Archive for ‘student loans’

July 8, 2015

Should Parent PLUS loans generate billions in profits?

by Grace

The US government’s predatory-lending program
America earns $3 billion a year charging strapped college parents above-market interest. “It’s like ‘The Sopranos,’ except it’s the government.”

The fast-growing federal program known as Parent PLUS now serves 3.2 million borrowers, who have racked up $65 billion in debt helping their kids go to school. The loans have much in common with the regular student loans that have created a national debt crisis and a 2016 campaign issue, but PLUS has much higher interest rates and fees, and far fewer opportunities for loan forgiveness or reductions.

Should student loans generate profits for the federal government?

In fact, the PLUS program, which includes similar loans to graduate students, is the most profitable of the 120 or so federal lending programs. That sounds like a good thing, until you remember the government’s profit comes from its own citizens, often citizens of modest means.

Student loans enhance accessibility, but at what cost?

… PLUS loans have also become a key revenue source for many schools, particularly historically black colleges and for-profits that tend to serve lower-income families.

But that just illustrates the increasingly tortured economic paradoxes at the heart of modern higher education, where schools have no incentive to provide affordable prices as long as they can count on federal dollars for making education affordable. Ultimately, Parent PLUS sluices more cash into the college-industrial complex, helping educators jack up their tuitions while pressuring parents to make up the difference with debt, while doing nothing to ensure they’re getting a real return on their investment. It enhances accessibility, but not really affordability, simply giving parents a way to punt the skyrocketing costs into the future.

Underwriting standards are lax, and the government lends money to “people with no clue if they can pay it back”.

Many critics argue that Parent PLUS should be abolished, and that the government should expand Pell grants and raise caps on student loans instead. But even those who want to continue the program — including Rodriguez in the White House and Republican staffers on Capitol Hill — seem to agree there are relatively obvious ways to strengthen it. The most evident would be real underwriting standards to evaluate the ability to pay of potential borrowers. Another would be strict loan caps. Or a combination of those reforms could link the creditworthiness of borrowers to the size of the loans they’re eligible to receive, the kind of calculation real banks make. Even Draeger, who represents aid administrators at 3,000 colleges and universities, said the system needs structural changes to protect vulnerable families.

A parent’s comment in a CollegeConfidential thread illustrates part of the problem.

My main concern with the Parent Plus loan is the lack of consumer disclosures regarding future pymts and the cost of credit – there are none. I borrowed $24,000 this week – it took about 5 minutes – with no evaluation of my qualification to repay – and no disclosure to me of what my future pymts will be. I can see very easily how someone could get in over their head.

The major challenge to reforming the Parent PLUS program is its “immense profitability”.

… These days, the government borrows money at almost no cost, so lending at 7 percent plus fees can add up: Parent PLUS could reduce the deficit by $3 billion this year. That means any effort to scale it back and restrict it to creditworthy borrowers would cost the government a lot of money….

June 23, 2015

Should you default on your student loans?

by Grace

Lee Siegel, New York writer and recipient of three Ivy League degrees, was roundly castigated after he proudly explained  “Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans”.

Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.

As difficult as it has been, I’ve never looked back. The millions of young people today, who collectively owe over $1 trillion in loans, may want to consider my example.

Besides generating revulsion at Siegel’s oozing sense of entitlement, his column stirred criticism of the New York Times for “dispatching criminally negligent financial advice”.

Ron Leiber pointed out the flaws in Seigel’s explanation of how to circumvent the negative repercussions from a student loan default.

First, he tells people to get as many credit cards as they can before they stop repaying their student loans. This way, presumably, you will have plenty of credit available once your credit report is ruined and you can’t get new cards. But card issuers are constantly checking the credit of existing cardholders to look for distress signals. If they see any, they may lower your limits or close your accounts….

The second piece of advice Mr. Siegel has for aspiring defaulters is to establish a good history of paying rent. This can work, as long as you rent from a landlord who never checks your credit or a new one who relies on your old landlord’s good word.

But many landlords do check and won’t be sympathetic, especially in tight markets. Besides, plenty of people don’t want to be tenants forever, given how hard it can be to find rentals in some good school districts. Others want to plant roots and build home equity.

Will those defaulters be able to qualify for a mortgage? A judgment resulting from a default may stay on your credit report for up to 10 years….

