Joanne Wilson, a college financing counselor in Bellmore, says most...

Joanne Wilson, a college financing counselor in Bellmore, says most parents she works with have college debt from their children of between $100,000 and $200,000 — sometimes even more. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Levittown native Marlene Eskenazie is 76 years old, with one child in college and more than $45,000 of debt hanging over them.

So when President Joe Biden announced his administration's plans to forgive billions of dollars in college debt nationwide, she felt it could be life-changing.

“I’m thrilled about it,” said Eskenazie, who now lives in Manhattan. “It means so much, even more so on an emotional level, based on how I have been struggling.”

The Biden plan, the most costly executive action in U.S. history, calls for an estimated 40 million people to get up to $10,000, or in some cases $20,000, each in debt relief.

For some families struggling with crippling debt as college costs skyrocket, it could be a lifesaver. But others contend the plan doesn’t go far enough and will barely make a difference.

Meanwhile, six Republican-led states have filed lawsuits trying to stop the plan altogether. They say Biden vastly overstepped his authority and must go through Congress to get approval. Opponents argue that the borrowers took the loans voluntarily and that forgiveness isn’t fair to others who for decades have paid their college debt without government assistance.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the program could cost $400 billion over the next three decades.

What happens next is unclear. The government is supposed to release the application for the debt forgiveness this month. Many people are confused about the program, said Joanne Wilson, a college financing counselor in Bellmore who is getting flooded with calls from parents.

The Biden plan, announced in August, applies only to government-issued loans, not loans from private banks. That means it would affect the Student Direct Loans — also called Stafford loans — and Parent Plus loans.

Each student and parent can be forgiven up to $10,000 for borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year, or less than $250,000 for married couples.

They can receive up to $20,000 if they obtained Pell Grants, federal aid for lower-income families.

Only loans taken out by June 30, 2022, are eligible.

Although the lawsuits could potentially derail the plan, some college financial advisers think some form of it will happen.

“I can’t see it not going through, just because of public opinion” favoring it, said Andy Lockwood, a college admissions and financing counselor in Glenwood Landing. “But it’s not a slam dunk.”

Lockwood, who is also an attorney and runs Lockwood College Prep with his wife, Pearl, has mixed feelings about the plan. He struggled for decades to pay his own college and law school loans of about $100,000, finally finishing them off when he was in his 40s.

But he also has two children in college, another entering next year, and another recently graduated. He and his wife are facing substantial college expenses and doing everything they can to avoid debt because of his own nightmarish experience.

“I think it’s kind of an outrageous shift of the burden of paying to taxpayers who didn’t sign up for this, especially the ones who didn’t go to college and the ones like me who paid off the huge chunk of loans,” he said.

“But that’s not the only thing in government that gets redistributed,” he added. “My attitude is I’m over it and I’m happy for any kid who is being burdened with loans right now to have this potential opportunity.”

Donna Siani, 64, a private piano and music instructor in St. James, said that even if Biden’s plan gets approved, it won’t get her out of the mess of college loans.

She owes about $113,000 in federal loans for her two children, who are now 31 and 33 and graduated from CW Post and the University of Hartford.

Even if she gets the Biden forgiveness, she would still owe a huge amount of money, she said.

“It’s horrible. It’s scary. I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “If he forgives $10,000, it’s not even a drop in the bucket to me. You might as well give me 50 bucks.”

Siani said the compounding interest on her federal Parent Plus loans is part of what sunk her. She took out about $132,000, and for 12 years has made every required monthly payment but still owes $113,000.

“The compounding interest is what’s killing me,” she said. “If the interest hadn’t been compounding, I might have had it almost paid off."

Now, she says she doubts she will ever be able to retire. Wilson says parents like Siani are typical.

“Ten thousand dollars is going to make not a whole lot of difference on the parent side, in my opinion,” she said. “It will make a difference on the student side for sure.”

Most parents she works with typically have college debt from their children of between $100,000 and $200,000 — sometimes even more, she said.

That is because some colleges now charge as much as $80,000 a year for room, board and tuition. At Hofstra University, for instance, the total is about $73,000. 

"I don't know how people do it. It's like having a second mortgage," Wilson said. "I believe the colleges need to do something, too," she added. The Biden plan “is only a start.”

