Showing posts with label student loans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student loans. Show all posts

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Snapshot of the student loan crisis from a recent New York Federal Reserve Bank report: Surprise, surprise! Debt levels Are rising

Researchers at the New York Federal Reserve Bank issued a press release on April 3 that reported on household borrowing and student debt.  Here are some excerpts from that press release. I have highlighted particularly interesting passages:
Student Loan Update 
Aggregate student loan balances have continued to increase and stood at about $1.3 trillion at the end of 2016, an increase of about 170 percent from 2006. Aggregate student debt is increasing because more students are taking out loans, the loans are for larger amounts, and the speed with which borrowers repay their debts has slowed down. New debt originations continue to increase: 2015 graduates with student loans left school with about $34,000, up from only $20,000 just ten years before. 
While about 36 percent of student debt holders owed less than $10,000, and 65 percent owed less than $25,000, only about 5 percent of student debt holders owed more than $100,000 in debt in 2016. Yet these big-balance borrowers account for nearly 30 percent of the total balances outstanding, so their outcomes and repayment success have a disproportionate influence on the overall picture.

Student loan default and delinquency rates appear to have leveled off, albeit at a relatively high level. Defaults peaked in 2012, and have stabilized since 2013; the 2009-11 cohorts saw the highest default rates, with some improvement among more recent cohorts.

We have noted in the past that delinquency and default rates are lower among higher-balance borrowers; however, the default rates among higher-balance borrowers have worsened notably in recent years. Further, payment progress is slower among those who borrowed more. Ten years later, over 70 percent of the original balance has been repaid among those who had borrowed less than $5,000 when they left college in 2006, compared to a reduction of only 25 percent among students who borrowed more than $100,000.

Higher balances, increasing participation in student loan programs, and slower repayment are pushing up aggregate student loan balances. Although defaults are improving, the pay down progress of recent cohorts continues to decline.
The Fed researchers also commented on the relationship between student-loan indebtedness and homeownership:
Homeownership 
The final portion of the press briefing was on educational attainment, student loans, and homeownership, using education records from the National Student Clearinghouse that were newly matched with credit records from the Consumer Credit Panel. These findings are presented in greater detail in a separate post. New analysis shows that college education is associated with markedly higher homeownership rates regardless of debt status, which increases at each additional level of college attainment. However, having student loans dampens homeownership rates at every level of education, and higher debt balances are associated with even lower homeownership rates.
Takeaways from the Fed researchers' findings

In essence, the Federal Reserve Bank researchers are telling us this:

Loan balances are going up, more people are taking out student loans, and repayment rates are slowing, particularly for borrowers with high loan balances. I imagine a lot of these slow paying borrowers are in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program or an income-driven (IDR) plan.  

The vast majority of people making payments under  PSLF and IDR are not making payments large enough to pay down their loan balances. And, as the Fed researchers noted, among people who borrowed $100,000 or more, only 25 percent were able to pay off their student loans within 10 years.

Regarding student loans and home buying, the Fed researchers had this to say: Homeownership increases with people's education level, but student loans hamper the ability of people to buy a house, regardless of income level.

References



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Department of Education executives pay themselves cash bonuses while federal student loan program goes to hell

At last the secret is out. The federal student loan program is out of control and millions of borrowers cannot pay back their loans. As the New York Times pointed out recently, student debtors are defaulting at an average rate of 3,000 a day--more than a million people went into default last year alone.

But the Department of Education hacks who oversee the student loan program have been paying themselves performance bonuses. James Runcie, Chief Operating Officer for DOE's student loan program, received $433,000 in bonuses; and then he resigned rather than testify before the House Oversight Committee about what the heck was going on in the student loan program.

And Runcie was not the only DOE executive to get bonuses. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) released a report earlier this month that provides some useful information about how DOE's bonus program works.

As the NASFAA report explains, the Federal Student Aid Office (FSA) set performance goals for the organization  and then basically assessed itself with regard to whether the office met those goals. According to NASFAA, "self-assessments are a common way to begin performance evaluations, but they are usually signed off on by a person or board with oversight responsibility."  The Federal Student Aid office, however, let its own evaluations stand "without pushback, oversight, or accountability, which often easily allows the organization to excuse away failure to meet goals and targets."

FSA's self-assessment program permitted senior executives to get bonuses if they excelled at their work. The program identified three categories of performance: "exceptional," "high results," or "results achieved." Note that there was not even a category for poor performance.

Senior people who scored "exceptional" or "high results" were eligible for bonuses; and not surprisingly, performance scores got higher and higher as the years went by. In FY 11,  "66 percent of  senior FSA leaders received an "exceptional" or "high results" performance rating that qualified them for bonuses. In FY 2015, 90 percent of senior administrators got those ratings.

Correspondingly, the percentage of eligible employees who only scored "results achieved," making them ineligible for bonuses, decreased from 34 percent to only 10 percent between FY 2011 and FY 2015.

Bottom line is this: In FY 2015, 89.8 percent of FSA senior administrators ranked high enough to get a cash bonus, and 89.8 percent of those administrators got cash bonuses. How big were the bonuses? I haven't seen a list showing bonus amounts and who got them. Huffington Post reported that that at least one bonus was $75,000.

No wonder Mr. Runcie resigned rather than answer questions before the House Oversight Committee. "I cannot in good conscience continue to be accountable as Chief Operating officer given the risk associated with the current environment at the Education Department," he is quoted as saying.


What the hell does that mean?  I have no idea. It must be one of those phrases Mr. Runcie learned when he was getting his MBA at Harvard.


James Runcie testifying about the student loan program


References  


Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. It's time to reform the financial arm of the Education Department, report says. Washington Post, May 16, 2017.


