Governor proposes plan to reduce student debt

Posted 30 December 2017 at 12:04 pm

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has announced the 16th proposal of his 2018 State of the State agenda: taking further action to fight the crushing burden of student loan debt.

At a time where a college education is more important than ever, the Governor is proposing a series of new reforms to help students navigate loans and put new protections in place to ensure they are treated fairly. This proposal builds off the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship, a first-in-the-nation program that makes New York State public universities tuition-free for middle class families.

“Today, a college education is a necessity for a middle class life, yet the crushing weight of student loan debt often keeps New Yorkers from buying homes, cars and ultimately limits their ability to save money and invest in their futures,” Governor Cuomo said. “With this proposal, we build on the success of the Excelsior Scholarship and lay out a concrete roadmap to alleviate the burden of student debt in New York and equip our students with the protections and the tools they need to succeed.”

Nationally, student loan debt is the second highest debt category in the United States after mortgage debt, accounting for 10 percent of debt balance and amounting to $1.48 trillion nationwide. In New York, the average student loan burden is more than $30,000.

Increasing access to an affordable higher education is critical in New York State. Our public college tuition and fees are 20 percent below the national average and lower than 39 other states. New York has already taken steps to make a college education even more affordable through the Excelsior Free Tuition Scholarship program for all public colleges and universities to eliminate tuition for working and middle class families. Additionally, New York has also created the innovative Get On Your Feet Loan Repayment Program that will cover the first two years of student loan payments for NYS public and private college graduates with incomes below $50,000.

Appoint a Student Loan Ombudsman

First, the Governor proposes creating a Student Loan Ombudsman at the Department of Financial Services. The Ombudsman will be the student borrower’s advocate to help resolve student complaints, mediate disputes and educate borrowers about student loans. The Ombudsman will also offer free financial counseling and assistance for students in default. This will help ensure that New York student borrowers are protected regardless of any changes that are made to the federal ombudsman program with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Require Colleges to Provide Simple Truth in Lending Facts for Students

Second, the Governor proposes requiring all colleges annually provide students with the estimated amounts incurred for student loans, including the amount of student loans incurred to date; a range of the total payoff amount including principal and interest; and the monthly repayment amount that the student may incur for the loan to date. This proposal expands on the Governor’s Financial Aid Award Information Sheet that helps inform students of the cost prior to going to college.

Increase Consumer Protection Standards throughout the Student Loan Industry

Third, Governor Cuomo proposes sweeping protections for students including ensuring that no student loan servicers or debt consultants can mislead a borrower or engage in any predatory act or practice, misapply payments, provide credit reporting agencies with inaccurate information, or any other practices that may harm the borrower.

These protections will also include banning upfront fees, requiring fair contracts and clear and conspicuous disclosures to borrowers, and providing penalties for failing to comply with the law. Further, the proposal will require that those companies servicing student loans must be licensed by DFS and meet standards consistent with the laws and regulations governing other significant lending industries like mortgages.

Prohibit State Agencies from Suspending the Professional Licenses of Individuals Behind or in Default on their Student Loans

Fourth, the Governor will propose a law expressly prohibiting the suspension of professional licenses of individuals behind or in default on their student loans. Currently, there are 19 states that allow for the suspension of a professional license for people who are behind or in default on their student loans, with one state allowing for the suspension of an individual’s driver’s license. This practice severely limits the ability of people to support themselves and their families, and to ultimately pay back their student loans, creating a further financial death spiral. By expressly prohibiting the practice, the Governor will ensure that current and future New Yorkers are protected.

The Governor is committed to easing the crushing burden of student loan debt in New York and this proposal builds on previous actions by his administration to give New York’s students the tools they need to succeed. Last year, the Governor championed the launch of the groundbreaking Excelsior Scholarship, providing tuition-free college for middle class families at SUNY and CUNY institutions across the state. Additionally, in 2015, Governor Cuomo created the Get On Your Feet Student Loan Forgiveness program, offering up to two years of student loan payments for recent college graduates.

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