Showing posts with label student loan default. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loan default. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Department of Education is slow to forgive loans of student borrowers defrauded by Corinthian Colleges: State Attorneys General urge DOE to move more quickly

Yesterday, nineteen state attorneys general and the Director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection delivered a letter to Betsy DeVos, U.S. Education Secretary, urging the Department of Education to quickly process fraud claims brought by former students of Corinthian Colleges.

The state AGs asked DeVos to approve "swift automatic group discharge" to students in Corinthian cohorts where fraud has been found. Alternatively, the AGs asked DeVos to process individual fraud claims faster.

Corinthian Colleges closed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015, leaving behind more than 350,000 former students who took out loans to pay Corinthian's tuition. Many of these student borrowers were induced to attend Corinthian through fraud, and the nineteen AGs claim there are defrauded Corinthian students in all 50 states.

So far, DOE has discharged 27,000 borrowers from their federal loan debt, but that number is a small fraction of the former students who are entitled to debt relief. Thousands have filed "borrower defense" claims, asking DOE for loan forgiveness, but DOE is not processing these claims quickly. Meanwhile, many Corinthians students are still paying on their loans or defaulted and are subject to having their wages garnished and their credit ruined.

According to the state AGs, DOE notified 23,000 Corinthian student borrowers in January that their loan forgiveness applications had been approved and that "forgiveness should be completed within the next 60-120 days." It's been nearly 180 days since that announcement, and these loans have still not been discharged.

What's going on?

I think the Department of Education is simply overwhelmed by the meltdown of the student loan program. Almost half the people in a recent cohort of students who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within five years. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, half the students who attended more than 1,000 colleges and schools have not paid down one dime of their student loans seven years after their repayment obligations began.

In addition, the first beneficiaries of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will be eligible for debt relief before the end of this year, and DOE has no idea how many people are eligible to have their loans discharged under that program.

Personally, I think Secretary DeVos should adopt the AGs' suggestion and grant swift automatic group discharges to all Corinthian students who were in DOE's "Designated Fraud Cohorts." Or better yet, I think DOE should forgive the loans of all 350,000 former students.

Admittedly, there are probably some people who completed a Corinthian program and actually got a good job, but I'll bet there aren't many. Undoubtedly, the default rate for Corinthian students is extraordinarily high largely due to the fact that Corinthian's students did not get well-paying jobs at the conclusion of their studies.

I recognize there are risks associated with a mass loan forgiveness program. If all 300,000 of Corinthian's former students are granted a discharge, then ITT Tech's former students will ask for blanket loan forgiveness. ITT Tech also closed and filed for bankruptcy, and it has 200,000 former students.

It is shocking to contemplate, but millions of Americans will never pay back their student loans. In addition to the for-profit college students, there are the law graduates who accumulated mountains of debt and can't find law jobs. And then there are the poor saps who got liberal arts degrees from expensive liberal arts colleges; many of them will never pay back their loans.

The 19 state AGs are right to urge Secretary DeVos to grant automatic group discharges for thousands of former Corinthian students. But Corinthian Colleges is the tip of the iceberg. Millions of student borrowers will never pay back their loans, and the ultimate loss to taxpayers will be in the billions.



References

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than Believed. Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Tamar Lewin. Government to Forgive Student Loans at CorinthianNew York Times, June 9, 2015, p. A11.

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis, A crisis in student loans? How changes in the characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising default ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015).


Andrew Kreighbaum. State AGs Want Action on Student Loan Discharge. Inside Higher Ed, June 6, 2017.

Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General. Letter to Betsy DeVos, US. Secretary of Education, June 5, 2017.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Student Loan Debt Collector accused of violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; Brandon v. Eaton Group Attorneys

Unscrupulous debt collection practices: Economic exploitation of struggling student-loan debtors

Susan Browmmiller, in her classic book on rape, observed that rape victims are often assaulted twice. First, they are physically raped by their attacker; and then they are psychologically raped by the justice system when they testify against the rapist in a brutal and humiliating criminal trial.

