Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Canceling Outstanding Student Loans in Default

Some State AGs Take Action

Seventeen State Attorney Generals signed and sent a letter to Congressional leadership (Schumer, Pelosi, McConnell, McCarthy) calling on Congress (Friday February 19) to pressure President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student load debt for borrowers as a part of pandemic relief. The AGs write:

“As the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin, we write to express our strongest support for Senate Resolution 46 and House Resolution 100 calling on President Biden to use executive authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt for all Federal student loan borrowers.

Because we are responsible for enforcing our consumer protection laws, we are keenly aware of the substantial burden Federal student loan debt places on the residents of our states.”

Broad cancellation of Federal student loan debt will provide immediate relief to millions who are struggling during this pandemic and recession, and give a much-needed boost to families and our economy.

The current options for borrowers have proved to be inadequate and illusionary. For example, 2% of the borrowers applying for loan discharges under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program have been granted a discharge. In addition, efforts by our Offices to obtain student loan discharges for defrauded students – to which students are entitled under existing law – have been stymied by the U.S. Department of Education for years.”

Biden Promises to Help Fix the Student Loan Crisis

There are those who always raise the issue of “I paid for mine, you pay for yours. I know of no other debt created by borrowing money where the penalty is a life time of servitude and the means of retirement in Social Security is also attached too.

Principal remains untouched and whatever money paid goes to interest atop of interest and penalties. By the time salary catches up and if it does, the interest and penalties have grown.

Allen Collinge of Student Loan Justice is finally getting national Coverage on TV.


Biden expected to tackle student loan debt crisis, what the impact would be, “Rebound,” January 25, 2020

President Joe Biden campaigned on a promise to help solve the student loan debt crisis, and many are expecting him to tackle that soon. On the campaign trail, he spoke about favoring some student loan debt forgiveness but was hesitant on the idea of wiping out the debt completely.

Student loan debt forgiveness, in any form, is very controversial. While some believe it is necessary for millions of Americans who are unable to pay these loans back. Others worry it will raise the national debt to help those who are unable to repay their loans.

Neal McCluskey, with the Cato Institute

Town Hall Forum – Student Loan Debt Crisis

I have known Alan Collinge for a decade or so. Angry Bear has featured Alan and the Student Loan Justice Org. story multiple times. I have written about it on the side also. Finally more clarity being added to the argument of loan forgiveness by well known people during this Town Hall Forum who are seen by others to have authority beyond what Alan and a bunch of students and former students have. Greater than 980,000 people have signed a petition to remove the debt on them.

Click om the “Read More” to see the Town Hall Video. More to Come.

Panelists include:

PAUL GRONDAHL – Director New York State Writers Institute (host)

MATT TAIBBI – Author, Rolling Stone Magazine, Reporter (moderator)

Michael J. Camoin – Videos For Change Productions, SCARED TO DEBT (filmmaker), UAlbany MSW ’92 graduate.

ALAN COLLINGE – Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org (activist)

CATHERINE AUSTIN FITT – Investment Advisor (former Sallie Mae )

THOMAS BORGERS – Wall Street Banker, Financial Investigator

Republican Renegade Emulates Warren’s Student Loan Cancellation, It is Still Problematic

First a story, then an introduction to Student Loan Justice Org. and Their Town Hall Meeting November 20th, and finally some cold hard facts from founder Alan Collinge about what is happening to millions of people who have student loans.

Your Angry Bear blogger and activist went to a garden party in Michigan in support of Democrats and Senator Debbie Stabenow pre-2018 election. I had donated to the Democrats and directly in support of various county, state, and federal candidates. Since I had been involved with student loans for my three, had also talked and written about these loans, and been supportive of Alan Collinge of Student Loan Justice Org.; I had a question to ask. Senator Stabenow sits on the Senate Finance Committee and she supported the the 2005  S. 256 (Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 ).

Private student loans were largely stripped of bankruptcy protections in 2005 in a congressional move that had the devastating impact of tripling such debt over a decade and locking in millions of Americans to years of grueling repayments.

The Republican-led bill tightened the bankruptcy code, unleashing a huge giveaway to lenders at the expense of indebted student borrowers. At the time it faced vociferous opposition from 25 Democrats in the US Senate.

But it passed anyway, with 18 Democratic senators breaking ranks and casting their vote in favor of the bill. Of those 18, one politician stood out as an especially enthusiastic champion of the credit companies who, as it happens, had given him hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions – ‘Joe Biden.'”

Senator Debbie Stabenow was one of the Democrats who voted “yea.” It was a beautiful day and people were there, mostly oldsters like myself and a sprinkling of of young adults. My being older plays in my favor as I am considered safe. So. when I stuck my hand up and was chosen, I asked my question. “Senator Stabenow, you and other Democratic Senators voted for the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 which took away bankruptcy rights for many students who are struggling to pay back their student loans. The total amount of debt they carry is measured in the hundreds of $millions. Many of these students will be carrying their student loan debt into retirement and may have their SS garnished. What do you intend to do to correct this situation?

