Showing posts with label income based repayment plans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label income based repayment plans. Show all posts

Monday, November 18, 2019

Pew Foundation says one out of four student-loan borrowers default within 5 years: But we already knew that.

The Pew Foundation issued a report recently with this snoozer title: Student Loan System Presents Repayment Challenges.  Really? That's like saying that icebergs posed a challenge to the Titanic.

The Pew Foundation's most interesting finding--picked up by the media--was this: Almost one out of four student-loan debtors default on their loans within five years.  But this should not be a shocker. Looney and Yannelis reached basically the same finding five years ago in their report for the Brookings Institution. These researchers reported that the five-year default rate for the 2009 cohort of borrowers was 28 percent (p. 49, Table 8).

And the Pew study probably understates the crisis. The report itself acknowledged that for-profit colleges were underrepresented in its study (p. 5), and we know that almost half of the students who attend for-profit colleges default within five years.

Most importantly, the Pew study did not address the "challenge" faced by more than 7 million college borrowers who are in income-based, long-term repayment plans (IBRPs). IBRP participants are not paying off their student loans even though they are in approved repayment programs. Why? Because people in IBRPs aren't making monthly payments large enough to pay down loan accruing interest, and this interest is capitalized and rolled into their loans' principal.

As much as it pains me to say this, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a clearer picture of the student-loan crisis than the Pew Foundation.  A year ago, DeVos publicly acknowledged that only one out of four student borrowers are paying down principal and interest on their loans and that 43 percent of student loans are "in distress."

For me, the most disappointing thing about the Pew report was its tepid, turgid, and tedious recommendations for addressing the student-loan crisis, which I will quote:
  • Identify at-risk borrowers before they are in distress . . .
  • Provide [loan] servicers with resources and comprehensive guidance . . .
  • Eliminate barriers to enrollment in affordable repayment plans, such as program complexity . . .
Thanks, Pew Foundation. That was really, really helpful.

Note that the Pew Foundation said nothing about bankruptcy relief for distressed college borrowers, tax penalties for borrowers who complete their IBRPs, or the government's shameful practice of garnishing elderly defaulters' Social Security checks. Moreover, Pew said nothing about the Education Department's almost criminal administration of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.  And we didn't read anything about the out-of-control cost of higher education.

Let's face it.  College leaders, the federal government, and so-called policy organizations like the Pew Foundation refuse to acknowledge that the federal student-loan program is destroying the lives of millions of Americans. Instead, they are content to tinker with a system that is designed to shovel money to our bloated and corrupt universities.

America's colleges are addicted to federal money. Like a drug addict hooked on Oxycontin, they must get their regular fixes of federal cash.  After all, they've got to fund the princely salaries of college administrators and lazy, torpid professors.

Like first-class passengers on the Titanic who were sipping champagne when their ship hit an iceberg, the higher education industry thinks the flow of student-loan money will go on forever.  But a crash is coming.

Unfortunately, the people who created the student-loan crisis will be the ones floating away in the lifeboats--living off their cushy pensions and obscene retirement packages. The people who were exploited by the federal student-loan program, like the third-class passengers on the Titanic, will go down with the ship.

Lifeboats reserved for college presidents and DOE senior administrators


Monday, July 1, 2019

Hill v. ECMC: An Army veteran with PTSD sheds her student loans in bankruptcy

Hill v. ECMC: A veteran seeks to discharge her student loans in bankruptcy

Risa Rozella Hill enrolled at Wichita State University after getting out of the Army, and she obtained a bachelor's degree in social work in 2002. She went on to pursue a master's degree from Newman College but did not graduate. In 2008, she received an MBA from DeVry University.

Hill financed her studies with 23 student loans totally $127,000. She never paid anything on these loans, but she was never in default because she obtained various deferments or forbearances that entitled her to skip her loan payments.

In 2013, Hill began to experience symptoms of psychosis, including delusions, hallucinations, and voices that "instructed her to behave in certain ways." In 2014, she was involuntarily committed to psychiatric care in a Georgia hospital. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Hill was released from the hospital, but she was readmitted to another hospital a few months later after showing signs of psychosis. She was released again in November 2014.

Prior to filing for bankruptcy, Hill experienced periods of homelessness. The Social Security Administration deemed her disabled and she began receiving disability-benefit checks--her sole source of income. She also began living in publicly subsidized housing.

In 2017, Hill filed for bankruptcy and sought to have her student loans discharged. Hill was represented by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. Educational Credit Management entered the litigation as the sole defendant.

Judge Sage Sigler discharges Hill's student loans over ECMC's objections

In evaluating Hill's claim, Judge Sage Sigler applied the three-pronged Brunner test to determine whether repaying the loans would constitute an "undue hardship" under 11 U.S.C. § 523 of the Bankruptcy Code. In Judge Sigler's opinion, Hill's disability income was hardly adequate to meet her basic needs.  Hill could not maintain a minimal lifestyle if she were forced to pay back her student loans, Judge Sigler concluded; and thus, Hill satisfied the first prong of the Brunner test.

