The amount is largely due to student debt forgiveness programs that were expanded upon during the Obama administration. Under these programs, a percentage of the borrowers’ monthly paychecks go toward repayment of student debt. At the end of 25 years, any remaining debt is forgiven. There are currently 5.3 million people enrolled in one of these repayment plans, with about $353 billion in outstanding student loans. The GAO estimates that about $215 billion of that debt will be paid in full.
Enrollment in these repayment plans has been increasing, but the government failed to take the increased enrollment into account when budgeting the program. Current budget estimates are more than double what was originally thought for loans made from 2009 through 2016, at $53 billion rather than $25 billion.
“Some uncertainty is unavoidable when anticipating long-term loan costs,” the GAO wrote in its report. However, it continued, “we found numerous shortcomings in Education’s estimation approach and quality control practices that call into question the reliability of its budget estimates and affect the quality of information Congress has to make informed budget decisions.” It continued that weaknesses in the department’s approach “may cause costs to be over- or under-stated by billions of dollars.”
Amy McIntosh, a deputy assistant secretary in the Education Department, stated that the agency is “constantly seeking to enhance and refine our cost estimation models.” However, she defended the department’s estimates,