In a well-attended Student Loan Debt workshop at the 2023 Council of Classified Employee conference, the facilitators offered information to those struggling to pay back student loans.

Maeve Kline, senior associate at AFT, AFL-CIO, told attendees that more than 45 million people have student debt and about one out of every five borrowers was in default, meaning about nine million people aren’t able to make their monthly payments.

Debt particularly hits women and people of color, Kline said, and although some people may think it’s a young person’s problem, about 20 % of those holding debt are Americans over 50.

Kline said she would start with the Supreme Court decision on broad based debt cancellation, then go into Income Driven Repayment plans, available for anyone with a federal loan, as well as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Finally, Kline said she would tell attendees about Summer, a free benefit all CFT members can access that offers online help as well as the opportunity to talk with a live person to try and navigate this complicated, frustrating process.

In a setback for borrowers, on June 30, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that President Biden’s administration cancellation of up to $20,000 of student loan debt was unconstitutional.

“This is not just a huge disappointment to the 26 million people who applied for relief and the 16 million who were approved, it’s potentially catastrophic for tens of millions of people who are already suffering,” Kline said. “We’re not giving up that fight on broad based cancellation. We know the Biden administration is pursuing other options, and we’re vigorously advocating they pursue every single available option to help people who have suffered economic hardship due to student loan debt.”

The court’s ruling doesn’t impact Public Service Loan Forgiveness, Kline said. She explained a common type is a 10-year repayment plan, but there are other plans as well. She also stressed that these programs along with income driven repayment are free to enroll and cautioned people against paying anyone who says they can take care of it for you.

The PSLF is often the most generous, Kline said, and it can allow you to have all your federal student loans forgiven tax- free, as a way of incentivizing a career in public service.

Kline reiterated that to have your loan forgiven, you need to make ten years of qualifying payments, which would be 120 in total toward your federal student debt. You also need to be working at least 30 hours a week eight months out of the year.

Kline highly recommended Summer, a free AFT program, available to all CFT members. 

“Someone will actually pick up the phone,” Kline says, a huge help that many attendees expressed surprise and appreciation for, having spent long hours on the phone, trying to get their questions answered.

For more information please visit AFT’s student debt clinic resource page.