Showing posts with label income driven repaymen plans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label income driven repaymen plans. Show all posts

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trump should fire Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education for gross incompetence. If Trump fails to act, Congress needs to do whatever is necessary to drive her from office

Let us take our minds off Russia for just a moment and focus on a massive economic problem that affects millions of Americans: the collapsing student loan program. Forty-three million Americans now hold about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and a lot of that money will never be paid back. 

As the New York Times recently reported, borrowers defaulted at the rate of 3,000 a day last year; and a total of more than 8 million people are in default. Default rates are highest in the for-profit college industry; five-year default rates in this sector are almost 50 percent.

The Department of Education is trying to keep default rates down by pressuring borrowers into income-driven repayment plans, but that tactic isn't working. Nearly half the people who sign up for those plans drop out within three years; and a lot of defaulting borrowers don't even bother to sign up.

In short, the federal student loan program is a train wreck, a catastrophe, an unmitigated disaster. 

As President Trump's Secretary of Education, it is Betsy DeVos's job to address the student-loan crisis; but in a series of wrongheaded decisions, DeVos has demonstrated that she is either grossly incompetent or in bed with the sleazy for-profit college industry. President Trump must fire her immediately, and if he does not, then Congress needs to bring all its forces to bear to drive her from office.

Here is a brief list of DeVos's fumbling misbehavior:

First, she hired consultants from the for-profit industry to give her advice, which is like a hiring a burglar to be a bank guard.

Second, she canceled the Obama administration's order that restrained loan processors from slapping huge fees on student-loan defaulters who quickly brought their loans back into repayment status.

Third, she is overhauling the Department of Education's new regulations for processing borrowers' applications to have their student loans forgiven based on claims of institutional fraud. This bureaucratic delay tactic will leave thousands of defrauded college borrowers in limbo for months and even years.

And finally, DeVos blocked implementation of a Department of Education directive banning for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign mandatory arbitration clauses as a condition of enrollment.

In my view, allowing the for-profit colleges to continue including mandatory arbitration clauses in their student enrollment documents is DeVos's most outrageous decision. Mandatory arbitration clauses bar students from suing their institution for fraud and prevent students from banding together to file class actions suits against colleges that engage in massive fraudulent behavior.

About a year ago, the Century Foundation urged the Department of Education to require the for-profits to stop including mandatory arbitration clauses in their enrollment documents, and two for-profits--University of Phoenix and DeVry University, publicly agreed to abandoned them voluntarily.

Numerous commentators have criticized the use of mandatory arbitration agreements when they are used by corporations to insulate them from lawsuits. Just within the last year, two courts have struck down mandatory arbitration clauses that for-profit education providers tried to enforce. In one case, a university's arbitration agreement required California students to arbitrate their claims in Indiana!

Since taking office, DeVos has shown herself to be a stooge for the for-profit college industry. If she knowingly does the bidding of this shady racket, then she behaving reprehensibly. If she is acting on the industry's behalf out of ignorance, then she's grossly incompetent.

But her motivations don't matter. Betsy DeVos has got to go. If Trump doesn't fire her soon, then federal legislators should join in a bipartisan call for her removal. Americans deserve a competent Secretary of Education who will act in the public interest, not the interests of the venal for-profit college industry. 

References

Patricia Cohen. Betsy DeVos's Hiring of For-Profit College Official Raises Impartiality Issues, New York Time, March 17, 2017. 

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Trump administration rolls back protections in default on student loans. Washington Post, March 17, 2017.

Seth Frothman & Rich Williams. New data documents a disturbing cycle of defaults for struggling student-loan borrowers. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 15, 2017. 

Tariq Habash & Robert Shireman. How College Enrollment Contracts Limit Students' Rights. Century Foundation, April 28, 2016.

Magno v. The College Network, Inc.. (Cal. Ct. App. 2016).

Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute, 137 A.3d 1168 (N.J. 2016).

News Release. Apollo Education Group to Eliminate Mandatory Arbitration Clauses. May 19, 2016.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Income-Driven Repayment Plans for Managing Crushing Levels of Student-Loan Debt: Financial Suicide

By the end of his first term in office, President Obama knew the federal student loan program was out of control. Default rates were up and millions of student borrowers had put their loans into forbearance or deferment because they were unable to make their monthly payments. Then in 2013, early in Obama's second term, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a comprehensive report titled A Closer Look at the Trillion that sketched out the magnitude of the crisis.

