Molly Webster is a science reporter for the popular Radiolab show, but her op-ed in the New York Times is on a different topic entirely: student debt. "I have a secret shame," she begins. "I am 38 years old and I carry enormous federal student loan debt, 14 years after finishing grad school." In making the case that she and millions of others in the same boat deserve federal relief, Webster details her specifics. The former high school valedictorian graduated in 2007 with a master's in science journalism and a bachelor's in biology, along with $78,000 in loans. Fourteen years later, she has paid $60,000 toward the debt but owes more than when she began—north of $100,000. Blame interest payments, now about $730 a month, and cycles of loan forbearance that seemed like a reprieve at the time but ended up being a "trap" that made things worse.
In March of last year, Congress passed the COVID-related CARES Act, which waived student loan interest. Webster was thrilled, calculating that she could have her balance under control in relatively short order if those enormous interest payments went away. But then she learned that she and 6 million others don't qualify for CARES because they have what she calls "Goldilocks loans—not quite federal, not quite private, not quite right." (She details the reasons why, which involve changes made to the federal loan program more than a decade ago.) The upshot is that debtors like herself "exist in a sort of limbo," holding debts listed as federal but held privately and thus ineligible for CARES. Webster urges the Biden administration to make things right. "Until then, we Goldilocksers are caught in a loophole, with no help in sight." Read the full column. (Read more student debt stories.)