Justin Nelson’s letter, one of the thousands that arrived at the White House this month, said he was proud to vote for President Biden back in 2020. Now he had a request: Would the president please honor a campaign promise and use the enclosed pen to wipe out thousands of dollars he owes in student loans?
The letter-writing campaign — #PensForBiden — is the latest attempt to sway Mr. Biden on a high-stakes dilemma as the midterm elections approach and much of his domestic agenda remains stalled: What to do about the $1.6 trillion that more than 45 million people owe the government?
So far, Mr. Biden has extended the pandemic pause on student loan payments four times, most recently until Aug. 31. Payments have now been on hold for more than two years, over two presidential administrations.
But all that time poses problems. Many of the issues that have long bedeviled the loan system have only grown more complicated during the pause, and receiving bills again will infuriate and frustrate millions of people who feel trapped by a broken system and crushing debt.
progressive wing of his Democratic Party. He backed the idea on the campaign trail in 2020. “I’m going to make sure that everybody in this generation gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt as we try to get out of this God-awful pandemic,” he told an audience in Miami.
Senate Democrats lack the votes to help make good on that promise, leaving executive action as the only possible pathway. But close allies say some influential members of Mr. Biden’s team have been reluctant for him to do it — some because they disagree with the idea of forgiveness and some because they don’t believe he has the authority.
“He’s got lawyers telling him he shouldn’t,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat and a key supporter of Mr. Biden. But Mr. Clyburn, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, said presidential actions had brought sweeping changes before, including Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Harry Truman’s order banning segregation in the military.
“If executive orders can free slaves and integrate the armed services, it can eliminate debt,” Mr. Clyburn said.
analysis released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last week. A separate study by the bank found that surveyed borrowers reported a 16 percent chance of quickly missing a payment if the moratorium ended.
Mr. Nelson, a 32-year-old bank operations associate in Minneapolis, said the pause had freed up $120 a month for home repairs and other expenses.
recent Morning Consult poll found that more than 60 percent of registered voters were in favor of some level of student debt cancellation. But despite Mr. Biden’s campaign promise, his advisers have been divided, three people with knowledge of the discussions said.
Some view debt cancellation as relief for critical constituencies, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Others oppose it as bad policy or because they fear the economic effects of putting more money in consumers’ pockets when inflation is soaring.
But the pressure on Mr. Biden to act has only grown.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose pledge to cancel up to $50,000 per borrower was a centerpiece of her 2020 presidential primary bid, and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, led more than 90 congressional Democrats in sending Mr. Biden a letter last month asking him to “provide meaningful student debt cancellation.”
voting rights protections and Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, as reason for the president to take matters into his own hands.
The New Georgia Project, a group focusing on voter registration founded by the gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has cast debt relief as an action that would serve Mr. Biden’s pledge to put racial equity at the forefront of his presidency.
“Much of your administration’s legislative priorities have been stymied by obstructionist legislators,” the group wrote in a joint letter with the advocacy group the Debt Collective that was reviewed by The New York Times. “Student debt cancellation is a popular campaign promise that you, President Biden, have the executive power to deliver on your own.”
announcing the latest pause extension last month, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, said he “hasn’t ruled out” the idea.
But Mr. Biden’s power to act unilaterally remains an open legal question.
Last April, at Mr. Biden’s request, the Education Department’s acting general counsel wrote an analysis of the legality of canceling debt via executive action. The analysis has not been released; a version provided in response to public records requests was fully redacted.
Proponents of forgiveness say the education secretary has broad powers to modify or cancel debt, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have leaned on to carry out the payment freeze that started in March 2020.
Legal challenges would be likely, although who would have standing is unclear. A Virginia Law Review article this month argued that the answer might be no one: States, for example, have little say in the operation of a federal loan system.
scathing criticism from government auditors and watchdogs, with even basic functions sometimes breaking down.
Some problems are being addressed. The Biden administration has wiped out $17 billion in debt for 725,000 borrowers by expanding and streamlining forgiveness programs for public servants and those who were defrauded by their schools, among others. Last week, it offered millions of borrowers added credit toward forgiveness because of previous payment-counting problems.