Something similar can be said about student-loan debtors. Millions of unsophisticated young people have been enticed to take out student loans to enroll in academic programs that don't lead to good jobs. That's rape number 1.

Then when these duped individuals are unable to pay back their student loans, they fall into the hands of the unscrupulous debt collectors. That's rape number 2.

Brandon v. Eaton Group Attorneys: Law firm accused of violating Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Last January, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled in a case brought by Cassandra Brandon against Eaton Group Attorneys (Eaton), a law firm representing National Collegiate Student Loan Trust (NCSLT), a student-loan debt collector. Eaton had sued Brandon on NCSLT's behalf, alleging that Brandon had defaulted on her student loans and owed NCSLT about $46,000.

After the lawsuit was filed, an agent for Eaton sent Brandon a letter, which was described as a "REQUEST FOR PAYMENT ARRANGEMENTS." And this is what the letter said:
Dear CASSANDRA PLUMMER [Plummer is Brandon's maiden name]: 
If you would like to explore a voluntary repayment plan, then please provide the requested information. The debt will need to be acknowledged through the attached consent judgment. Please return these forms as soon as possible. This is a communication from a debt collector. This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information will be used for that purpose.
Accompanying the letter was a partially completed consent judgment, which stated:
IT IS ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that judgment be rendered in favor of Plaintiff, NATIONAL COLLEGIATE LOAN TRUST 2007-1, and against the defendant, CASSANDRA PLUMMER . . ., in the full sum of $41,115.13, together with accrued interest of $4,998.37, and additional interest of 4% from date of judgment, and for all costs of these proceedings, subject to a credit of $0.00.
Brandon then sued Eaton Group Attorneys in federal court, charging the law firm with violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).  Basically, Brandon accused the law firm of sending her a deceptive debt-collection letter in violation of the FDCPA.

Eaton moved for summary judgment on Brandon's claim, arguing that its letter was "non-deceitful as a matter of law." But Judge Sarah Vance denied the law firm's motion and allowed Brandon to proceed with her suit.

Judge Vance began her analysis by summarizing the purpose of the FDCPA, which is to eliminate "abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices . . ." The law prohibits debt collectors from using any "false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt," and it bars debt collectors from using "unfair or unconscionable means" to collect on a debt.

In the court's view;
[The] letter [Brandon] received was misleading because an unsuspecting debtor, seeking only to 'explore a voluntary repayment plan,' could be fooled into executing the consent judgment without knowledge of the consequences. Specifically, an unsophisticated debtor may not know that the consent judgment will serve to waive potentially valid defenses and may facilitate a wage garnishment order" [Emphasis supplied]
By telling Brandon she must formally acknowledge her debt before she could even "explore" voluntary repayment plan, the Eaton Group Attorneys was basically inviting her to "inadvertently dig herself into a deeper hole." (Internal citation omitted).

Congress needs to clean up the student-loan debt collection industry

Laws are already on the books that ban unfair debt collection activities. Brandon sued Eaton Group Attorneys under the FDCPA; and Navient Solutions and Student Assistance Corporation had a judgment assessed against them last spring for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.


But more needs to be done.

Specifically, Congress needs to hold hearings on the activities of the student loan guaranty agencies--and Educational Credit Management Corporation in particular. A Texas bankruptcy judge slapped ECMC with punitive damages last year for repeatedly violating the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code, but the penalty was entirely too light for such a wealthy corporation.

And Congress needs to eliminate the excessive penalties--25 percent or more--that debt collectors assess on student-loan debtors in default.  After all, it is the penalties and accrued interest that are driving millions of struggling student-loan debtors into 20- and 25-year income driven repayment plans.

Republicans and Democrats could bring relief to millions of overwhelmed student-loan debtors if they just joined together to pass meaningful reform legislation.  If our nation's politicians can't cooperate in a bipartisan effort to clean up the student loan program, then shame on all of them.

References

Brandon v. Eaton Group Attorneys, CA No. 16-13747 (E.D. La. Jan. 24, 2017).

