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

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



Saturday, December 9, 2017

It's official: The Republicans hate student-loan debtors

A few days ago, Republicans introduced their bill for revising the Higher Education Act. Some provisions in the GOP proposal are astonishing in their cruelty and contempt for student debtors.
  • Abolishing income-drive repayment plans. For starters, the Republicans want to end all student-loan forgiveness. Goodbye PAYE. Goodbye REPAY. Students who can't pay off their loans under the standard 10-year repayment plan will be forced into income-driven repayment plans that continue until their loans are paid off--which for many of them will be never.
  • Abolishing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The GOP wants to abolish the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which Congress created in 2007. Hundreds of thousands of students have entered into public-service jobs expecting to have their college loans forgiven after 10 years. If the Republican proposal becomes law, some of these people may be grandfathered into the PSLF program, but the program will be shut down.
  • Forbidding states from enforcing consumer protection laws against student loan servicers. Buried on page 464 of the GOP's bill is a provision that forbids states from regulating the student-loan serving companies.  Some state AGs have vigorously pursued wrongdoers in the loan servicing business, and Republicans apparently want to shield the debt collectors from state consumer protection laws.
Where are these pernicious Republican ideas coming from? Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is Chair of the House Education Committee, and she supports all these nasty proposals. But Foxx is not pulling the strings. These toxic proposals are coming from the heart of the Trump administration--and undoubtedly from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

I don't know if these punitive GOP proposals will make it into federal law. But if they do, Republicans will push millions of college borrowers into a lifetime of indebtedness.  It's almost as if the GOP wants to create an underclass of sharecroppers.

President Trump and his fiendish Secretary of Education (who has financial ties to the debt collection business) may think their scheme to punish student borrowers will play to the Republican base. But if these proposals get through Congress, there will be hell to pay in coming elections.  

The Democrats are missing a golden opportunity if they don't take up the banner of student-debt relief.  In my view, they should forget Russia and turn their venom toward Betsy DeVos, who may be Trump's Achillese heel. The Dems need to educate college borrowers about the nation's venal Secretary of Education and rouse them to righteous fury.

Betsy DeVos summer home: Maybe you could get a job there as pool boy


References

Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell, & Melissa Korn. House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher EducationWall Street Journal, November 29, 2017.

Jillian Berman. House Republicans seek to roll back state laws protecting student loan borrowers. Marketwatch.com, December 7, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. GOP higher ed plan would end student loan forgiveness in repayment program, overhaul federal financial aidWashington Post, December 1, 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. Dems raise concern about possible links betwen DeVos and student debt collection agencyWashington Post, January 17, 2017.













Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Department of Education's so-called plan to "strengthen" the student loan system is pathetic. Do President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan really care about distressed student-loan debtors?

On October 1, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education issued a report entitled Strengthening the Student Loan System to Better Protect All Borrowers. It's about time. More than 20 million people are struggling with unmanageable student loans, including 10 million who are delinquent on their loans or in default.

But what a pathetic document! Clearly President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan don't have the moral courage to seriously address the student-loan crisis. They are just tinkering with this problem, hoping they can keep the student-loan crisis off the public's radar screen until after Obama leaves office.

Here are my specific critiques:

Garnishing Social Security checks of elderly student-loan defaulters. The federal government garnished the Social Security checks of a 155,000 student-loan defaulters in a recent year, which is shameful. It is true that the U.S. Supreme Court approved this practice in its heartless Lockhart decision; but President Obama, using his discretionary enforcement powers that he so often invokes, could stop garnishing Social Security checks immediately. But he hasn't done that because he really doesn't give a damn about the suffering of elderly people.

Instead, the Department of Education recently proposed to insert an inflationary index into the garnishing system that would allow Social Security recipients to protect more of their Social Security check from garnishment when inflation occurs. (Currently, only $750 a month is protected from garnishment.)

This is an incredibly callous proposal. In the Roth case, the 9th Circuit BAP court's 2013 decision, Jane Roth sought to discharge more than $90,000 in student-loan debt. At the time she filed for bankruptcy, she was 68 years old, had chronic health problems, and was entirely dependent on her Social Security check of less than $800 a month.

How could any humane and reasonable person argue that  any of Ms. Roth's Social Security check should be garnished? But that is what the Department of Education's recent report basically proposes.

