For the first time in United States history, the total student loan debt exceeds $1.5 trillion affecting 45 million borrowers. Student loan debt now surpasses both auto loan and credit card debt. Only mortgage debt is higher. Since the 1980s, the average cost of college has increased almost eight times as fast as wages. Gone are the days when college students could work part-time during college and full- time summers to pay for their education.
To qualify for student loans, a person need only be an enrolled college student. No particular credit score or creditworthiness is required. Can you imagine being a teenager and trying to borrow $100,000-$200,000 at a bank without collateral, earnings history and a great credit score? It would never happen in the real world. But in the world of student loans, it happens every day all over the country. The system will loan someone thousands of dollars irrespective of ability to repay. All he needs is to be enrolled in college. Even worse, he gets the same amount of loans whether he is studying engineering or gender studies.
The fact is that the federally run government student loan business has made a mess of things. It starts with the skyrocketing cost of college. It’s simple supply and demand. Since millions of college students get thousands of easy dollars, they become ready buyers in the college market. Where there are lots of buyers with lots of money, colleges can demand lots of dollars for an education. So the price goes up and up.
But this easy money for student loans comes with more collateral damage than just skyrocketing education costs. Graduating students are paying nearly 20 percent of their current salary servicing their debt.
And these people are lucky — 7.1 million student loan borrowers are now in default to the tune of $135 billion. Current estimates are that by 2023 nearly 40 percent of borrowers are expected to default on their student loans. This amount of bad debt could approach the savings and loan crisis that prompted the great recession of 2008. People who are over 60 now owe $86 billion in student loan debt averaging $33,800.
Those with the smallest loan balances are those most likely to go into default because many of these people never complete college. So, they have college student loan debt to repay on a high-school diploma’s earning capacity.
Once in default, their credit scores tank. Low credit scores can force people to pay higher interest rates and delay starting a business or buying a house. The government is also not a benevolent debt collector. Crushing student loan debt cannot generally be discharge in bankruptcy. In some states, a person can lose their professional license or driver’s license if they go into default.
Democratic candidates for president want to address the problem by giving everyone a “free” college education. But shifting these costs to taxpayers will make college even more expensive. The solution is to get government out of the education lending business completely.