But there’s much still to do. The Education Department was deluged by applicants after it expanded eligibility for millions of public servants. And settlement talks in a class-action suit by nearly 200,000 borrowers who say they were defrauded by their schools recently broke down, setting up a trial this summer.
will be restored to good standing.
Canceling debt could make addressing all this easier, advocates say. Forgiving $10,000 per borrower would wipe out the debts of 10 million or more people, according to different analyses, which would free up resources to deal with structural flaws, proponents argue.
“We’ve known for years that the system is broken,” said Sarah Sattelmeyer, a higher-education project director at New America, a think tank. “Having an opportunity, during this timeout, to start fixing some of those major issues feels like a place where the Education Department should be focusing its attention.”
Voters like Ashleigh A. Mosley will be watching. Ms. Mosley, 21, a political science major at Albany State University in Georgia, said she had been swayed to vote for Mr. Biden because of his support for debt cancellation.
Ms. Mosley, who also attended Alabama A&M University, has already borrowed $52,000 and expects her balance to grow to $100,000 by the time she graduates. The debt already hangs over her head.
“I don’t think I’m going to even have enough money to start a family or buy a house because of the loans,” she said. “It’s just not designed for us to win.”
The Education Department outsources the work of billing borrowers and guiding them through the repayment process to hired vendors. FedLoan, which holds a contract to manage the accounts of borrowers pursuing public service loan forgiveness, told the agency this summer that it would not renew its contract when it lapses at the end of the year. It said that the “increasingly complex and challenging” work of servicing federal loans had become too costly.
Another major servicer, Navient, said last month that it, too, is resigning to focus on its other lines of business. Those defections and those of several smaller servicers mean that the Education Department will need to move at least 16 million accounts to new servicers in the coming months — a process that has in the past been filled with confusion and mistakes. Agency officials said they did not yet have a successor to FedLoan lined up.
Kristi Jacobson, a second-grade teacher at George R. Moscone Elementary School, in San Francisco, was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of relief.
Ms. Jacobson learned in June that none of the payments she had been making on her loans since 2005 qualified for forgiveness. She had also been submitting the annual paperwork for the program since 2014. She found out when she filled out a form on the Education Department’s website that advised her to consolidate her loans into one that qualified for public service loan forgiveness. The news stunned her.
“I got goose bumps,” she said. “I read it over and over.”
The 54-year-old had been looking forward to retiring in nine years. Instead, she would be restarting the clock on 10 more years of payments on her $86,000 loan, at $550 per month, after she consolidated her Federal Family Education Loans into a qualifying loan this summer.
“I don’t think I should get a free ride,” Ms. Jacobson said. “I borrowed this money for my education, and I should pay it back. But to be 54, and to think: Oh, I’ll never buy a house. It’s like being in a Kafkaesque tunnel.”
“I’ve been told that good things are on the way,” she added, “but I can’t believe it until it happens.”
The outcome could have been different, however, if the error had occurred during a downturn, said Madeline Hume, a Morningstar analyst. She advised being familiar with your plan’s performance, so you can gauge if returns seem out of the ordinary, and paying attention when your plan notifies you of changes. “It’s important to keep aware of what communications are coming out,” she said.
The firm rates 529 plans on factors like fees, investment options and plan oversight, and most are rated gold, silver or bronze, indicating they offer a net benefit to investors. However, eight plans received “negative” ratings, mostly because of excessive fees.
Here are some questions and answers about 529 saving plans:
What college expenses can 529 funds be used for?
Savings in a 529 can be used to pay college costs including tuition, room and board, mandatory fees, books, supplies and required equipment.
Can I use 529 funds to pay student loans?
Yes. Under a law passed in 2019, up to $10,000 from a 529 account can be used to repay a beneficiary’s student loans. Another $10,000 each can be used to repay student loans borrowed by the beneficiary’s siblings.
Can grandparents save in a 529 account for a grandchild?
