Showing posts with label Joe Biden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joe Biden. Show all posts

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Joe Biden wants Congress to give all student borrowers $10,000 in debt relief: Too little? Too much?

 This week, Joe Biden called on Congress to give all student borrowers $10,000 in debt relief on their federal student loans.  "It should be done immediately," Biden said.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Charles Schumer say Mr. Biden's plan is not bold enough. They want him to use his executive powers to give all student borrowers $50,000 in debt relief.  Senator Schumer said that relief of that magnitude would wipe out all federal student-loan debt for 75 percent of college borrowers and provide at least partial relief for 95 percent. 

So--is Biden's proposal too little or too much?

As I have said for years, a flawed relief plan is better than no relief plan. I support any congressional or presidential action that would grant some relief to the nation's 45 million student-loan debtors, who collectively owe $1.7 trillion in college loans. If $10,000 in debt relief is the only arrow in Mr. Biden's quiver, I say he should let it fly.

But both the Biden plan and the Warren-Schumer proposal are flawed. First of all, a $10,000 write-off of each individual's student debt will do almost nothing for the nearly 9 million borrowers in income-based repayment plans. Their debt grows larger by the day because the loan payments aren't large enough to pay off the accruing interest.

Moreover, Mr. Biden wants Congress to approve the deal, which will take weeks, if not months.  After all, the student-loan catastrophe is a political hot potato that Congress might not want to pick up.  

The Warren-Schumer proposal is far more comprehensive than Biden's. As Senator Schumer said, this would eliminate all (federal) student-loan debt for most Americans. But Warren and Schumer want Biden to take this action on his own hook.  Does he have the authority to forgiveness $50,000 in student loans for millions of debtors?  

Who knows?  Ultimately, a federal court would have to rule on that question.

As Senator Schumer averred, a $50,000 Christmas present would relieve most recent college graduates of all their federal student-loan obligations. For those folks, their college degree would turn out to be free--or almost free. That would make many young Americans very happy, and most of those who bothered to vote cast their ballots for Joe Biden.

But there are moral hazards to the Warren-Biden scheme that are not inconsequential.  I think it is a mistake to allow college graduates to walk away from their student loans while doing nothing to force the universities to bring their costs down. 

Giving a few million Americans a get-out-of-jail-free card on their student loans will only encourage the universities to continue charging too much for a college degree and perhaps even tempt them to raise prices further. What do tuition costs matter if the government is going to step in from time to time and give students a free ride on their loans? 

And once the feds step in once with a $50,000 bailout, students will get it into their heads that they will do it again. So why worry about those student loans? How will kids pay the rent on their luxury student housing?

No. It would be much better for Congress to pass legislation--with the next President's support--that would give distressed debtors easier access to the bankruptcy courts. Let the bankruptcy judges sort out who is really broke and deserves debt relief.

Regardless of what Congress or the next president does, the student-loan scandal will not be fixed overnight.  It is the huge friggin' elephant in the room that has blighted millions of Americans' lives.

But I think it would be a mistake for our national leaders to wipe out perhaps a trillion dollars of student debt and leave the taxpayers stuck with the bill. 

Americans have grown skeptical about the value of a college experience at universities mired in sexual-assault scandals (Penn State, UCLA, Baylor, Michigan State, LSU, etc.). They wonder why our elite schools harbor so many blowhard professors who teach students nothing more than most of them are victims of societal bigotry.

Ain't there at least some good things about American society--its culture, literature, democratic values, respect for human rights--some American virtues worth studying and nurturing?

If not--if America is in the toilet and worthy of nothing but contempt, why must students spend four or five years in college and borrow $50,000 or $60,000 to get a bachelor's degree in cynicism? Didn't they learn to be cynics in high school?




Saturday, October 3, 2020

Trump versus Biden: I don't want to vote for either of 'em

 Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed reading political commentaries. My parents subscribed to Newsweek back in the 1960s, and I remember reading George Will's essays, which always appeared on the magazine's back page. Fifty years later, Mr. Will looks exactly like he did when I was in high school. Meanwhile, I've become an old man!

