Showing posts with label Government Accountability Office. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Government Accountability Office. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Loan-Forgiveness and Income-Driven Repayment Plans Are Costing Taxpayers a Bundle of Money

The Department of Education's Office of Inspector General (OIG)issued another one of those mealy-mouth reports we've come to expect from the Department. In essence, the OIG told us something we already knew: DOE's income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) and debt forgiveness plans are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

For several years now, the higher education community has touted income-driven repayment plans as the panacea for the rising  cost of going to college.  Back during the 2016 presidential campaign, Catharine Hill, president of Vassar College, wrote an op ed essay for the New York Times attacking Senator Bernie Sander's proposal to allow people to go to college for free.  Free college is not the answer, Hill argued. Rather we need to expand income-driven repayment programs.

Indeed, DOE has expanded income-driven repayment options. President Obama's administration rolled out the PAYE and REPAYE, programs that allow student borrowers to pay 10 percent of their adjusted income for 20 years in lieu of the standard 10-year repayment plan. Borrowers who make regular payments for 20 years will have their loan balances forgiven.

As outlined by OIG, the Department of Education offers six income-driven repayment plans and two loan forgiveness plans. Of course, all the student loans under these plans accrue interest. Even an idiot knows that borrowers who makes loan payments that aren't large enough to pay accruing interest will never pay off their loans.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that DOE's flexible spending plans and loan forgiveness plans are costing the taxpayers billions of dollars because the government is loaning people more money than they will ever repay.

As the OIG reported, DOE's loan balance for income-driven repayment plans increased from $7.1 billion to $51.5 billion between 2011 and 2015. That's an increase of 625 percent in just four years.

Meanwhile, government subsidies for income-driven repayment plans ballooned from $1.4 billion to $11.5 billion over the same four years--an increase of more than 800 percent.

Why did our government create these insane flexible repayment plans?  I can think of one primary reason.

IDRs allow DOE to maintain the fiction that the vast majority of college borrowers are paying back their loans. For most of the people in these plans, an IDR is the only alternative to default. In fact, DOE has encouraged college-loan defaulters and people in danger of default to sign up for IDRs.

But most people in income-driven repayment plans are not paying off their loans because their payments aren't large enough to cover accrued interest. Thus, while IDR participants are not officially in default, they are only making token payments on loans they will never pay off.

What is the OIG's advice to DOE about how to handle the enormous cost of its income-driven repayment plans and its loan forgiveness programs? Here is OIG's gobbledygook recommendation:
We recommend that the Department enhance its communications regarding cost information related to the Federal student loan program's IDR plans and loan forgiveness plans to make it more informative to decision makers and the public.
That's right: All OIG can think of to recommend is more transparency!

As the Wall Street Journal reported about 20 months ago, 43 percent of college borrowers--approximately 9.6 million people--weren't making loan payments as of January 1, 2016. Some of these borrowers were in default, some had delinquent loans and some had loans in forbearance or deferment.

And thanks to DOE's income-driven repayment plans, an additional six million people are making payments too small to pay off their loans.

It is time for DOE to be more than transparent. It needs to admit that about half the people who took out student loans will never pay them back. Thus, of the $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans, more than half of it will never be collected.



References

Paul Fain. Costs Mount for Federal Loan Programs. Inside Higher Ed, February 5, 2018.

Catharine Hill. Free Tuition Is Not the AnswerNew York Times, November 30, 2015, p. A23.

Josh Mitchell. More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren't Making Payments. Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2016.

U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General (2018, January 31). The Department's Communication Regarding the Costs of Income-Driven Repayment Plans and Loan Forgiveness Programs. ED-OIG/A09Q0003. Washington DC: Author

U.S. Government Accountability Office (2016 December). Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington DC: Author.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Scary Report From the Federal Reserve Bank: More Than Half of a Recent Cohort of Student-Loan Borrowers Did Not Reduce Their Debt by One Penny Over Five Years

Steve Rhode commented recently on a Federal Reserve Bank report published last July. As Mr. Rhode pointed out, the Feds reported that home ownership among young people declined by 8 percent over an 8-year period (2007 to 2015);  and the Feds concluded that a substantial reason for this decline is rising levels of student-loan debt.

The Fed report also observed that more young Americans are living with their parents than in previous years. In 2004, about one third of 23-25-year-olds lived with their parents. In 2015, 45 percent of people in this age bracket were living with mom and dad--a big increase.

These are alarming statistics, but the Fed's report also included information that is even scarier. More than half of student-loan borrowers in the 2009 cohort of borrowers had not paid down their student loans by even one penny five years after beginning repayment.

