After all, millions of college students are burdened by crushing student loans, the student-loan default rate creeps ever upward, and many college graduates have not gotten jobs that pay well enough to service their student-loan debt.
So why not create some programs that will lower student borrowers' monthly loan payments?
And so the government created two programs that are essentially student-loan forgiveness programs. One program allows people who take public service jobs to make loan payments based on a percentage of their income for ten years. At the end of the ten-year period, the balance of their loans are forgiven.
|Germany invaded Russia in the summer of 1941|
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The other program--income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) --allows borrowers to make monthly student-loan payments based on a percentage of their income for 20 or 25 years (there are several variations). Just as with the public-service loan forgiveness plans, student-loan debtors will see the balance of their loans forgiven at the end of the repayment period.
The attractiveness of these programs for student-loan borrowers is obvious. They see their monthly payments go down, which may keep many student-loan debtors from going into default.
Currently, about 1.3 million borrowers are enrolled in public-service loan forgiveness plans, and about the same number are enrolled in IBRPS.
But here is the downside. None of these programs contain provisions to discourage students from borrowing more money than necessary. In fact--since the monthly payments are based on a percentage of borrowers' income and not the amount borrowed, the programs contain a perverse incentive to borrow as much as possible. As a result, many of the people making income-based loan payments will never pay back even a portion of their loans.
Here are a couple of examples--one taken from a Wall Street Journal article and one taken from a New York Times story--that illustrate the problem.
Haley Schafer borrowed $312,000 to attend veterinary school in the Caribbean, even though the job market for veterinarians in the United States is terrible Schafer got a job making about $60,000 a year, not nearly enough to comfortably pay back her student loans under the standard 10-year repayment plan.
So Schafer signed up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan that lowered her monthly loan payments to about $400 a month. Unfortunately, her monthly payments aren't large enough to cover accruing interest on her loans. The New York Times estimated that her loan balance will continue to grow, and when she finishes her 25-year repayment plan her loan balance will be more than twice the amount that she borrowed--$650,000!
And that's Haley Schafer's story. Now let's hear about Max Norris, a public-service attorney who borrowed $172,000 to go to University of California's Hastings College of Law. Under the public-service student-loan forgiveness plan, he only pays $420 a month on his loan balance, not enough to cover accruing interest.
Norris's loan balance will be forgiven after 10 years. Assuming Norris stays in public service and gets annual raises of 4 percent, the government will forgive $225,000 in student-loan indebtedness--more than Norris borrowed!
In other words, the federal government is giving Morris a 100 percent subsidy to go to law school, even though the market is flooded with lawyers. In fact there are currently two law-school graduates for every new legal job.
Surely, anyone can see that it makes no sense for the federal government to permit people to borrow $100,000 or more to train people for professions that are already overcrowded and then allow them to make loan payments that are so small that the payments don't cover the accruing interest.
But that is what our federal government is doing.
And, although these programs may help keep the student-loan default rate down, they are actually making the student loan-crisis worse. Not only do we have 7 million people who stopped making loan payments and are in default, we have another 9 million who aren't making payments because they received an economic hardship deferment or are entitled to some other form of forbearance. And then we have 2.5 million people who are making loan payments based not on the amount they borrowed but on their income, which means most will never pay off the principal of their loans.
In short--the number of people who will never pay off their student loans is in the millions--many, many millions.
Josh Mitchell. Student-Debt Forgiveness Plans Skyrocket, Raising Fears Over Costs, Higher Tuition. Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2014.
David Segal. High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets. New York Times, February 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/business/high-debt-and-falling-demand-trap-new-veterinarians.html?_r=0