Showing posts with label for-profit colleges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label for-profit colleges. Show all posts

Friday, December 4, 2020

Steve Rhode: Here is Why Forgiving Student Loans is an Impossible Issue with an Easy Solution

Written by Steve Rhode

 Originally published at Get Out of Debt Guy

When it comes to a rapidly accelerating financial burden on American families, there is no greater concern than student loans.

The debt is burdensome and unfair on many levels that I’ll explore below.

However, there is a straightforward and simple solution for dealing with all of this outside of struggling to develop a fair forgiveness strategy. I’ll talk about that after we look at common opinions on the subject.

Is Student Loan Forgiveness Fair?

The talk of forgiveness is a difficult topic because how do you reach any level of fairness.

And let me be clear when people talk about forgiving student loans, it only applies to federal student loans. Not private student loans.

As Howard Dvorkin, Chairman of Debt.com said, “Only one-third of the people in this country get a four-year college education. The two-thirds without a college education is expected to subsidize their education when it is very likely that they earn less than the people who are receiving the educational subsidy.”

Dvorkin went on to say, “The issue of forgiving debt is complicated. What about all the people that have already struggled to pay their debts, and now other people get loans forgiven. That’s not fair.”

Student Loans – Another Financial Mistake for Many

A 2019 student by New York Life of 2,200 adults found the average participant reported taking 18.5 years to pay off their student loans, starting at age 26 and ending at 45.

That is a significant portion of life to have to be tied to a student loan payment that should have been directed to saving for retirement and then mushroomed into a giant nest egg. It can take decades to recover from that financial mistake. But that’s not the only financial regret people have.

What is shocking is the number of people that have student loan debt but who never graduated. I’ve seen statics as high as 75 percent of people with any student loans never obtained the degree.

And the wave of for-profit schools that have oversold education to people that never should have purchased their product is another national disaster.

“For-profit schools are not worth the money,” said Dvorkin. “As an employer, I hire people with traditional non-profit college degrees before I would hire someone with a for-profit degree.”

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said, “Students who attend for-profit institutions take on more educational debt and are more likely to default on their student loans than those attending similarly selective public schools.”

The study went on to say, “Overall, our results indicate that, on average, for-profit enrollment leads to worse student loan outcomes for students than enrolling in a public college or university, which is driven by higher loan takeup and worse labor market outcomes. This is an important set of findings for several reasons. First, a substantial amount of public funds go to for-profit institutions through the financial aid system. Our estimates indicate the return to such expenditures may be quite low. Second, the results suggest that students who attend local for-profit institutions when there is a negative labor demand shock may be making mistakes: they would be better off attending the local public college or university instead.”

But even non-profit schools are ramping up tuition and selling students into seats that maybe should not have been admitted.

Student loan debt is a life sentence in painful debt for many: The Impossibility of Forgiveness

Opinions on forgiveness range all over the place. Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education said recently, “Policies should never entice students into greater debt. Nor should they put taxpayer dollars at greater risk. There are too many politicians today who support policy that does both.”

 

She also labeled student loan forgiveness as an “insidious notion of government gift giving. We’ve heard shrill calls to “cancel,” to “forgive,” to “make it all free.” Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is: wrong.”

Forgiveness is never going to be fair, and it’s not going to a quick and effective way to stimulate the economy in a difficult time from a pandemic, as some claim.

Today, student loan forgiveness would result in people not making loans they are already in default on or making payments that are too low to pay the debt off. At most, it will result in people not having to make some loan payments monthly.

The economic impact will be felt over a long period of time rather than the boost and support the economy needs now.

While DeVos talks about avoiding policies that entice students into greater debt, her own Department of Education is a big part of the problem, with help from Congress.

As the federal student loan program stands now, there is $1.37 trillion of outstanding debt to students, and the Education Department has determined that borrowers will only pay back $935 billion. That leaves the program in the red and holding for $435 billion of bad loans.

The Wall Street Journal said, “The analysis was based on government accounting standards and didn’t include roughly $150 billion in loans originated by private lenders and backed by the government.”

 

To deal with that shortage, “Congress will have to raise taxes, cut services or increase the deficit to cover the losses.” That solution is also not fair to the many that repaid their loans.