What to do? President Obama chose to promote income-driven repayment plans (IDRs) to give borrowers short-term relief from oppressive monthly loan payments. Obama's Department of Education rolled out two generous income-driven repayment plans:  the PAYE program, which was announced in 2012;  and REPAYE, introduced in 2016.

PAYE and REPAYE both require borrowers to make monthly payments equal to 10 percent of their adjusted gross income for 20 years: 240 payments in all.  Borrowers who make regular payments but do not pay off their loans by the end of the repayment period will have their loans forgiven, but the cancelled debt is taxable to them as income.

The higher education industry loves PAYE and REPAYE, and what's not to like? Neither plan requires colleges and universities to keep their costs in line or operate more efficiently. Students will continue borrowing more and more money  to pay exorbitant tuition prices, but  monthly payments will be manageable because they will be spread out over 20 years rather than ten.

But most people enrolling in PAYE or REPAYE are signing their own financial death warrants. By shifting to long-term, income-driven repayment plans, they become indentured servants to the government, paying a percentage of their income for the majority of their working lives.

And, as illustrated in an ongoing bankruptcy action, a lot of people who sign up for IDRs will be stone broke on the date they make their final payment.

In Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, a Kansas bankruptcy judge granted a partial discharge of student-loan debt to Alan and Catherine Murray.  The Murrays borrowed $77,000 to get bachelor's and master's degrees, and paid back 70 percent of what they borrowed.

Unfortunately, the Murrays were unable to make their monthly payments for a time, and they put their loans into deferment.  Interest accrued over the years, and by the time they filed for bankruptcy, their student-loan indebtedness had grown to $311,000--four times what they borrowed.

A bankruptcy judge concluded that the Murrays had handled their loans in good faith but would never pay back their enormous debt--debt which was growing at the rate of $2,000 a month due to accruing interest.  Thus, the judge discharged the interest on their debt, requiring them only to pay back the original amount they borrowed.

Educational Credit Management Corporation, the Murrays' student-loan creditor, argued unsuccessfully that the Murrays should be place in a 20- or 25-year income-driven repayment plan. The bankruptcy judge rejected ECMC's demand, pointing out that the Murrays would never pay back the amount they owed and would be faced with a huge tax bill 20 years from now when their loan balance would be forgiven.

ECMC appealed, arguing that the bankruptcy judge erred when he took tax consequences into account when he granted the Murrays a partial discharge of their student loans. Tax consequences are speculative, ECMC insisted; and in event, the Murrays would almost certainly be insolvent at the end of the 20-year repayment term, and therefore they would not have to pay taxes on the forgiven loan balance.

What an astonishing admission! ECMC basically conceded that the Murrays would be broke at the end of a 20-year repayment plan, when they would be in their late sixties.

So if you are a struggling student-loan borrower who is considering an IDR, the Murray case is a cautionary tale. If you elect this option, you almost certainly will never pay off your student loans because your monthly payments won't cover accumulating interest.

Thus at the end of your repayment period--20 or 25 years from now--one of two things will happen. Either you will be faced with a huge tax bill because the amount of your forgiven loan is considered income by the IRS; or--as ECMC disarmingly admitted in the Murray case--you will be broke.


References

Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.

Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 14-22253, ADV. No. 15-6099, 2016 Bankr. LEXIS 4229 (Bankr. D. Kansas, December 8, 2016).

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dear Secretary Betsy DeVos: Please do the right thing and allow distressed debtors to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy

Dear Secretary DeVos:

You have been Secretary of Education for about  a month, so you know the federal student loan program is in shambles.

Eight million borrowers are in default, millions more aren't making payments while interest accrues on their debt, 5.6 million people have signed up for income-driven repayment plans and are making payments so small that their debt is negatively amortizing even though they are faithfully making regular payments.

Obviously, there are dozens of things the Department of Education can do to address this crisis, but you can easily do one thing to help alleviate mass suffering and it is this: Please direct DOE and all its student-loan debt collectors to stop opposing bankruptcy relief for distressed student-loan borrowers.

In 2015, Deputy Secretary Lynn Mahaffie issued a letter stating DOE and its debt collectors would not oppose bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors if it made no economic sense to do so. But in fact, both the Department and its agents oppose bankruptcy relief in almost every case.

