On Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled the most dramatic proposal yet with Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Rep. Ilhan Omar. They would have the government to pay off all loans held by 46 million Americans, covering private debt as well federal loans.
“This is truly a revolutionary proposal,” Sanders said.
The bill follows a slightly less ambitious plan from Sen. Elizabeth Warren that she estimates would eliminate 95% of the student debt held by Americans.
Sanders and Warren say they are "cancelling" these debts. The rest of the field often uses a less-sexy word when discussing their plans: refinancing.
Here's how Sen. Amy Klobuchar put it in a recent CNN Town Hall: "The first thing I would do is allow students and – no matter how old they are – former students to refinance their student loans at that rate that's a little above 3%."
Student debt is at a crisis level in this country, and it holds our whole economy down. One of the first things I'd do as president is allow all students to refinance their loans at 4%. The federal government shouldn't be making money off the backs of our students, period.— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) February 18, 2019
Many of Klobuchar's colleagues in the Senate have also discussed refinancing in recent years. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill in 2013 to refinance federal loans at a rate of 4%. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris have also discussed refinancing.
John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado, recently proposed a refinancing rate of 2.5% "or as low as I can get it, without taking any risk." As a Congressman, Beto O'Rourke signed onto a bill with a 3.4% rate in 2013. He currently advocates refinancing "at the lowest possible rates for everyone who has it right now, whether the issuer was the government or a private issuer."
The current interest rate for federal subsidized student loans for undergraduates is 4.53%, but other government loans can be as high at 7%. Private student loans can vary wildly with some topping 10% annually.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband still carry about $130,000 in student debt and the mayor has discussed the issue as well. Buttigieg’s plan involves refinancing, and he cited the cost as the key reason he’s not in favor of cancelling debt.
Whatever the exact details, the different refinancing plans would cost only a fraction of the estimated $2.2 trillion price tag for the Sanders plan.
In 2014, Warren had a debt refinancing bill that attracted interest from three Republican senators (Susan Collins, Bob Corker, and Lisa Murkowski) but it was not enough as the remaining Republicans voted against debating the bill.
Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has a debt forgiveness plan that would allow a borrower to pay nothing until they are "earning at least 250% of the federal poverty line." Students would also receive "forgiveness of any remaining amount" on the loans after 20 years.
Public service is another topic that comes up frequently as a way to both pay down student debt and improve the country. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was established in 2007 but, as the candidates often note, the program currently rejects 99% of applicants. The Trump administration, in its proposed 2020 budget, advocated eliminating the program entirely while Democrats by and large want to expand it.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has not released a detailed plan on student loans but proposed reforming the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program as part of his education plan.
Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, D.C.