So the Battles and Arguments About Student Loan Forgiveness Are Complicated

We can argue and politically position ourselves around the idea of forgiving student loans is either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen.

It is actually a moot point since the program is in so much trouble already.

Let’s not forget the 42 million student loan borrowers will become due again in January 2020, as a result of the CARES Act forbearance ending.

People that can’t afford their student loans will suddenly be required to begin payments again. Defaults will explode even more.

As it stands now, the Department of Education’s base position is students should feel lucky they can enroll student loan debt in an Income-Driven Repayment program (IDR) that will give them a loan payment based on income. But, as I wrote before, it’s a trap.

As it stands now, while a student loan debtor might enroll in an income-based repayment program, the minimum payment is not enough to cover the interest being charged on the loan, and the balance owed grows. While people say, “certainly Congress will change that.” The reality is they have not, over the many years the programs have been in place.

So the way the “lowest payment” solution works right now is that the government lets you pay less than is due, that grows the balance, and in two decades, when the exploded balance is forgiven, people will owe income tax on that debt unless they are insolvent. It sounds crazy, but it is true.

Here is a case that is a great example of the madness. The student loan debtor could not afford to pay off her $40,000 of student loans over 14 years but is now required to enroll and remain in an IDR that will drive her balance up.

The article by Richard Fossey J.D. says, “How could the judge conclude that Hladly might someday pay off her student loans when the amount she initially borrowed had tripled since the time she graduated from law school? If Hlady could not pay off $40,000 in student loans over 14 years, how will she ever pay $140,000 over the next 25 years, especially since her loan balance grows by $20 a day in accruing interest?

As Judge Scarcella observed, Ms. Hlady is 48 years old. Her 25-year repayment plan will terminate when she is 73. By that time, her loan balance will be more than a quarter of a million dollars. This amount will be forgiven, but the forgiven debt will be taxed as income unless Hlady is insolvent at the time.”

With IDR Plans, the Government Has Already Accepted the Loan Forgiveness Proposition

In my opinion, with federal student loan forgiveness programs already on the books, policymakers have already accepted some form of loan forgiveness. Yet, the current talk of student loan forgiveness ranges from its “socialism” to its “a right.”

As it stands today, the federal government already runs a student loan program that is rapidly increasing in delinquencies, defaults, and repayment plans that will only grow the balance.

The only current winners in the student loan cycle are the schools that can sell students on attending and get easy money from the federal government.

Students enroll, schools get paid and accept almost no responsibility for the outcome. When a student loan debtor was sold education, they could never logically or mathematically afford and later defaults; the school does not have to pay back the loan.

Howard Dvorkin said, “Colleges must start operating as a business and deliver service within income. The days of college expansion paid for from easy government student loan money needs to stop.”

He’s right.

Student Loan Forgiveness is Much-Ado-About-Nothing and Misdirected

I hate to state the obvious here, but rather than worry about the inequities of forgiveness and who wins and loses, the most rational and logical option is to roll back the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA).

BAPCPA made private student loans harder to discharge in bankruptcy. And private student loans are growing as well.

The issue is students are drowning in debt. It can be argued that because of student loan debt, they are also having to take out other debt and reduce retirement savings.

When those people are old enough and can no longer work, the lack of retirement savings will create a public safety net drain. No matter how you look at this, the systemic problem of easy money for education has driven up the debt, and we will all pay for it in one way or another.

The Solution Seems So Apparent

Up until 1976, all student loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is a legal right for consumers to get a fresh financial start, and it is even a part of the U.S. Constitution. Those that file for bankruptcy generate an immediate stimulus for the economy and have a second chance to do better, having learned hard lessons from mistakes.

Returning to allowing both federal and private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy has many features:

1.      It is a current and accepted legal process with clear rules and guidelines.

2.      The debt is forgiven tax-free.

3.      It allows people a chance to get a fresh start from an impossible situation. Oftentimes these issues are the result of accidents, injuries, medical issues, pandemics, etc.