Bank of America, one of the biggest home lenders, did not comment on whether people with defaults on their credit record would be able to get mortgages, and a Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to categorically rule out the possibility that someone could qualify for a loan within the tarnished-credit window.

But Richard M. Bettencourt Jr., the secretary of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers and a lender himself with a company called Mortgage Network in Danvers, Mass., said he had never seen people with student loan defaults on their credit records get a mortgage….

Which brings us to Mr. Siegel’s third piece of advice: Marry well, or at least have a creditworthy partner. Then, that person can be the sole mortgage applicant. Mr. Siegel’s wife bought the home where they live, according to public records.

There are a number of problems with this approach. Some lenders may not allow it, since certain low down-payment loans in community property states require both spouses to apply, according to Wells Fargo. Of course, you’ll need to talk someone into coupling up with you in the first place, after explaining that you’re not so big on financial obligations but that you really, truly intend to honor marital ones.


Lee Siegel, “Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans”, New York Times, June 6, 2015.

Ron Lieber, “Taking On Student Debt, and Refusing to Pay”, New York Times, June 15, 2015.

May 6, 2015

It’s hard to make students understand the severity of college debt

by Grace

The New York Times ran an article in which student loan borrowers explained what they wish they had known before taking on debt.

Federal law makes debt counseling mandatory for first-time borrowers,  but “because the topic is dense and the department’s content is devoid of anecdotes, it’s tough to make the lessons stick”.  Most colleges use the Department of Education’s online counseling module, which apparently most students find difficult to navigate and comprehend.  What type of counseling would work to make students clearly realize what they were getting themselves into before it was too late?

The ideas from the article seem helpful, but some of them, like requiring a course during the first year of college, are only applicable after the money has been borrowed.  Plus that recommendation seems to be overkill and costly.

A TG report, “A Time to Every Purpose“, gives some other suggestions for colleges, including these:

  • Delivering supplemental counseling, ideally in a face-to-face setting, in order to help answer questions
  • Providing sample budget sheets using local cost-of-living expenses

Ultimately, it is the student’s responsibility to take the time to fully understand the implications of college debt.  Maybe students who borrow should have to pass a pre-entrance exam that covers practical knowledge about how loans will affect their personal financial situation.

Related:  “College students are ignorant about how student loans work”


Ron Leiber, “Student Loan Facts They Wish They Had Known”, New York Times, May 1, 2015.

April 21, 2015

Evaluating college financial aid award letters

by Grace

Among its “tips for deciphering financial-aid letters”, the Wall Street Journal includes information that can be useful in evaluating student loan offers.

Difference between subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans

The federal government pays interest charges on federally subsidized loans while a student is in school, for example, which can help borrowers substantially. Such loans are generally given to students who demonstrate some kind of financial need, but students don’t need to come from low-income families to qualify.

Just over 34% of undergraduates with family income of at least $100,000 received subsidized Stafford loans at colleges where total annual costs, including tuition and room and board, were at least $30,000 in 2011-12, according to an analysis by Edvisors of the most recent federal data available. Just 12% of such students received the loans when attending less-expensive colleges.

Unsubsidized federal loans can be less desirable because interest accrues while the student is in school, which—if unpaid—could result in a significantly larger balance by the time the student graduates. Some colleges don’t include unsubsidized loans in financial-aid offers.

Colleges and universities also may offer their own loans, which may or not be preferable. Compare and contrast the terms on offer, including the interest rate and when interest charges begin to boost the outstanding balance.

Check out this link for the full article:

Annamaria Andriotis, “How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game”, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015.

April 15, 2015

You could lose your tax refund if you have a past-due student loan

by Grace

Say good-bye to your tax refund if you have past-due student loans.

In most cases, creditors are unable to touch tax refunds. Not so with student loans.

While credit card companies and other private debt collectors are barred from garnishing money coming to taxpayers from Uncle Sam, some federal and state creditors can help themselves to tax refunds via a process known as ‘offsetting.’ Under the Treasury Offset Program, these entities get a whack at your tax refund if you have an outstanding debt in certain categories, including:

  • past-due child support payments
  • back taxes
  • any unemployment compensation owed to the state
  • past-due student loans

This is another reason to pay your student loans on time, or better yet, make sure you only take on as much debt as you can afford to pay back.