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

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

National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Improving Oversight and Transparency at the U.S. Department of Education's Financial Aid: NASFAA's Recommendations. (May 2017).

The Wrong Move on Student Loans. New York Times, April 6, 2017.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Manhattan Institute Report: State Pensions Costs Threaten Higher Education. Dancing on the Titanic

Earlier this month, Daniel DiSalvo and Jeffrey Kucik of the Manhattan Institute published a brief report (only 10 pages of text) that should scare the hell out of American higher education. In essence, the report made three main points:

  • States are cutting contributions to higher education, something we already knew.
  • Tuition costs are rising to deal with the shortfall, and tuition increases are not being matched by a rise in median family income. We already knew that as as well.
  • State pension costs are out of control and will absorb a larger and larger share of most states' budgets.
This last point--the catastrophic rise in pension obligations--is also something we already knew, but DiSalvo and Kucik's report drives this point home with brutal clarity. 

As the authors explain in their introduction, the stock market crash of 2008 led to a sharp devaluation of pension fund assets--about a $1 trillion loss. In addition, persistent underfunding of pension funds "has led to a net deficit across all states of about $4 trillion, or one-third of total U.S. GDP." (p. 5, emphasis supplied).

All states have reformed their pension programs in some way to respond to the shortfall, but these reforms are not enough to bring pension fund liabilities in line with pension fund assets.

Meanwhile, the average number of pension beneficiaries per state has tripled from 500,000 to 1.5 million, while the number of active public employees paying into pension funds has stayed roughly constant. (p. 7). Clearly, state pension funds are rapidly moving toward collapse

Let's look at the numbers for a few states.

California's pension liabilities have increased by 41 percent over just seven years to $890 billion in 2015. That was two years ago. By now California's pension liabilities must be nearly $1 trillion.  

New York's pension liabilities were nearly half a trillion dollars in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2008. And Governor Andrew Cuomo is offering free college tuition to New Yorkers!

Texas, where my pension fund is located, had about a quarter of a trillion dollars in pension obligations in 2015--a 42 percent increase from 2008.

How is higher education impacted by this looming train wreck? States have no other choice but to reduce expenditures for higher education even further if they have any hope of meeting their pension obligations. 

Thus, it is clear, students will be forced to borrow more and more money in coming years in order to pursue postsecondary education.

Is anyone in higher education worried about this? No, college leaders are absorbed with more pressing matters--trigger words, safe spaces, and controversial commencement speakers.

In short, everyone in higher education--students, professors, and administrators--are behaving very much like the romantic couple in the movie Titanic--dancing in steerage while their ship steams closer and closer to a lethal iceberg.

Dancing on the Titanic

References

Daniel DiSalvo and Jeffrey Kucik. On the Chopping Block: Rising State Pension Costs Lead to Cuts in Higher Education. Manhattan Institute Report, May 2017.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Whittier Law School is closing: "They shoot horses,don't they?"

Whittier Law School is closing. And well it should.

Whittier Law School, which a Daily Caller writer described as "one of America’s crappiest law schools," has a crummy record by almost any measurement. In 2016, 174 Whittier graduates took the California Bar Exam, and only 40 passed. That's a 22 percent pass rate, compared to a 62 percent pass rate among California law-school graduates as a whole.

And Whittier Law graduates are having a hell of a time finding jobs as lawyers. Less than 30 percent of Whittier's class of 2016 landed long-term jobs as attorneys ten months after graduating, according to an article published in abovethelaw.com. And only 2 percent found jobs in large law firms, which generally pay the highest salaries.

Yet, in spite of low employment rates and  a dismal bar-passage record, Whittier charges its students a lot of money. It cost $45,000 a year to attend Whittier Law School in 2016, not including books and living expenses. On average, Whittier's 2016 graduates left school owing $179,000 in student-loan debt.

Clearly it was time to put Whittier Law School out of its misery before it attracted another class of students who would graduate with massive debt and little chance of getting an attorney's job that would pay enough to justify $179,000 in student loans.

Of course, the law-school faculty objected. In fact some of them filed a lawsuit in an unsuccessful effort to persuade a judge to stop the law school from closing.

Law-school dissenters even trotted out that old bromide about the law school's commitment to diversity. The law school's web site avowed that it sought to provide "a high quality education to students of diverse backgrounds and abilities--students who might not otherwise have been able to receive a legal education and who are now serving justice and enterprise around the world."

What a load of bull!

It is true that U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Whittier as the nation's second most diverse law school. A majority of its students are nonwhite and a majority are women. But a law school that leaves its graduates with an average of $179,000 in student loans and little prospect of a lawyer's job is not doing anything positive toward promoting diversity.

I commend the Whittier Board of Trustees for having the courage to close Whittier Law School. Other universities need to do the same--at least two dozen by my reading of data compiled by Law School Transparency.

There are simply not enough law jobs for people who graduate from second- and third-tier law schools, and the cost of attending these schools is more likely to leave graduates with a lifetime of indebtedness than a lucrative career as an attorney.

After all, as Jane Fonda's character said in an old movie about endurance dancing, "They shoot horses, don't they?"

"They shoot horses, don't they?"

References

Sonali Kohli, Rosanna Xia, and Teresa Watanabe. Whittier Law School is closing, due in part to low studentachievement. Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2017.

Elizabeth Olsen. Whittier LawSchool Says It Will Shut Down. New York Times, April 19, 2017.


Staci Zaretsky. Whittier Law School Will Close, Leaving Disaster In Its Wake. abovethelaw, April 20, 2017.




Monday, April 3, 2017

Sara Fern v. FedLoan Servicing: A single mother of three discharges her student loans in bankruptcy over the objections of the U.S. Department of Education

Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, right? WRONG! Distressed student borrowers have won a string of victories in the bankruptcy courts over the past few years. And Fern v. FedLoan Servicing is another case for the win column. 