4.      A bankruptcy Trustee and Judge must review and approve the discharge plan. If a consumer has too much income for a full immediate discharge, they will be required to enter a five-year repayment plan in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

5.      Forgiveness will be restricted to only those that qualify.

6.      The fact the loans may now be dischargeable should force lenders to make better loan decisions before just handing the money to anybody.

7.      If loans are less abundant or actually just based on repayment ability, then schools would have to ratchet back tuition fees. Less easy money would be available.

8.      This process would be restricted to those who need and meet the accepted legal standards for bankruptcy.

9.      People that can afford to repay their loans will have to do so through their Chapter 13 repayment plan.

10.  We can eliminate this ridiculous game and administration of student loans that will never be repaid and have to be dealt with.

If We Restore Bankruptcy Student Loan Debt Elimination to All Then We Can Focus on Doing Better

There is no argument that education leads to opportunity. I don’t care if that is education at a trade school, some other hands-on education, or a degree in some college subject at the best school in a 200-mile radius.

I heard recently about a “toilet paper” degree program. That’s where plumbers make much more than people to go to college. I do know some very rich electricians and plumbers. I guess that’s a raw subject for me since I’ve spent $3,000 in plumbing bills in the last 30 days.

We have a wonderful system in place to allow people to have affordable access to start their education. The local community college is a fantastic place to start.

It is affordable, and as Dvorkin said, “When thinking of how to get started on the journey of education, community college is a great investment. Think about this: why pay much higher tuition to take classes that use the same books as the community college class uses. Start affordably and then transfer to a more expensive school if you want to continue to finish your college degree.”

The power of community colleges is not new. It is proven. My very own father started his education from a farm in Michigan at the local community college. He then went on to become the very first Ph.D. graduate in Political Science at Michigan State.

So let’s all stop trying to reinvent the wheel here. Just restore the bankruptcy provision for all student loans and require some commonsense and responsibility on future lending.

There will never be any universally accepted plan for past forgiveness of student loans that were flawed from the start.

We are a great country and instead of looking back, let’s do better moving forward.

 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Steve Rhode points out that wholesale forgiveness of student loans is impossible. Bankruptcy Relief for distressed college debtors is the best option

 Millions of words have been written about the student loan crisis. Heck, I've probably written a couple of million words about it myself. 

For my money, Steve Rhode's succinct and cogent essay, published yesterday, is the best analysis of this catastrophe. Mr. Rhode explains why massive student-loan forgiveness is a bad idea. Instead, he argues that bankruptcy relief is the better option. He also points out the fatal flaws in the federal student-loan program, which have brought us to the brink of calamity.

I urge you to read Steve Rhode's essay in its entirety.  My commentary will highlight a few key points.

First of all, Rhode points out that taking out student loans to pay for a college education was a mistake for millions of Americans. He cites a New York Life survey, which found that the average student-loan borrower took 18.5 years to pay off student loans, starting at age 26 and ending at 45.

That is a significant portion of life to have to be tied to a student loan payment that should have been directed to saving for retirement and then mushroomed into a giant nest egg. It can take decades to recover from that financial mistake. But that’s not the only financial regret people have.

Shockingly, millions of Americans took out student loans and never finished their degrees. For those people, student loans are a dead loss.  Instead of enhancing their economic future, dropouts shot themselves in the foot by taking out student loans.

Rhode also points out (as have many others) that the for-profit college industry has wreaked havoc among a population of Americans who took out student loans to attend for-profit schools. He cites a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which found that “[s]tudents who attend for-profit institutions take on more educational debt and are more likely to default on their student loans than those attending similarly selective public schools.”

The Federal Reserve Bank study then went on to say: "Overall, our results indicate that, on average, for-profit enrollment leads to worse student loan outcomes for students than enrolling in a public college or university, which is driven by higher loan takeup and worse labor market outcomes."

The federal student loan program is a mess. It is probably the worst public policy decision Congress ever made when it launched a program more than a half-century ago that now has more than 40 million people ensnared by a total of $1.7 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt.

But massive student-loan forgiveness is not a viable option. 