What do you intend to do to correct this situation?”

Senator Stabenow: “Democrats are not in the majority in 2018”

Recently, it was said she also made a comment of younger people having to suck it up by learning fiscal responsibility due to their having issues paying loans back. Meanwhile, this contingent of up and “hopefully coming ” citizens in chained to student loans and have had their participation in the economy debt-laden by banking, financial interests, and politicians.

Student Loan Debt Crisis Town Hall – November 20, 2020

Friday, November 20, 2020 3:00 PM (EST)

Student Loan Debt Crisis

Panelists include:

PAUL GRONDAHL – Director New York State Writers Institute (host)

MATT TAIBBI – Author, Rolling Stone Magazine, Reporter (moderator)

Michael J. Camoin – Videos For Change Productions, SCARED TO DEBT (filmmaker)

ALAN COLLINGE – Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org (activist)

CATHERINE AUSTIN FITT – Investment Advisor (former Sallie Mae )

THOMAS BORGERS – Wall Street Banker, Financial Investigator

I have known Alan probably a decade or so and am familiar with his efforts and organization to change the laws governing bankruptcy for student loans. Alan has worked tirelessly on this issue which impacts tens of thousands of younger people who can not get the same relief as businesses and other citizens have through bankruptcy. Our president-elect has played a major role along with other political and financial interests in denying any type of relief for student loan debt.

Along with Alan, the list of participants to this Town Hall should make this interesting. I will be watching it and listening to the conversation. Perhaps, you can join too?

Republican Renegade Emulates Warren’s Student Loan Cancellation, but it’s Still Problematic

Today we have a commentary  by Student Loan Justice Organization Founder Alan Collinge with support from an Angry Bear editor.

Alan:

A key Republican Education Department official and Trump Appointee, A. Wayne Johnson, recently resigned his position at the Department and later made a radical call for student loan cancellation. Johnson noted the lending system was “fundamentally broken” and called for loan cancellation for all loan holders up to $50,000. He also called for a tax credit of the same amount for those who have already repaid their loans. Interestingly, Johnson’s plan sounds very similar- and even more generous- than what presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is proposing.

The proposal is strong stuff coming from a Republican and his comments could indicate the problem is far worse than the Department of Education has said publicly on student loans. He noted that he came to this conclusion after having a “firsthand look” at defaults, which we already know are running at about 40% for 2004 borrowers, who had borrowed a third of what is being borrowed currently. One can only wonder how bad the internal projections are for more recent students.

Johnson is to be applauded for calling out this big-government lending monstrosity, and even, perhaps, for his call to get the government out of the lending business altogether. In the absence of both bankruptcy protections and statutes of limitations, the Department of Education has become one of the largest lenders on earth and a viciously predatory one at that. In his commentary, Johnson is correct in pointing out the various forgiveness programs run by the Department are failing badly.

Editor Comment:

Dependent upon which manner of accounting is used, student loans can be considered to be profitable or unprofitable. Using the Federal Credit Reform Act (FCRA) accounting methodology, student loans are profitable. Regardless, student loans have no escape unless one dies or becomes disabled. Student Loan Bankruptcy was effectively thwarted by Senator Joe Biden’s efforts since the nineties. If in default, the government will garnish wages, Social Security, and whatever else they can in order to get back their funds.

Others such as Jason Delisle of New America advocate using the Fair Market Value methodology of accounting to assess the risk of default for student loans. Delisle claims the interest rate of a student loan should be set at 12% as there is risk and yearly losses with making low interest rate student loans that do not cover risk of default which is not assessed in the beginning.

Disputing Jason Delisle’s commentary; Malcolm Harris pointed out on Twitter, it’s worth noting that the CBO’s fair-value accounting analysis finds no subsidy for PLUS loans and unsubsidized Stafford loans, but a big one for subsidized Stafford loans, where rates are rising. Overall, there’s a negative subsidy – profit. That’s a way the government could be making a profit even under other accounting specifications, though obviously skeptics like Delisle dispute that.

Outside of student loans, a student could walk into a car dealership, purchase a $30,000+ automobile, which is about the cost of an education, have little down payment and maybe a second signature, and both people could still escape through declaring bankruptcy. This is something major businesses and people such as President Trump have been doing for decades without having wages and benefits garnished for a lifetime.

Alan:

Some of the $50+ billion the Department books in profit every year is being used to fund unrelated social programs. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared that these loans would be “free of interest.” The former should not be the case and the later has not happened.

However previously, there were problems with Warren’s plan of student loan relief and these have not gone away under Johnson’s current proposal.

For example: while it is clear that the default rate is screaming upwards and this is crushing many borrowers, many are doing fine, and there is no particularly good reason to cancel their debt. Conversely, there are many borrowers who owe far more than $50,000, who have seen their debt explode with penalties, fees, and interest, such that writing them down by $50,000 really wouldn’t make much of a dent. So this “one-size-fits-all” approach makes little sense. And at an estimated $925 billion, it’s expensive.

