Student-Debt Relief Urged, Now and Beyond Pandemic

Lily Bohlke | Public News Service
Nevadans owe roughly $11 billion in student loans, with an average debt of $33,600. Photo Credit: Damir Khabirov/Adobe Stock

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Although the directive to suspend student-loan payments and waive interest is set to expire at the end of the month, Biden transition officials have promised the new administration will extend it.

More than 10% of Nevadans have student-loan debt, and more than half of the state’s respondents to a recent survey said they don’t know when they’ll be financially secure enough to start making loan payments again. Another 30% said they won’t be ready until June of 2021 or later.

Cody Hounanian, program director at the group Student Debt Crisis, said the extension of the pause on payments is critical, but so is further action for broad-based debt cancellation.

“The burden of student debt is something that is growing exponentially as people are facing unemployment, or reduced hours, or extra medical costs during this pandemic,” Hounanian said.

More than 20% of Nevada borrowers who responded reported their financial wellness was poor or very poor. Now, during the pandemic, that number has increased to more than 55%.

Hounanian said with the new makeup of the U.S. Senate, he expects to see certain changes, such as a fix to public-service loan-forgiveness programs, an end to the bankruptcy-law provision that places a higher bar to discharge student-loan debt, and even refinancing reforms for federal student loans. He said organizations, lawmakers and experts want to implement these fixes, as well as go further – provide permanent debt cancellation for as many people as possible.

“For those that are listening that feel that their lawmakers have not been listening to them in relation to the student-debt crisis, now is the time. And I’m feeling very optimistic that change is just right around the corner,” he said.

Borrowers in the U.S. owe roughly $1.6 trillion in student debt – more than all of the nation’s credit-card debt combined. Hounanian said if someone’s not being crushed by student debt themselves, they almost certainly know someone who is, and that’s why the chorus of advocates is growing.