First of all, wiping out all that debt is fundamentally unfair. And here I will quote Steve Rhode's analysis:

As Howard Dvorkin, Chairman of  Debt.com said, “Only one-third of the people in this country get a four-year college education. The two-thirds without a college education is expected to subsidize their education when it is very likely that they earn less than the people who are receiving the educational subsidy.” 

As Mr. Dvorkin pointed out, “The issue of forgiving debt is complicated. What about all the people that have already struggled to pay their debts, and now other people get loans forgiven. That’s not fair.”

In any event, as Mr. Rhode explained, millions of people are already in a loan forgiveness plan. About 9 million people are in income-based repayment plans that allow them to make minimal loan payments that don't even cover accruing interest on their underlying debt.

So what is the solution to the train wreck we call the federal student-loan program? This is what Steve Rhode recommends:

I hate to state the obvious here, but rather than worry about the inequities of forgiveness and who wins and loses, the most rational and logical option is to roll back the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA).

It was this pernicious law that made even private student loans virtually nondischargeable in bankruptcy.  Many of the congresspeople who voted for this bill still hold elected office. They should be ashamed of themselves. 

Just as importantly, Mr. Rhode argues, Congress needs to remove the "undue hardship" language from the Bankruptcy Code and allow distressed debtors to discharge their college loans in bankruptcy like any other consumer debt.

Steve Rhode succinctly points out the merits of reasonable bankruptcy relief:

Returning to allowing both federal and private student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy has many features:

1.      It is a current and accepted legal process with clear rules and guidelines. 

2.      The debt is forgiven tax-free. 

3.      It allows people a chance to get a fresh start from an impossible situation. Oftentimes these issues are the result of accidents, injuries, medical issues, pandemics, etc. 

4.      A bankruptcy Trustee and Judge must review and approve the discharge plan. If a consumer has too much income for a full immediate discharge, they will be required to enter a five-year repayment plan in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. 

5.      Forgiveness will be restricted to only those that qualify. 

6.      The fact the loans may now be dischargeable should force lenders to make better loan decisions before just handing the money to anybody. 

7.      If loans are less abundant or actually just based on repayment ability, then schools would have to ratchet back tuition fees. Less easy money would be available. 

8.      This process would be restricted to those who need and meet the accepted legal standards for bankruptcy. 

9.      People that can afford to repay their loans will have to do so through their Chapter 13 repayment plan.

10.  We can eliminate this ridiculous game and administration of student loans that will never be repaid and have to be dealt with.

As I said at the beginning of this commentary, I urge people to read Steve Rhode's article in its entirety. I agree with him completely.

Let's see what Congress does in the coming months. The way out of the nightmare is to amend the Bankruptcy Code.  Various student-loan forgiveness scenarios will not fix this enormous problem. 

If loan forgiveness is the best idea Congress has to offer, then our nation's political leaders will have opted for the status quo. And the status quo will ultimately destroy our nation's colleges and universities along with the lives of millions of student-loan debtors. 



Saturday, August 29, 2020

COVID-19 is disrupting American higher education: That's a good thing

The coronavirus pandemic hit American higher education like a Cat 5 hurricane.   Virtually all colleges and universities shut their campuses down and switched from face-to-face instruction to a distance-learning format.

Many students didn't like the change and didn't like paying full tuition for a watered-down learning experience.  Lawsuits were filed. I myself was skeptical about the quality of online instruction.

However, I am teaching my second class as an adjunct professor using Zoom, and Zoom works great for me.   I can see my students on my computer screen and can talk to them directly, just as if we all were in the same room. To my surprise, I can teach via Zoom with no loss of quality.

In fact, I am beginning to think COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise for American higher education. Here's why I take that view.

First, the latest generation of distance-learning technology (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) closes the gap between distance learning and live instruction. Colleges now have a good strategy for dealing with this pandemic and any future pandemic.

Second, COVID-19 has caused many college students to skip the dorm experience, and this shift has been a wakeup call to colleges that went on dormitory-building sprees. The change also put the brake on privately-financed, so-called luxury student housing. Privately and publicly financed student housing was out of control. All across the United States, universities are now surrounded by massive, block-housing units, which are a dispiriting blight on the landscape.

 Now that students are shying away from multiple-occupancy apartments and dorms, this speculative overbuilding has slowed down.  That is a very good thing.