Moreover, Judge Sigler continued, Hill's financial circumstances were unlikely to improve during the loan repayment period. "[T]he weight of the evidence demonstrates that [Hill's] condition will persist indefinitely," Judge Sigler observed; and any recovery from Hill's bipolar disorder was "purely speculative." Indeed, Judge Sigler wrote, "The prospect of [Hill] obtaining and maintaining employment commensurate with her prior jobs is unfortunately hopeless." In short, Hill met part two of the Brunner test.

Part Three of the Brunner test required Hill to show that she had handled her student loans in good faith.  Again, Judge Sigler ruled in Hill's favor. Hill met the good faith standard in spite of the fact she had not made a single loan payment.

Judge Sigler pointed out that Hill took the steps necessary to obtain deferments or forbearances, which the judge evidently viewed as a sign of good faith. Moreover, the judge noted, "Good faith effort only requires the debtor to have made payments when she was in a position to make such payments. [Hill] was never in such a position."

Implications

In some ways, the Hill decision is unremarkable. Hill's mental illness (psychosis and PTSD) clearly qualified her for a student-loan discharge. What is remarkable is the fact that ECMC opposed it. ECMC dragged out its shopworn tactic of demanding that Hill sign up for REPAYE, a long-term income-based repayment plan--a plan that would have required her to make monthly payments of zero dollars due to her low income.

But Judge Sigler did not buy that line. ECMC's calculation of Hill's loan payments under REPAYE demonstrated that Hill had no discretionary income to dedicate to student-loan repayment. "The very reason [Hill's] payment amount would be zero-dollars a month under REPAYE is because she cannot afford to make payments under her student loans and maintain a minimal standard of living."

The Hill case is probably most significant as another case in which a bankruptcy judge refused to adopt ECMC's tiresome argument that all student-loan debtors should be placed in income-based repayment plans as an alternative to bankruptcy relief.  Judge Sigler identified the fundamental flaw in ECMC's argument, which is this: Debtors so destitute that they are required to make zero-dollar payments on their student loans clearly meet the first criterion for student-loan relief under Brunner. They cannot maintain a minimal lifestyle and pay off their student loans.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Senator Elizabeth's Student-Loan Forgiveness Plan Isn't Radical: The Feds are Already Forgiving Billions of Dollars in Student Debt

Adam Levitin, writing for Credit Slip, made a profound observation about Senator Elizabeth Warren's proposal to forgive massive amounts of student-loan debt.  Her harsh critics, Levitin, writes, moan and grown about the morality of contracts, the unfairness of allowing some student borrowers to escape their legal obligations, and the enormous cost of forgiving billions of dollars of accumulated student-loan debt.

In Levitin's view, these critics are only demonstrating that they don't know anything about how the federal student-loan program works. If they did, Levitin explains, they would know that "we crossed the debt forgiveness Rubicon long, long ago." In fact, enormous debt forgiveness is already "baked into the federal student loan program."

Levitin is absolutely right. Far less than half of student borrowers who have entered into repayment are paying down the principal of their loans. Millions of student-loan debtors have their loans in deferment, which means they aren't paying anything on their debt. Another 7.5 million borrowers are in income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) with their repayment schedules set so low that their monthly payments don't even cover accruing interest on their loan balances.

And then we have the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which allows qualified public-service workers to make income-based payments for 10 years, after which their loan balances are forgiven. How many people are in the PSLF  program (or think they are in it)? We don't really know, but well over a million student borrowers have applied to become PSLF eligible.

Even Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education, publicly admitted that the student loan program is a mess. As DeVos revealed last November, only one borrower out of four are paying down both principal and interest on their student-loan debt.  Almost one out of five borrowers are delinquent on their loans or in default. And 43 percent of student loans, by DeVos's calculation, are currently "in distress."

As Mr. Levitin succinctly put it:
The only real difference between Senator Warren's proposal and the existing forgiveness  feature in the student loan program is whether the forgiveness comes in a fell swoop or is dribbled out over time. Given the federal government's infinite time horizon, the difference is really just an accounting matter. 
In other words, to baldly state the point, millions of student-loan debtors aren't paying back their loans and never will. Probably half of the $1.56 trillion in outstanding student loans will never be paid back.

Levitin argues that all student borrowers should be enrolled in income-based repayment plans by default when they finish their studies.  But I disagree. Putting every college graduate into a 20- or 25-year repayment plan is basically making these degree recipients indentured servants for the government--bound to pay a percentage of their wages to the Department of Education for a majority of their working lives.  If we do that, we will have basically created a permanent underclass of 21st century sharecroppers.

Moreover, as Levitin correctly points out, there is an enormous psychological benefit to Senator Warren's plan, which grants immediate debt forgiveness rather than dribbling it over over two decades or more in income-based repayment plans. "Consumers feel weighed down by the stock of their debt, even if they won't actually have to repay a large chunk of it." Indeed, it is well established that student-loan debt is preventing Americans from buying homes, having children, or saving for their retirement.