Yes — and an upcoming change to an important financial aid form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, should help to make that more attractive. Currently, contributions from grandparent-owned 529 plans are reported on the FAFSA as untaxed cash support to the student, which can reduce eligibility for financial aid, said the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. An updated FAFSA, however, will eliminate the question about cash support, he said, so distributions from grandparent-owned 529s will no longer be included on the form. The change is expected to take place with the FAFSA available in late 2022, for the 2023-24 academic year.
The change, however, does not affect a different student aid form, the CSS Profile, which is required by many higher-cost private colleges, Mr. Kantrowitz said.
Richard Cordray, a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren who served as the first director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama years, has been selected as the new head of federal student aid in the Biden administration, a post that will put him at the center of the swirling debate over forgiving student debt.
The issue is a tricky one for President Biden. Though he has endorsed canceling up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation, Mr. Biden has been pressured by some Democrats to forgive much more, and to sign an executive order making it happen if Congress fails to act.
But with his new position within the federal Education Department, the primary lender for higher education, Mr. Cordray might be able to relieve the president of that burden by canceling student debt administratively. Democratic leaders are pushing for up to $50,000 in debt relief.
Mr. Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general who worked alongside Ms. Warren on financial issues before her election to the Senate. He headed the consumer protection bureau from 2012 to 2017, leaving in the first year of the Trump administration to make a failed bid for governor of Ohio.
a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, has also been a vocal critic of for-profit colleges. “I hate how these hollowed-out businesses and subpar colleges are cheating consumers, employees and whole communities,” he wrote in a guest essay in The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper.
the agency sued Navient, one of the Education Department’s largest student loan servicers, for errors and omissions that Mr. Cordray said improperly added billions of dollars to borrowers’ tabs.
The lawsuit is ongoing, and six state attorneys general have filed similar cases. The lawsuits describe routine mistakes and lapses in oversight that over time added up to systematic failures, eerily similar to the mortgage servicing industry’s bungling of borrower accounts and property foreclosures during the 2008 recession.
extensive errors and obstacles in the department’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is intended to forgive the debts of teachers, military members, nonprofit workers and others in public-service careers.
The agency is also grappling with claims from hundreds of thousands of borrowers seeking relief through a program intended to eliminate the debts of people who were defrauded by schools that broke consumer protection laws.
First, consider student debt. Black Americans would gain disproportionately from student loan debt relief because they have larger average levels of higher education debt — $23,400 compared with $16,000 for white students. After accounting for the higher enrollment rate of white students, erasing student debt would result in an average Black gain in wealth of $8,424 and a white gain of $6,560. This translates into a reduction in the racial wealth gap of $1,864.
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It would reduce the median gap of $54,700 by 3 percent and the mean gap of $280,300 by less than 1 percent.
Now, look at baby bonds. Under proposals embraced by Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and others, the bonds would provide each newborn infant with a trust account calibrated by the parents’ wealth. The goal of this project is to ensure that all Americans have a basic level of wealth. It isn’t designed to achieve complete racial wealth equality.
Specifically, the focus is on bringing every child closer to the national median level of net worth during their young adult years, when they have access to their personal accounts. This would mean, in turn, that the typical Black child would have an additional $33,333 in net worth by early adulthood.
If no white youths received any benefit from the program — which I do not recommend — “baby bonds” would move the ratio of median wealth from 14 percent to 74 percent. This is a substantial change. Even so, using the mean, or average, standard, it would leave 75 percent of the racial wealth gap unchanged. And, of course, under actual proposals, white children would receive baby bonds, too, so the shift in the gap would be much smaller.
In short, the notion that either student debt forgiveness or “baby bonds,” taken separately or in combination, will erase the racial wealth gap would be sheer mystification. Both policies are desirable for a number of reasons, but making extravagant claims about their impact on Black-white differences in net worth is disingenuous.
Worse still, celebrating these worthwhile programs in misleading ways diverts us from actually eradicating America’s racial gulf in wealth. Using average household wealth as a metric, that gap comes to a total of about $11 trillion.
