Showing posts with label Parent PLUS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parent PLUS. Show all posts

Friday, July 13, 2018

Michelle Singletary gives good financial advice to young people about student loans, and here are my two cents (think La Brea tar pits)

Michelle Singletary, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, gives good advice  to young people about managing debt--including student loans. She published a very good article awhile back that contained two good pieces of advice. I will summarize her suggestions and add my own two cents.

First, Singletary challenges the conventional wisdom that young people should begin saving for retirement as early as possible--while still in their 20s.  "Millennials' money is often too tight," she counseled, "and for the many who have student loans, they may be best served spending the first years aggressively paying off this debt."

I agree completely. It makes no sense for young people to put money in IRAs or other retirement accounts if they aren't managing their student loans. After all, if they accumulate student-loan debt that becomes so large they can't make their monthly payments, they'll wind up in 25-year income-based repayment plans, which may prevent them from ever retiring.  It is absolutely critical for millennials to get their student loans paid off as quickly as possible.  For young people, there will be plenty of time later to save for retirement after they pay off their student loans.

Singletary also signaled her disagreement with commentators who lament the high percentage of young adults who live with their parents. It is true that more people in their 20s are living with Mom and Pop; 28 percent, according to Singletary, up from just 19 percent in 2016.

But that may not be a bad thing. If a young person can economize by living with parents, why not do so? That leaves more money to save for a down payment on a house or for paying student loans off early.

Now here are my two cents.

When taking out college loans, students should keep in mind the possibility that they won't find a good job after graduating. If their student loan debt is modest, they can probably make their monthly payments even if they are in a low paying job. But if they borrowed a lot of money and can't make the initial monthly payments, they will be forced to apply for an economic hardship deferment, which are very easy to get.

Those deferments excuse borrowers from making monthly loan payments, but compound interest accrues on the principal. Borrowers who put student loans in deferment for three years will find their loan balances will have grown substantially.

Then--if they can't make regular payments on the larger balance, student borrowers will be pushed into 20- or 25-year income-based repayment plans. In my view, that is a disastrous outcome for young people who took out student loans to improve the quality of their lives, not fall into a lifetime of indebtedness.

And here is some more of my two cents. Never take out private student loans from Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae or any of the other blood suckers who offer private student loans. Those loans are just as hard to discharge in bankruptcy as federal student loans.  And when I say never take out private student loans, I mean never.

Finally, to reiterate advice I have given tirelessly for many years, don't ask your parents to take out a Parent PLUS loan to finance your college studies; and don't ask them to co-sign any of your student loans. If you love Mama and Daddy, don't suck them into a veritable La Brea tar pit of perpetual student-loan indebtedness, especially if you are already in the tar pit yourself.

La Brea Tar Pits


Michelle Singletary. Millennials get plenty of financial advice-but most of it is wrong. Herald-Tribune, May 22, 2018.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Parent PLUS loans: African American families are being exploited by HBCUs

Rachel Fishman wrote a report for New America titled "The Wealth Gap PLUS Debt: How Federal Loans Exacerbate Inequality for Black Families."   But a better titled would have been this: "The Parent PLUS student-loan program screws African American families."

Parent PLUS is a federal student loan program that allows parents to take out student loans for their children's postsecondary education. Parents can borrow up to the student's total cost of attending the college of their choice--there is no dollar cap on the amount that parents can borrow.

Originally, the Parent PLUS program had very low eligibility criteria, and the Department of Education was making loans to parents who had a history of bad debts. DOE tightened the criteria in 2011, which raised an outcry from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).

HBCUs favor Parent PLUS loans because DOE does not report default rates on these loans and does not penalizes colleges for high Parent PLUS default rates.  As Fishman explained, "Parent PLUS loans are not included in CDR [cohort default rate] calculations, rendering them a no-strings-attached revenue source for colleges and universities" (P. 9). Indeed, for many colleges, "Parent PLUS loans are like grants; they get money from the federal government and the parent is on the hook to repay."

In response to strenuous protests from HBCUs, the Obama administration backed off on its efforts to make borrowing standards more rigorous, and the amount of money parents borrow under the program has increased.  According to Fishman, the percent of Parent PLUS borrowers with debt over $50,000 increased from 3 percent in 2000 to 13 percent in 2014 (p. 19).

Basically, the Department of Education is toadying to the HBCUs by loaning money recklessly to African American families that probably can't pay it back. In fact, Fishman reported that one third of African American parents taking out PLUS loans had incomes so low they were able to make zero estimated family contributions (EFC) to their children's college costs.

As Fishman points out, Parent PLUS loans adds to  a family's total debt for putting a child through college. Black families with zero EFC accumulate an average of $33,721 in "intergenerational indebtedness," which includes an average of $11,000 in PLUS loans in addition to the amount borrowed by the students themselves.

Fishman's report adds to a growing body of evidence showing that African Americans are getting screwed by the federal student loan program. Ben Miller, writing for the Center for American Progress (as reported by Fishman) "found that 12 years after entering college, the median Black borrower owed more than the original amount borrowed."  And default rates for African American college graduates is almost triple the rate for white graduates: 25 percent for black graduates and only 9 percent for white graduates.

A Brookings Institution report also calculates high default rates for black student borrowers. Judith Scott's Brookings report estimates that 70 percent of African American borrowers in the  2003-2004 cohort will ultimately default.

And the student-loan default rate for African Americans who drop out of for-profit schools without graduating is catastrophic.  Three out of four black students who borrow money to attend a for-profit institution and drop out before graduating default on their student loans.

But who gives a damn if the federal student loan program screws African American students and their families? HBCUs like the Parent PLUS program, because the Parent PLUS default rate doesn't penalize the colleges.  Parent PLUS money is essentially "free money" to a HBCU although one third of African American families who take out these loans show zero ability to repay.


Rachel Fishman. The Wealth Gap PLUS. How Federal Loans Exacerbate Inequality of Black Families. New, May 2018.

Andrew Kreighbaum. How Parent Plus Worsens the Racial Wealth Gap. Inside Higher Ed, May 15, 2018.