Economy & Work

Five Countries That Know How to Handle Student Debt

It doesn't have to be this way.

Five Countries That Know How to Handle Student Debt

Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard in 2012. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

This post originally appeared at The Nation.

Student debt isn’t unique to the United States. Many countries offer student loans to offset the cost of college and living expenses and many non-Americans have difficulty repaying them. However, in most of these countries, the outstanding debt is a pittance compared to the $1.3 trillion owed by American student borrowers, even when measured per capita. Take a look at this snapshot of five countries that saddle their young people with far less student debt than the United States.

CANADA: Did you know Canadian students are relieved of their student loans after 15 years? That’s five to 10 years shorter than most US repayment programs. Under the National Student Loan Repayment Assistance program the government actually pays the difference after a decade and a half. Canada also offers debt reduction plans that can reduce loan balance amounts by as much as $26,000.

SWEDEN: Did you know college tuition is free in Sweden? Yes, they still have student debt. That’s because of the very high cost of living for Swedish students. However, the average debt burden is $19,000 — more than 45 percent less than the average American student. Moreover, nearly a million Swedish students receive help from the government annually (to the tune of $3.5 billion) to subsidize living expenses. Meaning, while you’re working overtime to cover rent and go to school, your Swedish peer has plenty of free time for studying.

GERMANY: Did you know college is also free in Germany? Well… mostly free. They do have a “semester fee,” which is around $250. Yes, only $250, and it often covers books and transportation! Don’t be jealous. Germany is trying to attract foreign students due to a shortage of college-educated employees. That means you can move to Germany, go to college for free and find a well-paying job… Where do we sign up?

FRANCE: Did you know French students only pay between 200 to 2,000 euros per year for college tuition? Even with the exchange rate, that’s a far cry from US tuition rates, which range from $9,000 to $34,000 a year! That means less than 2 percent of French students have to take out loans to go to college. On top of that, one-third of French men and nearly half of French women achieve a higher level of education than their parents. The best part is that they can do it with no student debt.

AUSTRALIA: Did you know tuition in Australia is based on the potential earnings for the corresponding degree or area of study? It gets better. Australian students only have to repay their loans after they start earning a sizable income (over $39,000). After that, borrowers pay a mere 4 percent of their yearly income. Payments for student loans are automatically collected through income taxes, making it easier to avoid loan default. Sounds like a smart system to us!

Natalia Abrams

Natalia Abrams is an education advocate working toward solutions that provide affordable, accessible and quality education for all students seeking a college degree. In 2012, she formed in response to the economic injustices facing students including high tuition increases and lack of financial aid. While serving as SDC’s Executive Director, Abrams has written for The Huffington Post and The Nation. Follow her on Twitter: @nataliaabrams.

Cody Hounanian

Cody Hounanian is a higher education advocate and the digital director of Student Debt Crisis. Through maintaining the organization’s social media presence and email correspondences, he has developed a unique understanding and compassionate perspective toward struggling student loan borrowers. Follow him on Twitter: @chounanian.