And here are just a few examples:
  • In Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, the Department opposed bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic who worked full time but could not make student-loan payments and still pay the full-time caregiver he needed to dress him, feed him, and drive him to work.
  • In Abney v. U.S. Department of Education,  DOE urged a bankruptcy court to put a destitute student borrower into a long term payment plan even though the debtor was living on $1200 a month and was so poor he could not afford to drive a car and was riding a bicycle to work.
  • In Roth v. Educational Credit Management, ECMC fought an elderly woman's efforts to shed her student loans even though the woman had a monthly income of less than $800 a month and suffered from several chronic health problems.
  • In Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, ECMC argued to an Arizona bankruptcy judge that a 56-year-old counselor who owed $245,000 in student loans should be put in a 25-year repayment plan whereby she would make token payments until she was 81 years old!
Some of these cases were decided before Mahaffie's 2015 letter and some were decided after, but the dates are immaterial. DOE and its agents almost always oppose bankruptcy relief for student-loan debtors, no matter how desperate their circumstances.

In fact, DOE's position is essentially this: NO STUDENT DEBTOR IS ENTITLED TO BANKRUPTCY RELIEF. Instead, everyone should be placed in income-driven repayment plan  (IDR) that can last for 20 or even 25 years.

But you could change DOE's position simply by signing your name to a single letter. That letter should say that DOE and its debt collectors will no longer oppose bankruptcy relief for student debtors who cannot pay back their college loans and still maintain a minimal standard of living. And DOE will no longer argue that IDRs are a reasonable alternative to bankruptcy relief.

If you did that, hundreds of thousands of insolvent college-loan borrowers could discharge their student debt in bankruptcy and get a fresh start--a fresh start the bankruptcy courts were established to provide.

Your advisers may argue that the IDR program offers college borrowers a reasonable way to ultimately pay off their student loans, but that's not true. Do you think Rita Edwards would have ever paid back the $245,000 she owed the government by making payments of $81 a month in an IDR as ECMC proposed in her bankruptcy case? Of course not.

Do you think Janet Roth would have ever paid back her student-loan debt of $90,000 if she had been put in an IDR that would have set her monthly payments at zero due to her low income? No, and it was absurd for ECMC to have made that argument in Roth's bankruptcy case.

The stark reality is this. Millions of student borrowers have seen their loan balances double, triple and even quadruple due default fees and accruing interest. Putting these people into 20 and 25-year repayment plans that only require them to make token payments is insane.

Secretary DeVos, you could eliminate so much suffering if you would simply write a letter stating that DOE will no longer oppose bankruptcy relief for people like Myhre, Edwards, Roth, Abney and millions of other people in similar circumstances who will never pay back their student loans.

Please do the right thing.

References

Abney v. U.S. Department of Education, 540 B.R. 681 (Bankr. W.D. Mo. 2015).

Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, September 2016.

Ann Carrns. How to Dig Out of Student Loan Default. New York Times, October 21, 2016.

Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.

Edwards v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Adversary No.. 3:15-ap-26-PS, 2016 WL 1317421 (Bankr. D. Ariz. March 31, 2016).

Lynn Mahaffie, Undue Hardship Discharge of Title IV Loans in Bankruptcy Adversary Proceedings. CL ID: GEN 15-13, July 7, 2015.

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

Roth v. Educational Credit Management Corporation490 B.R. 908 (9th Cir. BAP 2013). Available at http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/bap/2013/04/16/RothV%20ECMC%20opinion-FINAL%20AZ-11-1233.pdf

Matt Sessa. Federal Student Aid Posts Updated Reports to FSA Data Center. U.S. Department of Education Office of Student Aid, December 20, 2016.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Has higher education become a criminal enterprise? "It's a cheating situation"

 I am not a doomsayer or a survivalist, and I try to stay away from apocalyptic bloggers. But James Howard Kunstler, whose blog site goes by the name of Clusterfuck Nation, is making persuasive arguments that our postmodern economy, hopped up on cheap energy and enormous debt levels, is unsustainable. In fact, he predicts an economic  meltdown sometime this spring.