Parents are permitted to take out federal Parent Plus loans for the complete demonstrated cost after aid of their child’s college if they qualify — and usually qualifying is easy, Wilson and the Lockwoods said.

But, like Siani, they pay far more than they take out, due to interest rates, which this academic year for parent loans are 7.54%. For students, they are 4.99%. The rates get readjusted every July, and could go up even more next summer. They've been climbing — two years ago they were 5.30% for parents and 2.75% for students.

Federal student loans are more limited than those for parents, starting at a maximum of $5,500 for freshman year, $6,500 for sophomore year, and $7,500 for both junior and senior years. That means a maximum of $27,000 for the four years.

“They can go down to $17,000 with this forgiveness,” Wilson said. “That really will help them going forward, getting a job. That $10,000 is huge and if they get a Pell grant, that’s $20,000” taken off.

But Jill Segarra, a Southampton mother of triplets who just started college, thinks loan forgiveness is unfair.

“I feel if you take out a loan, you should pay it back,” she said. “I don’t want to pay for somebody else’s college loan” through increased taxes. “I’m already paying for my kids’ college loans,” which will total about $120,000 this year alone.

Financial counseling experts say families who want to participate in the forgiveness plan should log on to their loan accounts through studentaid.gov and make sure the information is correct. Then they should apply as soon as the government releases the application.

Eskenazie said she can’t wait. She owes about $28,000, and her child, a senior at SUNY New Paltz, owes about $19,000. The forgiveness could help her begin to focus on enjoying her life rather than just surviving, she said.

“Just to not to have to look at that additional debt is going to be a tremendous relief for me,” she said. “I’m going to celebrate. It’s a gift.”

Levittown native Marlene Eskenazie is 76 years old, with one child in college and more than $45,000 of debt hanging over them.

So when President Joe Biden announced his administration's plans to forgive billions of dollars in college debt nationwide, she felt it could be life-changing.

“I’m thrilled about it,” said Eskenazie, who now lives in Manhattan. “It means so much, even more so on an emotional level, based on how I have been struggling.”

The Biden plan, the most costly executive action in U.S. history, calls for an estimated 40 million people to get up to $10,000, or in some cases $20,000, each in debt relief.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Biden student debt relief plan calls for an estimated 40 million people to get up to $10,000, or in some cases $20,000, each in debt relief.
  • The government is supposed to release the application for the debt forgiveness this month.
  • Financial counseling experts say families who want to participate in the forgiveness plan should log on to their loan accounts through studentaid.gov and make sure the information is correct. They should apply as soon as the application is released.

For some families struggling with crippling debt as college costs skyrocket, it could be a lifesaver. But others contend the plan doesn’t go far enough and will barely make a difference.

Meanwhile, six Republican-led states have filed lawsuits trying to stop the plan altogether. They say Biden vastly overstepped his authority and must go through Congress to get approval. Opponents argue that the borrowers took the loans voluntarily and that forgiveness isn’t fair to others who for decades have paid their college debt without government assistance.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the program could cost $400 billion over the next three decades.

Sign-ups coming this month

What happens next is unclear. The government is supposed to release the application for the debt forgiveness this month. Many people are confused about the program, said Joanne Wilson, a college financing counselor in Bellmore who is getting flooded with calls from parents.

The Biden plan, announced in August, applies only to government-issued loans, not loans from private banks. That means it would affect the Student Direct Loans — also called Stafford loans — and Parent Plus loans.

Each student and parent can be forgiven up to $10,000 for borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year, or less than $250,000 for married couples.

They can receive up to $20,000 if they obtained Pell Grants, federal aid for lower-income families.

Only loans taken out by June 30, 2022, are eligible.

Andy and Pearl Lockwood, who run a college admissions and financing...

Andy and Pearl Lockwood, who run a college admissions and financing counseling program in Glenwood Landing, say many clients are asking questions about the Biden student loan forgiveness program.  Credit: Rick Kopstein

Although the lawsuits could potentially derail the plan, some college financial advisers think some form of it will happen.