Bruner-Halteman v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 12-324-HDH-13, ADV. No. 14-03041 (Bankr. N.D. Tex. 2016).

McCaskill v. Navient Solutions, Inc., No. 8:15-cv-1559-T-33TBM (M.D. Fla. April 6, 2016).

Robert Shireman and Tariq Habash. Have Student Loan Guaranty Agencies Lost Their Way? The Century Foundation, September 29, 2016. Accessible at https://tcf.org/content/report/student-loan-guaranty-agencies-lost-way/

Friday, January 20, 2017

Department of Education inflated student-loan repayment rates for nearly every school and college in the United States! Playing for Time

The Wall Street Journal published a story a few days ago that is truly shocking.  Based on WSJ's analysis, the Department of Education has inflated student-loan repayment rates for 99.8% of all colleges, universities, and trade schools in the United States.

Earlier this month, DOE acknowledged that a "coding error" had caused the Department to mistakenly under report the student-loan default rates at many schools and colleges. But the magnitude of the error wasn't generally known until the Journal published its own analysis.

According to WSJ, at least half the students who attended more than a thousand colleges and trade schools had either defaulted on their student loans within 7 years of beginning repayment or failed to pay down even one dollar of their student loan debt.

This news is shocking, but not surprising. DOE has been misleading the public for years about  student-loan default rates.  Last autumn, for example, DOE reported a 3-year default rate of about 10 percent, a slight decrease from the previous year. But that figure did not take into account the people who had obtained forbearances or deferments and weren't making payments.  The five-year default rate for a  recent cohort of  student debtors is more than double DOE's three-year rate: 28 percent.


And last September, DOE mislead the public again. The Department  identified 477 schools where more than half the students had defaulted or failed to pay down their loan balances 7 years into repayment. But we now know the figure is more than double that number: 1029.

The implications of this new data are staggering. Obviously, the federal student-loan program is a train wreck. Millions of people have student loans they will never pay back. Eight million have defaulted and millions more are making payments so low that their loan balances are growing due to accruing interest.

Several large for-profit colleges have closed under allegations of fraud.  Corinthian Colleges and ITT together have a half million former students. DeVry, which just reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, has a total of more than a quarter of a million students who took out federal loans to finance their studies. Accumulated debt for DeVry students alone is more than $8 billion.

Like the inmate musicians of Auschwitz, DOE's response to this calamity has been to play for time. It has encouraged millions of people to sign up for income-drive repayment plans (IDRs) under terms such that IDR participants will never pay off their loans.  And DOE has set up a cumbersome procedure whereby students who believe they were defrauded by a college can apply to have their student loans forgiven.

But there is only one way out of this nightmare: bankruptcy relief. Ultimately Congress will have to repeal the "undue hardship" provision in the Bankruptcy Code, which has made it virtually impossible for overburdened student debtors to discharge their loans in bankruptcy.

Until that happens, President Trump's Department of Education should modify its harsh stance toward bankrupt student loan debtors. DOE must stop insisting that every bankrupt student borrower should be pushed into an IDR that stretches loan payment periods out for 20 or 25 years.

Student loan debtors who are honest and broke should be able to discharge their student loans in the bankruptcy courts. Within a couple of years that simple truth will be apparent to everyone. Why not start now to relieve the suffering of millions of Americans who got in over their heads with student loans and can't pay them back?

And let's not sell the Trump administration short. Liberals have assumed that Donald Trump will protect the for-profit colleges because of his history with Trump University. But I am not so sure. President Trump knows how to read a financial statement and he understands the value of bankruptcy. He might just do the right thing and turn this calamity over to the federal bankruptcy courts. 

Playing for Time


References

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than Believed. Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Educational Credit Management Corporation and the U.S. Department of Education: Are They Co-Conspirators in Accounting Fraud?

Last March, an Arizona bankruptcy court discharged $245,000 in student loan debt owed by  Rita Gail Edwards, a 56-year-old single woman earning a tenuous living as a counselor. Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), her student-loan creditor, fought the discharge. ECMC wanted Edwards placed in a 25-year income-based repayment plan. Under such a plan, Edwards would only pay $84 a month on her loans for 25 years.

