Showing posts with label student-loan defaults. Show all posts
Showing posts with label student-loan defaults. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bloomberg reports that student-loan delinquencies have ticked upward: Another sign of growing misery among student debtors

Shahien Nasiripour, writing for, wrote an article last month about rising student-loan delinquency rates. As of June 30th, 18.8 percent of student borrowers were at least one month late on their loan payments.  That's about 3.3 million college borrowers.

The Department of Education's June report showed a slight uptick from the delinquency rate one year earlier, when 18.6 percent of student debtors were a month late on their loan payments.

What does this mean?

Yelena Shulyatyeva, a senior economist for Bloomberg Intelligence, professed to be mystified. "There's no fundamental reason for that to be happening," Shulyatyeva said.

James Kvaal, who was President Obama's Deputy Director of White House Domestic Policy, also seemed stumped by rising delinquency rates. "That the trend has stalled," Kvaal said, "is not yet a warning sign, but it is a question mark."

Nasiripour, who has done some fine reporting on the student loan crisis, summarized why this development is puzzling to many policy experts. "After all," she wrote, "the U.S. economy has improved since June of last year, with lower unemployment, higher household incomes and increased wealth, federal data show." Moreover, Nasiripour pointed out "Consumers are more confident about the economy, and their own personal finances, too, according to Bloomberg Consumer Comfort data."

But rising delinquency rates are just one more sign that the student loan program is in meltdown. Let's tick off some more disaster indicators:
  • Last year, 1.1 million Americans defaulted on their student loans at an average rate of 3,000 defaults a day.
  • A recent report released by the National Center for Education Statics revealed that almost 6 people in ten who first enrolled for postsecondary education in 1995-96 had not paid off their student loans 20 years later.
  • As reported by the Wall Street Journal, more than half the students at a thousand colleges and schools had not reduced their student-loan debt by one penny seven years into repayment.
  • According to a 2016 report from the Government Accounting Office, half the people who entered income-driven repayment plans to lower their monthly loan payments were removed from their IDRs for failing to recertify their income.
  • Brookings Institution report noted that more than one out of four people (28 percent) in a recent cohort of student borrowers defaulted on their loans within five years of beginning repayment. The default rate among students who attended for-profit colleges was 47 percent.
Congress, the Department of Education, and the higher education industry refuse to face reality. I suppose all the people who should be addressing this crisis are hoping they will be retired and playing golf in Florida when the student-loan program collapses.

And collapse it will. In the meantime, millions of student-loan debtors are buried under a mountain of debt.

I believe the federal bankruptcy courts are slowly awakening to this crisis and that they are increasingly willing to rule compassionately toward distressed student debtors who seek bankruptcy relief.  The Murray decision out of Kansas, which was affirmed on appeal last month, is a heartening sign.

The Murrays were fortunate enough to have been represented by an able attorney, and they also received assistance in the form of an amicus brief filed by the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

Unfortunately, few insolvent student debtors are able to find attorneys to take their cases. If American lawyers understood the student-loan crisis for what it is--a human rights issue, they might take up some of these cases as volunteers, much as the civil rights lawyers did in the 1960s, when attorneys from across the United States came South at the risk of their lives to represent civil rights activists.

I am convinced that the solution to the student-loan catastrophe lies with the federal bankruptcy courts. Congress does not have the collective courage to address this problem legislatively, and the higher education industry--like a cocaine addict--survives from day to day on regular infusions of federal student-aid money.

American colleges, like drug addicts, survive from day to day on regular infusions of federal student-aid money.


Andrea Fuller. Student Debt Payback Far Worse Than BelievedWall Street Journal, January 18, 2017.

Shahien Nasiripour. More Americans Are Falling Behind on Student Loans, and Nobody Quite Knows Why., September 28, 2017.

The Wrong Move on Student LoansNew York Times, April 6, 2017.

US. Government Accounting Office. Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income-Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accounting Office, November, 2016.

Jennie H. Woo, Alexander H. Bentz, Stephen Lew, Erin Dunlop Velez, Nichole Smith, RTI International,  (2017, October). Repayment  of Student Loans as of 2015 Among 1995-96 and 2003-04 First-Time Beginning StudentsFirst Look (NCES 2018-410). U.S. Department of Education. Washington DC; National Center for Education Statistics. [Sean A Simone, Project Officer]

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beginning of the End: Signs Are Everywhere that the Student Loan Program Is Collapsing

In the spring of 1940, just before the Battle of France, the people of Paris were enjoying themselves. As William Shirer wrote in The Collapse of the Third Republic:
The sands at Auteuil were full for the annual spring racing, and betting was heavy. Crowds flocked to the spring art exhibition at the Grand Palais. The cinemas and theaters played to full houses. The windows of the great jewelry shops in the rue de la Paix sparkled with diamonds and other gems, and inside business was good. (p. 604)
And then the Germans invaded the Low Countries and within a month the Nazis were in Paris.