Braylon Dedmon was 3 days old when his mother, Talasheia, was offered $1,000 to open a college savings account in his name.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Ms. Dedmon recalled. Her skeptic’s antennae tingled. “I was a little scared.” Was this a scam?
It wasn’t. The offer was the beginning of a far-reaching research project begun in Oklahoma 14 years ago to study whether creating savings accounts for newborns would improve their graduation rates and their chances of going to college or trade school years later.
A few weeks after that initial conversation in 2007, the first statement arrived, showing $1,000 in Braylon’s name. “I was shocked,” said Ms. Dedmon, who now lives in Muskogee. “They started sending me statements every three months, and have been sending me them since then.”
Research about the Oklahoma project published this month by the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which created SEED OK, found that families that had been given accounts were more college-focused and contributed more of their own money than those that hadn’t been. And the effects are strongest among low-income families.
The approach breaks with most social policy programs created over the last half-century, which focus on income supplements. Child savings accounts, by contrast, concentrate on accumulating assets over the long term.
Michael Sherraden, the founder of the center at Washington University, said the idea was to give everyone a stake — an investment — in the future. Benefits of the program extend not just to bank accounts but also to behavior. Households with the seed money — especially poorer ones with parents who did not attend college — have greater expectations about higher education, are more optimistic, have lower rates of depression and save more.
College savings accounts known as 529 plans, which restrict withdrawals and grow tax-free, are used by only a tiny share of American households, mostly in the upper reaches of the income ladder.
Assets and the Poor,” has been pushing for savings accounts, also known as development accounts, that would automatically be opened for every child born in the United States. Canada, Israel, South Korea and Singapore have established versions of the idea.
“We need to create structures to enable people to accumulate assets over the long term,” Mr. Sherraden said. He argues that a universal program is necessary to sustain political support, but that it would nonetheless deliver disproportionate gains at the lower end of the economic spectrum.
“You will reduce the difference in the gap between the highest and lowest group over time,” he said.
In Maine, the private Harold Alfond Foundation started offering every child born in the state a $500 grant in 2009. Mr. Alfond, who founded the Dexter Shoe Company before selling it to Warren E. Buffett, had been writing a $500 check to each of his newborn grandchildren.
California has allocated $25 million for a similar program.
Rhode Island and Nevada are among the states that have established child development account programs. There are several other programs of varying scope and size across the United States, according to the nonprofit group Prosperity Now. Several programs include incentives and subsidies for lower-income families, which are disproportionately Black and Latino.
Automatic enrollment in a saving program, with the ability to opt out, turns out to have a much higher participation rate than relying on individuals to take the initiative. In the first years of the Maine program, when families had to open accounts themselves, participation never rose above 50 percent. In 2013, the Alfond Foundation switched to automatic enrollment, and since then, pretty much every newborn in the state has gotten an account.
William Elliott III, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan and a co-author of “Making Education Work for the Poor,” said knowledge about how to administer savings accounts and their impact had jumped over the last decade.
“It’s one of the best delivery systems” to help low-income children build assets and direct them toward college, Mr. Elliott said. He added that there was more rigorous data on the positive impact of child savings accounts than there was on student loans, government Pell grants and free college.
“A savings account for a low-income kid means a lot more to them than it does for a wealthy kid,” Mr. Elliott said, and establishing it early can transform expectations about the future.
Kandynace Boyd, who lives in Oklahoma City, hasn’t been able to contribute any additional money to her son Manuel’s account. She works part time in an acute care facility and is struggling to keep up with bills. But she said Manuel, 13, was already talking about going to culinary school.
“He’s got nearly $2,000 in it,” she said of the account. “I wish I could do it for my other two kids.”
The coronavirus pandemic has threatened to rapidly expand yawning gaps between the rich and the poor, throwing lower-earning service workers out of jobs, costing them income, and limiting their ability to build wealth. But by betting on big government spending to pull the economy back from the brink, United States policymakers could limit that fallout.
The $1.9 trillion economic aid package President Biden signed into law last month includes a wide range of programs with the potential to help poor and middle-class Americans to supplement lost income and save money going forward. That includes monthly payments to parents, relief for renters and help with student loans.