ECMC's position was absurd, of course. A woman in her late 50s  will never pay off a $245,000 loan by making monthly payments of $84. The only possible purpose that is served by jamming Ms. Edwards into a 25-year repayment plan is to carry her student-loan debt on the Department of Education's books as a performing loan.

In ruling for Ms. Edwards, the bankruptcy judge questioned the wisdom of a system that allowed Edwards to borrow so much money. "In hindsight, it is a shame that [Edwards] ever incurred these student loan debts," the court observed.
While her Ottawa University education may have given her the tools and credentials to work in an emotionally satisfying role [as a counselor] and may have provided a well needed skilled counselor in her rural community, the predictable economic burden was never likely to justify the massive economic burden she incurred.
The Edwards case demonstrates the insanity of the federal student-loan program. Our government allows people to borrow extravagant amounts of money for educational programs that will never pay off, and then it engages debt collectors to push borrowers into long-term income-based repayment plans that stretch out over 25 years and will almost never result in the loans being repaid.

And the Edwards case is not an anomaly. In the Roth case, ECMC opposed a bankruptcy discharge for an elderly woman with chronic health problems who was living on less than $800 a month. In fact, Roth's income was so low that ECMC acknowledged that Roth's monthly payments under an income-based repayment plan would be zero!

In the Halverson case, ECMC opposed a discharge for a man in his sixties making less than $14 an hour as a substitute teacher and who owed almost $300,000 in student loan debt. Mr. Halverson borrowed less than half the amount he owed when he filed bankruptcy and was never in default. His debt ballooned mostly due to accruing interest while his loans were in deferment.

The Department of Education itself has taken the same irrational stance regarding bankruptcy discharge for student debtors. In the Myhre case, DOE opposed a discharge for a quadriplegic, and in the Abney case, it opposed a discharge for  a single father of two children who was living on less than $1200 a month and could not even afford to own a car.

Why?

 I can think of only one reason. ECMC and DOE are engaged in a massive accounting fraud, trying to convince the public that the federal student loan program is solvent and fiscally sound. But in fact the student loan program is a disaster. Eight million people are in default and and one out of four debtors are either in default or behind on their loan payments.

ECMC benefits from the status quo--that is clear. According to a Century Foundation report, it has $1 billion in unrestricted assets, most of it obtained from its loan-collection activities. The Westlaw database shows that ECMC has  appeared as a named party in over 500 federal court rulings; it has spent literally millions of dollars in attorney fees chasing after people like Gail Edwards and Janet Roth.

And who pays those fees?  According to a law review article written by Rafael Pardo, ECMC draws money from a Federal Reserve Fund to finance its loan-collection activities and has access to "significant [federal] resources when litigating against student-loan debtors" (p. 2145).  Pardo cites a document showing that DOE allowed ECMC to keep a quarter of a billion dollars that it drew from DOE's Federal Reserve Fund to finance its activities in 2008 (p. 2145).

So you, Mr. & Ms American taxpayer, are paying ECMC to engage in unproductive litigation against impoverished debtors--litigation intended to keep the student-loan crisis under wraps.

And ECMC is a nonprofit organization--supposedly devoted to the public good.

But ECMC is not acting for the public good. On the contrary, ECMC is DOE's hit man--the entity DOE sends to beat down bankrupt student debtors and prevent them from getting the bankruptcy relief they deserve.

 ECMC's senior executives are getting well paid to be DOE's "Mac the Knife."  Its CEO makes at least a million dollars a year.