Arbitration clauses imposed on unsophisticated student-loan borrowers by for-profit colleges. The New York Times reported recently that many private businesses (particularly those in the finance industry) require individuals to agree to arbitration clauses and to waive their right to sue. As the Times pointed out, the arbitration system favors the business community over private individuals.

Many for-profit colleges also require students to arbitrate their grievances and to give up their right to sue, even if they believe their college defrauded them or breached contractual obligations. Arbitration can be more costly for individuals than litigation because arbitration fees can be quite expensive. And a business party is more likely to win than an individual.  For-profit arbitration clauses have been upheld by the courts.

Why don't Arne Duncan and Barack Obama stop the for-profit college industry from inserting litigation waivers and arbitration clauses into their admission documents, which they could do simply by enacting a regulation prohibiting the for-profits from engaging in this pernicious practice?

I'll tell you why. Because for all their public hand-wring and their tongue-clucking over the student-loan crisis, Obama and Duncan are firmly committed to the status quo.  Obama and Duncan's failure to address unconscionable arbitration clauses is shameful.

Making private loans dischargeable in bankruptcy. The DOE report recommends "potential changes" to the treatment of private loans in the bankruptcy courts.  DOE is referring to a provision in the Bankruptcy Code that Congress legislated in 2005 that makes private student loans nondischargeable in bankruptcy unless the debtor can show "undue hardship."  Senator Joe Biden, acting at the behest of the banking industry, helped get that legislation passed.  Thanks,Joe!

Several prominent bankruptcy scholars have recommended that the 2005 legislation be repealed and that private student loans be dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other nonsecured debt. But the DOE doesn't go that far. Here's what the DOE report says:
[T]he report recommends allowing private loans that do not offer [pay-as-you-earn or PAYE]-like borrower protections to be dischargeable in bankruptcy similar to other forms of consumer debt. Allowing private lenders the protection of non-dischargeability if they offer PAYE-like features will provide an incentive for private lenders to create meaningful ex ante payment modification options available for when borrowers cannot make standard payments. (p. 17)
In other words, Obama and Duncan propose that banks will still have the protection of having their student loans virtually impossible to discharge in bankruptcy if they will allow distressed student-loan borrowers to switch from standard loan payments to long-term income-based repayment plans. Of course, the banks might be willing to add an income-based repayment feature to their student loans, but that would mean that most private student loans would negatively amortize due to the fact that the income-based payments would almost certainly not be large enough to pay accumulating interest.

What an idiotic notion! What the DOE report should have said is simply this: private student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy like any other unsecured loan--period.

The fact the the Department of Education advocates any restrictions on bankruptcy relief for distressed debtors who took out private student loans is outrageous and shows that the Obama administration--for all its posturing--is little more than a lackey of the banks.

A few timid but good recommendations. The DOE report does contain a few timid but good recommendations  Eliminating tax liability for people whose student loans are forgiven under long-term income-based repayment plans is a good idea and one that President Obama had earlier proposed.

But student-loan borrowers were never under much of a threat of being assessed a huge tax bill if their loans were discharged. Present IRS regulations do not consider a forgiven loan to be taxable income if the debtor is insolvent at the time the loan is forgiven.  And in any event, this relief is small consolation for people who wind up in 25-year income-based repayment plans.

Streamlining the disability discharge process, which DOE recommends, is also a good idea.  But if it is such a good idea, why did DOE oppose bankruptcy discharge for Bradley Myhre, a quadriplegic student-loan debtor whose expenses exceeded his income due to the fact that he needed  a personal full-time caregiver in order to remain employed? (Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education, 2013).

Finally, DOE promises to streamline the process whereby individuals can have their student loans forgiven if they were defrauded by the institution they attended.   The DOE report states that the Department of Education "will conduct negotiated rulemaking on borrower defense and plans to develop new regulations to clarify and streamline loan forgiveness under the defense repayment  provision . . . ."

What DOE probably means is that it will negotiate with the for-profit college industry regarding the process for forgiving loans owed by students who were enticed to enroll at for-profit collegea through fraud or misrepresentation. Of course it is a good idea to streamline the loan-forgiveness process for people who attended institutions that have been found guilty of misrepresenting their education programs.

