Showing posts with label McKinsey & Company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label McKinsey & Company. Show all posts

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Income-Based Repayment Plans for Student Debtors: Flushing Money Down the Toilet

Congress has been dropping "helicopter money" into the national economy--adding significantly to the national debt, which now exceeds $25 trillion.

That's a lot of money for our grandchildren to pay back. My own grandkids are ambivalent about this situation. My four-year-old says he thinks he can do it if his dad will increase his allowance, but my six-year-old doesn't think it's fair for him to pay for his ancestors' wars in the Middle East.

Now let's look at another economic crisis our grandchildren will pay for--the federal student-loan program.

According to the U.S. Department of Education's own numbers, approximately 43 million Americans have student-loan debt totaling $1.5 trillion.  And, if DOE can read its own balance sheet, it will see that it has basically given up on collecting about a third of that debt.

As of the first quarter of this year, 8.1 million student borrowers are in income-driven repayment plans (IDRs). By the very terms of those plans, these borrowers make loan payments based on their income, not the amount they borrowed. Under most of these plans, borrowers at similar income levels make the same sized monthly loan payments regardless of whether they owe $20,000, $50,000, or $100,000.

Virtually everybody in an IDR is making payments so low that the underlying debt grows larger due to accrued interest--interest that is capitalized.  In other words, virtually no one in an IDR is going to pay off his or her student loans.

How much money are we talking about? DOE's recent report tells us that a half-trillion dollars ($507 billion) are owed by people in IDRs.  In fact, 400,000 people in IDRs owe $200,000 or more.  And--inexplicably--300,000 student debtors are in IDRs who owe less than $5,000.

As Education Secretary DeVos publicly acknowledged in late 2018, the federal government carries student-loan debt on its books as performing loans, which a commercial bank could not do. In fact, she made the astonishing admission that outstanding student loans make up 30 percent of all federal assets!

But in fact, at least 8.1 million student loans are not performing. On the contrary, the IDR programs were designed in such a way that borrowers never pay them back.  

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last year that she was hiring McKinsey & Company, a private consulting firm, to determine just how big the student-debt debacle really is.  So far, she has released no report.

But we don't need a high-priced consulting firm to tell us what is going on. The student-loan program is bankrupt. And while Betsy DeVos sails along on her private yacht, DOE lawyers are hounding desperate student-loan borrowers through the bankruptcy courts, demanding that they be put into IDRs. Those IDR plans can last for as long as a quarter of a century, and virtually no one in such a plan will ever pay off their student-loan debt.



References

Ferguson, Adam. When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany. New York: Public Affairs Publishing (2010) (originally published in 1975).

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Education Secretary Betsy Devos Hires Private Accounting Firm to Audit the Student Loan program: Asking For Bad News

Secretary of Education Betsy Devos hired McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, to audit the federal student loan program. Why did she do that?

After all, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office or the Inspector General could have done the job. Why hire a private firm?

I'm thinking Secretary DeVos and the Trump administration realize the federal student-loan program is under water. They know the news is bad, but they want to know just how bad it is. After all, Secretary DeVos compared the program to a looming thunderstorm in a speech she made last November.

It took 42 years, DeVos pointed out, for the federal student-loan portfolio to reach half a trillion dollars (1965 until 2007). It took only 6 years--2007 to 2013--for the portfolio to reach $1 trillion. And in 2018--just five years later--the federal government held $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loans. In fact, uncollateralized student loans now make up 30 percent of all federal assets.

This wouldn't be a problem if student borrowers were paying off their loans. But they're not. As DeVos candidly admitted last November, "only 24 percent of FSA borrowers—one in four—are currently paying down both principal and interest." One in five borrowers are in delinquency or default, and 43 percent of all loans are "in distress" (whatever that means).

Although DeVos did not say so explicitly, she basically acknowledged that we've arrived where we are because the government is cooking the books. Student loans now constitute one third of the federal balance sheet. "Only through government accounting is this student loan portfolio counted as anything but an asset embedded with significant risk" DeVos said. "In the commercial world, no bank regulator would allow this portfolio to be valued at full, face value."

We can hope that McKinsey and Company will give us an accurate accounting. But we already know the news will be catastrophic.  More than 7.4 million people are in income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) that stretch out for 20 and even 25 years. IBRP participants make loan payments based on their income, not the amount they borrowed. Virtually no one in these plans will ever pay off their loans. 

Millions more have their loans in deferment or are prolonging their education to postpone the day they will be obligated to start making loan payments. Thus--as DeVos disclosed--only a quarter of student-loan borrowers are paying back both principal and interest on their loans.

Over the past 15 years or so, presidential administrations have juggled the numbers to postpone the day of reckoning. "After us, the deluge," has been the watchword.  Meanwhile, university presidents are saying nothing about this looming thunderstorm. They hope the deluge won't come until they are drawing their pensions.

The McKinsey report, when it comes, will be a shock to the public consciousness. And there is only one solution. We must admit that the federal student-loan program is totally out of control and allow its victims to discharge their loans in bankruptcy.

Before the deluge: Photo Credit Yale Center for British Art

References

Michelle Hackman, Josh Mitchell, & Lalita Clozel. Trump Administration Hires McKinsey to Evaluate Student-Loan Portfolio. Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2019.