Retirees in Default on Student Loans

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As your editorial rightly laments, senior citizens are increasingly finding themselves in default on student loans. These defaults can lead to the garnishment of Social Security benefits, pushing many elderly toward poverty.

The garnishment of Social Security benefits is particularly unfair to today’s retirees because until the mid-1990s Social Security benefits were fully exempt from such levies. So, for much of their working lives, many seniors could not reasonably have anticipated that their Social Security retirement benefits would become susceptible to garnishment.

You are, however, wrong to suggest that a remedy for this injustice must await legislative action. Under current law, the secretary of education has authority to reduce garnishments that “would result in financial hardship to the debtor,” while the Social Security administrator and the Treasury secretary are together authorized to exempt garnishments that “would tend to interfere substantially” with the purposes of the Social Security program. Either of these administrative powers could provide prompt relief to vulnerable senior citizens.

Here, at least, there is an opportunity for President Trump to honor his campaign pledges to protect Social Security and address student debt, while at the same time finding common cause with the editorial board of The New York Times. Such syzygies should not pass by unexploited.

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