Now, the administration is rolling out additional plans that would go even further, including a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and about $1.5 trillion in spending and tax credits to support the labor force by investing in child care, paid leave, universal prekindergarten and free community college. The measures are explicitly meant to help left-behind workers and communities of color who have faced systemic racism and entrenched disadvantages — and they would be funded, in part, by taxes on the rich.
Forecasters predict that the government spending — even just what has been passed so far — will fuel what could be the fastest annual economic growth in a generation this year and next, as the country recovers and the economy reopens from the Covid-19 pandemic. By jump-starting the economy from the bottom and middle, the response could make sure the pandemic rebound is more equitable than it would be without a proactive government response, analysts said.
disproportionately hurt women of all races and men of color, she said, “If we tailor the relief to those who are most affected, we are going to be addressing racial and ethnic gaps.”
From its first days, the pandemic set the stage for a K-shaped economy, one in which the rich worked from home without much income disruption as poorer people struggled. Workers in low-paying service jobs were far more likely to lose jobs, and among racial groups, Black people have experienced a much slower labor market rebound than their white counterparts. Globally, the downturn probably put 50 million people who otherwise would have qualified as middle class into lower income levels, based on one recent Pew Research analysis.
But data suggest the U.S. policy response — including relief legislation that passed under the Trump administration last year — has helped to mitigate the pain.
“The CARES Act to the American Rescue plan have helped to support more households than I would have imagined,” Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told reporters during a call earlier this month, referring to the early 2020 and early 2021 pandemic relief packages.
across the board after slumping early last year, foreclosures have remained low, and household consumption has been shored up by repeated stimulus checks.
While the era has been fraught with uncertainty and people have slipped through the cracks, this downturn looks very different for poorer Americans than the post-financial crisis period. That recession ended in 2009, and America’s wealthiest households recovered precrisis wealth levels by 2012, while it took until 2017 for the poorest to do the same.
income inequality — the gap between how much the poor and the rich earn each year — might soon decline. Lower income inequality could, in theory, lead to lower wealth inequality over time, as households have the wherewithal save more evenly.
start of 2007, the bottom half of the wealth distribution held 2.1 percent of the nation’s riches, compared to 29.7 percent for the top 1 percent. By the start of 2020, the bottom half had 1.8 percent, while the top 1 percent held 31 percent.
Researchers debate whether monetary policy actually worsens wealth divides in the long run — especially since there’s the hairy question of what would have happened had the Fed not acted — but monetary policymakers generally agree that their policies can’t stop a pre-existing trend toward ever-worse wealth inequality.
By offering a more targeted boost from the very start of the recovery, fiscal policy can. Or, at a minimum, it can prevent wealth gaps from deepening so much.
Monetary policy “is naturally trickle-down,” said Joseph Stiglitz, an economist at Columbia and Nobel laureate. “Fiscal policy can work from the bottom and middle up.”
That’s what the Biden administration is gambling on. Paired with packages from December and last April, Congress’s recent package will bring the amount of economic relied that Congress has approved during the pandemic to more than $5 trillion. That dwarfs the amount spent in the last recovery.
The legislation is a mosaic of tax credits, stimulus checks and small business support that could leave families at the lower end of the income and savings distribution with more money in the bank and, if its provisions work as advertised, with a better chance of getting back to work early in the recovery.
There is no guarantee Mr. Biden’s broader economic proposals, totaling about $4 trillion, will clear a narrowly divided Congress. Republicans have balked at his plans and this week offered a counterproposal on infrastructure that is only a fraction the size of what Mr. Biden wants to spend. A bipartisan group of House moderates is pushing the president to finance infrastructure spending through an increased gas tax or something similar, which hits the poor harder than the rich.
Still, the president’s new proposals could have long-term impacts, working to retool workers’ skills and lift communities of color in hopes of putting the economy on more equal footing. The president is set to outline his so-called American Family Plan, which is focused on the work force, before his first address to a joint session of Congress next week.