Fern v. FedLoan Servicing: A single mother of three children discharges her student loans in bankruptcy

In 2016, Sarah Fern, a 35-year-old mother of three children, discharged about $27,000 in student loans in an Iowa bankruptcy court. And last February, her victory was affirmed by the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.Over the years, 

Fern had not made a single payment on her student loans. Nevertheless, she had never been in default because her loans had always been in deferment or forbearance due to her economic circumstances.

At the time of her bankruptcy trial, Fern was raising three children on take-home pay of about $1,500 a month, which she supplemented with food stamps and public housing assistance. Fern drove an old car in need of repair, and she could not afford to buy a more reliable vehicle.

Although Fern attempted to improve her income status by taking out student loans to enroll in two postsecondary programs, neither program led to a higher paying job. As the bankruptcy court noted, Fern had never earned more than $25,000 a year.

The Department of Education opposed Fern's effort to shed her student loans in bankruptcy. DOE produced an expert witness who testified that Fern qualified for various income-based repayment plans. According to the expert, Fern's income was so low that her monthly payments would be zero if she entered one of these plans.

But Judge Thad Collins, an Iowa bankruptcy judge, rejected DOE's arguments and discharged Fern's student loans in their entirety. In Judge Collins' view, Fern would probably never be in a financial position to pay back her loans.

Under an income-based repayment plan, Judge Collins noted, Fern's monthly payments would be zero, but her debt would continue to grow as interest accrued on the unpaid balance. Although the government would forgive any unpaid portion of Fern's loans at the end of the repayment period (20 or 25 years in the future), the cancelled loan debt might be taxable to her. In addition, if Fern's student loans were not discharged, they would be a blot on her credit record.


Judge Collins recognizes emotional stress from long-term indebtedness

Judge Collins also considered the emotional distress that comes from long-term indebtedness, Fern's loans had already caused her emotional stress, Collins observed, and she would continue to suffer from emotional stress if she were forced into a long-term repayment plan:

This mounting indebtedness has also indisputably been an emotional burden on [Fern]. [She] testified that knowing that the debt is hanging over her, constantly growing, and that she will never be able to repay this debt, is distressing to her. [Fern] testified that she feels like she will never be able to get ahead because she will always have this debt.
In Judge Collins' opinion, the emotional burden of long-term indebtedness was a hardship that weighed in favor of discharging Fern's student loans, even though this burden could not be quantified. "The Court will not ignore a hardship," Collins wrote, "simply because it is not reflected on a balance sheet."

Department of Education appeals Judge Collins' decision

The Department of Education appealed Judge Collins' decision; and last February. the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Collins' ruling. According to DOE, Judge Collins erred by taking Fern's emotional burdens into account, by considering the tax consequences of a long-term repayment plan, and by recognizing that Fern's debt would grow over the years because her monthly payments under a long-term plan (zero), would cause interest on her loans to continue accumulating.

But the Eighth Circuit's BAP disagreed. "These additional observations identified by the Bankruptcy Court simply served to supplement its determination of undue hardship under the totality of circumstances test," the BAP court wrote.

The Fern decision is a big win for student-loan debtors. This is the latest federal appellate court decision to reject creditors' arguments that bankrupt student borrowers should be pushed into 20- or 25-year repayment plans instead of getting a fresh start. 


There is justice in the world (sometimes)

As one of Cormac McCarthy's fictional characters said in the novel, The Crossing, "Hay justicia en el mundo!"

Yes, there is justice in the world, but justice is not distributed evenly and sometimes it arrives too late to do us any good. Sara Fern was very fortunate to have obtained justice from Judge Thad Collins, who wrote a remarkably sensible and compassionate decision. And she was even more fortunate to have Judge Collins' decision affirmed on appeal by the Eighth Circuit's Bankruptcy Appellate Panel.

References

Fern v. FedLoan Servicing, 563 B.R. 1 (8th Cir. BAP 2017).

Fern v. FedLoan Servicing, 553 B.R. 362 (Bankr. N.D. Iowa 2016).

















Saturday, April 1, 2017

Higher Education as a criminal enterprise: The U.S. Department of Education (or its agents) is trying to collect on a student loan debt 37 years old!

In Clusterfuck Nation, James Howard Kunstler has argued that many sectors of our economy have descended into criminal enterprises: banking, medicine and higher education in particular. And by God, he has convinced me.

Kunstler concluded his latest essay with these words: "It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore." I am beginning to think the answer is no.

A few days ago a retired man in California contacted me through my blog site and asked for help with a student-loan problem. As I understand it, he took out a small student loan back in the 1970s and allowed it to go into default.

In 1980, the federal government or one of its agents obtained a default judgment against the guy, and he paid the judgment in full sometime thereafter.

Now, 37 years later, a government debt collector is trying to collect on the loan. You may think the debt is uncollectable.  All states have statutes of limitations for lawsuits to collect a debt. Generally, the statute of limitations on a promissory note is six years. So the guy has nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong. Congress passed the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1991, which abolished all statutes of limitations on student loans, and some courts have ruled that the law applies retroactively. Thus, even if the statute of limitations on my correspondent's debt expired before the federal law was passed in 1991 (and I think it did), the government can still collect on it--at least according to some courts' interpretation.

Now that is fundamentally wrong and violates an ancient principle of equity known as laches. As explained in Black's Law Dictionary, "The doctrine of laches is based on the maxim that "equity aids the vigilant and not those who slumber on their rights." Thus, as a matter of fundamental fairness, claimants must pursue their remedies within a reasonable time. After all, it is unfair to start collection activities on a debt long after most reasonable people would have discarded documents that would prove the debt had been paid.

