A 61-year-old student-loan borrower chooses between paying her debt and paying for medical insurance — and Biden’s forgiveness plans won’t help


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  • Robin O’Brien, 61, has $64,000 in student debt from her master’s degree.

  • She’s experiencing long COVID, which has caused her to work part time earning half an income.

  • Now, she’s forced to make a choice from affording medical insurance or paying off her student debt.

Even on an income-driven repayment plan for her $64,000 student-debt load, Robin O’Brien cannot afford the payments.

After working in long-term care facilities for 25 years, O’Brien said the subsequent step in her profession was becoming an administrator — but as a way to be in that field while making a sufficient income, she needed a master’s degree. When she took out federal loans to take online classes at two public universities, and after graduating in 2017, there was no way she could have foreseen the pandemic and the financial strain it will bring.

Now, she’s coping with long-COVID symptoms that forced her to work part time, and her medical bills and student-debt bills are unmanageable.

“Immediately, I’m picking five of the envelopes with medical bills, after which I’ll pay them $20 apiece,” O’Brien said, referring to the stack of bills she gets every month. “And the subsequent month I’ll take five more and pay $20 apiece. I am unable to really afford greater than $100.”

O’Brien said her medical insurance costs $525 a month, and paying for that, together with other basic necessities, on a part-time income of about $2,000 a month is pushing her to make a choice from getting medical treatment or staying current on her student loans. Federal loan payments have been on pause because the start of the pandemic, and O’Brien hasn’t made any payments during this time. But she said she struggled with them prior to the pause, and he or she doesn’t think she’ll find a way to repay her debt when the pause expires after August 31.

Based on essentially the most recent reports, President Joe Biden is considering forgiving $10,000 in student debt for federal borrowers making under $150,000 a yr, and The Wall Street Journal reported that the announcement likely would not be made until July or August. However the White House hasn’t confirmed any plans, and it’s unclear whether graduate students or parents who took out loans for his or her kids could be included.

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“I do not know the way I’ll afford it,” O’Brien said. “I just don’t think it’s something I can afford.”

‘I’m stuck making payments for the remainder of my life’

Income-driven repayment plans are intended to provide student-loan borrowers monthly payments which can be inexpensive based on their income, with the promise of loan forgiveness after at the least 20 years on the plan. But that is quite a ways away for O’Brien, and he or she wished people like her could possibly be considered for Biden’s broad relief proposals.

“I’m stuck making payments for the remainder of my life,” O’Brien said. “I worked very hard for that degree, and I’m actually using it for the aim wherein I got it, but I am unable to make those payments on only one paycheck.”

The thought to exclude higher earners and graduate students from relief is probably going an try to avoid criticism from Republican lawmakers and experts who’ve argued that broad student-loan forgiveness would help the rich essentially the most.

“If his goal is to have low-income Americans subsidize privileged college graduates and the upper class, President Biden will meet that mark if he moves forward with this disastrous policy,” said Virginia Foxx, a top Republican on the House education committee.

But as seen with O’Brien, having a graduate degree doesn’t necessarily mean earning a high income, and Democrats have maintained student-loan forgiveness will help lower-income borrowers essentially the most.

For instance, a report last yr from the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute found that 61% of scholars with incomes of $30,000 and under who began college in 2012 graduated with student debt, in comparison with the 30% of scholars with incomes $200,000 and better who left school with debt.

The talk around who would profit from broad student-loan relief persists, but O’Brien hopes she doesn’t get unnoticed of that conversation.

“People in my situation are deserving of help,” O’Brien said. “I just don’t see myself having the ability to cover that student-loan debt.”

Do you’ve gotten a story to share about student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at asheffey@insider.com.

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