And then there is a rarely discussed problem with  the current debt-forgiveness system: tax liability. People whose loans are forgiven after a quarter century of making income-based payments will get tax bills for the amount of their forgiven debt because the IRS considers forgiven loans as taxable income.  Of course that problem could be easily fixed if Congress would enact legislation making forgiven student-loan debt nontaxable.

But Congress hasn't done that. Why? Because our politicians want to pretend that the federal student loan program isn't broken. It's like that old explanation of the Russian economy during the days of the Soviet Union. "The government pretends to pay us," a proletarian explained, "and we pretend to work."

Student-loan debtors: The new sharecroppers



Friday, April 12, 2019

Democrats are "woke" about Public Service Loan Forgiveness: Senators Kaine and Gillibrand file legislation to overhaul PSLF

The Trump Administration hates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007, PSLF allows student-loan debtors who work in public-service jobs to have their student loans forgiven if they make 120 student-loan payments in a qualified repayment plan.

The first PSLF participants to have accumulated 120 student-loan payments became eligible for debt relief in 2017--10 years after the program was introduced. As has been widely reported, the Department of Education approved less than 1 percent of the applications for PSLF forgiveness that it had processed as of  September 2018.  In fact, DOE said 70 percent of the applicants were not eligible for PSLF participation.

So far, over one million student-loan borrowers have applied to DOE to have their employment certified as PSLF eligible, and millions more are counting on PSLF for debt relief but haven't applied yet. It's a mess.

And it is especially a mess for people who borrowed $100,000 or more to get a law degree or other graduate degree. According to the American Bar Association, the average debt load for people who attended a private law school is $122,000. For many of the people who accumulated six-figure student-loan debt to finance their graduate studies, PSLF is the only viable option for debt relief.

Betsy DeVos, Trump's Secretary of Education, apparently does not care that her agency has frightened or angered millions of people who are counting on PSLF to manage their student loans. According to a news report, a senior DOE official said that DOE does not support PSLF and would not implement it if it were not legally obligated to do so.

But the Democrats are "woke" about this problem. This week, Senators Tim Kaine and Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill to overhaul the PSLF program. Thirteen Democratic senators signed on as co-sponsors, including all the U.S. Senators running for President (Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker).

The Kaine-Gillibrand proposal defines eligible public-service organizations broadly to include all federal, state, and local government agencies and all charitable organizations that qualify  for tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3) of the tax code. As Jason Delisle pointed out in a 2016 analysis of PSLF, that definition applies to one quarter of the American workforce.

In fact, the bill's definition of public service differs markedly from the one developed by DeVos's DOE. DOE defines a public service organization as one that is primarily involved in public service,thus excluding organizations like the American Bar Association, which is primarily devoted to serving the legal profession, although it engages in some public service work.

The Kaine-Gillibrand bill also specifies that all student-loan debtors qualify for PSLF, regardless of the federal loan program or repayment plan they are in. This provision also expands eligibility for PSLF participation far beyond what the DeVos DOE permits.

I support passage of the Kaine-Gillibrand bill, and I hope it is enacted by Congress. But we should not deceive ourselves about the cost of PSLF. Thousands of people seeking debt relief under PSLF owe $100,000 or more. Most of these people are making income-based monthly payments on their loans that are not large enough to cover accruing interest. Their debt load is increasing month by month as accrued interest gets capitalized and added to their loan balances. If these people's student-loan debts are forgiven after 10 years, the government will essentially be forgiving the entire amount that was borrowed plus a lot more due to the accrued interest that will also be forgiven.

Remember Josh Mitchell's story in Wall Street Journal about Mike Meru, who borrowed $400,000 to go to dental school? Dr. Meru is making payments of about $2,000 a month in an income-based repayment plan, but his debt has grown to $1 million due to accrued interest. If Meru gets a qualified public-service job and holds it for ten years, DOE will forgive the entire $1 million plus additional interest!

This is a huge problem, and the Kaine-Gillibrand bill won't solve it. Under the GRAD Plus program, graduate students can borrow the total cost of their graduate education--tuition, books, and living expenses--no matter what the cost. It is not surprising then that graduate-school tuition prices went up dramatically after the GRAD Plus program was enacted.

If the bill becomes law, the Kaine-Gillibrand proposal will give relief to millions of student-loan borrowers. But the bill is just a stop-gap measure. As I have said, the only solution to the student-loan crisis is bankruptcy relief for honest debtors who can't pay back their student loans.  More than 45 million Americans have outstanding student loans. I think most of them would vote for a presidential candidate who endorses bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan debtors.




Tuesday, March 19, 2019

USA Today reports that millennials are having trouble buying cars and homes due to burdensome student loans---that ain't the half of it

According to a story published yesteerday in USA Today, fewer millennials are able to buy cars and homes because they are burdened with high levels of student debt.

This problem is well documented. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that declining home ownership is partly due to student debt, and the American Enterprise Institute published a paper last December showing that student loans partly explain declining birth rates in the United States.

The USA Today story began by spotlighting Amanda Hill, a 27-year-old college graduate who amassed $90,000 in student-loan debt to get a bachelor's degree from Hampton University in Virginia. Ms. Hill said she is reluctant to take on any more debt because she owes so much on her student loans. Instead of buying a new car--the first major purchase for most college graduates--Ms. Hill bought a used Saturn for $500.