Kunstler's focus is on broader economic issues than student loans, but he made a trenchant observation about higher education in his latest blog essay, which struck a nerve with me.  Pervasive accounting fraud in the national economy, Kunstler writes,"bleeds a criminal ethic into formerly legitimate enterprises like medicine and higher education, which become mere rackets, extracting maximum profits while skimping on delivery of the goods."

And of course Kunstler is right. The Department of Education shovels $150 billion a year in federal student aid to prop up the higher education industry, which is becoming nothing more than a racket. Higher education apologists stress the value of a college education, but 45 percent of recent college graduates are in jobs that do not require a college degree. 

No wonder 8 million college borrowers are in default and millions more are not paying down their student loans.  DOE knows the score but it continues to deceptively downplay the student-loan default rate, stuffing debtors into economic hardship deferments and income-driven repayment plans that hide the fact that a large percentage of student borrowers will never be free of their loans. 

Meanwhile, the for-profit college sector, which might fairly be labeled a criminal culture, rips off poor and minority Americans and gives them educational credentials that are damned near worthless. Now they are beginning to shut down and go bankrupt, leaving their former students with mountains of debt. 

The public universities, bloated and lazy, limp along by raising student tuition as state subsidies dry up.  Public university leaders are motivated solely by politics, terrified by the possibility they might inadvertently do or say something politically incorrect.

State higher education leaders refuse to reorganize public colleges to be more efficient. In my own state of Louisiana, we have regional public colleges with declining enrollment in every corner of the state, but no one has the political courage to close any of them. Many Southern states support historic black colleges at public expense, although there is absolutely no need for university systems that cater to only one race. Louisiana even has a black law school, which operates in a substandard way just a few miles away from the state's flagship school of law. 

As for the nonprofit public institutions, they now fall into two camps. The ultra elite institutions--Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc.--have brand names so strong they can charge what ever tuition rate they want. They also have fat endowments that insulate them from economic forces. 

On the other hand, small, obscure liberal arts colleges are under severe financial stress, and quite a few will close within the next five years. Parents are refusing to pay $50,000 a year for their offspring to attended a nondescript private school.  The little colleges have been forced to offer huge discounts--approaching 50 percent--to lure new students through the door. 

In short, every sector of higher education has been living in a fools paradise, but the data are now coming in, and they are alarming.

Nearly half the people who took out student loans to attend for-profit colleges default within five years. Millions of college borrowers whose loans are in repayment are seeing their student-loan balances grow larger, not smaller, due to negative amortization. Their token monthly payments keep borrowers out of default but are so small they don't cover accruing interest.

Nationwide, more than half of student borrowers owe more than they borrowed just two years into repayment. And, as the Wall Street Journal reported just a few weeks ago, half the students who took out student loans to attend more than 1000 schools and colleges have not paid down even one dollar on their loans seven years after their repayment obligations kicked in.

Kunstler is right. Evasiveness, almost criminal in its proportions, pervades almost every sector of higher education. As a classic country-and western-song might put it, "there's no use in pretending there'll be  a happy ending." Colleges and universities are in a cheating situation, refusing to recognize that the golden age of American higher education is coming to an end.



References

Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2020.

James Howard Kunstler. Made for Each Other. Clusterfuck Nation, February 13, 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 ratesWashington, DC: Brookings Institution (2015).

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The White House Council of Economic Advisers issues a feel good report on federal student loans: Ignoring reality

President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers reminds me of the French Army during the spring of 1940 as German panzer columns were streaming toward Paris. Although  the Germans had crossed the Meuse River and French troops were fleeing everywhere, General Alphonse Georges sent a message to General Maurice Gamelin that his soldiers were holding firm and fighting in the Marfée Woods. "We are calm here," Georges assured Gamelin.

In fact, French troops were not fighting in the Marfée Woods. They were south of the Woods in full retreat.

The Council of Economic Advisers report: Don't worry about debt--college is a good investment

Let's now take a look at a report issued last month by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. Titled Investing in Higher Education: Benefits, Challenges, and the State of Student Debt, the report basically repeats the old bromide that college is a good investment and that long-term income-based repayment plans are the smart way to deal with rising levels of student indebtedness.

Of course it is true that college graduates earn more over their lifetimes than people who only have a high school degree. But that does not mean that college is always a good investment. People who graduate from college may simply have more initiative and resources than people who do not graduate. As the CEA report admitted, "students who attend college may have been more skilled or more connected and thus would have earned more [than non-college completers] regardless."

