State, federal politicians propose new legislation to help reduce student loan debt

U.S. student debt totals $1.2 trillion, exceeds credit card debit

Student loan debt in the United States totals about $1.2 trillion, exceeding credit card debt.

Some lawmakers believe the student debt burden has reached a crisis level in America.

This week, two local politicians are introducing plans to help ease that burden at both the state and federal level.

Anna Olson is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, but said she is already stressing out about paying off her student loans after graduation.

“I would say I have a decent amount and it’s something that I worry about. ‘OK, do I need to get a job right away? When am I going to start paying those back?’ So I feel like it’s always in the back of your mind,” Olson said.

But Wisconsin state Sen. Jennifer Shilling and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind are introducing legislation that would take a little weight off the shoulders of people like Olson.

Shilling’s bill would allow borrowers to refinance their student loans, much like a mortgage. She said right now more than 1 million Wisconsinites are burdened with $19 billion in student loan debt.

“So it really holds people back, maybe new graduates and young people, from starting a business or becoming an entrepreneur, or getting married, buying a house, some of those larger purchases in life, because they are saddled with this student loan debt,” Shilling said.

Kind said Wisconsin ranks 10th in the nation in terms of student debt burden, with the average student being close to $28,000 in debt upon graduation. His college affordability plan is very similar to Shilling’s proposal, saying that refinancing would be a low-cost, big-reward change. With more than $1 trillion worth of student loan debt nationwide, it’s a change he said we need sooner rather than later.

“I don’t want this to be the next economic bubble that goes off and brings the economy down,” Kind said.

Kind said federal interest rates on student loans are covering more than just the expenses of the program, so the government is using the excess on other expenses. And his plan would change that.

“Students should be the last group of people we should be raising money from in order the finance other government operations,” Kind said.

Olson believes an education is extremely important and she likes knowing politicians are working to make college more affordable.

“For students to come out and to know that they’re going to get help to go to college, more students will enroll, more students will get an education,” Olson said.

Kind said he hopes his plan will be a part of the education bill being discussed in Congress this spring. Shilling also hopes the Wisconsin legislature will take up her party’s bill before the end of the session.

There will be a student loan debt discussion hosted by Shilling, Kind, Rep. Jill Billings and Rep. Steve Doyle Monday from 3-5 p.m. in the Hall of Nations inside Centennial Hall at UW-L.