As an adult, I subscribed for years to the New York Times, and I followed all their prominent columnists: Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, etc.  But the Times has degenerated into a hack political screed, and I don't read it anymore.

Today, I primarily read two commentators: Steve Rhode (Get Out of Debt Guy) and James Howard Kunstler (Cluster Fuck Nation). I find their writing refreshing, honest, and reliably stimulating.  I am distressed, therefore, that Rhode and Kunstler disagree about whom to vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

Steve Rhode posted a commentary a few days ago summarizing the Trump administration's woeful malfeasance regarding the federal student-loan program. Under the venal leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has consistently acted in favor of debt collectors and for-profit colleges--always at the expense of student borrowers.  DeVos's team has misdirected the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the Borrower Forgiveness Program. It has opposed bankruptcy relief for even the most distressed and downtrodden student-loan debtors.  Last year, DeVos's DOE was sanctioned by a federal court for disregarding a federal judge's court order.

Steve Rhode argued in a recent commentary that no student-loan debtor could reasonably vote for Trump in the next election, and his arguments are irrefutable.  I myself have called for Betsy DeVos's impeachment--and Trump is the person who installed as Education Secretary.

I have argued for bankruptcy relief for suffering college debtors for more than 30 years. How can I vote for Trump, whose administration has demonstrated again and again that it doesn't give a damn about the millions of people who are burdened by student loans they can never pay off?

On the other hand, James Howard Kunstler wrote a provocative essay awhile back titled "Bill of Particulars," in which he outlined the efforts of Deep State operatives to overturn the results of our last lawful presidential election. Kunstler described these shenanigans as seditious, and he is right.  In my mind, there is no doubt at all that government agents in the CIA and FBI, in league with Democratic Party insiders, tried to overthrow the Trump presidency.  

Mr. Kunstler's arguments, like Mr. Rhode's, are irrefutable; and Kunstler began his essay by saying he would vote for Trump. I admire Mr. Kunstler's courage, and I agree with everything he said. Besides, I am convinced that Joe Biden, who is supported by the very people who tried to overthrow Trump, is not in full command of his senses. And I am also convinced that he is a crook who used his elected office as Obama's VP to benefit his family--and not just his son Hunter.

In short, Kunstler and Rhode are both right. Neither Trump nor Biden are worthy of my vote. It is sad and scary to contemplate, but America will be ill-served if either man is elected President.

Americans should not throw their votes away by sitting out the election or voting for some nonentity.  One of these screwballs will be President, and we have a moral obligation to pick from the lesser of two evils.

I don't know how I will feel on election day, but I can tell you right now that I don't like my choices.







Thursday, April 30, 2020

Massive student-loan forgiveness is now a mainstream idea: Even Al Jazeera is on board

Around 45 million Americans owe a total of $1.6 trillion in student loans, and approximately 20 million of those debtors are not paying them back.  Betsy DeVos, President Trump's Education Secretary, admitted more than a year ago that only one out of four student borrowers was paying down principal and interest on their federal loans. "In the commercial world," DeVos observed, "no bank regulator would allow this portfolio to be valued at full, face value."  

So why not just forgive all this festering debt--debt that is preventing struggling Americans from buying homes, having children, or saving for their retirement?

That notion is now a mainstream idea in American politics. Senator Bernie Sanders got the ball rolling when he called for wiping out all this debt.  Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed something slightly less radical--forgiving student debt up to $50,000.  And Joe Biden, the Democrats' presumptive nominee for the Presidency, wants to forgive all debt owed by individuals who attended a public university or a historically black college (HBCU).

Even Al Jazeera, an Arabic-focused news organization, based in Qatar, wants to forgive all federal student loan debt.  America is experiencing its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, Al Jazeera reporters pointed out, and the U.S. needs to prioritize relief  for "people, not profit." Al Jazeera calls for canceling all student loan debt, which would "help those hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic to "rebuild their futures."