In fact, I'm sure millions of student debtors who paid of their students loans do not now have documents to prove their loans were paid.  In fact, in a lawsuit decided a few years ago, a woman obtained a court order finding she had paid off her student loans, and Educational Credit Management Corporation continued its collection efforts against her in spite of that fact.

As I write this, the U.S. Department of Education's debt collectors are pursuing desperate student-loan borrowers into the bankruptcy courts and arguing to federal judges that these hapless debtors should be put in 25-year repayment plans. These people are as heartless as the mob characters in the movie Godfather II.

So yes, higher education has become a criminal enterprise, and the Department of Education is basically a racketeer, which Congress and the courts show no inclination toward trying to control.   As Mr. Kunstler put it, "It is getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves if we are even capable of being a serious people anymore."

There may be an argument that the Higher Education Technical Amendments of 1991 is unconstitutional when applied against people long after they can reasonably defend themselves. Perhaps some starving law graduate, also burdened by student loans, could do some research on the constitutionality of this pernicious law.

It's not personal. It's only business.


References

Hann v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, 711 F.3d 235 (1st Cir. 2013).

James Howard Kunstler. Racket of Rackets. Clusterfuck Nation, March 31, 2017.

United States v. Hodges, 999 F.2d 341 (8th Cir. 1993).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dear Secretary Betsy DeVos: Please do the right thing and allow distressed debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy

Dear Secretary DeVos:

You have been Secretary of Education for about  a month, so you know the federal student loan program is in shambles.

Eight million borrowers are in default, millions more aren't making payments while interest accrues on their debt, 5.6 million people have signed up for income-driven repayment plans and are making payments so small that their debt is negatively amortizing even though they are faithfully making regular payments.

Obviously, there are dozens of things the Department of Education can do to address this crisis, but you can easily do one thing to help alleviate mass suffering and it is this: Please direct DOE and all its student-loan debt collectors to stop opposing bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan borrowers.

In 2015, Deputy Secretary Lynn Mahaffie issued a letter stating DOE and its debt collectors would not oppose bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors if it made no economic sense to do so. But in fact, both the Department and its agents oppose bankruptcy relief in almost every case.

And here are just a few examples:
  • In Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, the Department opposed bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic who worked full time but could not make student-loan payments and still pay the full-time caregiver he needed to dress him, feed him, and drive him to work.
  • In Abney v. U.S. Department of Education,  DOE urged a bankruptcy court to put a destitute student borrower into a long term payment plan even though the debtor was living on $1200 a month and was so poor he could not afford to drive a car and was riding a bicycle to work.
  • In Roth v. Educational Credit Management, ECMC fought an elderly woman's efforts to shed her student loans even though the woman had a monthly income of less than $800 a month and suffered from several chronic health problems.
  • In Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, ECMC argued to an Arizona bankruptcy judge that a 56-year-old counselor who owed $245,000 in student loans should be put in a 25-year repayment plan whereby she would make token payments until she was 81 years old!
Some of these cases were decided before Mahaffie's 2015 letter and some were decided after, but the dates are immaterial. DOE and its agents almost always oppose bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors, no matter how desperate their circumstances.

In fact, DOE's position is essentially this: NO STUDENT DEBTOR IS ENTITLED TO BANKRUPTCY RELIEF. Instead, everyone should be placed in income-driven repayment plan  (IDR) that can last for 20 or even 25 years.

But you could change DOE's position simply by signing your name to a single letter. That letter should say that DOE and its debt collectors will no longer oppose bankruptcy relief for student debtors who cannot pay back their college loans and still maintain a minimal standard of living. And DOE will no longer argue that IDRs are a reasonable alternative to bankruptcy relief.

If you did that, hundreds of thousands of insolvent college-loan borrowers could discharge their student debt in bankruptcy and get a fresh start--a fresh start the bankruptcy courts were established to provide.

Your advisers may argue that the IDR program offers college borrowers a reasonable way to ultimately pay off their student loans, but that's not true. Do you think Rita Edwards would have ever paid back the $245,000 she owed the government by making payments of $81 a month in an IDR as ECMC proposed in her bankruptcy case? Of course not.

Do you think Janet Roth would have ever paid back her student-loan debt of $90,000 if she had been put in an IDR that would have set her monthly payments at zero due to her low income? No, and it was absurd for ECMC to have made that argument in Roth's bankruptcy case.

The stark reality is this. Millions of student borrowers have seen their loan balances double, triple and even quadruple due default fees and accruing interest. Putting these people into 20 and 25-year repayment plans that only require them to make token payments is insane.

Secretary DeVos, you could eliminate so much suffering if you would simply write a letter stating that DOE will no longer oppose bankruptcy relief for people like Myhre, Edwards, Roth, Abney and millions of other people in similar circumstances who will never pay back their student loans.

Please do the right thing.

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, September 2016.

Ann Carrns. How to Dig Out of Student Loan Default. New York Times, October 21, 2016.

Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.

Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Adversary No.. 3:15-ap-26-PS, 2016 WL 1317421 (Bankr. D. Ariz. March 31, 2016).

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015.

Myhe v. U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bankr. W.D. Wis. 2013).

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

Matt Sessa. Federal Student Aid Posts Updated Reports to FSA Data Center. U.S. Department of Education Office of Student Aid, December 20, 2016.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Has higher education become a criminal enterprise? "It's a cheating situation"

 I am not a doomsayer or a survivalist, and I try to stay away from apocalyptic bloggers. But James Howard Kunstler, whose blog site goes by the name of Clusterfuck Nation, is making persuasive arguments that our postmodern economy, hopped up on cheap energy and enormous debt levels, is unsustainable. In fact, he predicts an economic  meltdown sometime this spring.