Third, the massive shift of public universities to online learning has undercut the for-profit college industry, and that is also a good thing. The for-profits distinguished themselves by offering online education for working adults who could not attend classes on college campuses.  Often the quality of for-profit instruction was inferior, and for-profit colleges were almost always a lot more expensive than public colleges.

Now that the public colleges and universities have embraced distance learning, there is absolutely no reason for someone to enroll in the University of Phoenix or any other for-profit school that offers online instruction.  The for-profits are losing students and revenues, which (I hope) will force them to shut down. 

Finally, COVID-19 will stop the arms race among colleges to offer expensive recreational facilities, which have become a public embarrassment. LSU's "Lazy River" seemed like a cutting-edge innovation when it was built, but what college would install one now?

COVID-19 will force many small liberal arts colleges to close, which is unfortunate. But this country has too many colleges, and we are long overdue for a pruning process.

American universities are discovering that they can offer instruction in a distance-learning format, and those fancy recreational facilities and "luxury" student dorms are not essential. Maybe high-quality online learning will help higher education can get back to its real mission--which is to offer worthwhile educational experiences that prepare young people to become intelligent, civic-minded, productive citizens.  Wouldn't that be a good thing?


What? No Lazy River?


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.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Things are falling apart for American higher education: It is time to be cautious about taking out student loans

Things are falling apart for many American colleges and universities. The signs of stress and turmoil are everywhere.

First, college enrollments are down significantly, putting an enormous strain on colleges that are heavily dependent on tuition revenue. Over the past decade, college enrollment dropped by more than 2 million students, dipping below 18 million students in the fall of 2019.

Second, the for-profit college industry is on the verge of collapse. According to Forbes, the number of for-profit institutions declined by 25 percent between 2010 and 2018, and total enrollment dropped by half.

Third, private nonprofit colleges are closing at an accelerating rate. An analysis in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that more than 50 small private colleges have closed since 2016.  Already this year, MacMurray College and Nebraska Christian College have announced they are shutting down.  And Notre Dame de Namur University stated that it will not enroll a first-year class this fall. 

Fourth, small liberal arts colleges are slashing tuition for their first-year classes by 50 percent. Although most small colleges post a very high sticker price, in reality, they are giving out financial aid and scholarships like candy. As a result, the average net cost of tuition is only half the posted price.

Fifth, business schools and law schools have rolled out new types of graduate degrees to counteract declining enrollment.  Business schools have introduced one-year MBA degrees because the demand for traditional two-year programs has dropped. And law schools have started offering law-based degrees for people who do not intend to practice law. According to numbers released by the American Bar Association, 14 percent of law school students were in non-JD programs in 2018.

Sixth, the coronavirus crisis has caused some college students to feel less positively about their educational experience.  The COVID-19 pandemic forced the vast majority of colleges to cancel face-to-face classes this spring and replace them with online instruction.  Unfortunately, the quality of online teaching has often not been good.  A recent survey found that 63 percent of undergraduate respondents reported that the quality of their online instruction was "worse" or "a lot worse" than the live teaching they received before the pandemic.

More than 40 percent of the undergraduate respondents said that their view of their college had gotten worse as a result of COVID-19. And one out of 10 high school seniors who had intended to enroll in a 4-year college this fall said their plans will likely change. 

Seventh, student debt has doubled from $750 billion in 2010 to $.15 trillion in 2019. Today, 45 million Americans hold student loan debt.  More than one million people defaulted on their student loans last year. Almost 9 million more are shackled by long-term, income-based repayment plans that can last as long as 20 or 25 years. 

Conclusion: Students should do everything possible to avoid taking out student loans

For three decades, colleges and universities raised tuition on an annual basis at twice the national inflation rate. College students financed the rising cost of their education by taking out larger and larger student loans.

College leaders assured students they were getting good value for their tuition dollars. After all, they purred soothingly, salaries for college graduates vastly exceed the wages of people without college degrees. Taking out student loans to get a college degree seemed like a smart investment.

In fact, inflation-adjusted salaries for American workers have remained flat for the last 40 years. "[T]today's average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did in 1978." The wage gap between college graduates and non-college graduates has widened, but this is mostly because wages for non-college graduates have declined.

