From The Progressive Media Project:
The government must intervene now to prevent more young people from defaulting on their student loans.
With high unemployment, few job opportunities and rising tuition rates, people cannot afford to pay for their education. Educational opportunity was supposed to be a way up and a way out for millions of poor and working-class Americans. But their education has become an albatross around their neck, as they are saddled with thousands upon thousands of dollars in debt.
According to new figures recently released by the Department of Education, 12 percent of borrowers who began repayment of their federal student loans in fiscal year 2007 have already defaulted — an increase from 9.2 percent the previous year.
Since limits on federal student loan borrowing did not keep up with the rising costs of college over the years — and the limits were only recently increased by Congress — private lending has skyrocketed.
In the 2007-2008 school year, students borrowed $19 billion in private loans, a sixfold increase over a decade earlier, according to the College Board.
During that time, the lucrative student loan market more than doubled, from $41 billion to $85 billion. Over the past decade, private loans jumped from 7 percent of all student loans to 23 percent. These private loans often have exorbitant and variable interest rates, highly punitive late fees and charges, and are based on the borrower’s credit rating rather than his or her need.
The unregulated private loan industry, much like the unscrupulous and predatory subprime mortgage market, exploits borrowers with an expensive, deceptive and unfair product.
In a 2008 study, the Boston-based National Consumer Center concluded that some private student loans are so expensive that they are destined to fail. Some of the loans have no rate ceilings, and no limit on charging additional fees.
Further, private loan companies are not required to offer deferment or forbearance options. And whereas federal loans go into default if the borrower has missed many payments, usually nine months’ worth, some private loans let the lender go after you after you miss only one payment.
Meanwhile, each year the cost of a college education increases far in excess of the rate of inflation, twice the rate of inflation, according to FinAid.org. Meanwhile, private law school tuition increased nearly three times the rate of consumer prices between 1990 and 2003. According to the College Board, the average cost of four years at a private college is $136,000, and at a public university, it is $57,000.
As a result, many students leave school with five-figure and even six-figure student debt, the equivalent of a mortgage before their career even begins.
Fortunately, the financial reform legislation just passed by the House of Representatives would ensure that all private student loans would fall under the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. And colleges would have the opportunity to counsel student borrowers on their options. A House bill that would forbid private lenders from making federally guaranteed student loans after July 1 of next year has stalled in the Senate.
As the country’s middle class vanishes before our very eyes, now is the time to deal with the student loan crisis. It’s wrong to let more people needlessly suffer under the weight of oppressive debt simply because they tried to get an education.