Kunstler's focus is on broader economic issues than student loans, but he made a trenchant observation about higher education in his latest blog essay, which struck a nerve with me.  Pervasive accounting fraud in the national economy, Kunstler writes,"bleeds a criminal ethic into formerly legitimate enterprises like medicine and higher education, which become mere rackets, extracting maximum profits while skimping on delivery of the goods."

And of course Kunstler is right. The Department of Education shovels $150 billion a year in federal student aid to prop up the higher education industry, which is becoming nothing more than a racket. Higher education apologists stress the value of a college education, but 45 percent of recent college graduates are in jobs that do not require a college degree. 

No wonder 8 million college borrowers are in default and millions more are not paying down their student loans.  DOE knows the score but it continues to deceptively downplay the student-loan default rate, stuffing debtors into economic hardship deferments and income-driven repayment plans that hide the fact that a large percentage of student borrowers will never be free of their loans. 

Meanwhile, the for-profit college sector, which might fairly be labeled a criminal culture, rips off poor and minority Americans and gives them educational credentials that are damned near worthless. Now they are beginning to shut down and go bankrupt, leaving their former students with mountains of debt. 

The public universities, bloated and lazy, limp along by raising student tuition as state subsidies dry up.  Public university leaders are motivated solely by politics, terrified by the possibility they might inadvertently do or say something politically incorrect.

State higher education leaders refuse to reorganize public colleges to be more efficient. In my own state of Louisiana, we have regional public colleges with declining enrollment in every corner of the state, but no one has the political courage to close any of them. Many Southern states support historic black colleges at public expense, although there is absolutely no need for university systems that cater to only one race. Louisiana even has a black law school, which operates in a substandard way just a few miles away from the state's flagship school of law. 

As for the nonprofit public institutions, they now fall into two camps. The ultra elite institutions--Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.--have brand names so strong they can charge what ever tuition rate they want. They also have fat endowments that insulate them from economic forces. 

On the other hand, small, obscure liberal arts colleges are under severe financial stress, and quite a few will close within the next five years. Parents are refusing to pay $50,000 a year for their offspring to attended a nondescript private school.  The little colleges have been forced to offer huge discounts--approaching 50 percent--to lure new students through the door. 

In short, every sector of higher education has been living in a fools paradise, but the data are now coming in, and they are alarming.

Nearly half the people who took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges default within five years. Millions of college borrowers whose loans are in repayment are seeing their student-loan balances grow larger, not smaller, due to negative amortization. Their token monthly payments keep borrowers out of default but are so small they don't cover accruing interest.

Nationwide, more than half of student borrowers owe more than they borrowed just two years into repayment. And, as the Wall Street Journal reported just a few weeks ago, half the students who took out student loans to attend more than 1000 schools and colleges have not paid down even one dollar on their loans seven years after their repayment obligations kicked in.

Kunstler is right. Evasiveness, almost criminal in its proportions, pervades almost every sector of higher education. As a classic country-and western-song might put it, "there's no use in pretending there'll be  a happy ending." Colleges and universities are in a cheating situation, refusing to recognize that the golden age of American higher education is coming to an end.



References

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2020.

James Howard Kunstler. Made for Each Other. Clusterfuck Nation, February 13, 2017.

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).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Congressional Democrats should pressure DeVos to clean up the student-loan collection business

Democrats are critical of Betsy DeVos, President Trump's new Secretary of Education, but one concern is particularly valid, which is this: DeVos has business ties with a student-loan debt collector.

Those ties, which were explained in a Washington Post article are complicated. Here is what the Post said:
Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and her husband have extensive financial holdings through their private investment and management firm, RDV Corporation. . . .

RDV is affiliated with LMF Portfolio, a limited liability corporation listed in regulatory filings as one of several firms involved in a $147 million loan to Performant Financial Corp., a debt collection agency in business with the Education Department.

Twenty-three percent of Performant's revenue is directly tied to its dealings with the Education Department, which had 14 contracts worth more than $20 million with the company in fiscal 2016.
According to the Post, Performant lost a recent contract bid with the Department of Education and is protesting DOE's decision with the Government Accountability Office.

DeVos's complicated ties with a student-loan debt college company is a legitimate worry to Democrats because as Secretary of Education, "DeVos would be in a position to influence the award of debt collection, servicing and recovery contracts, in addition to the oversight and monitoring of the contracts." In addition, the Post article points out, DeVos will also "have the authority to revise payments and fees to contractors for rehabilitating past-due debt--all of which has Senate Democrats concerned."

Senator Elizabeth Warren criticized DeVos because DeVos has no experience in higher education. "As Education Secretary," Warren charged, "Betsy DeVos would be in charge of running a $1 trillion student loan bank. She has no experience doing that." In fact, Warren correctly observed, "Betsy DeVos has no experience with student loans, Pell Grants, or public education at all."

Like Senator Warren, most Senate Democrats senators opposed DeVos to be Secretary of Education primarily on the ground that she has no experience in higher education, which is true. But I think a bigger concern is the fear that DeVos won't regulate the for-profit college industry aggressively and that she won't monitor the government's debt collectors, including the student loan guaranty agencies, which have a ruthless record of collection activities against distressed student loan debtors.

I confess I did not take DeVos's ties with a debt collection agency into consideration during the nomination process. I thought, perhaps naively, that DeVos's lack of experience in higher education might be a plus, since she could look at the student loan program with fresh eyes.

And perhaps she will. But the Democrats can smoke her out by moving aggressively for transparency and an accounting in the student-loan collection business and calling for a reduction in the collection fees and penalties the debt collectors are slapping on defaulted student loans.

