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One teacher was saddled with big student loan debts. Here's how loan forgiveness impacted her.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new student loan forgiveness plan that could offer debt cancellation for people who hit 10 years of payments, a full decade sooner than what some borrowers faced in the past.
Mark Schiefelbein
/
Associated Press
President Joe Biden recently announced a new student loan forgiveness plan that could offer debt cancellation for people who hit 10 years of payments, a full decade sooner than what some borrowers faced in the past.

Tillie Torres is a high school English teacher in Las Vegas who had a big student loan debt. Decades later, after her three grown kids also became teachers, she was still making payments on her loan.

She made reduced payments based on her teacher income, but “compound interest” meant her balance continued to rise.

“What started off as a $42,000 loan when I was 22, suddenly when I was 35, it was a $65,000 loan,” Torres explained.

Her loan grew to over $80,000. At the Title 1 school where she teachers college-level English, she tells her students to be careful about their loans, letting them know what “compound interest” means to their bottom line.

One of Torres' children also became a teacher. That child was able to graduate, get her career going and pay off her student loan. For Torres, it was a bitter-sweet moment, seeing her daughter succeed not only in her field but avoiding a life-long debt. All the while, she was still paying her loan.

This year, after decades of payments, Torres was notified her loan was “mishandled” and the remaining balance would be forgiven. She said it was a surreal moment and she felt this “huge weight” lifted off her shoulders.

Under Biden’s plan, people who've been making payments on their undergrad loan for at least 20 years could qualify for loan forgiveness. There are other changes as well, like a new repayment formula which bases the payment on income rather than the loan amount.

But Torres also said processing student loans has literally become its own cottage industry where these third parties are making significant profits on the backs of hard working people trying to move forward with their careers. She also said that we as a nation need to change our priorities.

“We as a society are so bent on the idea that we must save corporations," Torres said. "But we are not bent on the idea that we need to help our citizens get an education.”

Nearly 20 Republican-led states have already joined lawsuits to block Biden’s plan. They say the plan unfairly transfers loan costs to taxpayers and that these are loans, not grants.

Tens of thousands in the Mountain West could have their loans forgiven under this plan. Here is a state-by-state estimate:

  • Colorado: 43,200 borrowers could have their loans forgiven
  • Idaho: 14,390 borrowers could have their loans forgiven
  • Nevada: 19,670 borrowers could have their loans forgiven
  • New Mexico: 15,390 borrowers could have their loans forgiven
  • Utah: 12,790 borrowers could have their loans forgiven
  • Wyoming: 3,580 borrowers could have their loans forgiven

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) in Las Vegas, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Yvette Fernandez is the regional reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau. She joined Nevada Public Radio in September 2021.