Writing off all federal student debt is not a crazy idea, especially, as I just said, a bunch of it isn't being paid back anyway. But does Congress have the political will to do it? I don't think so.

After all, the straightforward solution to this crisis would be to simply allow overwhelmed debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy. Bills have been introduced in Congress that would accomplish just that, but those bills have gotten nowhere. 

I've said this before, and I will repeat it. Congress should allow insolvent Americans to file for bankruptcy and discharge their student loans like any other consumer debt: credit cards, car loans, and business obligations. 

And all Congress needs to do to accomplish this sweeping reform is to remove two words from the U.S. Bankruptcy Code: "undue hardship." It is the "undue hardship" language, after all, that the federal courts have interpreted so harshly, and which has denied bankruptcy relief to millions of honest student-loan debtors.

Of course, if Congress abolished the "undue hardship" standard, it would need to appoint a lot more bankruptcy judges to deal with a torrent of bankruptcy filings. And the judges would need to make sure that people who have the financial wherewithal to repay their loans don't fraudulently apply for bankruptcy relief.


In my view, calls to wipe out all student debt are irresponsible because politicians know this is never going to happen. Bankruptcy reform provides an orderly and fair way to give unfortunate student debtors a fresh start while guarding against fraud. 





Saturday, April 11, 2020

Joe Biden's student-loan forgiveness is seriously flawed, but it is a step in the right direction

Joe Biden announced his plan for student-loan forgiveness in a Medium commentary posted a few days ago.  He proposes to forgive all federal student loans for persons who earn up to $125,000 a year and who acquired their loans to attend a community college, a public college or university, or an HBCU (historically black college or university).

Biden's debt forgiveness plan is a step in the right direction, but it is seriously flawed.

First, Biden's plan does nothing for people who racked up student debt to attend for-profit colleges. We've known for a long time that the for-profit college industry has preyed on disadvantaged populations--people from low-income families, minorities, and first-generation college attendees.  On average, students leave their for-profit institutions with more debt than they would have acquired had they attended a public university.

So why not extended student-loan forgiveness to people who took out loans to attend a for-profit institution?

Second, student debtors who enrolled at private universities get no relief under Biden's plan unless they attended a private HBCU. This makes no sense to me at all.

Why should students who studied at Xavier University, a Catholic university in New Orleans, get debt forgiveness, while students who attended Loyola University, another New Orleans Catholic school, receive no relief at all? Are students who attended HBCUs more worthy of assistance than students who attended other colleges and universities? I don't think so.

Finally, Vice President Biden's proposal gives no relief to people who took out private student loans. Let's remember the fact that the so-called Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005 explicitly made private student-loans virtually nondischargeable in bankruptcy.  Then-Senator Biden supported that bill and voted for it.

Why should a student who took out student loans from Wells Fargo or Sallie Mae be denied debt relief while students who took out federal loans get their student debt completely wiped out?

I support any legislation that brings assistance to overburdened student debtors--including plans proposed by Senator SandersSenator Elizabeth Warren, and former VP Biden.  So Biden's plan, imperfect as it is, has my support.

But wouldn't be simpler and fairer to amend the Bankruptcy Code and allow beaten down debtors to shed their student loans in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured consumer debt--regardless of where they went to college?

After all, the bankruptcy judges have the authority and the expertise to reject bankruptcy claims that are fraudulent or brought by people who have the financial means to pay back their lawful debts.

In my view, Biden's student loan relief plan is not well thought out. If implemented, it will ignite bitter resentment from people who are burdened by college loans taken out to attend private universities or for-profit colleges. And it will undoubtedly offend people who took out private student loans that are nondischargeable in bankruptcy because of a law Joe Biden helped enact back in 2005.

Joe Biden wants to forgive your student loans if you attended this Catholic university but not if you attended another Catholic school located in the same city.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Joe Biden and the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act: "It's not personal. It's strictly business."