References

Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, September 2016. Available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/102016_cfpb_Transmittal_DFA_1035_Student_Loan_Ombudsman_Report.pdf

Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Adversary No.. 3:15-ap-26-PS, 2016 WL 1317421 (Bankr. D. Ariz. March 31, 2016). Available at http://www.azb.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/024139558300_dmd.pdf

In re: Halverson, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Rafael Pardo. The Undue Hardship Thicket: On Access to Justice, Procedural Noncompliance and Pollutive Litigation in Bankruptcy. 66 Florida Law Review 2101-2178. Available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2426744

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013). Available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/bap/2013/04/16/RothV%20ECMC%20opinion-FINAL%20AZ-11-1233.pdf

Friday, June 12, 2015

Lee Siegel is not the poster child for the student loan crisis: Single mothers are more typical of defaulting student-loan borrowers than self-proclaimed cultural critics

It is unfortunate--truly unfortunate--that the New York Times chose to publishe Lee Siegel's op ed essay in which he defended his decision to default on his student loans. Siegel has received a lot of negative feedback on his essay, including several letters that were published in the New York Times, and some people may have gotten the impression that Siegel is a typical student-loan debtor.

But he is not typical, and it would be tragic if Siegel becomes the poster child for the student-loan crisdis.

Americans need to understand that most student-loan defaulters are not successful, self-employed professionals like Siegel. Rather, they are typically people in desperate circumstances due a a host of negative life events (job loss, divorce, illness) that left them unable to manage their student-loan debts.  

If Americans are looking for a poster child for the student loan crisis, I nominate Alethea Lamento. 


Arethea Lamento, Not Lee Siegel, is the Poster Child for the Student Loan Crisis

As explained by a sympathetic bankruptcy court, Alethea Lamento was a 35-year-old single mother of two when she filed for bankruptcy. She was working for a grocery store chain for $10.15 an hour, and she only made ends meet for herself and her two children by living rent-free with her mother and her step-father.

Lamento had accumulated $70,000 in student loan debt while trying to obtain an education that she hoped would open the door to a better life. Unfortuantely, she married a man who, according to the bankruptcy court, was "abusive in multiple ways," and her husband did not want her to go to college. She made several attempts to get training to increase her income but she was unsuccessful due in part to the fact that she was a mother of two and married to a man who discouraged her from obtaining an education. 

As the court explained, Lamento was never able to make a voluntary payment on her student loans, and the federal government eventually began garnishing her paychecks to collect on the accumulated debt. Lamento then filed for bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy proceedings, the U.S. Department of Education and Educational Credit Management Corporation appeared as creditors and opposed Lamento's request to have her student-loan debt discharged. They argued she should be put in a 25-year income-based repayment plan.

But a sympathetic and compassionate bankruptcy court rejected these arguments and discharged Lamento's student loans. First of all, the court pointed out, it was obvous that Arethea would not be able to maintain a minimal standard of living if she were forced to pay off her student loans.


 “At the age of 35, she has no money to pay rent or utilities for housing for herself and her two children,” the court wrote. “Without the generosity of her mother and stepfather, her family would have nowhere to live” (p. 676). Alethea’s salary did not allow her to pay rent or utilities, which the bankruptcy court considered to be basic needs. Nor did she have health insurance, which the court also considered to be a basic need. 

Alethea's creditors argued that her financial circumstances would improve, but the court did not agree.  “The evidence showed conclusively that Alethea’s financial situation is not temporary and that it is likely to persist for a significant part of the repayment period,” the court ruled.  

In the bankruptcy court's view, Alethea had filed for bankruptcy in good faith. It was true, the court acknowledged, that Alethea had made no voluntary payments on her student loans. Nevertheless, it was undisputed that with her limited income and tight budget, Alethea had never made enough money to make student-loan payments.

ECMC and the Department of Education tried to make much of the fact that Alethea had refused their offer to enter into a 25-year income-based repayment plan. In their view, her refusal to agree to a long-term repayment plan showed her lack of good faith.

But the court rejected this line of reasoning. As the court pointed out, the creditors’ position basically amounted to the argument that the only way a student-loan debtor can show good faith in a bankruptcy proceeding is to sign up for a long-term repayment plan.

The court ruled that Alethea’s reasons for rejecting a 25-year income-based repayment plan “to be credible, convincing, and offered in good faith” (p. 679). In the court’s opinion, it was clear that Alethea was not able to pay anything on her student loans and would be unable to do so in the foreseeable future. Thus her participation in an income-based repayment plan would be futile.