As USA Today reporter Susan Tompor reported, many millennials are constrained by their student loans from buying big-ticket consumer items. "Plain and simple," Tompor wrote, "many young consumers just aren't ready to consume."

But the plight of millennials is much worse than USA Today portrayed it. Not only are many young Americans unable to buy consumer goods because of their student loans, millions will never pay off their debt.

Let's look more closely at Amanda Hill's situation. She enrolled in an income-based repayment plan that set her monthly loan payments at only $200 a month. USA Today didn't report whether Hill is in a 20-year or a 25-year repayment plan, but it doesn't really matter.  If interest accrues at 5 percent (the current rate for federal student loans), Hill will have to pay $4,500 a year just to cover accruing interest.

But Hill is only paying $200 a month--or $2,400 a year. Thus, with each passing month, Hill's debt is growing larger. In three years or so, Hill will owe $100,000 even if she makes every payment on time.

USA Today did not disclose Hill's college major, her current salary, or her job title; but clearly she must be working in a low-paying job to be making payments of only $200 a month on a $90,000 debt.

Hill might find a better job that will allow her to make larger monthly loan payments. But that will have to happen soon if Hill is going to be in a position to make payments large enough to cover accruing interest and pay down some of the principal on her debt.

The chances are very good that Amanda Hill will make regularly monthly payments for 20 or 25 years under an income-based repayment plan and owe far more than she does now when her payment obligations come to an end. Her remaining debt will be forgiven, but she will get a huge tax bill because the IRS considers forgiven debt to be taxable income.

In short, Amanda Hill's problems are a lot more serious than an inability to buy a new car. She very well may be looking at a lifetime of indebtedness. That's a high price to pay for a bachelor's degree from Hampton University.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Democratic Party Platform Plank on Higher Education: A Big Pile of Horse Manure

The Democratic Party released its Platform this week, or rather it released a draft marked "Deliberative and Predecisional." The Higher Education plank is only a few hundred words long, but it still adds up to one big pile of horse manure.

First, the Democrats promise to cut interest rates on student loans, "thereby preventing the federal government from making billions of dollars in profits from student loans." What was the Platform Committee smoking when it wrote that sentence?

Everyone who knows even a little bit about the student-loan crisis realizes that the federal government is not making a profit on student loans. It is incurring huge losses--losses that are growing by the day.

Why do I say this? First of all, the student-loan default rate is catastrophic--far higher than the anemic rate the Department of Education publishes every autumn. The Brookings Institution reported that almost half of students who take out loans to attend a for-profit institution default in five years. The five-year default rate for students overall is 28 percent.

Moreover, the Obama administration is pushing distressed student-loan borrowers into long-term repayment plans that set monthly payments so low that borrowers are not paying down accruing interest. In fact, more than half of student borrowers are seeing their loan balances go up two years after beginning the repayment phase of their loan--not down.

Do the Brookings numbers indicate to you that the government is making a profit on the student loan program? Of course not. And the fact that Senators Elizabeth Warren, Charles Schumer, Barbara Boxer, and now the whole Democratic Party insist that the government is reaping huge profits off the student loan program demonstrates that the Democrats are clueless about the student-loan crisis or that they are lying about it.

The Democrats also promise to "simplify and expand access to income-based repayment so that no student loan borrowers have to pay more than they can afford." In other words, the Democrats want to push more and more student borrowers into 20- or 25-year income based repayment plans (IBRPs).

Five million people are in IBRPs now; and President Obama wants to enroll 2 million more by the end of next year. Apparently, the Democrats want to increase that number even further.

Of course, IBRPs are nothing more than a conspiracy by our government to create a giant class of sharecroppers who will pay a percentage of their incomes to Uncle Sam over the majority of their working lives.

And finally, the Democrats pledge to "restore the prior standard in bankruptcy law to allow borrowers with student loans to discharge their debts in bankruptcy as a measure of last resort." I interpret this pie-in-the-sky promise to mean the Democrats will delete the "undue hardship" provision from the Bankruptcy Code.

I hope that is a promise the Democrats will keep if Hillary becomes President. If Congress would actually strike the "undue hardship" standard from the Bankruptcy Code, millions of Americans would be lining up to file bankruptcy within a week after the law is changed. And if distressed student-loan borrowers could truly get relief from their oppressive student-loan debt, a half trillion dollars in student loans would be wiped off the books.

That scenario would cause the student-loan program to collapse, which would cause hundreds of colleges and universities to close.

Our government will never let that happen. Which is why the Democratic Party's Higher Education platform is a big pile of horse manure.

