May 15, 2019

Union membership can ease student debt

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
student loans
Caption: NYSUT board member Selena Durio, pictured at right with students in her North Babylon classroom, took advantage of union services to assist with her sons' college loans.

Numbers can be numbing, especially for those who have to deduct hefty amounts from their checking account each month to repay college loans.

For some, those payments are more than the cost of rent.

Some 45 million people are estimated to have student debt. The average college graduate enters the workforce owing $37,000 in debt, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Since New York State requires teachers to have a Masters Degree, the challenges can be even greater for educators.

But, there is more to the story of the student-debt crisis than just numbers.

“Student debt has a disproportionate impact on women and people of color, which is why our Civil and Human Rights Committee is working on those aspects of the issue,” said Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer.

Student-loan costs are higher for women and people of color, who make up the greater percentage of borrowers. They tend to have higher debt loads because they borrow more money. They also typically earn less than white males, meaning it takes them longer to pay off their debt.

Fortunately, NYSUT and AFT have made tackling the student-debt crisis a major priority.

“The AFT has taken on the student-debt crisis as a union issue,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

For AFT, that starts with spreading the word to it members about public-service loan forgiveness programs, and income-driven repayment programs, both of which are helping people reclaim their financial balance.

As word spreads, NYSUT members are taking action on income-driven and income-based repayment programs. They work as follows:

  • The programs use adjusted gross income, family size and the state in which you live to provide a monthly loan payment.
  • Each year you must recertify.
  • Monthly payment is based on a percentage of your discretionary income.
  • There’s a payment cap, under which your payment will never be more than you would pay in a Standard 10-Year Repayment Plan.

“I think every one of our members, especially the younger ones, needs to hear this,” said Selena Durio, a high school special education teacher in North Babylon and NYSUT board member.

Durio began using the income-driven program for her two sons after hearing an AFT presentation at a NYSUT Civil and Human Rights committee meeting.

To contribute to her sons’ college education, she took out student loans in their names that she would pay back. That way, the repayment through the program she signed up for would be based on their income, not hers — a move that left her sons especially protected in the event anything happened to her.


With Durio making timely payments on the loans in their names, it would also help her sons establish good credit.

“I did want to give my kids a clean slate,” she said.

The program through which Durio obtained the loans is called PAYE — short for ‘Pay As You Earn’ — an income-based student loan program.

Her son, Ander, went to Suffolk Community College and SUNY Farmingdale. Her son, Saben attended the University of Albany for six years, where he earned his undergraduate degree and his master’s degree.

Without the income-based loan repayment program, Saben’s loan would have been $814 a month. Using the program, his loans were reduced to $22 a month, and will be reassessed yearly based on his job situation and tax returns. Ander’s loan would have been $244 a month; now its $102, she said.

In addition to the AFT’s debt counseling presentations, NYSUT’s Member Benefits program also offers individualized student loan and debt relief services for union members.

Working in partnership with Cambridge Credit Counseling, a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit agency that was recently named the Better Business Bureau’s Credit Counseling Non-Profit of the Year, NYSUT sponsors regional events around the state and Member Benefits sends Cambridge Credit representatives to conferences and some local union meetings.

The company has a dedicated telephone line for NYSUT members to get counseling for student loans, or for any other debt management issues.

Since some families have mortgage, credit card and other loans mixed together, this allows Cambridge Credit Counseling to take an all-inclusive approach to debt management.

There is no charge to call and speak with a counselor, who can review members’ loans and help determine the best repayment options. “In many cases,” said NYSUT Member Benefits staffer Derek Clement, “this may put them on the path for loan forgiveness.”