In addition, the court pointed out, there were burdens associated with such agreements. First, if Alethea agreed to a 25-year repayment plan, she would essentially be trading one nondischargeable debt for another. Second, signing up for such a repayment plan would require Alethea to report her income to her student-loan creditors for the next 25 years.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the court noted that the creditors’ insistence on a long-term repayment plan overlooked “the psychological effect” of having a significant debt obligation stretch out over a quarter of a century. “Given Alethea’s desperate circumstances, and her status as the proverbial honest but unfortunate debtor, she is entitled to sleep at night without these unpayable debts continuing to hang over her head for the next 25 years” (p. 679, emphasis supplied).

Conclusion: Millions of Student-Loan Defaulters are Entitled to Bankruptcy Relief

Perhaps Lee Siegel should have paid off his student loans, but millions of people who took our student loans in good faith don't make enough money from their jobs to pay back their loans. All these people are entitled to bankruptcy relief.

As Americans contemplate the growing student-loan disaster, they need to realize that Rober Siegel is not the typical student-loan debtor. More typical by far is Alethea Lamento, a single mother of two and an "an honest but unfortuante debtor," who deserves relief from oppressive student loans.

Note: Parts of this blog essay are taken from an article I co-authored with Robert C. Cloud and which appeared in Teachers College Record Online earlier this year. The opinions expressed in this blog are soley my own.

References

Delisle, J. & McCann, C. (2014, September 26). Who's Not Repaying Student Loans? More People Than You Think. Forbes.com. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasondelisle/2014/09/26/whos-not-repaying-student-loans-more-people-than-you-think/

Fossey, R. & R. C. Cloud. (2013, November 22). "The Law Does Not Require a Party to Engage in Futile Acts”: Student Loans, Bankruptcy and a Compassionate Federal Court. Teachers College Record, http://www.tcrecord.org,  ID Number: 1733.

Fossey, R. & R. C. Cloud (2015, February 23). In Re Lamento: An Honest But Unfortunate Debtor Is Entitled To Sleep At Night Without Worrying About Unpayable Student-Loan Debt. Teachers College Record Online, http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17871

In re Lamento, 520 B.R. 667 (Bkrtcy. N.D. Ohio 2014).

In re Roth, 490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013).

Krieger v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 713 F.3d 882 (6th Cir. 2013).

David Marans, This Author Called for A Student Loan Boycott, And CNBC Was Not Having It. Huffington Post, June 8, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/08/cnbc-student-loan-boycott_n_7537432.html

Lee Siegel. Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans. New York Times, June 7, 2015, Sunday ReviewSection, p. 4.

Student borrowers and the economy (2014, June 10). New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/opinion/student-borrowers-and-the-economy.html?_r=0




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Pepper Spray Incidents at UC Davis and Santa Monica College: Universities Need to Listen to Students' Concerns about the Rising Cost of a College Education

Earlier this month, campus police at Santa Monica College pepper-sprayed more than two dozen students who were trying to enter a Trustees meeting to protest a tuition hike.  Chui L. Tsang, the college’s president, defended the police officers’ conduct, insisting that police used appropriate restraint and did not arrest anyone.  (Rivera, 2012).
Last fall, campus police at UC Davis pepper-sprayed students who were peacefully participating in an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. A video of this incident, posted on You Tube, shows a helmeted police officer calmly pepper spraying students who are passively huddled on a campus sidewalk.
What’s going on here?  Don’t colleges realize that students are the customers? Don’t they understand how bad they look when people view these incidents on You Tube? How many UC Davis students and Santa Monica College students who witnessed their classmates being pepper sprayed are going to donate money to their alma maters after they graduate?
Campus police should not pepper spray anyone—student or nonstudent—who is not behaving violently or physically threatening other people.  The students at UC Davis and Santa Monica College were not behaving violently (although some of the Santa Monica College students were a bit rowdy), and they should not have been pepper sprayed. 
Instead of pepper spraying their students, colleges and universities should listen to student protests about the rising cost of tuition and burgeoning student-loan debt; and they should demonstrate that they are taking action to address their students’ concerns.
What should they be doing?
  • First, colleges and universities should stop raising tuition while they continue paying extravagant salaries to college presidents and senior executives. They should freeze or reduce the salaries of their highest paid employees—at least until the national economy recovers-- instead of tacking the cost of these excessive compensation packages onto students’ tuition bills.
  • Second, college and university trustees should cap tuition and fees until the economy improves, and they should work harder at making their institutions more efficient.
  • In addition, higher education should demonstrate their empathy for overburdened student-loan debtors by urging Congress to amend the Bankruptcy Code to give overburdened student-loan debtors reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts. They should also support legislation that would stop the federal government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly people who defaulted on their student loans. 
The cost of higher education is out of control, total student-loan indebtedness approaches one trillion dollars, and student-loan default rates are alarmingly high. Colleges and universities need to show students that they are helping to solve these problems.  Pepper spraying student protesters is the wrong thing to do.
References
Rivera, C. (2012, April 4). College president defends pepper spray against 'unlawful' crowd. Los Angeles Times. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/04/students-unlawful-pepper-spray-santa-monica-college-president.html