Image result for elizabeth warren and charles schumer
Senators Schumer and Warren: Shoveling horse manure

References

Democratic Party Platform Draft, July 1, 2016 [Deliberative and Predecisional]. Accessible at https://demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2016-DEMOCRATIC-PARTY-PLATFORM-DRAFT-7.1.16.pdf

Schumer and Warren Pushing Obama to Address Student Debt. CNN Transcript, January 12, 2016. Accessible at http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1601/12/nday.06.html

Democrartic Senators Highlight Obscene Government Profits Off Student Loan Program. Senator Warren press release, January 31, 2014. Accessible at https://www.warren.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=329


Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Student Loan Crisis and the Democratic Party Platform: Key Reform Proposals Would Entice Young Voters to vote for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has a problem with young  voters. They went 3 or 4 to 1 for Bernie Sanders in the various Democratic primaries this spring. Why did young voters go to Bernie, and how can Hillary win them over?

The Democratic Party insiders--dinosaurs like Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charles Schumer, etc--don't realize it but the number one domestic policy issue in the United States today is the student loan crisis.  Approximately 43 million Americans are carrying $1.3 trillion in student-loan debt, and at least half of them can't pay it back.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in April, about 40 percent of college-loan borrowers in the repayment phase aren't making their monthly loan payments.  And five million people are enrolled in various income-based repayment programs. Most debtors in these programs are making payments so low that the payments don't cover accruing interest. In reality then, most people in income-based repayment plans will never pay off their loan balances.

Bernie Sanders signaled that he understands the scope of the problem when he proposed a free college education at a public college for every American.  By making that pledge, he turned millions of young Americans into single-issue voters.

Hillary could attract millions of Bernie supporters by adding these  planks to the Democratic Party platform:
  • Free college education at a public college or university (as Bernie proposed).
  • Eliminating the tax penalty for people who successfully complete long-term repayment plans but who have a loan balance when they've  completed their repayment terms.
  • Stopping the garnishment of Social Security checks for elderly student-loan defaulters.
  • Forcing the for-profits to stop putting mandatory arbitration clauses in student enrollment documents.
  • Repealing the provision of the 2005 Bankruptcy Reform Act that virtually eliminated bankruptcy relief for people who took out student loans from private lenders.
If Hillary and her handlers are smart, they will adopt these ideas. I hope Bernie refuses to endorse Hillary until she endorses at least some of them. If Bernie can pressure Hillary to make a commitment to solve the student-loan crisis, his campaign for the presidency will not have been in vain. But if the presidential race between Trump and Hillary rolls toward election day without any serious discussion of the student-loan crisis, then this country is in huuuge trouble.



Image result for bernie sanders

References

Josh Mitchell. More Than 40% of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments. Wall Street Journal, April 7 2015. Accessible at http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-than-40-of-student-borrowers-arent-making-payments-1459971348 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

4.6 million student debtors are in long-term repayment plans, default rates are up, and President Obama's "best friend" is buying University of Phoenix: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The Second Coming
William Butler Yeats

As William Butler Yeats put it, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Everywhere, we see signs that the federal student-loan program is on the verge of collapse. And when the loan program collapses, so will American higher education.

Here are some portents of the coming disaster:

Student borrowers are enrolling in long-term repayment plans in record numbers

First, the U.S. Department of Education recently announced that 4.6 million student debtors are enrolled in Income-Driven Repayment plans (IDRs) to pay off their college loans. This is a 48 percent increase since December 2014 and a 140 percent increase since December 2013. 

People in IDRs are obligated to pay on their student loans for 20 or even 25 years, and most are making payments so small that that their loan balances are going up, not down, due to unpaid accumulating interest. In other words, most people in IDRs will never pay off their college loans.

Yet lenient income-based plans are President Obama's chief strategy for addressing the student-loan crisis. As the DOE blog put it,"President Obama has fought hard to make college more affordable and to help borrowers keep their student loan payments manageable." And thanks to those efforts, DOE continues, students in the new IDRs never have to pay more than 10 percent of their monthly income on your federal student loans."   Indeed, borrowers who are  "temporarily unemployed" don't have to pay anything. "After all, as DOE cheerily pointed out, "10 percent of zero dollars is zero dollars."

But of course, 20-year and 25-year repayment plans are crazy, especially when we consider that most people don't sign up for these plans until their backs are against the wall. Remember Brenda Butler, who entered a 25-year repayment plan 20 years after graduating from college? She won't be finished with her student loans until 2037, 42 years after acquiring her degree!

The Feds are garnishing wages and Social Security Checks; and default rates are rising

Meanwhile, the government garnished $176 million in wages from student-loan defaulters during the last three months of 2015. And the government garnishes Social Security checks of 155,000 elderly student-loan defaulters. 

And despite governmental assurances to the contrary, student-loan default rates are rising. According to a recent analysis by Jason Deslisle, 20 percent of all borrowers with loans due are in default. A Brookings Institution report noted that almost half of  a recent cohort of student borrowers who attended for-profit colleges defaulted within 5 years

And let's not forget the nine million people in the repayment phase of their loans who aren't making payments because they've obtained economic hardship deferments or some other deferment from making loan payments.  Those folks are counted as defaulters, but in reality, most of them will never pay back their loans. 

Law schools are in trouble

And then there are the law schools, some of which are in real trouble. Over the last few years, law schools began behaving like pirates, raising tuition rates to insane levels even as the market for lawyers imploded. Now they are seeing  a 20 percent decline in enrollment applications; and many have lowered their admission standards just to get warm bodies in their classrooms. A typical law student now graduates with $140,000 in debt; and many have almost no prospect of getting jobs in the legal field.