The 2020 presidential election is about eight months away, and I'm not going to tell you how to vote. If you hate Trump, you'll vote for Biden. If you think Biden is suffering from dementia, you'll vote for Trump.  And by election day, Biden or Trump will probably be your only choice.

Regardless of their political affiliation, all student-loan borrowers who are drowning in debt will want the next President to do one thing: reform the bankruptcy law. Specifically, they will want the next President to pressure Congress to repeal the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005 and to remove the "undue hardship" language from the Bankruptcy Code.

The Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005--named with unintended irony--made it more difficult for Americans to discharge credit card debt in the bankruptcy courts, and it made the bankruptcy process more expensive and more difficult for beaten-down debtors.

 According to Senator Elizabeth Warren:
After the bill passed, bankruptcy filings went down permanently by 50%, and the number of insolvent people went up permanently by 25%. By making it harder for people to discharge their debts and keep current on their house payments, the 2005 bill made the 2008 financial crisis significantly worse: experts found that the bill “caused about 800,000 additional mortgage defaults and 250,000 additional foreclosures.” 
The law also made private student loans almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. Before its passage, debtors could not discharge federal student loans in bankruptcy unless they could show "undue hardship." After the bankruptcy reform law was passed, private loans were also nondischargeable unless a debtor could show undue hardship.

The law was a Republican-backed bill, which Senator Ted Kennedy scathingly criticized. “This legislation breaks the bond that unites America, it sacrifices Americans to the rampant greed of the credit card industry,” Kennedy said.

But many Democratic senators crossed party lines and voted with the Republicans.  One of those aisle-crossing Democrats was Joe Biden. Senator Biden claimed the new law would cut down on abuses in the bankruptcy system. In fact, there was little evidence that debtors were scamming the bankruptcy courts.

In my view, Biden disguised his motives for voting in favor of the bankruptcy reform bill. In reality, Biden was doing the bidding of the corporate banks, which have donated millions to his campaign coffers over the years. To borrow a quote from The Godfather, Biden's vote wasn't personal; it was strictly business.

Now, however, Mr. Biden is singing a different tune. As reported by Matthew Yglesias in Vox,  Biden recently changed his position on the 2005 law. He now endorses the views of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who have called for its repeal.

This is good news for student-loan debtors, but I think Mr. Biden needs to express his change of views more forcefully. Student debtors need to hear Biden explicitly call for the repeal of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act and the abolition of the "undue hardship" language in the Bankruptcy Code. If he does that, Biden will win a lot of votes in the November election.



Biden and the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act: It wasn't personal. It was strictly business.

Friday, January 31, 2020

I fell asleep during the Impeachment movie. Did I miss anything?

Like millions of Americans, I watched Impeachment, The Movie. Unfortunately, I fell asleep near the end, and when I woke up, I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on.

In my own defense, Impeachment was a very long movie--more than three years, almost as long as Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.  I got up to go to the bathroom during the Mueller investigation, and I never got back on track.

And of course, when a movie is three years long, you gotta have some popcorn. I was smart enough to buy the Value Tub--the one that gives you unlimited refills. It was expensive--$250 plus tax, but I got 127 refills, so it was a pretty good deal.

But the popcorn breaks added to my confusion. I missed parts of the movie when I was making all those trips to the concession counter.

So fill me in. I thought the Mueller investigation concluded that Trump was not guilty of colluding with the Russians, but later in the movie, Hillary Clinton said that he was.

And then Trump was accused of making an illegal phone call to the president of Ukraine. And that had something to do with Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and all the rest of Biden's children. But that was never explained.

But here's the part that really befuddled me.  The impeachment trial in the Senate was triggered by an anonymous whistleblower whose name was never revealed.  And Representative Adam Schiff, the chief prosecutor, claimed he had never met the guy.  Huh? To me, that part of the movie just wasn't believable.

Obviously, the director of the movie, Nancy Pelosi (who played herself in the film), should have cut a lot of the scenes. In my opinion, the movie could have been cut down to about a year and a half.