When the party's over, it's over.
American  higher education, it seems to me, is behaving much as the Parisians did on the eve of their World War II disaster. Tuition goes up every year, even though the colleges offer steeper and steeper discounts just to lure students in the door. The average freshman now pays just 50 percent of a college's sticker price.

Meanwhile, the major public institutions of the South and Midwest pay their varsity football coaches $4 million and even $5 million a year to producing winning teams; and the assistant coaches often make a million dollars a year or more.

The campus book stores sell fewer and fewer books but make a profit selling junk.  Fewer books means more space to sell college-branded  t-shirts, sunglasses, and coffee mugs at outrageous prices. Most campuses now have a Starbuck, where students can buy elaborate coffee drinks for $5 a pop.

More and more, colleges and universities are outsourcing their student services. University employees no longer cook the meals.  Let them eat at Taco Bell, conveniently located in the Student Union. As a percentage of  total college enrollment, fewer and fewer undergraduates live in college dorms. Instead they flock to expensive, privately developed coed student-housing ghettos that provide undergraduates with swimming pools, game rooms, and plenty of space to park their late-model cars.

And why not? Student loans will pay for just about everything. And if the kids need more money than they can borrow on their own account, mom and pop will be glad to co-sign student loans at private banks. Total outstanding student-loan debt is now $1.3 trillion.

But it can't go on forever.

Almost 7 million people are currently in default on their loans, which means they haven't made a student-loan payment for more than a year. Millions more have obtained economic hardship deferments and aren't making student-loan payments.

More and more people have signed up for income-based repayment payment plans that stretch out the loan repayment period to as long as 25 years--3.9 million people, according to the Department of Education. That's a 56 percent surge in just one year.

DOE describes the uptick in long-term repayment plans as a victory because students' monthly payments go down. But many people in these plans are making payments so low they will never pay off their loans. And anyway, who wants to pay a percentage of their income for a quarter of a century just for the privilege of getting a crummy college education?

Nor is it clear that most people will stick with a long-term payment plan for 25 years. Not long ago, DOE reported that more than half of the people in those plans failed to report their annual income, a prerequisite for continuing in an income-based repayment program.

This house of cards is about to come tumbling down. Already, private liberal arts colleges are folding or on the verge of folding as students realize that it makes no sense to pay $40,000 or $50,000 a year to attend a nondescript private liberal arts college in nowheresville. Sweetbriar's debacle is just the first of many more college closings to come.

And the bloom is off the rose for the for-profits, which have been insanely profitable for the private equity groups and wealthy investors who own them. Corinthian Colleges' bankruptcy is but the harbinger of a major shakeup in the for-profit college industry.  And what happens to Corinthians's 300,000 former students, most of whom used student-loan money to pay their tuition? How many Corinthian alums will pay back their student loans?

There's only one solution to this giant economic disaster--reasonable access to bankruptcy for overburdened student-loan debtors. But DOE and its loan-collection agencies fight student-loan bankruptcies tooth-and-nail. DOE even opposed bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic debtor who was working full time but couldn't make enough money to compensate his full-time caregiver and and still pay his fundamental living expenses (Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013).

DOE knows that if bankruptcy relief becomes an option for people who are swamped by their student loans that a flood of debtors will flow into the bankruptcy courts. If that ever happens, this enormous fraud on American young people will be exposed.

So colleges and universities waddle long, academic year after academic year, jacking up their tuition and hiring more and more bureaucrats and administrators.  College presidents hob nob with wealthy donors and watch the football games in executive sky boxes.  Tenured professors teach less and less, and low-paid adjuncts teach more and more of the college curriculum.

But the metaphorical equivalent of German panzer tanks are hiding in the shrubbery of our well-groomed college campuses. And some day soon, American higher education--the envy of the world our college leaders tirelessly assure us--will collapse.


Mitchell, Josh. School-Loan Reckoning. 7 Million Are In Default. Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2015.

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

Shirer, William. The Collapse of the Third Republic. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969.