According to the Fed report, 59 percent of the 2009 cohort who owed $5,000 or less had not reduced their debt by even a dollar by 2014.  Well over half of people with very modest levels of student debt were delinquent on their loans, in default, or had failed to reduce their original loan balance by even a fractional amount.

Among people who owed between $50,000 and $100,000, 57 percent had not cut their student-loan debt by even a penny over five years. Among people owing $100,000 or more, 54 percent had made no progress on their loans during that time period.

The Fed report was commenting on a single cohort: people who took out student loans in 2009. But the repayment rates for more recent cohorts must be at least as bad. The Department of Education has been encouraging distressed borrowers to enter 20- and 25-year repayment plans, which lowers monthly payments. But in almost every case, the lower payments are not large enough to cover accruing interest, so most of the 6 million people in long-term, income-drive repayment plans are seeing their loan balances grow larger with each passing month.

And here's another scary tidbit of information. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2016 that half the people in income-driven repayment plans have been kicked out because they aren't abiding by the plans' eligibility rules.

In short, a perfect storm is brewing on the nation's economic horizon. Student loans are forcing more and more young people to postpone buying a house and to live with their parents.  Millions of people are making no progress at all toward paying off their student loans.

We can quantify some of the harm caused by the student-loan crisis, but other harms are difficult to measure. How many people have given up trying to get ahead because their student-debt grows larger with each passing month? How many have become cynical, despondent, or angry? How many of those masked antifa anarchists have student loans?

Steve Rhode put his finger on the only solution to the student-loan catastrophe. "Unless we tackle the growing problem of excessive student loan debt and allow those with unmanageable student loan debt to a fresh start in bankruptcy,"Mr. Rhode wrote, "the economic future of the days ahead is going to be less than it could have been."

Exactly. The only path out of this economic quagmire is through the federal bankruptcy courts.

The student-loan crisis is brewing into a perfect storm.

References


Zachary Bleemer, et al. Echoes of Rising Tuition in Students' Borrowing, Educational Attainment, and Homeownership in Post-Recession America. Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Report No. 820, July 2017.

Steve Rhode. Student Loan Debt Hurts Economy, Consumers, and Retirement Savings. Personal Finance Syndication Network, September 207.

US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

James Runcie, Chief Administrator of DOE's Federal Student Aid Program, resigns rather than testify before Congress. Will he take his bonuses with him?

James Runcie, Chief Operating Officer for the Department of Education's Student Aid Office, resigned a few days ago rather than testify before the House Oversight Committee. Good riddance!

Runcie, who has an MBA from Harvard, was appointed to the COO's position by the Obama administration in 2011. In December 2015, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan secretly reappointed Runcie to the position just before  Duncan stepped down as Education Secretary. In fact, Runcie's reappointment was one of Duncan's last official acts.

The Runcie-supervised student aid program has come under severe criticism over the last several years.   Recently, the press reported that the program misspent a total of $6 billion in federal money in the Pell Grant program and the Direct Student Loan program. A Huffington Post article, published about a year ago, noted that "government investigators from other agencies routinely slammed Runcie's division for failing to aid distressed borrowers and protect students, or they unearthed evidence of mistreatment that Runcie's deputies missed."

In fact, reports from multiple sources make clear that the Federal Student Aid office is a mess. The Government Accountability Office reported in December that DOE had underestimated the cost of its income-driven repayment programs. GAO concluded that the true cost was about double what DOE estimated.

And in Price v. U.S. Department of Education, decided recently by a Texas federal court, we got a glimpse of how poorly DOE responds to student complaints. Phyllis Price, filed an administrative complaint seeking to have her student loans discharged because the University of Phoenix, the school she attended, had falsely certified that she had a high school diploma.  DOE took six years to resolve Price's claim, and then it got it wrong. Price had to sue the Department to obtain the relief to which she was clearly entitled under federal law.

But sloppy administration did not prevent James Runcie and his close cronies from getting big salaries and handsome performance bonuses. As the Huffington Post reported, the typical Federal Student Aid employee makes more than $100,000, about a third more than typical federal employees are paid.

Runcie himself got a lot of bonus money. Just a few days ago, U.S. Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), accused Jordan of receiving $433,000 in performance bonuses while working for DOE!

Just think how big his bonuses would have been had he performed his job competently?

I hope the House Oversight Committee orders Runcie to appear under subpoena and explain what the hell he was doing while he was in charge of the Federal Student Aid program.