But I doubt if DOE is willing to streamline the loan-forgiveness process enough to provide meaningful relief. After all there are 350,000 former students of the Corinthian Colleges system, which filed for bankruptcy last spring amid allegations of wrongdoing.  As of a few months ago, only about 3,000 students had had their student loans forgiven by DOE.

Conclusion

In my opinion, President Obama's Department of Education issued a report that purports to "strengthen" the student loan system for the protection of borrowers but does not attack the underlying problems.  Until the private loan industry and the for-profit college industry are shut down and distressed student-loan debtors have meaningful access to the bankruptcy courts, the student-loan catastrophe will just grow bigger. And the number of people who can't make their student-loan payments--now more than 20 million--will only grow larger with each passing day.

https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2008/12/16/obamaeducation476.jpg?w=620&q=85&auto=format&sharp=10&s=26d17b6c928a0f80f7662a66a2d328a8
Frankly, my dear, we don't give a damn.
References


Sirota, David. Joe Biden Backed Bills to Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt. International Business Times, September 15  , 2015. Accessible: http://www.ibtimes.com/joe-biden-backed-bills-make-it-harder-americans-reduce-their-student-debt-2094664

U.S. Department of Education. Strengthening the Student Loan System to Better Protect All Borrowers.  Washington, D.C., October 1, 2015: Author. Accessible: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/strengthening-student-loan-system.pdf

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Student Loan Forgiveness for Students Who Attended One of the Schools Owned by Corinthian Colleges: I Recommend Chiang Kai-Shek's Fire Hose Approach

Chiang Kai-shek was the  leader of the Nationalist government of China for many years, but he was also a Methodist of sorts. I read somewhere that he once baptized his soldiers en masse, using a fire hose.  I'm not sure that story is true, but I like to think of all those Chinese soldiers who became Methodists. I'm sure it did them a world of good.

Regardless of the truth of that story, I believe the Department of Education should adopt Chiang Kai-shek's  fire-hose technique when designing a student-loan forgiveness program for all the people who attended one of  institutions operated by Corinthian Colleges--which is now bankrupt.


Chiang Kai-shek(蔣中正).jpg
Chiang Kai-shek: Did he baptize his troops with a fire hose?
The Department of Education is designing a process whereby students who attended a Corinthian campus can apply for loan forgiveness, which at least some of them are legally entitled to do due to Corinthian's shutdown. According to the New York Times, DOE estimates that 350,000 people attended one of the Corinthian  campuses over the past five years. If all of them apply for loan forgiveness and receive debt relief, it will cost taxpayers $3.5 billion.

In the past, DOE has utilized a cumbersome loan-forgiveness process for  students who attended colleges that closed, and DOE says that only 6 percent of students who were eligible for debt relief due to a college closure  actually applied for that relief (as reported in the New York Times).


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promises a streamlined loan-forgiveness process for former Corinthian students. "We will make this process as easy as possible for them, including by considering claims in groups wherever possible" Duncan said.


But why make Corinthian students jump through hoops to have their student loans forgiven--any hoops at all? Why not adopt Chiang Kai-shek's methods and forgive all those loans en masse? I agree with Luke Herrine, a member of the Debt Collective, who argued that all Corinthian students should be given "blanket relief."


Why give blanket loan -forgiveness to former Corinthian students? First of all, the government is not going to get that money back anyway. In all likelihood, a majority of Corinthian students will either default on their loans or apply for economic-hardship status that will exempt them from making loan payments until they get on their feet financially, which for many Corinthian victims will be never.


Second, the Department of Education is morally responsible for the mess it created by shoveling student-aid money to for-profit colleges that paid their executives lavish salaries while delivering substandard educational programs. A quarter of all student-aid money goes to for-profit colleges, which have the highest default rates. 


The for-profits have kept this shell game going by hiring lobbyists to represent their interests, employing lawyers to file lawsuits to stop DOE's regulatory efforts, and making campaign contributions to strategic members of Congress.  In fact, Corinthian's bankruptcy filings lists its lobbyists as some of its creditors.

No, DOE needs to spray all these students with a metaphorical fire hose, forgiving Corinthian's former students' loans through executive action. These unfortunate folk have been through enough. Duncan shouldn't make them fill out any more forms in order to rid themselves of student-loans they took out to attend one of Corinthian's colleges.



