The Department of Education's June report showed a slight uptick from the delinquency rate one year earlier, when 18.6 percent of student debtors were a month late on their loan payments.
What does this mean?
Yelena Shulyatyeva, a senior economist for Bloomberg Intelligence, professed to be mystified. "There's no fundamental reason for that to be happening," Shulyatyeva said.
James Kvaal, who was President Obama's Deputy Director of White House Domestic Policy, also seemed stumped by rising delinquency rates. "That the trend has stalled," Kvaal said, "is not yet a warning sign, but it is a question mark."
Nasiripour, who has done some fine reporting on the student loan crisis, summarized why this development is puzzling to many policy experts. "After all," she wrote, "the U.S. economy has improved since June of last year, with lower unemployment, higher household incomes and increased wealth, federal data show." Moreover, Nasiripour pointed out "Consumers are more confident about the economy, and their own personal finances, too, according to Bloomberg Consumer Comfort data."
But rising delinquency rates are just one more sign that the student loan program is in meltdown. Let's tick off some more disaster indicators:
- Last year, 1.1 million Americans defaulted on their student loans at an average rate of 3,000 defaults a day.
- A recent report released by the National Center for Education Statics revealed that almost 6 people in ten who first enrolled for postsecondary education in 1995-96 had not paid off their student loans 20 years later.
- As reported by the Wall Street Journal, more than half the students at a thousand colleges and schools had not reduced their student-loan debt by one penny seven years into repayment.
- According to a 2016 report from the Government Accounting Office, half the people who entered income-driven repayment plans to lower their monthly loan payments were removed from their IDRs for failing to recertify their income.
- A Brookings Institution report noted that more than one out of four people (28 percent) in a recent cohort of student borrowers defaulted on their loans within five years of beginning repayment. The default rate among students who attended for-profit colleges was 47 percent.
And collapse it will. In the meantime, millions of student-loan debtors are buried under a mountain of debt.
I believe the federal bankruptcy courts are slowly awakening to this crisis and that they are increasingly willing to rule compassionately toward distressed student debtors who seek bankruptcy relief. The Murray decision out of Kansas, which was affirmed on appeal last month, is a heartening sign.
The Murrays were fortunate enough to have been represented by an able attorney, and they also received assistance in the form of an amicus brief filed by the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
Unfortunately, few insolvent student debtors are able to find attorneys to take their cases. If American lawyers understood the student-loan crisis for what it is--a human rights issue, they might take up some of these cases as volunteers, much as the civil rights lawyers did in the 1960s, when attorneys from across the United States came South at the risk of their lives to represent civil rights activists.
I am convinced that the solution to the student-loan catastrophe lies with the federal bankruptcy courts. Congress does not have the collective courage to address this problem legislatively, and the higher education industry--like a cocaine addict--survives from day to day on regular infusions of federal student-aid money.
|American colleges, like drug addicts, survive from day to day on regular infusions of federal student-aid money.|
Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than Believed. Wall Street Journal, January 18, 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 rates. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015).
Shahien Nasiripour. More Americans Are Falling Behind on Student Loans, and Nobody Quite Knows Why. Bloomberg.com, September 28, 2017.
The Wrong Move on Student Loans. New York Times, April 6, 2017.
US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.
Jennie H. Woo, Alexander H. Bentz, Stephen Lew, Erin Dunlop Velez, Nichole Smith, RTI International, (2017, October). Repayment of Student Loans as of 2015 Among 1995-96 and 2003-04 First-Time Beginning Students. First Look (NCES 2018-410). U.S. Department of Education. Washington DC; National Center for Education Statistics. [Sean A Simone, Project Officer]