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‘$20,000 is a lot of money.’ Ohioans financially plan on student loan debt after SCOTUS ruling




Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Josh Dodge expects it will take him the rest of his life to pay off his student loans.

The 45-year-old graduated with more than $80,000 of student loans after earning his bachelor’s and master’s in middle childhood education from Wright State University nearly a decade ago.

“It’s a number that I always compare to ginormous big ticket items,” Dodge said. “I don’t want to say that I stress about it every day, but there’s absolutely a level of anxiety that’s induced about having to pay that entire thing back.”

As a Pell Grant recipient, $20,000 of his student loans would have been wiped away under the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan — knocking his total down to more than $60,000.

“I would still have student loans over my head … It would have freed up the money just for daily living expenses,” the Columbus area resident said. “Trying to make future plans would have been a lot easier. … $20,000 is a lot of money.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled against Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan a few weeks ago, meaning Ohioans won’t see that relief. There are 1,818,300 student loan borrowers in Ohio who together owe $63.1 billion as of Dec. 31, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

President Joe Biden first announced his plan to forgive $400 billion in student loan debt for tens of millions of borrowers back in August. Borrowers would have been forgiven up to $10,000 in federal student loans and Pell Grant recipients would have been forgiven $20,000. Student loan forgiveness was only available to people who earn less than $125,000 individually or $250,000 as a household.

The U.S. Department of Education announced last week it will forgive $39 billion in federal student loans for 804,000 borrowers — meaning 37,070 borrowers in Ohio will see $1.7 billion in income-driven repayment plan forgiveness, according to the Department of Education.

Federal student loan forbearance paused payments in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Student loan interest will start accruing again on Sept. 1 and payments will resume in October.

Paying back interest

Megan Dixon has paid back more on her student loans than she initially owed when she graduated with her degrees from Ohio State University because of interest.

“I’ve already paid more than I owed,” she said. “The government is profiting in interest.”

Her remaining student loans would have been forgiven through Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.

Going back to school for a second career

Dodge had been working as a graphic designer when he decided to go back to school for a second career as a middle school teacher when he was about 30.

“I just hit a crossroads where I either had to educate myself in a way that would further advance my graphic design career,” he said. “Or teaching was one of those things that was always sort of my background, so as I started to weigh those options, I really ultimately decided to go into teaching. … It was a very nervy decision to make.”

Now he is a middle school teacher in Columbus City Schools, the state’s largest school district. He made the minimum required student loan payments until the pandemic hit — throwing student loans into forbearance.

He had a flicker of hope that the Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of forgiveness, but all he could do was take a seat on the couch when the notification came across his phone with their decision to nix Biden’s plan.

“It was really disappointing,” he said.

Since none of Dodge’s loans are being forgiven any time soon, he anticipates making lifestyle changes so he can afford to start paying back his student loans. For example, he expects to ride public transportation more to cut down on his gas budget.

Delaying a big purchase

The Supreme Court’s decision delays Zach Chapman’s goal of buying a house.

“Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money,” the 26-year-old Toledo resident said. “I was looking to try and purchase (a home) and move in by the end of the summer, but now I’m pushing it back by about a year.”

He graduated from John Carroll University in 2019 with about $25,000 of student loans and he has paid it down to $16,000 — meaning his student loans would have dropped down to $6,000 with the loan forgiveness.

“I was really excited,” Chapman said when he first heard about Biden’s plan for student loan forgiveness. “It felt like our prayers had been answered.”

He now hopes to finish paying off his loans in the next three to four years.

Forgiveness would have wiped away his debt

Nick Ciolli stopped making payments on his student loans once he hit his goal of getting them down to $10,000 in September.

But now he might be second-guessing that decision.

“I wonder if I should have kept paying it down regardless of any potential forgiveness that was announced,” the Columbus area resident said.

He graduated with $40,000 in debt when he earned his master’s from Ohio State University in 2019, and kept making payments on his loans when they went into forbearance.

“I saw it as an opportunity to pound it down as low as I could get it,” he said. “I knew the forbearance was going to end, so I just tried to get it down as much as I could. I kind of went hog-wild.”

He watched the SCOTUSblog live feed the day of the student loan decision with a friend and wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“That would have opened up a lot more financial opportunities for us if it would have gone the other way,” Ciolli said.

He hopes to pay off his debt by the end of next year.

“That remains to be seen. … that’s hopeful my timetable,” he said.

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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