While details have yet to be finalized, programs like universal prekindergarten, expanded subsidies for child care and a national paid leave program would be paid for partly by raising taxes on investors and rich Americans. That could also affect the wealth distribution, shuffling savings from the rich to the poor.
The plan, which must win support in a Congress where Democrats have just a narrow margin, would raise the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 37 percent, and raise taxes on capital gains — the proceeds of selling an asset, like a stock — for people making more than $1 million to 39.6 percent from 20 percent. Counting in an Obamacare-related tax, the taxes they pay on profits would rise above 43 percent.
The new policies won’t necessarily cut wealth inequality, which has been on an inexorable upward march for decades, but they could keep poorer households from falling behind by as much as they would have otherwise.
Betting big on fiscal policy to return the economy to strength is a gamble. If the economy overheats, as some prominent economists have warned it could, the Fed might have to rapidly lift interest rates to cool things down. Rapid adjustments have historically caused recessions, which consistently throw vulnerable groups out of jobs first.
But administration officials have repeatedly said the bigger risk is underdoing it, leaving millions on the labor market’s sidelines to struggle through another tepid recovery. And they say the spending provisions in both the rescue package and the infrastructure could help to fix longstanding divides along racial and gender lines.
“We think of investment in racial equity, and equity in general, as good policy, period, and integral to all the work we do,” Catherine Lhamon, a deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, said in an interview.
DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College, a three-campus community college in Maryland, said that use of the SwiftStudent tool was invisible to financial aid officials but that it helped students craft a clear, comprehensive appeal.
“It allows and empowers students to advocate for themselves,” Dr. Pollard said.
In a survey last fall, college financial aid counselors reported “notable” increases in requests for professional judgment reviews, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The group will conduct another survey next month to update its findings.
Here are some questions and answers about financial aid:
I’m confused by my aid letters. How can I make sure I am correctly comparing offers?
Colleges are encouraged to use standard formats for aid letters and avoid jargon, but not all do. Be careful to distinguish between “gift” aid, like grants and scholarships, which doesn’t have to be repaid, and loans, which do. Subtract the gift aid from the college’s cost of attendance — the total cost of tuition, housing, meals, books and supplies — to get a net price. Do this for each school before considering how much of the cost you can cover from savings and earnings, and how much you would have to borrow to cover any shortfall.
A nonprofit group that works to help students afford college with less debt, uAspire, created a free online cost calculator to help applicants make “apples to apples” comparisons of aid offers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers an online tool to compare offers, and the Institute for College Access & Success offers a tip sheet.
And remember: You aren’t obligated to borrow all, or any, of the loans that are included in your aid letter, said Jessica Thompson, associate vice president at the institute. On the other hand, some colleges may not include the maximum amount of federal student loans for which you are eligible. So if you think you may need to borrow more, call the financial aid office to discuss your situation, she said.
What documentation do I need when making a financial aid appeal?
Colleges vary in how they evaluate an appeal. But gather anything that shows reduced hours or wages, like letters from employers, pay stubs or unemployment records, as well as medical bills, to help make your case, Ms. Warick said.
Can I make an enrollment deposit at more than one college?
Colleges frown on this practice since you ultimately can’t attend more than one college, and making two deposits means another student — one on the wait list, or a late applicant — won’t be offered a spot, Mr. Hawkins said. It also works against less affluent applicants, who may be unable to afford more than one deposit. So members of the admission counseling association advise against it, he said.
A growing number of retirees and those approaching retirement are in debt.
The share of households headed by someone 55 or older with debt — from credit cards, mortgages, medical bills and student loans — increased to 68.4 percent in 2019, from 53.8 percent in 1992, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. A survey at the end of 2020 by Clever, an online real estate service, found that on average, retirees had doubled their nonmortgage debt in 2020 — to $19,200.
Susan B. Garland reports for The New York Times on what to do if you’re in this position:
Consult a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which will review a client’s expenses and income sources and create a custom action plan. The initial budgeting session is often free, said Bruce McClary, senior vice president for communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. An action plan could include cutting unnecessary spending, such as selling a rarely used car and banking some proceeds for taxi fare.