In other words, a college degree may be a good investment for most Americans. Still, it may not be as good as the colleges have represented.  People who take on enormous student debt to get liberal arts degrees or graduate degrees will find that their college education was a terrible investment if they do not land a good job.

The coronavirus pandemic has put millions of Americans out of a job. Experts predict an unemployment rate of more than 30 percent—higher than during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Forty million Americans may be out of a job by the end of this year.

Our economy will bounce back, but who knows when that will be? So if you are thinking about going to college or graduate school, let me give you a little advice:

Now is not the time to take out massive student loans to finance a bachelor's degree in gender studies from an expensive private college.

Now is not the time to finance a luxury apartment with your student loan checks.

And now is not the time to thoughtlessly take out loans to enroll in a master's degree program without a clear sense of how that program will increase your income. 

It is a terrible thing to be unemployed—as millions of Americans will soon be. But it is far worse to be unemployed and burdened with student loans that you will never be able to repay.



Monday, March 11, 2019

What the hell? Financing a Harley at 22 percent interest!

Steve Rhode, the Get Out of Debt Guy, answers questions from his blog-site readers about consumer complaints. A few days ago, a woman named Mary wrote Steve about a Harley Davidson motorcycle her husband bought and financed at an interest rate of 22 percent.

Mary asked Steve if it was legal to apply an entire monthly loan payment to interest just because the payment was a few days late. She also asked if her husband could simply return the motorbike.


First of all, he pointed out, most loan payments typically go primarily to interest in the early months of the repayment period. "This is especially true," Mr. Rhode added, "if the outstanding balance includes late fees that get added to the account balance.

Taking the Harley back to the dealer, Mr. Rhode advised, is usually a bad option because a voluntary repossession will lead Mary and her husband with a big bill. The couple could sell the bike but they would need to sell it for at least enough to cover what they owe or come with the difference between the sales price and what they owe. Otherwise, they could not get the title to transfer.

Rhode then went on to estimate what the Harley is going to cost Mary and her husband if they continue with their repayment plan. Assuming, they financed the bike with a 72-month note, monthly payments would be $628 a month for 72 months. When they paid off the note after six years, they would have made payments totally $45,000 to pay off a $25,000 purchase.

Since Mary and her husband seem willing to just to give the bike back to Harley, they obviously realize they made a bad deal. They would have been better off to have saved enough money for a hefty down payment so they could have taken out a smaller loan. And assuming they had good credit, they could have financed the bike with a credit card at a lower rate of interest.

Some people reading Mary's story might conclude that she and her husband made a bad decision and have no one to blame but themselves. But I disagree. In a fairer and more just economy, laws and regulations would have prohibited this very bad transaction.

People forget that not too long ago, states had usury laws that placed strict limits on the interest that could be charged for a consumer transaction. In the state where I practiced law, a statute limited the interest rate to 10.5 percent--less than half the rate that Mary and her husband were charged.

But the banks figured out how to base their operations in states that permitted very high interest rates. Remember sending those credit card payments to South Dakota or Delaware? Then, in 1978, the Supreme Court allowed out-of-state credit card companies to charge interest rates that were higher than the interest rate allowed in their customers' own states. (Pat Curry explains this in a 2010 essay.)

Even student-loan debtors can fall into the trap of paying high interest rates. I've read a couple of recent bankruptcy court decisions in which people refinanced their student loans at 9 percent--a hefty rate indeed when we consider that the interest rate on a 10-year treasury bond is less than 2.7 percent right now.

Tragically, millions of Americans are financing consumer transactions to purchase stuff they don't need or is virtually worthless. This is also true for people who take out student loans to attend for-profit colleges that are not providing students with fair value--or any value at all in many cases.

As the 2020 political season heats up, voters need to ask presidential candidates if they endorse legislation that would effectively regulate consumer transactions and the student-loan industry. If a candidate has nothing to say about the massive exploitation of ordinary Americans by the banks, the student-loan racket, and the consumer-finance industry, voters need to find someone else to vote for.


Photo credit: Harley Davidson