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Student-Loan Defaulters: Not All of Them are Young


What is your image of the typical person who defaults on college student loans? Do you envision a young and irresponsible college graduate—someone who ripped off the federal student loan program by borrowing money to get a fancy college degree and then refused to pay it back? If so, your image would be inaccurate. A great many defaulters are from low-income families. Often they attended a for-profit institution that provided them with little value. And—this may come as a surprise—many student-loan defaulters are not young.
Researchers for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York examined the loan status of 37 million student-loan borrowers. Fourteen percent of these borrowers—approximately 5.4 million people, have at least one past-due student loan account. According to the Federal Reserve Bank report, only about 25 percent of student-loan borrowers with past due balances are under the age of 30. Forty percent of the student loan borrowers with payments in arrears are at least 40 years old. Almost one delinquent borrower in six (17.7 percent) are fifty years old or older. And about five percent of the people who are behind on their student loan payments are at least 60 years old (Brown, Haughwout, Lee, Mabutas, and van der Klaauw, 2012).
Why are so many people falling behind on their student loans in midlife or late in life? There are several explanations.
First, some of the older student-loan borrowers are people who borrowed money in midlife, expecting to increase their income potential. Then—due a variety of life circumstances, these borrowers did not earn the income they expected.  Maybe they became ill, lost their job, or were the victims of the recent economic downturn. As a consequence, some of these older student-loan borrowers fell behind on their loans.
Second, some of the nation’s older delinquent borrowers obtained economic hardship deferments on their loans, which temporarily exempted them from making regular student-loan payments. For a majority of these people, interest continued to accrue on their loans during the deferment period, causing their loan balances to grow.  Consequently, when these borrowers began making loan payments again after their deferments expired, they sometimes had a swollen loan balance that they simply could not repay.
Finally, I suspect some of the older people who are behind on their student-loan payments are people who had previously elected to pay off their loans under the income-contingent repayment option, which extends the loan repayment period out to 25 years. For some older people, the prospect of making student-loan payments during their retirement years may have seemed too daunting, causing them to stop making payments on their loans.
Older people who default on their student loans receive no dispensation from their loan obligations due to their age. In fact, in Lockhart v. United States (2005), the Supreme Court has ruled that a student-loan defaulter’s Social Security checks can be garnished.  Thus, some elderly people who failed to pay back their student loans will face severe financial hardship if they are totally dependent on Social Security income during their so-called “golden years.”
Obviously, no one would recommend a government policy that would make it easier for people to default on their student loans. Nevertheless, garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student loan defaulters is an overly harsh measure. Congress needs to pass legislation that bars lenders and collection agencies from garnishing a student-loan defaulter’s Social Security check.
References
Brown, M., Haughwout, A., Lee, D., Mabutas, M., and van der Klaauw, W. (2012). Grading student loans. New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Accessible at: http://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2012/03/grading-student-loans.html

Lockhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 142, 126 S. Ct. 699 (2005).