“I can’t see it not going through, just because of public opinion” favoring it, said Andy Lockwood, a college admissions and financing counselor in Glenwood Landing. “But it’s not a slam dunk.”

Lockwood, who is also an attorney and runs Lockwood College Prep with his wife, Pearl, has mixed feelings about the plan. He struggled for decades to pay his own college and law school loans of about $100,000, finally finishing them off when he was in his 40s.

Parents face big debt

But he also has two children in college, another entering next year, and another recently graduated. He and his wife are facing substantial college expenses and doing everything they can to avoid debt because of his own nightmarish experience.

“I think it’s kind of an outrageous shift of the burden of paying to taxpayers who didn’t sign up for this, especially the ones who didn’t go to college and the ones like me who paid off the huge chunk of loans,” he said.

“But that’s not the only thing in government that gets redistributed,” he added. “My attitude is I’m over it and I’m happy for any kid who is being burdened with loans right now to have this potential opportunity.”

Donna Siani, 64, a private piano and music instructor in St. James, said that even if Biden’s plan gets approved, it won’t get her out of the mess of college loans.

She owes about $113,000 in federal loans for her two children, who are now 31 and 33 and graduated from CW Post and the University of Hartford.

Even if she gets the Biden forgiveness, she would still owe a huge amount of money, she said.

“It’s horrible. It’s scary. I can’t sleep at night,” she said. “If he forgives $10,000, it’s not even a drop in the bucket to me. You might as well give me 50 bucks.”

Donna Siani, a private piano and music instructor in St....

Donna Siani, a private piano and music instructor in St. James, says that even if Biden’s plan gets approved, it won’t get her out of the mess of college loans. Credit: John Roca

Siani said the compounding interest on her federal Parent Plus loans is part of what sunk her. She took out about $132,000, and for 12 years has made every required monthly payment but still owes $113,000.

“The compounding interest is what’s killing me,” she said. “If the interest hadn’t been compounding, I might have had it almost paid off."

Now, she says she doubts she will ever be able to retire. Wilson says parents like Siani are typical.

“Ten thousand dollars is going to make not a whole lot of difference on the parent side, in my opinion,” she said. “It will make a difference on the student side for sure.”

College cost 'exorbitant'

Most parents she works with typically have college debt from their children of between $100,000 and $200,000 — sometimes even more, she said.

That is because some colleges now charge as much as $80,000 a year for room, board and tuition. At Hofstra University, for instance, the total is about $73,000. 

"I don't know how people do it. It's like having a second mortgage," Wilson said. "I believe the colleges need to do something, too," she added. The Biden plan “is only a start.”

Parents are permitted to take out federal Parent Plus loans for the complete demonstrated cost after aid of their child’s college if they qualify — and usually qualifying is easy, Wilson and the Lockwoods said.

But, like Siani, they pay far more than they take out, due to interest rates, which this academic year for parent loans are 7.54%. For students, they are 4.99%. The rates get readjusted every July, and could go up even more next summer. They've been climbing — two years ago they were 5.30% for parents and 2.75% for students.

Federal student loans are more limited than those for parents, starting at a maximum of $5,500 for freshman year, $6,500 for sophomore year, and $7,500 for both junior and senior years. That means a maximum of $27,000 for the four years.

“They can go down to $17,000 with this forgiveness,” Wilson said. “That really will help them going forward, getting a job. That $10,000 is huge and if they get a Pell grant, that’s $20,000” taken off.

But Jill Segarra, a Southampton mother of triplets who just started college, thinks loan forgiveness is unfair.

“I feel if you take out a loan, you should pay it back,” she said. “I don’t want to pay for somebody else’s college loan” through increased taxes. “I’m already paying for my kids’ college loans,” which will total about $120,000 this year alone.

Financial counseling experts say families who want to participate in the forgiveness plan should log on to their loan accounts through studentaid.gov and make sure the information is correct. Then they should apply as soon as the government releases the application.

Eskenazie said she can’t wait. She owes about $28,000, and her child, a senior at SUNY New Paltz, owes about $19,000. The forgiveness could help her begin to focus on enjoying her life rather than just surviving, she said.

“Just to not to have to look at that additional debt is going to be a tremendous relief for me,” she said. “I’m going to celebrate. It’s a gift.”

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