References


Tamar Lewin. Government to Forgive Student Loans at Corinthian. New York Times, June 9, 2015, p. A11.


Help for Victims of College Fraud (Editorial). New York Times, June 10, 2015, p. A24.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Student-Loan Forgiveness Programs are Making the Student Loan Crisis Worse

The federal government's student-loan forgiveness programs--like  Germany's decision to invade Russia in 1941--must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

After all, millions of college students are burdened by crushing student loans, the student-loan default rate creeps ever upward, and many college graduates have not gotten jobs that pay well enough to service their student-loan debt.

So why not create some programs that will lower student borrowers' monthly loan payments?

  And so the government created two programs that are essentially student-loan forgiveness programs. One program allows people who take public service jobs to make loan payments based on a percentage of their income for ten years. At the end of the ten-year period, the balance of their loans are forgiven.

Germany invaded Russia in the summer of 1941
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

The other program--income-based repayment plans (IBRPs) --allows borrowers to make monthly student-loan payments based on a percentage of their income for 20 or 25 years (there are several variations). Just as with the public-service loan forgiveness plans, student-loan debtors will see the balance of their loans forgiven at the end of the repayment period.

The attractiveness of these programs for student-loan borrowers is obvious. They see their monthly payments go down, which may keep many student-loan debtors from going into default.

Currently, about 1.3 million borrowers are enrolled in public-service loan forgiveness plans, and about the same number are enrolled in IBRPS. 

But here is the downside.  None of these programs contain provisions to discourage students from borrowing more money than necessary.  In fact--since the monthly payments are based on a percentage of borrowers' income and not the amount borrowed, the programs contain a perverse incentive to borrow as much as possible.  As a result, many of the people making income-based loan payments will never pay back even a portion of their loans.

Here are a couple of examples--one taken from a Wall Street Journal article and one taken from a New York Times story--that illustrate the problem.

Haley Schafer borrowed $312,000 to attend veterinary school in the Caribbean, even though the job market for veterinarians in the United States is terrible  Schafer got a job making about $60,000 a year, not nearly enough to comfortably pay back her student loans under the standard 10-year repayment plan.

So Schafer signed up for a 25-year income-based repayment plan that lowered her monthly loan payments to about $400 a month. Unfortunately,  her monthly payments aren't large enough to cover accruing interest on her loans.  The New York Times estimated that her loan balance will continue to grow, and when she finishes her 25-year repayment plan her loan balance will be more than twice the amount that she borrowed--$650,000!

And that's Haley Schafer's story. Now let's hear about Max Norris, a public-service attorney who borrowed $172,000 to go to University of California's Hastings College of Law.  Under the public-service student-loan forgiveness plan, he only pays $420 a month on his loan balance, not enough to cover accruing interest.

Norris's loan balance will be forgiven after 10  years. Assuming Norris stays in public service and gets annual raises of 4 percent, the government will forgive $225,000 in student-loan indebtedness--more than Norris borrowed!

In other words, the federal government is giving Morris a 100 percent subsidy to go to law school, even though the market is flooded with lawyers. In fact there are currently two law-school graduates for every new legal job.

Surely, anyone can see that it makes no sense for the federal government to permit people to borrow $100,000 or more to train people for professions that are already overcrowded and then allow them to make loan payments that are so small that the payments don't cover the accruing interest.

But that is what our federal government is doing.  

And, although these programs may help keep the student-loan default rate down, they are actually making the student loan-crisis worse.  Not only do we have 7 million people who stopped making loan payments and are in default, we have another 9 million who aren't making payments because they received an economic hardship deferment or are entitled to some other form of forbearance.  And then we have 2.5 million people who are making loan payments based not on the amount they borrowed but on their income, which means most will never pay off the principal of their loans.

In short--the number of people who will never pay off their student loans is in the millions--many, many millions.

References

Josh Mitchell. Student-Debt Forgiveness Plans Skyrocket, Raising Fears Over Costs, Higher Tuition. Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2014.

David Segal. High Debt and Falling Demand Trap New Vets. New York Times, February 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/business/high-debt-and-falling-demand-trap-new-veterinarians.html?_r=0