Aron Macarow, “You Can Lose Your Tax Refund if You Have Student Loans”, Attn:, March 21, 2015.

March 25, 2015

Tips for older student loan borrowers

by Grace

How can older Americans sidestep student debt trouble?

With the need to retool career skills or pursue new vocations, more Americans are taking on loans to finance education later in life — for new degrees, certificates or course work called continuing education units to improve knowledge in demanding professions.

According to the Government Accountability Office, student debt held by those 65 and older has risen significantly in recent years, growing to about $18.2 billion in 2013, from about $2.8 billion in 2005. While it’s not known how much of that is the result of college loans co-signed for children or grandchildren, a good portion is for continuing education. Before the last recession, the working-age population pursuing “re-entry” courses jumped 27 percent over a decade, according to the Education Department.

The New York Times’ advice for senior citizens seems to be the same that younger student loan borrowers should follow.

… “Do a cost-benefit analysis. How will it maximize my earnings? Will I be able to service the debt?”…

“Evaluate your postgraduate payment plan,” Mr. Weber suggests. “What will your salary be after graduation? Will there be an immediate payoff in terms of a higher salary?”…

You can overpay for a degree or certificate that will yield little career advancement or salary increases. Mr. Weber warns against for-profit colleges that market aggressively and says their programs and graduation rates should be carefully vetted.

The federal government offers some flexibility in paying back loans, including income-based repayment (IBR).

But what happens after you’re out of school with continuing education debt if you can’t increase your income or don’t start earning money right away?

If you have federal loans, you can qualify for a break from payments until you can start paying them down. See the Education Department’s federal student aid website to explore the options.

Another option is income-based repayment, available only for federally guaranteed loans. Private loans are the least flexible in terms of repayment.

Retired borrowers may be more likely to qualify for IBR.

“If you’re at or near retirement, your income may be lower, which may affect your ability to repay your loan,” she said. “There is income-based repayment available, which can make repayment more manageable, but can also extend the repayment period, leading to more interest accrual. It’s something to keep in mind as you plan for the future.”

Since assets are not counted in determining eligibility for IBR and similar debt relief programs, senior citizens with substantial home equity and retirement accounts may find it easy to qualify.


John F. Waskimarch, “Managing Student Loan Debt as an Older Adult”, New York Times, March 19, 2015.

March 19, 2015

New ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’ makes it easier to pay back student loans

by Grace

The Obama administration’s new “Student Aid Bill of Rights” will “simplify the process to apply for income-based repayment”, a move likely to shift more of the burden for paying back student loans from borrowers to taxpayers.  That is just one of the new benefits for the 40 million borrowers holding $1.3 trillion in student debt.

President Barack Obama announced a new “Student Aid Bill of Rights” Tuesday, directing the Department of Education and other federal agencies to undertake initiatives in three areas to help improve affordability for the estimated 40 million borrowers with federal loans. “We’re going to require that the businesses that service your loans provide clear information about how much you owe, what your options are for repaying it, and if you’re falling behind, help you get back in good standing with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline,” Obama said during his speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology Tuesday afternoon.

This is the government’s rather magnanimous promise:

A Student Aid Bill of Rights

  1. Every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education at a college that’s cutting costs and increasing learning.
  2. Every student should be able to access the resources needed to pay for college.
  3. Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan.
  4. And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information, and fair treatment, even if they struggle to repay their loans.

Summary of changes:

1. Create a centralized website that makes it easy to file complaints and to see all your student loans in one place….

2. Try having federal employees collecting debts instead of private contractors…

3. Make it easier for borrowers who become disabled to get their student loans discharged….

4. Ensure that the private debt collectors hired by the Department of Education apply prepayments first to loans with the highest interest rates, unless the borrower requests a different allocation.

5. Make it easier for students to get IRS information to qualify for income-based student loan repayment.

6. Clarify the rules under which students who declare bankruptcy can get their student loans reduced or eliminated….

While I disagree with some of the federal student loan program’s fundamental policies, it’s nice to see the government take the initiative for more clarity and transparency.


Kelli B. Grant, “Student loan initiatives could benefit 40M borrowers”, CNBC, March 10, 2015.

