WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is expected to forgive at least $108 billion in student loan debt as part of popular plans that tie repayment to borrowers’ earnings, congressional investigators said Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed income-driven repayment plans the government offers to students struggling to pay back federal student loans. The report, which was highly critical of the Education Department’s budget estimates for the programs, said $29 billion more will be discharged due to death or disability. About 5.3 million borrowers carrying some $355 billion in loans are part of the repayment plans.
The plans set monthly payments as a percentage of a borrower’s income and extend repayment from the standard 10 years to up to 25 years. After that, remaining balances are forgiven. They’ve grown increasingly popular and the Obama administration has encouraged borrowers to consider them, setting up a website, www.StudentLoans.gov/Repay , in April.
In its analysis, the GAO faulted the department for how it has estimated costs for the plans, saying it found “numerous shortcomings” in the agency’s approach. The report said, “weaknesses in this approach may cause costs to be over- or understated by billions of dollars.”
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For example, the GAO said the department assumes borrowers’ incomes won’t grow with inflation. It also said the department assumes borrowers won’t switch into and out of different payment plans, which would affect costs.
The report said the department generally agreed with the GAO’s recommendations and that it’s taking steps to improve its budget estimates.