We have heard the facts. Over $1.5 trillion in student debt. Students are leaving school with $40,000 in student loan debt for college. Double or more if you add graduate school loans. More and more borrowers are becoming delinquent on their loans. More and more are going into default.
The media reports that millennials are putting off buying a home, getting married or having kids because of their student loan debt. I do not know whether that is a fact, but it is plausible.
We are at the beginning of a new election cycle. More than one politician has said that student loans should be forgiven, in whole or in part. Others are coming up with schemes that involve private parties subsidizing the education of students in return for future employment and undefined repayment plans. Fingers are being pointed (and rightfully so) at the Department of Education which is slow walking application for loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
I would venture to say that at least some of the student loan borrowers believe (or hope) that their loans will be forgiven. Why do I say that? Many student loan borrowers tell me this. Moreover, lately my website is getting about one third of the hits that it received a half a year ago. So, some borrowers believe that a bailout is in the winds.
For the last decade, I handled many foreclosure cases. I argued, among other things, that lending institutions engaged in widespread predatory lending and other consumer law violations. For a while in New Jersey (2010-2013), we were able to convince the courts of the righteous of our arguments. Then, the tide turned. It is now very difficult to defeat a lender in a foreclosure action.
Now, there are a lot of reasons, as I see it, that the tide turned. And I will not bore you with all my theories. But, I do believe that a concept called “moral hazard” came into play. In simple terms, that means that your neighbors who were struggling to pay their mortgages were really not moved by the fact that a neighbor who is, in effect, not paying their mortgage for a 2 year foreclosure process should be let off the hook because a loan may be predatory. Or as more than one judge put it, your client took the money, he has to pay it back.
My parents told me to go to college so that I could earn a better living. Statistics indicate that college grads earn over twice as much as high school grads over a lifetime. So my parents were right.
Now, lets look at student loans. Basically, we have 3 categories of people out there- 1) people who went to college and paid for it; 2) people who did not go to college and are making about 1/2 as much as college grads; and 3) people who are going to college and have a lot of debt. Say you are in category 3. Ask yourself a question. Do you really think that people in categories 1 and 3 think it is fair that you get to dump your student loans. The people in category 1 paid their loans. The people in category 3 are going to make 1/2 what you are going to make. Moral hazard. You bet, and worse than in the foreclosure scenario. Why, because in the foreclosure scenario, the bank takes the hit. In the student loan scenario, the taxpayers take the hit. And if you think that only rich taxpayers will take the hit, I got a bridge to sell you.
Now, I cannot predict the future. Our next president may be able to forgive student debt. But, a lot of taxpayers are going to find out that they are the one’s paying off other people’s student debt in the form of higher taxes or lesser services. And they will vote accordingly in the next election.
In the next blog, I will throw out some practical ideas on how to deal with this real problem.