At the very least, college graduates have the self-discipline necessary to sit through four years of boring college classes and listen to a lot of postmodernist bullshit. And that's the kind of self-discipline that can help a person obtain a relatively well paying job--whether or not that person has a college degree.

In my view, the CEA report's breezy reassurances about the value of a college degree glosses over a bleak reality, which is this:  Millions of Americans are suffering because they took out student loans to go to college and can't pay them back.

CEA report:  Cheerleader for long-term income-based repayment plans

Part of the CEA's 78-page report was devoted to singing the praises of long-term income-based repayment plans (IBRPs). About 5 million people are in these programs now, and CEA Chairman Jason Furman wants to shove more people into "these smarter repayment plans."

In my opinion, the CEA's discussion of IBRPs was utterly deceptive. First of all, the report described these plans based on the unstated assumption that most people who enter IBRPs will pay back the principal on their loans. But I don't think they will.

The report provided this unrealistic example of how the IBRP program works:  A 2008 college graduate who leaves college with $31,000 in debt and earns an income of $31,000 a year (the median income for a 2008 college graduate) will pay off the debt in 17 years, assuming typical income growth and a 2 percent inflation rate. (The COA's illustration appears in Figure 41 on page 63 of its report.)

But of course, a great many people signing up for IBRPs are not college completers who go into jobs that pay the median income for new college graduates. A lot of people in these plans are people who didn't complete college, weren't able to find well-paying jobs, or who entered IBRPs after struggling for many years to pay off their loans under standard 10-year plans. Brenda Butler, for example, whose bankruptcy case was decided this year, entered into an IBRP after trying unsuccessfully to pay off her loans for 20 years. As the court noted, she won't finish paying off her student loans until 2037--42 years after she graduated from college!

And although the CEA report touts the fact that people in IBRPS who are unemployed won't have to make any payments on their student loans during their period of unemployment, the report failed to mention that interest accrues during the time borrowers are not making payments.

In fact, the report made no mention of accruing interest for IBRP participants and no mention of the fact that many people who enter IBRPs after defaulting on their loans have loan balances far larger than the amount they borrowed due to accruing interest, penalties, and collection fees.

And the report made no mention of the tax consequences for people who complete IBRPs but fail to pay off their loan balances. The government forgives the unpaid debt for these people, but the amount of the forgiven debt is considered taxable income by the IRS.

Conclusion: The CEA says "We are calm here" while millions of student-loan debtors are suffering

It is now clear that the Obama administration's central strategy for dealing with the student-loan crisis is to push millions of people into PAYE, REPAYE and other long-term income-based repayment plans that stretch out people's loan payments over 20, 25 and even 30 years. The CEA's example for how such plans work does not portray a typical IBRP participant. Most people do not enter these plans immediately after graduating from college, they do not earn the median income for new college graduates, and their income trajectories are not typical.

Many IBRP participants are people who did not graduate from college, or who graduated from college but did not find a job that paid well enough to service their student loans. Many have defaulted and have seen their loan balances go up due to accruing interest and the fees and penalties that creditors stuck on to their loan balances.

In fact, I believe most people in IBRPs will never pay off their loan balances because their income-based payments are not large enough to cover accruing interest. Thus most people in these plans will be faced with big tax bills when they finish their payment terms because the amount of their forgiven debt is considered taxable income by the IRS.

Now I fully expect that tax regulations will eventually be amended so that forgiven loans will not be considered taxable income, but that doesn't change the fact that most people in IBRPs will never pay off their loans.

In short, the CEA, like General Georges during the Battle of France, is saying "We are calm here" while in fact the student loan program is collapsing.

French troops retreeating during the Battle of France:
"We are calm here."


References

Jason Furman. The Truth About Higher Education And Student LoansHuffingon Post, Jul 19, 2016. Accessible at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-furman/the-truth-about-higher-ed_b_11060192.html

Council on Economic Advisors. Investing in Higher Education: Benefits, Challenges, and The State of Student Debt. July 2016. accessible at https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20160718_cea_student_debt.pdf

Note: References to the Battle of France come from The Collaps of the Third Republic by William L. Shirer. The quotation from the message by General Alphonse Georges can be found on page 650.