Kim Clark, “6 Ways the New ‘Student Aid Bill Of Rights’ Will Help Borrowers”, Money, March 10, 2015.

March 16, 2015

Most borrowers take more than 10 years to repay student loans

by Grace

The standard maximum repayment time for federal student loans is 10 years, but in reality most borrowers take longer.

The vast majority of former students entering repayment on their federal student loans in 2012 picked 10-year plans. The numbers were higher for former students from two- and four-year programs, up to 90 percent of which picked the standard 10-year plan.

Recent history indicates that many of those borrowers will be repaying their federal student loans for far longer than 10 years. With a lackluster economy, tepid wage growth and vast numbers of Americans still looking for full-time work, some federal policymakers fear current borrowers will need more time to repay their loans than previous generations.


Just last month the Obama administration predicted “the increased use of student loan forgiveness programs will cost taxpayers $22 billion next year”. Student loan forgiveness programs allow reduced monthly payments that typically extend the repayment period beyond ten years.

Here’s a listing of federal student loan repayment time frames.  Click the links to find more details. 

Standard Repayment Plan Up to 10 years
Graduated Repayment Plan Up to 10 years
Extended Repayment Plan Up to 25 years
Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR) Up to 25 years
Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan Up to 20 years
Income-Contingent Repayment Plan Up to 25 years 
Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan Up to 10 years


Shahien Nasiripour, “These 9 Charts Show America’s Coming Student Loan Apocalypse”, Huffington Post, 08/20/2014.

March 10, 2015

Which are the ‘altruistic’ professions that deserve special treatment?

by Grace

High school history teacher Kate LeSueur wrote that she wishes to “enlighten” us “on the discrepancy between the price of my education and the salary of an altruistic career such that of an educator”.

She compared a master’s in education with a master’s of business administration, pointing out that individuals with MBA degrees typically enjoy substantially higher salaries and lower student debt levels.

Why is it that we both went to school for the same amount of time and both earned master’s, yet my degree costs more and I get paid significantly less? I am not arguing that I deserve $90,000 a year — only that the cost of my education should be comparable to my salary. Society expects us to accept a fate guaranteeing small paychecks and large student loan bills. I am writing to say, America, we aren’t going to accept it much longer.

I find it hard to accept the rather sweeping statement that teaching is an altruistic career.  Although teacher unions have long maintained the message that all their efforts are “for the children”, I don’t buy it.  I’m not claiming that teaching is rampant with evil, money-hungry people, but neither are most other professions.  A typical MBA working to keep his employer profitable is no less deserving of special adoration than is a typical teacher.  And many people who earn generous salaries show their altruism in other ways, such as donating their time and money to worthy causes.

Furthermore, it’s troubling when the government gets in the business of deciding which jobs deserve special treatment, like the most generous Income Based Repayment benefits that are reserved for government and nonprofit employees.  George Leef points out the consequences of this politicized meddling.

… Whenever the government gets involved in an activity that is not properly any of its business, we get the infamous trio: waste, fraud, abuse, and then the politicians feel the need to meddle still more in an effort to solve the problems they’ve created. The federal student-aid programs are a perfect illustration. Repayment of loans is being politicized, with easy terms for students provided they make the “right” choices in employment. That will only further misallocate resources and help to keep the higher-education bubble inflated.


Kate LeSueur, “The price of a good education, $80K and counting”,, March 01, 2015.

February 26, 2015

Student loan defaults are the only type that continue to rise

by Grace

Americans are having more trouble paying off their student loans than their mortgages or any other type of debt.

As student debt balances continue to grow . . .


. . .  student loan defaults have overtaken those for all other types of debt.


America’s total student loan debt is now nearly $1.2 trillion. One reason the burden is difficult to pay off, Fed researchers wrote: “Student debt is not dischargeable in bankruptcy like other types of debt … Delinquent or defaulted student loans can stagnate on borrowers’ credit reports.”

The number of student borrowers almost doubled over ten years.

The surge is fueled by more people borrowing — and borrowing larger amounts. The number of borrowers rose 92 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to the Fed researchers. The average student loan balance grew 74 percent.


Danielle Paquette, “Americans are having more trouble paying off their student debt than their houses”, Washington Post, February 19, 2015.


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