And there were casting errors.  The guy who played Robert Mueller was obviously miscast. He was supposed to be this bulldog investigator with ironclad integrity, but he came off as some sleepy old guy who was trying to find the remote on his television.

I tell you this--I am not going to watch that movie again. I'm too old to watch three-year movies.

But I'm pumped about the sequel, which comes out next summer--Impeachment: The Empire Strikes Back! This one is about the expulsion of Adam Schiff from the House of Representatives, and Joaquin Phoenix plays Shiff wearing Joker makeup.

I can't wait to see it, and I understand it's only about two months long.


Joaquin Phoenix playing Adam Schiff in Impeachment: The Empire Strikes Back

This essay is also posted at my blog site on American culture: Saints of Flyover Countryflyoversaints.org.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Student Borrowers Beware: Joe Biden is a Lackey of the Banks

Fourteen years ago, Congress passed a so-called bankruptcy reform law at the behest of the banking industry. One provision--inserted solely for the benefit of the banks—made private student loans non-dischargeable in bankruptcy unless the debtor could show “undue hardship.” The banks justified this heartless legislation as a way to reduce interest rates on private student loans. They argued that the additional protection for creditors would make it possible for banks to loan students money at a lower interest rate because defaulting borrowers would find it virtually impossible to discharge their private college loans in the bankruptcy courts.

This legislation benefited Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo and other major players in the private student-loan market, but the U.S. Department of Education issued a report in 2015 arguing that this provision should be repealed.

This is what the DOE report had to say:
There has been no evidence that the 2005 changes to bankruptcy caused interest on student loans to decline or access to credit to increase significantly. As private student loans generally do not include the consumer protections, such as income-driven repayment plans, included in federal loans, the undue-hardship standard for bankruptcy discharge leaves private student loan borrowers in financial distress with few options.
According to an article in International Business Times (IBT), Senator Joe Biden was an enthusiastic supporter of this Fat Cat Assistance Act, which made it harder for insolvent student-loan debtors to obtain bankruptcy relief. As IBT’s David Sirota observed:
Though the vice president has long portrayed himself as a champion of the struggling middle class--a man who famously commutes on Amtrack and mixes enthusiastically with blue-collar workers—the Delaware lawmaker has played a consistent and pivotal role in the financial industry’s four-decade campaign to make it harder for students to shield themselves and their families from creditors, according to an IBT review of bankruptcy legislation going back to the 1970s.
Indeed, Ed Boltz, who was president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys in 2015, observed that “Joe Biden bears a large amount of responsibility for passage of the bankruptcy bill.” In fact, the New York Times reported that Biden voted for the bill four times: in 1998, 2000, 2001, and in March 2005, when the bill finally passed the Senate by a vote of 74 to 25.

And—surprise, surprise!—as of 2015, the financial industry had donated $1.9 million to Biden over the course of his career. Now Joe is launching another campaign for the presidency.

So if you get an opportunity to vote for Joe Biden, keep this mind: he is a lackey of the banks. And if you are a student-loan debtor who supports Mr. Biden's presidential bid, then you are an idiot.

References

Christopher Drew & Mike McIntire. Obama Aides Defend Bank’s Pay to Biden Son. New York Times, August 24, 2008.

David Sirota. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder for Americans to Reduce Their Student Debt. International Business Times, September 15, 2015.

U.S. Department of Education. Strengthening the Student Loan System to Better Protect All Borrowers. Washington D.C., October 1, 2015. [Note: This DOE report has been removed from the web.]

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Congressman John Katko introduces bill to make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. Will presidential candidates endorse the bill?

Last month, John Katko, a Republican congressman from New York, filed H.R. 770, a bill that would make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other consumer debt.

Titled the "Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act," Katko's bill is quite simple. It merely strikes the "undue hardship" clause from Section 523(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.

Congressman Katko filed the same bill two years ago. When he filed the bill in 2017, it had ten co-sponsors, including Maryland Congressman John Delaney. When Katko refiled the bill last month, he only had two co-sponsors.