The for-profit college sector: The barbarian are at the gates

Finally, in the private sector, the barbarians are at the gates. Corinthian College, which had 350,000 students or former students as of last year, filed for bankruptcy; and thousands of its victims have filed claims to have their student loans forgiven. The Department of Education brokered a sale of some Corinthian campuses to a company affiliated with Educational Credit Management Corporation, the rapacious college-loan debt collector, just to maintain some semblance of order in the chaos of the Corinthian collapse.

Apollo Education Group, owner of the University of Phoenix, is in real trouble. Enrollments at UP dropped from a a peak of 475,000 in 2010 to less than half that number in 2015. Apollo's stock, which once sold for more than $80 a share, is now trading below 8 bucks.

Apollo is in negotiations to sell out to a group of private equity firms, including Visteria Group. Visteria was founded by Martin Nesbitt, described as President Obama's "best friend." In fact, Nesbitt was treasurer for both of Obama presidential campaigns; and he heads the Obama Foundation that is planning the Obama Presidential Library. 

If the deal goes through, Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education in the Obama administration and Martin Nesbitt's business partner, will become Apollo Education Group's new Board Chairman.  Very cozy!

"The ceremony of innocence is drowned."

To borrow a phrase from Yeats, "The ceremony of innocence is drowned" in American higher education.  Colleges and universities were once honored as the guardians of our civilization's ideals, the places where young people came to grow and learn, and to develop the civic and moral values that are indispensable to maintaining a healthy and vibrant society.

No more.  Arrogant college presidents, greedy profiteers, and mindless bureaucrats now control our once beloved universities. The best of these characters "lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." 

All of this craziness is paid for by federal student-loan money. And millions of college-loan borrowers are strangling in debt they can never pay off. This cannot go on forever.

President Obama and Martin Nesbitt



Anthony W. Miller official portrait.jpg
Tony Miller, former Deputy Secretary of Education
and soon-to-be Board Chairman of Apollo Education Group
References

Jillian Berman. Americans just had $17 million in wages garnished by the government due to unpaid student loans. Marketwatch.com, March 22, 2016. Accessible at http://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-government-just-garnished-176-million-in-wages-because-of-unpaid-student-loans-2016-03-21

Ronald J. Hansen. Apollo Education, parent company of University of Phoenix, to go prvate at $1.1 billion deal. Arizona Republic, February 9, 2016. Accessible at http://www.azcentral.com/story/money/business/2016/02/08/apollo-education-to-go-private-in-11b-deal/79998782/

Jason Delisle. @usedgov latest data out today shows student loan defaults just hit another record high, 20% of those w/ loans due. Mhttps://twitter.com/delislealleges/status/710539989256429568

Matt Sessa. Student Aid Posts Updated Reports to FSA Data Center. Department of Education, March 17, 2016. Accessible at https://www.nasfaa.org/news-item/7943/3-17_Federal_Student_Aid_Posts_Updated_Reports_to_FSA_Data_Center

Dan Primack. Obama's 'best friend' raises millions for private equity fund. Fortune Magazine, August 11, 2014. Accessible at http://fortune.com/2014/08/11/obamas-best-friend-raises-millions-for-private-equity-fund/

Patricia Cohen and Chad Bray. University of Phoenix Owner, Apollo Education Group, To Be Taken Private. New York Times, February 9, 2016. Accessible at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/business/dealbook/apollo-education-group-university-of-phoenix-owner-to-be-taken-private.html?

No, You Won't Be Arrested for Falling Behind On Your Student Loans. US. Department of Eduation Official Bog, April, 2016. Accessible at http://blog.ed.gov/2016/04/no-you-wont-be-arrested-for-falling-behind-on-your-student-loans/

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Brenda Butler,"poster child" for the student-loan crisis, will be done with her student loans in 2037--42 years after she graduated from college

    You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
    Another day older and deeper in debt
    Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
    I owe my soul to the company store
Tennessee Ernie Ford

If the student-loan crisis had a poster child, it might well be Brenda Butler, who lost her bankruptcy case last week in Illinois. Butler borrowed about $14,000 to get a degree in English and creative writing from Chapman University, which she received in 1995. Over the next 20 years, she made loan payments totally $15,000--more than the amount she borrowed.

Unfortunately, she was unable to make payments from time to time, and her debt grew due to accrued interest and penalties. When she filed for bankruptcy in 2014, Butler's debt had grown to almost $33,000, more than twice what she borrowed!

Did Butler get rich in the 21 years that passed since she graduated from college? No, she didn't. When she filed for bankruptcy she owned no real property and drove a 2001 Saturn that had logged 147,000 miles. According to the bankruptcy court, Butler never made more than about $35,000 a year, and her monthly income at the time of her bankruptcy filing was only $1,879, about $300 less than her expenses.

In spite of her bleak financial situation and an employment history of relatively low wages, a bankruptcy judge refused to discharge Ms. Butler's student loans. In fact, in applying the three-prong Brunner test, the court ruled that she failed to meet two of the prongs.

