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Bernie Sanders unveils sweeping student debt cancellation plan

Aarthi Swaminathan
Finance Writer

This post has been updated with Sanders’ comments.

Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is unveiling a student loan plan that would wipe out more than $1.5 trillion in American student debt.

The plan, first reported by The Washington Post, goes further than proposals by fellow presidential candidates in that it aims to cancel all of the student debt held by 46 million Americans (including graduate school debt). Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently unveiled a plan aiming to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt based on household income, which her team said would help 42 million Americans.

“In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, it is simply not acceptable for our younger generation through no fault of their own have a lower standard of living than their parents, more debt, lower wages, and less likelihood of owning their own homes,” Sanders said at a Monday news conference detailing the proposal, called the College For All Act and sponsored by House members Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

He added: “That is why this proposal completely eliminates student debt in this country and ends the absurdity of sentencing an entire generation — the millennial generation — to a lifetime of debt for the ‘crime’ of doing the right thing, and that is going out and getting a higher education.”

Vermont Senator and former Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I Ð VT) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speak at the Our Revolution Massachusetts Rally at the Orpheum Theatre on March 31, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

The Associated Press, citing materials detailing the plan, reported that it would save the average borrower about $3,000 a year. Sanders proposes that the federal government foot the entire bill with proceeds stemming from a proposed tax on Wall Street aimed at raising $2.4 trillion over 10 years.

“We bailed out Wall Street in 2008,” the senator tweeted early Monday morning. “It’s time to tax Wall Street’s greed to help the American people.”

Warren also said that the cost of her plan would be covered by her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax,” which is an annual 2% tax on American households’ net worth that’s more than $50 million in wealth and an additional 1% tax on those who have on $1 billion.

States are taking action on student debt

Currently there are more than 44 million Americans holding $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loans. An increasing amount is turning sour — with around 11% in serious delinquency or in default in the first quarter of this year, according to the New York Fed.

Under Warren’s $640 billion plan, only borrowers who have a household income of less than $100,000 will have $50,000 of their student debt forgiven, while those earning an income between $100,000 to $250,000 would see a lesser amount forgiven.

Former secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama and former San Antonio Mayor of Julián Castro has also called for student debt forgiveness in his policy proposals.

Presidential candidate Julián Castro speaks at the Democratic presidential candidates NALEO Candidate Forum on June 21, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Joe Skipper/Getty Images)

“The federal government has failed to adequately step in to support students and universities — pushing more and more students towards costly loans that can at times be predatory,” Castro wrote on his website. “Make no mistake: this is a crisis. More and more students are defaulting on their loans, tanking their credit for years to come. … It’s time we break the work-school tug of war.”

And while presidential candidates take turns pitching plans to tackle the student debt crisis, the federal government — and the Department of Education — has largely stayed put, prompting states to take matters into their own hands and enact protections for borrowers.

States like Maine and California have pursued — and some have even passed — a student loan “‘Bill of Rights” where they have appoint various authorities to supervise student loan servicers and ban “abusive” practices that hurt student borrowers, among other measures.

(Source: WalletHub, Graphic: David Foster)

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

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