If H.R. 770 becomes law, millions of Americans who are overwhelmed by student loans will get relief in the bankruptcy courts. They will have an opportunity to start families and buy homes. They will get the fresh start that bankruptcy is intended to provide.

Let's make Katko's bill the litmus test for everyone who is running for president or is thinking about running. Let's ask them one simple question: Do you support Katko's bill or not?

  • President Donald Trump, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Senator Kamala Harris, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar, do you support H.R. 770?
  • Michael Bloomberg, do you support Katko's bill?
  • Beto O'Rourke, do you support H.R. 770?
  • John Delaney, former Maryland congressman who co-sponsored Katko's bankruptcy-relief bill in 2017, you are now running for president. Do you support Congressman Katko's bill?
Our federal legislators are fond of holding committee hearings where they bully witnesses by demanding yes-or-no answers to all their hectoring questions.

Well, here is a question to everyone who wants to be president, and we should demand a yes-or-no answer. Unless a presidential candidate can say "Yes, I support H.R. 770 without qualification," that person is nothing more than a windbag who doesn't care about average Americans and does not deserve our vote.

*****

Note: I am grateful to Phil Uhrich for calling this bill to my attention.  Mr. Uhrich wrote a provocative essay on national politics in 2016 that is still timely.

Representative John Katko (R-NY)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Older Americans are burdened by their children's student loans

Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way


Old And In The Way
David Grisman
Recorded by the Grateful Dead


The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a useful report a few days ago on student-loan indebtedness and older Americans.  Here are some of the CFPB's key findings:
  • "The number of consumers age 60 and older with outstanding student loan debt quadrupled from 2005 to 2015, increasing from about 700,000 to 2.8 million."
  • During this ten-year period, the share of older student loan borrowers more than doubled, rising from 2.7 percent to 6.4 percent of all student-loan debtors.
  • The average amount older Americans owe on student loans roughly doubled in ten years from $12,100 to $23,500.
  • Among federal student loan borrowers who are 65 years old or older, nearly 40 percent are in default.
  • In 2015, the total amount that older Americans owed for student loans was $66.7 billion.
All this is very interesting, but here is the CFPB's most disturbing finding: Almost three quarters of older Americans with student-loan debt (73 percent) reported that their loans were "for a child's and/or grandchild's education."

How did so many older Americans become burdened by loans taken out for their children or grandchildren? Two reasons: either they took out a federal Parent PLUS loan for a child's education or they co-signed a private student loan.

Currently, private banks hold about $102 billion in student loans. Except in rare circumstances, the banks will not issue private student loans unless a co-signer agrees to be responsible for the debt. In most cases, the co-signer on a private loan is a parent or grandparent. And, as the CFPB pointed out, more than half of all co-signers are 55 years or older.

This is a serious problem because a lot of older borrowers who are burdened by their children's or their grandchildren's education costs face serious financial challenges of their own. A great many are having trouble meeting their own health care costs or saving for their retirement. 

And here is the great tragedy behind the CFPB's report. Elderly people who co-sign a student loan for a child or grandchild cannot discharge that debt in bankruptcy unless they can meet the "undue hardship" test articulated by the bankruptcy courts. And that is a very hard test to meet.

And this is true whether an elderly person's debt arises from a federal student loan or a private student loan.  In fact, Congress revised the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 (under the leadership of Senator Joe Biden) to put private student loans under the same undue hardship standard that applies to federal loans.

This is unjust, and many commentators have argued that private student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other unsecured debt. But Congress has not repaired its mistake by repealing that pernicious 2005 revision in the Bankruptcy Code.

A lot of liberal U.S. Senators and Congresspeople bleat in compassionate tones about the plight of distressed student-loan borrowers. But what have they done to bring tangible relief to millions of people--including elderly people--who are suffering under the weight of overwhelming debt?