First, the court concluded that Butler was able to maintain a minimum standard of living, in spite of the fact that she was living on unemployment benefits at the time of her hearing and these benefits were about to run out. Indeed, the court admitted that Butler "had virtually no resources to support herself."

Nevertheless, in the court's view, Butler would likely find employment soon, which would enable her to maintain a minimum standard of living and make payments under an income-base repayment plan. Thus, Butler failed the first prong of the Brunner test.

Brunner's second prong required Butler to show that additional circumstances existed that prevented her from paying on her student loans in the future. Here again, the judge ruled against her. The judge found Butler to be "capable and intelligent with no health problems or other impediments to being gainfully employed." The court acknowledged that Butler had "an unfortunate employment history through no apparent fault of her own," but she could show no exceptional circumstances that would indicate that she could not pay back her student loans in the coming years.

Interestingly, the judge ruled in Butler's favor regarding one prong of the Brunner test. In the judge's view, Butler had met her burden of showing she had made good faith efforts to pay back her loans. As the judge acknowledged, Butler had made payments totally more than the original principal on her loans, and she had made diligent efforts to improve her financial status. "This is not a case of a recent graduate trying to escape student loan debts before beginning a lucrative career," the judge admitted. On the contrary, Butler had made "substantial, though futile, efforts to pay down her student loan debt."

So why did Butler lose her case? This is the bankruptcy judge's summary:
[Butler's] financial situation is unfortunate, but more than that is required for a finding of undue hardship under the demanding Brunner test. [Butler] has shown good faith in her efforts to remain employed and pay down her student loan debt. But as a healthy, intelligent, relatively young worker with a proven ability to secure productive employment, [she] is unable to prove that her student loan obligations prevent her from maintaining a minimum standard of living, now or in the foreseeable future. Thus. . ., [Butler's] student loan debt will not be discharged.
The Butler decision is particularly unfortunate because her situation is not untypical. Like a lot of people, she obtained a liberal arts degree from a private college that never led to a well-paying job. In spite of good faith efforts to pay back her loans, she was dragged down by exorbitant penalties and accruing interest, like thousands of other Americans.

And here is the final outcome. Brenda Butler will continue in a long-term income-based repayment plan that will not conclude until 2037--42 years after she graduated from college! 

Surely this is not what Brenda Butler envisioned when she enrolled at Chapman University in 1991 with bright hopes for a future as a writer.  And surely this is not what Congress envisioned when it passed the Higher Education Act more than 50 years ago.

And that is why Brenda Butler would make a good poster child for the student-loan crisis. A good person, who went to college in good faith and made good faith efforts to pay back her student loans, will be burdened with student-loan debt--mostly penalties and interest--until she reaches retirement age.

References

Butler v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, No. 14-71585, Adv. No. 14-07069 (Bankr. C.D. Ill. Jan. 27, 2016).




Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interest, fees and penalties are burying millions of student-loan debtors--not the amount these poor people borrowed to go to college

Sometimes, huge problems can be analyzed best by simply boiling down the complexity of a situation into a simple phrase.  For example, "It's the economy, stupid," crafted by Democratic political strategist James Carville, summarized a central theme of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

Likewise, we can summarize at least one huge element of the student-loan crisis by focusing on one core fact: accrued interest, penalties and fees are burying millions of student-loan debtors, not the amount of money these poor people borrowed to attend college.

For example, I have a friend on the East Coast who borrowed a total of about $55,000 to obtain a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree; and he paid nearly $14,000 on those loans.  Unfortunately, my friend suffered a series of unfortunate life events--health issues, divorce, and job loss.  Now at age 67, he is living entirely on Social Security and a small pension. The Department of Education is garnishing his meager retirement income, and he is living on only $1200 a month.

A few weeks ago, my friend filed an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge his student-loan debt based on the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision. Guess how much the government says he owes? $120,000--including accrued interest and $23,000 in collection costs. That's more than twice the amount my friend borrowed.

And this case is not atypical. In Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, Stephen Halverson borrowed about $132,000 to obtain two master's degrees. Just as with my East Coast friend, life happened for Mr. Halverson: a job loss, serious health issues, a divorce, medical expenses for a child, and expenses incurred to care for an aging parent.

At times, Mr. Halverson was unable to make payments on his student loans, but he obtained a series of economic hardship deferment, and he was never in default.  Nevertheless, when Halverson was in his 60s, it was clear he could never pay back his student loan debt. By the time he filed for bankruptcy, his total deb had ballooned to almost $300,000--more than twice the amount he had borrowed. And Mr. Halverson's job at that time only paid $13.50 an hour.

Various public-policy analysts have argued that there is no student-loan crisis because most people borrow relatively modest amounts of money--typically about the amount of a car loan. But these analysts ignore two key facts:

1) Even a small student loan is a huge burden for someone who doesn't have a job or who has a low-income job.

2) People who are unable to make their monthly loan payments must obtain an economic hardship deferments or enter a long-term repayment plan in order to avoid default. And both options mean that the debtor's loan balance goes up due to accruing interest.

