With student debt loads haunting college grads and jobless joining street protests, President Obama yesterday announced plans to ease student loan burdens by capping payments at 10 percent of what borrowers earn. On top of helping young people in lower wage jobs, the White House hopes the program will aid aspiring entrepreneurs whose student debts might otherwise discourage them from starting businesses.
The White House is building on the existing income-based repayment program that limits loan payments for low-earners to 15 percent of their income, and forgives all debts after 25 years. Starting next year, the cap will be lowered to 10 percent of income (a change that was already slated to happen in 2014). The payment timeline will also be shortened to 20 years, after which remaining debts will be forgiven. The White House estimates the change will lower payments for 1.6 million borrowers.
Coordinated with Obama’s announcement, the Young Entrepreneur Council (a nonprofit membership group) is unveiling a $10 million “Gen Y Fund” that will invest up to $250,000 in startups and cover founders’ federal student loan payments for up to three years. The group is also pushing for legislation that would expand loan deferments and forgiveness specifically for entrepreneurs.
The theory that student debt holds back young entrepreneurs has gained enough traction that venture capitalist Peter Thiel is actually paying would-be founders to drop out of college. I haven’t found any hard data on how educational debt actually affects people’s decisions on whether or not to start a business. But college tuition is rising twice as fast as inflation, and by some estimates Americans now have more student debt than credit card debt. There’s a lot of teeth-gnashing over how many top graduates (especially in math and science) go to Wall Street. These efforts to lower loan payments may make some of them more likely to start companies instead.