Senator Warren could lead the charge by holding hearings on the activities of the student loan guaranty agencies: Educational Credit Management Corporation and the others. The Century Foundation reported that four of these agencies, which are nonprofit organizations, each hold $1 billion in assets.

If Secretary DeVos does not move aggressively to rein in the for-profits and clean up the debt collection business, then the Democrats will have a legitimate charge against her. The best way to see how DeVos will handle her new responsibilities is to hold hearings and introduce legislation to clean up the student loan industry.

If DeVos opposes legitimate calls for reforming the federal student loan program, then the Democrats are right about her.

References

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about links between DeVos and debt collection agency. Washington Post, January 17, 2017. 

Eugene Scott. Warren grills DeVos: 'I don't see how she can be the Secretary of Education.' CNN, January 18, 2017.

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/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, has the power to ease the suffering of student-loan debtors

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, has no experience in higher education, and that may be a good thing for student-loan debtors.

Most commentators on the student-loan crisis are insiders who want to maintain the status quo regarding the federal student loan program. The universities depend on regular infusions of student-loan money, which enables them to raise their tuition prices year after year at twice the rate of inflation.

But DeVos has no ties to higher education at all, and thus she has the capacity to look at the student-loan catastrophe from a fresh perspective. In fact, DeVos has the power to do one simple thing that could potentially bring relief to millions of distressed student-loan debtors.

Under current bankruptcy law, debtors cannot discharge their student loans in bankruptcy unless they can show that repaying the loans will cause them "undue hardship."  In nearly every case, the Department of Education and the student-loan guaranty companies argue that student-loan debtors should be denied bankruptcy relief under the undue hardship standard.

Instead, they routinely demand that distressed college borrowers enroll in long-term income-based repayment plans that can last for 20 or even 25 years.  And DOE and its debt collectors make this demand even when debtors' income is so low that they pay nothing or next to nothing under the terms of these plans.

Here are some examples:
  • In the Edwards case, decided last spring, Educational Credit Management (ECMC) argued that Rita Gail Edwards, a woman in her mid-50s, should pay $56 a month for 25 years to service a debt of almost a quarter of a million dollars! 
  • In the Roth case, ECMC opposed bankruptcy relief for Janet Roth, an elderly woman with chronic health problems who was living on Social Security income of less than $800 a month. Instead, ECMC wanted Roth to enter a long-term repayment plan even though ECMC conceded that Roth's income was so low that she would pay nothing under the plan. 
  • In the Abney case, DOE wanted Abney, a 40-year-old father of two, to enter a 25-year income-based repayment plan. Abney was living on $1200 a month and was so poor he couldn't afford a car and rode a bicycle to get to his job.
In essence, DOE and the debt collectors maintain that almost no one is entitled to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy and that everyone should be placed in long-term, income based repayment plans.

What if Secretary DeVos simply decreed that DOE and the loan guaranty agencies will stop pushing long-term repayment plans in the bankruptcy courts and would consent to bankruptcy discharges for people like Roth, Edwards, and Abney? (Incidentally, in all three cases, the bankruptcy courts rejected the creditors' arguments and discharged the student loans in their entirety.)

By consenting to bankruptcy discharges for people like Abney, Edwards and Roth, the Department of Education would signal to the bankruptcy courts that it supports a less harsh interpretation of the "undue hardship" standard. That would open the door for thousands of people of distressed debtors to file bankruptcy to discharge their student loans.

Some people might argue that my proposal would unleash a flood of bankruptcy filings that would undermine the financial integrity of the federal student loan program. But let's face facts. People like Roth, Edwards and Abney would never have paid back their student loans, and placing them in 25-year repayment plans that would have obligated them to make token payments that would have done nothing more than maintain the cynical fiction that their loans weren't in default.

Wouldn't it be better for DOE to be candid about the student-loan crisis and admit that millions of people will never pay back their loans? Wouldn't it be better public policy to allow honest but unfortunate debtors to get the fresh start that the bankruptcy courts are intended to provide?

Betsy DeVos is fresh on the scene of the student-loan catastrophe. Let's hope she brings some fresh thinking to the U.S. Department of Education.


Mark http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/us/politics/donald-trump-president-elect.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Medieval America: Victor David Hanson correctly diagnoses the collapse of American liberal democracy

It is difficult to convey a brilliant insight in less than 2,000 words, but Victor David Hanson has done it. In a brief essay published last week, Hanson said it is inaccurate to compare our declining American civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. In truth, Hanson argued, our nations is becoming like medieval Europe.

Like today's America, Hanson points out, medieval Europe could boast some fine universities where the sum of human knowledge increased. But the universities of that day, like our modern American universities, had strict speech codes. The sun revolved around the earth, and woe to any medieval scholar who argued otherwise.  And today of course professors are permitted to express only one point of view on important global issues like climate change.

Humanist scholars of medieval times "wrote esoteric treatises than no one read," Hanson writes. "These works were sort of like the incomprehensible 'theory' articles of university humanities professors who are up for tenure."

Hanson definitely got that right. Not to mention the 10,000 law review articles that law professors and their students publish every year even as the core principles of our legal system disintegrate.

In my view, Hanson's most trenchant comparison between contemporary America and medieval Europe relates to the economy. Today, as Hanson notes, one fifth of Americans own absolutely nothing or have negative worth, much like medieval serfs. In fact, 18 percent of adult Americans have student-loan debt, which they are permitted to work off by donating a percentage of their income to the government over 20 or 25 years--just like peasants.