It is probably impossible to get Runcie's bonus money back, but surely Congress can stop the Department of Education's practice of giving cash bonuses to people overseeing the federal student loan program--a program that has brought so much misery to millions of Americans.

Will Mr. Runcie return his bonus money?

References

Sabrina Eaton. Rep. Jim Jordan blasts student loan official's $433,000 in bonuses despite failing grades. Cleveland.com, May 25, 2017.

Andrew Kreigbaum. GAO Report finds costs of loan programs outpace estimates and department methodology flawedInside Higher Ed, December 1, 2016.

Christopher Maynard. Education Department blasted over $6 billion in improper student aid payments. consumeraffairs.com, May 26, 2017.

Price v. U.S. Dep't of Education, 209 Fed. Supp. 3d 925 (S.D. Tex. 2016).

Shahien Nasiripour. Education Department Secretly Reappoints Top Official Accused of Harming Students. Huffington Post, May 7, 2016.

Top Federal Student-Aid Official Resigns Over Congressional Testimony. Chronicle of Higher Education, May 24, 2017.

US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.






Friday, December 2, 2016

Department of Education miscalculates cost of income-driven student-loan repayment plans: More accounting fraud

The Obama administration touts long-term, income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) as a good solution for overburdened college borrowers who are struggling to pay back their student loans.  About 5.3 million borrowers are in IDRs now, and the Department of Education (DOE) hopes to enroll 2 million more borrowers in these plans over the next year.

IDRs allow borrowers to make student-loan payments based on their income, not the amount they borrowed, and to stretch the loan repayment period out from 10 years to 20 or even 25 years.

IDRs lower borrowers' monthly payments, which is a good thing. And, if IDR borrowers faithfully make their monthly loan payments for the entire repayment term (20 or 25 years), any remaining unpaid debt is forgiven.

And therein lies the big problem with IDRs. Many IDR borrowers are making payments so low that their payments do not cover accruing interest. Thus a substantial percentage of people in IDRs are seeing their loan balances grow over time--not shrink, even when they are making all their monthly payments on time. Many people in IDRs will never pay off the principal of their debt, which means that their student-loan debt will ultimately be forgiven with the forgiven amount being absorbed by taxpayers.

DOE regularly calculates the cost of IDRs to taxpayers,  but according to a report issued last month by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, DOE has seriously miscalculated those costs. GAO estimates that  $352 billion in federal student loans is being paid through IDRs for the 1995 through 2017 cohorts.  Of that amount, $137 billion--39 percent--will not be repaid (GAO report, p. 51). This is nearly double DOE's estimate of 21 percent.

GAO concluded that DOE has miscalculated the costs of IDR for several reasons:
  • DOE did not differentiate among different IDR programs when calculating costs, in spite of the fact that some IDRs are more generous toward borrowers than others.
  • DOE originally assumed that no one in GRAD PLUS programs would participate in IDRs, even though GRAD PLUS borrowers are eligible to participate. In fact, a lot of unemployed or underemployed people with graduate degrees are opting for long-term, income based repayment plans as the only way to manage their enormous debt.
  • DOE assumed that all IDR participants would recertify their income annually, which is a requirement for continued IDR participation.  In reality, more than half of IDR participants are not recertifying their income on an annual basis, causing those individuals to be ejected from their income-drive repayment plans.
  • DOE's cost analyses assumed that people in standard repayment plans would not switch to IDRs (GAO report, p. 37), but the Obama administration is actively encouraging borrowers to switch to IDRs. Currently, 40 percent of all federal student-loan dollars are now being  repaid through some sort of IDR (GAO report, p. 8).
The GAO also observed that DOE has made repayment projections based on the assumption that monthly payments would increase as borrowers' incomes go up over the years. But, as GAO pointed out, it is "challenging" to predict how much IDR borrowers' income will change over time and how much of their original loan balances will ultimately be forgiven and charged to taxpayers.

Jason Deslisle, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said this about the GAO report: "Really what the GAO is saying is that the Obama administration's expansion of this [IDR] program has been done without good information about the effects."  And Alexander Holt, a policy analyst at New America, said the report shows "insane incompetence" on the part of DOE. 

But in essence, DOE is engaged in accounting fraud. We really don't know what it costs taxpayers to herd millions of student borrowers into IDRs, and DOE doesn't want us to know.

And you know what? DOE doesn't care what it costs. All it is doing is maintaining the charade that the federal student loan program is under control when in fact millions of Americans have student-loan debt they will never pay back.

References

Andrew Kreigbaum. GAO Report finds costs of loan programs outpace estimates and department methodology flawed. Inside Higher Ed, December 1, 2016.

US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.