A little-known student loan program for staffers could knock up to $60,000 off your debt.
Want to get rid of your student loans? Ask Congress for help.
Not by, like, actually passing a law. Sen. Liz Warren’s student loan bill was again blocked by Republicans again this week. Sen. Angus King has introduced an alternate bill meant to simplify repayment options, although it’s not clear it would save borrowers any money.
What you should do is become a Congressional staffer, then get your student loans paid for you. Congress’ student loan program will pay up to $40,000 toward student loans for a Senate staffer, and up to $60,000 for a House staffer — on top of whatever your regular pay is.
We learned about it this week when USA Today acquired and published what it calls the Senate’s “secret book of rules,” basically an employee handbook. “The document has never been available to the public — until now,” USA Today wrote.
It contains more than 300 pages of mostly boring information — they removed the section on security protocol for obvious reasons — ranging from how office space is assigned to how stationery is apportioned. (1.33 sheets of paper per constituent!) But here’s the part that caught the eyes of Debt.com…
The program has been around since 2002, and this isn’t exactly the first time it’s been discussed publicly. But it was the first we’d heard of it, because those discussions are rare — we found it mentioned in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, USA Today wrote about it last year, and a Tampa Fox affiliate covered it in February. (They noted the program cost about $20 million last year.)
Since we consider student loan debt the election issue of the year, it’s definitely worth drawing attention to.
How the program works
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way — Congress members (and their families) are exempt from the program. Not that they don’t make enough money to pay their student loans already.
The rules are laid out here, but we can sum up…
1. Members of Congress choose whether or not their office will participate in the program. Not all do, and some think the program should be shut down.
2. The agreements to pay are made annually between the office and the staffer, and renewable. The maximum monthly payment is $500.
3. The lifetime limit is $40,000 in the Senate and $60,000 in the House. Not sure why the House gets more, but they added their program after the Senate did.
4. If an employee quits or is fired during the agreement period, they have to repay Congress.
The rationale for the program is that good help is hard to find — and keep. Just like any employer benefit, it’s supposed to be a recruiting tactic.
In a survey last year, nearly half of Congressional staffers said they planned to ditch within a year because their base pay isn’t great. The median pay for the most common staff position is $30,000 a year. That’s according to TIME. The site also reported on which members of Congress pay their staff the most, and which are cheapskates.
So if you’re going to try this strategy for your student loans, avoid Rep. David Jolly of Florida, who pays his staffers an average of $17,303. Instead, cozy up to Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who pays an average of $80,933.