Thus we see people like Liz Kelly, featured in a recent New York Times article, who owes $410,000 on her student loans, far more than she borrowed to attend college and graduate school. Today, at age 48, the annual interest cost on her indebtedness is more than the entire amount she borrowed to obtain her bachelor's degree!

And I know a man in California who borrowed around $70,000 to finance his education, and paid back about $40,000. Now the Department of Education claims he owes more than $300,000, including a one-time penalty assessed in the amount of $59,000! That one penalty is more than 80 percent of the entire amount he borrowed!

Surely it should be apparent to everyone--even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Congress--that adding interest, fees and penalties to people's student-loan debt only increases the likelihood of default.

The higher education industry and the Department of Education have embraced economic-hardship deferments and long-term repayment plans because both programs hide the fact that millions of people can't pay off their student loans.

Does anyone think, for example, that Liz Kelly, who was unable to pay back the $25,000 she borrowed to get an undergraduate degree, will ever pay back the $410,000 she currently owes.? Does anyone think my East Coast friend, who is living on about $1,200 a month, will ever pay back $120,000?

Like a seething volcano about to erupt, pressure is building on the federal student loan program. Currently, about 41 million Americans owe a total of $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. Let's face it: at least half that amount will never be paid back.



References

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0


Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Susan Dynarski wrings her hands because we don't have enough information about the student debt crisis. But we know enough to take action.

Susan Dynarski recently wrote a half-page article in the Sunday Times, complaining about the government's lack of useful data about the federal student loan program. She's right of course.

The U.S. Department of Education releases very little useful information about the student-loan crisis. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which has issued alarming reports on the problem, relies on Equifax, a private credit reporting agency, for most of its information--not DOE. 

Why don't we have better data? Dynarski quotes a former DOE official who says "lack of will" on the part of DOE's data  collectors is part of the answer, along with "reluctance of senior political leadership in the Department of Education to press for action."

In other words, the Obama administration and Arne Duncan's Department of Education don't want the public to know just how bad the student loan crisis really is.

Barack Obama and Arne Duncan just want to get out of town before the federal student loan program collapses. They are like those American officials during the Vietnam War who scrambled to get on one of the last helicopters leaving Saigon before the city fell to the North Vietnamese.

Barack & Arne just want to get out of town before the student loan crisis blows up.
Make no mistake. Barack and Arne know what's going on. They know the lid is about to blow off this smoothly managed crisis.  And they are trying to strew a little evidence around to show they are trying to address the problem without really doing anything about it. For example, President Obama released his laughable and toothless "Student Bill of Rights" earlier this month.

Solving the student-loan crisis will take more than empty platitudes. It will take courage.
  • It will take courage to rein in the for-profit college sector, which is raping low-income and minority students by enticing them to enroll in high-cost educational programs that don't lead to good jobs.
  • It will take courage to amend the Bankruptcy Code so that insolvent student-loan debtors can get reasonable access to bankruptcy relief.
  • It will take courage to stop garnishing the Social Security checks of elderly debtors who defaulted on their student loans.
  •  It will take courage to stop the private student-loan debt collectors from tacking huge penalties on to the loan balances of defaulted student-loan debtors.
And it will also take a sense of human decency, which President Obama's Department of Education apparently does not have.

Thus, in the Myhre bankruptcy case,  we see the Department of Education opposing bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic student-loan debtor who was working full time and was still unable to support himself financially, much less pay off his student loans.

And in the Lamento bankruptcy case, the Department of Education opposed bankruptcy relief for a single mother of two who was working full time and was only able to put a roof over her children's heads because she was living rent free with her mother and stepfather.

In both the Myhe case and the Lamento case, DOE wanted these unfortunate student-loan debtors to sign up for 25-year repayment plans. And that has been the Obama administration's overall strategy for dealing with the student loan crisis.

Yes, rather than do the decent thing and work for bankruptcy relief for worthy student-loan debtors, President Obama's Department of Education is trying to force most oppressed student-loan debtors into 25-year repayment plans.

And why is DOE doing that? Because if President Obama and Arne Duncan's Department of Education were forced to publicly admit that millions of student-loan debtors are insolvent and will never pay off their loans, the whole sorry business of the federal student loan program would collapse.

But they won't admit it. And that is why, Ms. Dynarski,  the Department of Education is not releasing useful data about the student-loan crisis.

But I'll bet you already knew that, didn't you, Ms. Dynarski? After all, you are one of President Obama's advisers.

Susan Dynarski: We need more information!
 References

Susan Dynarksi. So Much Student Debt, So Little Information. New York Times, March 22, 2015, Business section, p. 5.

Richard Fossey & Robert Cloud. In re Lamento: An Honest But Unfortunate Debtor is Entitled to Sleep at Night Without Worrying About Unpayable Student-loan Debt. Teachers College Record, February 23, 2015.

In re Lamento, 520 B.R. 667 (Bankr. N.D. Ohio 2014).

Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 503 B.R. 698 (Bankr. W.D. Wis. 2013).