Perhaps our national legislators will read the CFPB report and realize that elderly people who become overburdened by debt they incurred to educate their children or grandchildren should be able to discharge that debt in bankruptcy if they become insolvent without having to meet the Bankruptcy Code's undue hardship restriction.

But that will never happen. To paraphrase an old Grateful Dead song, Congress treats older Americans like they're just old and in the way.




References

Ron Lieber. The Big Pause You Should Take Before Co-Signing a Student LoanNew York Times, August 12, 2016.

Sirota, David. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student DebtInternational Business Times, September 15  , 2015. Accessible: http://www.ibtimes.com/joe-biden-backed-bills-make-it-harder-americans-reduce-their-student-debt-2094664

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Amazon partners with Wells Fargo to peddle private student loans: Say it ain't so, Jeff Bezos

Amazon announced recently that it is partnering with Wells Fargo in the private student-loan business. The plan is for Wells Fargo to offer a slightly discounted interest rate to Amazon Prime Student members on Wells Fargo's private student loans.

 I was sorry to get this news. More than 50 years ago, American businesses discovered that they could rake in more cash from loaning money to their customers than from selling products. Prior to filing bankruptcy, for example, General Motors generated more profits from GMAC, its lending arm, than it did from selling cars.

In fact, the common joke at the time was that GM was not a car manufacturing company; it was a bank that happened to sell cars. And of course that slight change in focus from building quality automobiles to lending money at interest partly explains why GM went bankrupt.

Amazon already sells just about everything in the world. I recently purchased a couple of bags of wood chips for my electric smoker from Amazon; and I bought them cheaper than I could have gotten them at my local grocery store. Amazon's success has made Jeff Bezos, its founder, the third richest man in the world. He's worth about $65 billion.

Do Jeff and Amazon really need to get into the student loan business? Doesn't Jeff have enough money already?

But what is wrong with Amazon getting into the private student loan business, you might ask? What makes peddling student loans different from selling books, CDs, and appliances?

At least three things. First, most banks and lenders require student-loan borrowers to obtain a co-signer who will guarantee repayment of the loan. Thus, when Johnny and Sallie take out private student loans, Mom and Pop are also on the hook. In my opinion, it is reprehensible for banks to force students to get parents or relatives to cosign student loans.

Second, private loans generally carry higher interest rates than federal student loans, and they don't provide alternative payment options if a borrower runs into financial trouble and can't make monthly loan payments.  Without exception, people would be better off borrowing in the federal program than the private program.

Private lenders argue that they provide loans to people who need more money than they can borrow through the federal program.  But in my view, people who can't finance their educational program solely through federal loans are in the wrong program.

Finally, the banks managed to get Congress to revise the Bankruptcy Code in 2005 to make private loans as difficult to discharge in bankruptcy as federal loans. Senator Joe Biden was the chief architect of that sweetheart deal for the banks.

So if you take out a student loan from Wells Fargo and suffer a financial catastrophe, you will find it virtually impossible to discharge your Wells Fargo loan in bankruptcy. This is another good reason not to take out a private student loan.

In sum, the private student loan business is a sleazy industry. And so I ask again: Jeff Bezos, don't you have enough money already? Does Amazon really need to associate itself with the unsavory commerce in private student loans?

Jeff Bezos' iconic laugh.jpg
Jeff Bezos: Say it ain't so, Jeff

References

Ann Carne. Student Loan Co-Signers Face Tangled Path to a Release. New York Times, July 10, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/11/your-money/student-loan-co-signers-face-a-tangled-path-to-a-release.html

Karen Silke Carty. 7 Reasons GM is Headed to Bankruptcy. ABC News. Accessible at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=7721675&page=1

Annamaria Andriotis. Amazon tiptoes into the banking business through student loans. Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-tip-toes-into-banking-business-1469093403

Sirota, David. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt. International Business Times, September 15 , 2015. Accessible: http://www.ibtimes.com/joe-biden-backed-bills-make-it-harder-americans-reduce-their-student-debt-2094664