Indeed, America becomes more like medieval society with each passing day. The middle class--once the glory of liberal democracy--gets smaller every year. The nation's elites fly in private jets, work in fortress-like offices, and are protected by private security agencies; they are truly lords and barons surrounded by modern-day moats. Their kids go to the best private schools. And the elites do a good job of protecting their income from taxes.

Meanwhile the rest of us ride the subway or commute to work on crumbling freeways. We pay taxes at a higher rate than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and we send our kids to mediocre schools.  Defined-benefit retirement plans are fast disappearing, and we put our puny savings into the stock market because the elite have declared that we can earn nothing on our savings if we invest anywhere else.

Everywhere, the non-elites are getting poorer, but the slide into serfdom is most evident in rural America. In my own hometown of Anadarko, Oklahoma, the little family shops and stores of my childhood are all empty and boarded up. If you want to buy something--almost anything at all--you must go to Walmart. Hundreds of houses have been abandoned, including the one I lived in as a kindergarten child. Drug addiction and suicide are up; decent jobs have disappeared.

Americans know in their hearts that our slide into medievalism will accelerate after the national election unless our economy is radically restructured. Let us hope President Trump can do what he promised he would do to restore jobs to middle-class and working-class Americans.


References

Victor David Hanson. Medieval America, Town Hall, October 13, 2016. Available at http://townhall.com/columnists/victordavishanson/2016/10/13/medieval-america-n2231213http://townhall.com/columnists/victordavishanson/2016/10/13/medieval-america-n2231213

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Senator Elizabeth Warren grills Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. But hey, Liz: What have you done to help solve the student-loan crisis?

Senator Elizabeth Warren made headlines this week when she grilled Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf at a Senate Banking Committee hearing. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know Wells Fargo employees were caught scamming customers by creating 2 million fake bank accounts without their customers' knowledge or approval.

In the wake of this scandal, Wells Fargo fired 5,000 low-level employees and refunded some money, but the company did not terminate the senior executive who supervised the unit where the fraud occurred. Wells Fargo's CEO John Stumpf made millions of dollars from these misdeeds because the scheme caused his stock to go up. But Stumpf isn't giving back any of his ill-gained profits.

So Stumpf was a sitting duck when Senator Warren began questioning him at the Senate Banking Committee hearing. "You should resign," Warren told Stumpf. "You should give back the money that you took while this scam was going on, and you should be criminally investigated by both the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission."

Stumpf, of course, is lawyered up. He went into his flak-catcher crouch, continually repeating his talking points and saying he was sorry for Wells Fargo's misdeeds.

All great theater. Who doesn't enjoy seeing a transnational financial executive publicly humiliated? But what will come of all this drama? Nothing. Stumpf won't face criminal charges, and the Wells Fargo senior executives who profited from the fake-account scheme won't give back a penny of their loot.

Elizabeth Warren enjoys a great reputation as the champion of consumer rights and the friend of the little guy. But what tangible thing has she done to help working-class Americans? And more particularly, what has she done to ease the suffering of millions of student-loan debtors?

I'll tell you what Warren has done--she's done nothing.  She's all blather. In fact, I don't think Warren even understands the student-loan crisis. She charged awhile back that the government is making "obscene" profits from the student-loan program, but that's not true. The government would be making a profit on the loan program if borrowers were paying back their loans, but they are not. As the Wall Street Journal reported recently, 40 percent of student-loan borrowers aren't making payments on their loans.

Here are some things Senator Warren could propose that would help relieve the suffering of distressed student-loan debtors.

Legislation banning the government from garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly student-loan debtors who defaulted on their loans. Around 155,000 Americans are having their Social Security checks dunned right now, causing real hardship for these people.

And how much money does our government collect from this disreputable practice? Probably less than the Secret Service spends guarding President Obama on just one of his Hawaiian vacations. Why doesn't Senator Warren use her bully pulpit to stop the government from going after elderly student-loan debtors who are living off their Social Security checks?

Wholesale relief for student-loan borrowers who were ripped off by the for-profit college industry. Senator Warren joined 22 other Democratic Senators in a letter to Secretary of Education John King asking the Department of Education to grant broader relief to the 35,000 students who were enrolled at one of ITT Tech campuses when ITT closed and filed for bankruptcy. But that letter is almost completely incoherent and doesn't  propose real relief.

DOE should forgive the loans of all the people who took out student loans to pay for ITT programs. Giving former students longer to file for loan forgiveness under DOE's "closed school" regulations (as the Democratic Senators proposed) does not go nearly far enough.

Amending the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured debt. Senator Warren co-sponsored a bill to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, but private loans are only a small part of the overall student-debt crisis--only about 10 percent of total outstanding student-loan debt. The bill does nothing about reforming the Bankruptcy Code to allow distressed student-loan debtors to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy.

Conclusion; Senator Elizabeth Warren is a phony

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a phony. She hasn't accomplished anything significant to help solve the student-loan crisis. It is true she supports a bill to make private student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, but such a law--if passed--is small potatoes.

Let's face it. Although Warren portrays herself as a progressive fighting for overburdened student-loan debtors, she will never do anything that would threaten the core interests of the higher education industry. After all, there are 114 colleges and universities in Warren's state of Massachusetts; and most of the professors and administrators who work at those colleges voted for her.

Those colleges and universities have to have federal student-aid money to survive. They are like crack addicts waiting for their next federal fix. Warren can talk all she wants about helping student-loan debtors, but she won't do anything that upsets the status quo. And real reform of the Bankruptcy Code to allow people to discharge their federal loans in bankruptcy would definitely upset the status quo.

