As everyone knows, the housing market collapsed in 2008, triggering a major economic crisis in the United States. The nation descended into recession, and the national economy is still recovering from this catastrophe.
Steve Rhode and others have described a student loan “bubble,” and I share these commentators’ view that the federal student loan program as it functions now is unsustainable. Approximately 42 million borrowers collectively owe $1.4 trillion in student-loan debt, and families are beginning to experience sticker shock. Enrollments are declining at the for-profit schools, and nonprofit liberal arts colleges are desperately scrambling to maintain their enrollments.
Many people may think the student-loan crisis–no matter how bad it is–is just a small tremor compared to the 2008 housing crisis, which was an earthquake.
But in fact, the student loan crisis has produced more casualties in terms of human suffering than the housing collapse ten years ago.
Earlier this week, Alan White of Credit Slip, an online news source on economic matters, commented on a housing-data report released recently by the Urban Institute. Based on the Urban Institute’s data, White assessed the total damage from the subprime housing crisis. From 2007 to 2016, 6.7 million homes went into foreclosure and another 2 million homes were lost through short sales or deeds-in lieu of foreclosure. Thus the total number of homeowners who lost their homes in the subprime housing debacle is about 8.7 million. If we assume a majority of those homes were owned by married couples, then the total number of individuals who were injured in the housing crisis is about 16 million.
That’s a lot of people, but the casualty list from the student loan crisis is larger.
As the New York Times reported in 2015, about 10 million student borrowers have defaulted on their loans or have loans in delinquency. Almost 6 million debtors are now in income-driven repayment programs (IDRs), and those people are locked into repayment plans that last from 20 to 25 years. A majority of those people are making payments so low they are not servicing accruing interest, which means their student loans balances are growing larger (negatively amortizing) with each passing month.
So we’re talking about 16 million people who defaulted, have delinquent loans, or who are in IDRs. And millions more have student loans in forbearance or deferment, which means they are not making payments on their loans but are not counted as defaulters. For most of those people, interest is accruing, which means their student loan balances are growing. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported a total of about 9 million people in deferment or forbearance in its 2013 report titled A Closer Look at the Trillion.
All these numbers are fluid. Some delinquent student-loan borrowers will bring their loans current, and some defaulters will rehabilitate their loans. And some people will move from deferment status to some form of IDR.
But it is safe to say–indeed conservative to say–that about 20 million Americans have outstanding student loans they can’t pay back. That’s 4 million more people that were injured by the housing crisis. It’s The Big Short all over again.
Alan and Catherine Murray, who received a partial discharge of their student loans in a Kansas bankruptcy court last year, are the poster children for this calamity. They borrowed $77,000 to finance their studies, and both obtained a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. They paid back $54,000–about 70 percent of what they borrowed.
But the Murrays experienced hard times and put their loans into deferment for a few years while interest accrued at the rate of 9 percent. They now owe $311,000! Will they ever pay that back? No, they won’t.
Yes, the federal loan program is in a bubble, and the suffering has already begun. The federal government is propping up this house of cards and disguising the real default rate. Congress doesn’t have the courage to address the problem, and the Trump administration appears to be clueless
We must look to the federal bankruptcy courts for relief. The Murrays obtained a partial dischage of their their loans from a Kansas bankruptcy judge last year, but their case is now on appeal.
Stay tuned for further developments. – Source
Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.
Editorial, “Why Student Debtors Go Unrescued.” New York Times, October 7, 2015, A 26.
Murray v. Educational Credit Management Corporation, Case No. 14-22253, ADV. No. 15-6099, 2016 Banrk. LEXIS 4229 (Bankr. D. Kansas, December 8, 2016).
Steve Rhode. The Student Bubble That Many Don’t Want To See. Get Out Of Debt Guy, July 15, 2016.
Jill Schlesinger. Looking for the next debt bubble. Chicago Tribune, August 24, 2016.
Alan White, Foreclosure Crisis Update. Credit Slip, April 5, 2017.
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