A 'Loan Lottery'

A New Jersey lawmaker is proposing a lottery that would clear student loan debt of the winners. But critics say the lottery isn't a viable solution for those hoping to pay off their debt in a reasonable amount of time.

July 7, 2015
 

In New Jersey, some may be able to pay off thousands of dollars in student loans with one $3 payment -- if they’re lucky.

A New Jersey state representative proposed legislation Monday morning that would establish a lottery, but only for those with college debt. The winner wouldn’t receive the funds directly; they would go directly to the institution where the money is owed.

John Burzichelli, a Democrat assemblyman who represents New Jersey’s third legislative district, said he decided to present the bill after being approached by representatives of a business who wanted to establish the lottery in the state and in other parts of the country.

He said with the large amount of student debt graduates face, the lottery could be an important and easy solution for those who draw a winning ticket. In 2013, 70 percent of graduating seniors who graduated from institutions in the state had some sort of debt, and their average debt was roughly $28,000, according to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success.

Burzichelli added that he wasn’t concerned about an individual relying too heavily on the lottery as a solution to his or her debt payments because other options, like the Powerball lottery, already exist in the state.

“It becomes a choice and it’s a chance,” Burzichelli said. “I hope that any kind of person in a lottery or a casino game does so within the limits of what they can afford.”

The lottery would be run by an outside vendor, which would also receive about 25 percent of the pot.

Burzichelli said because the lottery is still in its conceptual stages, he did not know how often it would take place, but said it would have to be spaced out so enough revenue from the ticket sales could be collected to cover at least one individual’s debt. If there were enough funds left in the pot to cover the costs for a second or even third person, more winning tickets would be drawn.

But before a ticket could even be purchased, the individual would have to register online with information about the amount of debt they had to make sure that, in case he or she were to win, the correct amount would be doled out to cover solely the amount of debt.

Not everyone likes the idea.

Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit organization addressing higher education finances, said the lottery “sends the wrong message of gambling” to those who might benefit from the lottery.

She said legislators are better off working on long-term solutions that will benefit more individuals rather than a lucky few.

“There’s ways of making sure that they’re cracking down on state disinvestment, not cutting higher education in their state like many governors are doing. There’s a slew of other solutions to student loan debt,” Abrams said. “I don’t think the lottery is the right one.”

Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, the organization that collected the data on student debt cited in the legislation, said the lottery was “a bad idea.”

“The only winner would be the company running the lottery who gets 25 cents on every dollar,” she said.

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