Image result for elizabeth warren wells fargo


References

Anne Gearan and Abby Phillip. Clinton to propose 3-month hiatus for repayment of  student loansWashington Post, July 5, 2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/07/05/clinton-to-propose-3-month-hiatus-for-repayment-of-student-loans/?hpid=hp_special-topic-chain_clinton-loans-11pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

Ashlee Kieler, Senators Introduce Legislation to Make Private Student Loans Dischargeable in Bankruptcy. Consumerist, March 12, 2015.   Accessible at https://consumerist.com/2015/03/12/senators-introduce-legislation-to-make-private-student-loans-dischargeable-in-bankruptcy/

Jena McGregor. 'You should resign': Elizabeth Warren excoriates Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. Washington Post, September 20, 2016. Accessible at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/09/20/you-should-resign-elizabeth-warren-excoriates-wells-fargo-ceo-john-stumpf/

Josh Mitchell. More than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren't Making PaymentsWall Street Journal, April 7, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-than-40-of-student-borrowers-arent-making-payments-1459971348

Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. A Message from the Secretary of Education to ITT Students. Accessible at http://blog.ed.gov/2016/09/message-secretary-education-itt-students/

Sen. Warren Questions lack of Private Student Loan Relief Options. Senator Warren Website, July 31, 2014. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=591

Letter to the Honorable John King, Secretary of Education, from 23 Democratic Senators, September 15, 2016. Accessible at https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/files/9_15_16%20ITT%20Tech%20ED%20Letter%20(1).pdf

Dawn McCarty and Shahien Nasirpour. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After ShutdownBloomberg, September 16, 2016. Accessible at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-16/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-shutdown-it6byu6t

Jena McGregor. 'You should resign': Elizabeth Warren excoriates Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, Washington Post, September 20, 2016. Accessible at

Reuters. ITT Educational Services Files for Bankruptcy After Aid CrackdownInternational New York Times, September 17, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/business/itt-educational-services-files-for-bankruptcy-after-aid-crackdown.html?_r=0


Marian Wang. Q & A: Elizabeth Warren on Spiraling Student Debt  and What Should Be Done About ItPro Publica, May 20, 2014. Accessible at https://www.propublica.org/article/qa-elizabeth-warren-on-spiraling-student-debt-and-what-should-be-done-about

Alia Wong. When Loan Forgiveness Isn't EnoughAtlantic Monthly, June 15, 2015. Accessible at http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/06/government-corinthian-college-loan-plan-problems/395513/

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quantitative Easing and the Student-Loan Crisis: The Government Loans Money to Students Who Don't Have a Prayer of Paying It Back

Investipedia defines quantitative easing as the process of increasing the money supply "by flooding financial institutions with capital in an effort to promote increased lending and liquidity."  Or more simply--quantitative easing is printing new money.

The Obama administration has done a lot of quantitative easing. At the height of its QE program, the government was pumping a trillion bucks a year into the economy. But there is another type of quantitative easing that is less well known. The government has been loaning billions of dollars to students under the federal student loan program, and it is only getting about half that money back. 

Who benefits? The higher education industry has gotten this money, including the stock holders and equity funds that own private colleges and universities.  

Conner v. U.S. Department of Education, a recent federal court decision, illustrates how QE works in the education sector. Patricia Conner, a Michigan school teacher, took out 26 separate student loans over a period of 14 years to pursue graduate education in three fields: education, business administration, and communications. By the time she filed for bankruptcy at age 61, she had accumulated over $214,000 in student-loan debt. According to the bankruptcy court, Conner did not make a single voluntary payment on any of her loans.

In the bankruptcy court, Conner argued that her debt should be discharged under the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" standard, citing her advanced age as a factor that should weigh in her favor. 

But a Michigan bankruptcy court refused to release Conner from her debt, and a federal district court upheld the bankruptcy court's opinion on appeal. The district court  ruled that Conner's age could not be a consideration since she borrowed the money in midlife knowing she would have to pay it back. The court also indicated that Conner should enroll in an income-based repayment plan (IBRP) that the government had offered her, which would obligate her to pay only $267 a month on her massive debt. The court did not say how long she would be obligated to make payments under an IBRP, but these plans generally stretch out for at least 20 years.

Let's assume Conner signs up for an income-based repayment plan and begins paying $267 a month on her $214,000 debt. Let's also assume, that the interest rate on this debt is 6 percent. At 6 percent,  interest on $214,000 amounts to more than $12,000 a year, but Conner will only be paying about $3,200 a year toward paying off her student loans.

This means Conner's debt will be negatively amortizing--getting larger every year instead of smaller. After making payments for one year under her IBRP, Conner will owe $223,000. After the second year, she will owe around $233,000. After three years, Conner's debt will have grown to about a quarter of a million dollars, even if she faithfully makes every monthly loan payment.

Obviously, by the time Conner's IBRP comes to a conclusion in 20 or 25 years, she will owe substantially more than she borrowed, and she will be over 80 years old. In short, the government will never get back the money it loaned to Ms. Conner.

Who benefited from this arrangement? Wayne State University, where Conner took all her graduate-level classes, got most of Conner's loan money, which it used to pay its instructors and administrators.  But what did Wayne State provide Conner for all this cash? Apparently not much because Conner is still a school teacher, which is what she would have been even if she hadn't borrowed all that money to go to graduate school.

In my view, the Conner story is an illustration of QE in the higher education sector. The federal government is pumping billions of dollars a year into the corrupt and mismanaged higher education industry, and it is getting only about half of it back. Moreover, in far too many cases, the students who are borrowing all this money aren't getting much in value.

How long can this go on?  I don't know, but it can't go on forever.

Image result for "quantitative easing"


Note: I am indebted to my friend Richard Precht for pointing out the relevancy of Quantitative Easing to the student loan crisis.

References

Conner v. U.S. States Department of Education, Case No. 15-1-541, 2016 WL 1178264 (E.D. Mich. March 28, 2016).