Gardner, Warner, Heller, Kaine Introduce Bill to Empower Student Borrowers

Legislation would help college students and their families make smart decisions about financing their educations with enhanced student loan counseling for all recipients of federal financial aid

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Mark R.  Warner (D-VA), Dean Heller (R-NV), and Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced bipartisan legislation to help students make smart decisions in the financing of their higher education. The Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act would promote financial literacy by providing students who are recipients of federal financial aid with comprehensive counseling services. Nationwide, Americans owe more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, outstripping credit cards and auto loans as the country’s leading source of non-housing debt. A companion bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives and carries strong bipartisan support. 

“Student debt continues to negatively impact Coloradans and Americans across the country, and that’s why it’s important that students receiving federal financial aid have access to resources, including financial counseling, that will better inform their financial decisions prior to undertaking massive student loan debt,” said Sen. Gardner. “A high quality education provides students with the tools they need to succeed, and financial literacy is an essential component to achieving that success. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance this bipartisan proposal that provides institutions of higher education with the resources they need to expand educational opportunities.”

“In January, Senator Kaine and I met with student leaders from 20 colleges and universities across Virginia, who shared the challenges they have faced paying for college and the negative effects of crippling student loan debt.  Several of the students had powerful personal stories about their struggles to find the money for college, and how they wished they had had better information about their options when they were taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to finance their education,” said Sen. Warner. “And these kinds of stories are common across the Commonwealth. Today, a college student in Virginia can expect to graduate with more than $26,000 in debt. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I know that if I had graduated with that level of debt, I would not have had opportunities to try – and to fail – with several of my early business ventures. By neglecting to give students meaningful financial counseling when they take out loans to pay for college, we’re limiting their options and stifling our country’s economic future. I’m proud to be leading this bipartisan effort in the Senate to empower students with the information they need to make informed decisions about their futures.”  

“Recently, student loan debt rose to a record high of $1.35 trillion nationwide.  Now more than ever, it is critical to ensure that students are making smart decisions about financing their higher education.  Navigating the student loan process can be complicated and confusing, and students deserve to have the tools they need to manage their loans in a responsible way.  I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside Senator Warner to provide students with essential information to make well-informed, sound financial decisions for their college education and future,” said Sen. Heller.

“College affordability is an issue our country is grappling with at the national level, state level and especially at the family level,” Sen. Kaine said. “This bill will help families make smart decisions when they take out loans by providing comprehensive financial guidance. We need to implement these strategies for students in high school so they are well-informed early, can afford to get a higher education and have a successful start to their career without being weighed down by student loan debt.”

To help students make smart decisions about financing their higher education, the Empowering Students Through Enhanced Financial Counseling Act will promote financial literacy through enhanced counseling for all recipients of federal financial aid. Specifically, the bill:

  • Ensures borrowers, both students and parents, who participate in the federal loan program receive interactive counseling each year that reflects their individual borrowing situation.
  • Directs the Secretary of Education to maintain and disseminate a consumer-tested, online counseling tool that institutions can use to provide annual loan counseling, exit counseling, and annual Pell Grant counseling.
  • Provides awareness about the financial obligations students and parents are accumulating by requiring borrowers to consent each year before receiving federal student loans.
  • Informs low-income students about the terms and conditions of the Pell Grant program through annual counseling that will be provided to all grant recipients.

A copy of the legislative text is available here. A one-page summary and answers to frequently asked questions are available here.