Tap into senior-oriented government benefits, such as property tax relief, utility assistance and Medicare premium subsidies. The National Council on Aging operates a clearinghouse website for them, BenefitsCheckUp.org. “The average individual 65-plus on a fixed income is leaving $7,000 annually on the table” in unused benefits, said Ramsey Alwin, the council’s president.
Avoid using high-interest credit cards to fill income gaps. Medical bills typically charge little or no interest but turn into high-interest costs if placed on credit cards, said Melinda Opperman, president of Credit.org. Instead, she said, patients should call hospitals or other providers directly to work out an arrangement.
Avoid taking out home-equity loans or lines of credit to pay off credit cards or medical bills, said Rose Perkins, quality assurance manager for CCCSMD, a credit counseling service. Though tapping home equity carries a lower interest rate than a credit card, a homeowner could put a home at risk if a job loss, the death of a spouse or illness made it difficult to pay off the lender, she said.
Good morning and happy Easter. Here are the top stories in business and tech to know for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (March 28-April 3)
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Employers added a whopping 916,000 jobs in March, more than doubling February’s employment growth. Many hires were in hospitality and construction, spurred on by the surging pace of vaccinations and a new round of federal aid. (The spring weather didn’t hurt, either.)In other good news, Wall Street hit a record high last week, with the S&P 500 index closing above 4,000 for the first time.
President Biden pitched his proposal for a giant infrastructure package, which he called “the largest American jobs investment since World War II.” It also has a large price tag, costing about $2 trillion over eight years. The plan aims to repair thousands of old bridges, roads and plumbing systems, improving commute times and drinking water. It also includes $100 billion to deliver broadband internet to rural areas that struggle with spotty Wi-Fi. And it will invest heavily in green initiatives like electric cars and more efficient energy grids. But the proposal faces a tricky path through Congress, as Republicans oppose the corporate tax increases that Mr. Biden says would pay for it.
will temporarily stop collecting payments on roughly six million loans that were made through the Federal Family Education Loan program and are now privately held. There’s a catch: Only borrowers who have defaulted will get a reprieve. The move will also temporarily prevent those in default from having their wages garnished or tax refunds seized by collectors, and will return any seized refunds or wages that had been taken since March 2020.
What’s Next? (April 4-10)
Blue Skies Ahead
The airline industry showed some promising signs of life last week. After a year of near-dormancy, domestic vacation bookings are bouncing back. United Airlines is hiring pilots again, starting with those who had conditional job offers before the pandemic or whose start dates were pushed off once travel restrictions set in. Delta Air Lines, the last major holdout in blocking middle seats to ensure space between passengers, will resume middle-seat bookings in May. And finally, the budget carrier Frontier Airlines went public, a sign that it’s anticipating a rebound.
Out of the Mud
After six days of digging and tugging, plus a boost from a full moon, the huge container ship that was lodged in the Suez Canal has been freed, and the waterway is open for business again. But the ripple effect of its blockage will be felt for weeks. The stuck boat prevented as much as $10 billion of cargo a day from moving through the canal, and cost the Egyptian government up to $90 million in lost toll revenue. Who will pay for the damage? A fleet of insurers, government authorities and lawyers are all sorting out who’s financially responsible (probably the stuck ship’s Japanese owner) and how much they’re on the hook for.
Supply, Meet Demand
As the global economy shudders back into gear, demand for fuel is rising. And there was some question of whether oil producers would increase their supply to meet it. If they chose not to, gas could be up to $4 a gallon by this summer — not exactly welcome news for anyone trying to drive to work. But OPEC and its allies put those fears to rest last week when they agreed to gradually increase production over the next three months, which should keep prices steady.
speaking out against the state’s new law that restricts voting access. New York prosecutors have subpoenaed the personal bank records of the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, as part of their investigation into the business practices of former President Donald J. Trump and his family company. And a group of doctors has sued the insurance giant UnitedHealthcare and accused it of stifling competition and hurting their business.