Editor Comment:

What is clear to me is people complaining “what about.” Those who paid their loans have little  idea of what has been happening in the student loan industry which is profit driven. There are any number of stories being told of hucksters signing up students into for profit schools which sadly go bankrupt or steer students into course curriculums which will not lead to employment in a job to which they were trained. The system protects the servicer and the loan originator until that loan is paid off.

Does it make sense for people to be entrapped in a loan which can not be paid off thereby keeping them as an economic burden rather than a productive, taxpaying member of society? What about-isms and false equivalencies offers no solution other than indenture.

Alan:

Also, any cancellation program would be administered by the Department of Education, which has a well-documented history of bungling such programs, as Johnson rightly points out. For example, of the roughly 40,000 people who thought they were getting cancellation this year through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, fewer than 100 (less than 1%) actually will. Similarly, a whopping 57% of people in the Income Based Repayment Program (IBR) were disqualified for administrative reasons. So the borrowers are cruelly left owing far more than had they never tried!

The Department of Education cannot be trusted to administer yet another loan cancellation program. As they have done before, they will surely find ways to disqualify the vast majority of borrowers so that the agency captures the wealth rather than those who it was intended.

Editor Comment:

The Department of Education has always been troublesome in administering programs impacting students. The public service program has been haphazardly run and has left many who have paid back loans over ten years in service to the nation without forgiveness of part or the rest of their loan. The current Secretary of Education is a ditz who did not understand the training leading to gainful employment rule was for both nonprofit and for-profit schools and not just about for-profits as she claimed. I too would look for someone else to administer programs given the circumstance.

Alan:

A more efficient solution to this problem is simply returning standard bankruptcy protections to these loans. The Founders called for uniform bankruptcy laws ahead of the power to raise an army, and declare war, and this lending system proves their wisdom. Borrowers must have bankruptcy on their side in order for the lending system to be fair. It is only with this threat that the lenders will act with a modicum of good faith.

Bankruptcy is also a far less expensive solution. While there would be an unavoidable spike in filings initially, bankruptcy scholar Robert Lawless estimated that in the “steady-state,” annual discharges would come to less than $3 Billion per year. Even if it turned out to be double or triple this rate, that is still far less than the proposal in question. Not to mention, no tax hikes would be required. This could be achieved by simply repealing the one line of federal code that exempts student loans.

There is legislation in Congress that would achieve this: HR. 2648, a bipartisan bill, and its Senate companion, S. 1414. Alternatively, President Trump could simply direct the Department of Education to stop opposing student loan borrowers in court. Either way, we would get a much more efficient and well suited outcome.

And the Founders? They would agree with returning bankruptcy capability for student loans.

Alan Collinge is Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org, and author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press)

Angry Bear: Thank you Alan  .  .  .

Run75441 (Bill H)

“The Bank Always Gets Paid,” Mr. Potter

I met Lynn while working with Alan Collinge of the Student Loan Justice Organization. She too has been working with Alan to call attention to the plight of students who took loans out to pay for college and the mishandling by servicers of them.

The first story is of an older man who took out a Parent Plus Loan for his daughter, who has since died, and he is paying off the loan through garnished Social Security checks.

The second story is a time table and it is long. A younger person takes out a student loan for $10,000, graduates with a Bachelors degree, encounters many issues along the way, and works in the type of work which does not pay as well as many. The $10,000 debt turns into $30,000 over time. This is a well detailed story as told by Lynn a CPA. I plan to send this story to a few people I know to make a point. Monica’s story is one of most detailed accounts of student loan mischief and as close to fraud I have read. It is typical of what students face today.

Obama took the student loan lending business away from commercial interests and kept it within the government. The only problem, he left the servicing of the loans to commercial interests, who are in it for the money, and prey on unknowing teenagers trying to go to college, and eventually a living. These loans have greater profitability in default and are impossible to escape unless a person is disabled or dead.

Lynn Petrovich, CPA: In 2016, I prepared the return for an 80-year-old man who came into the tax clinic. He handed me his W-2 form which reported wages of $500 and a Social Security statement. He needed to file a tax return to obtain a refund of federal and state withholding reported on the W-2. While reviewing his Social Security statement, I noticed one-third of it was garnished. When I questioned him about this, he became very solemn, put his head down, and explained it was for an education loan taken out for his daughter “some time ago” to help her attend college. She had since died. Piecing together what he told me, I figured he took out a federal Parent Plus loan, had defaulted (before, during, or after his daughter’s illness and death), and didn’t know what to do. The default resulted in the garnishment of his Social Security, most likely without end for the rest of his life. There is not even an accounting of what is taken each year.

Monica’s Story

Between 1984 and 1987 Monica took out $10,000 in student loans. Over the next 30 years she made payments totaling over $24,000, yet she still owes more than $3,000 on her loans.

I first met Monica at a tax clinic in the early 2000s. As a CPA, I had been volunteering my time preparing tax returns pro bono on Saturdays during tax season. Monica and dozens of other taxpayers were waiting patiently to have their taxes prepared at this free clinic located at the Jersey Shore.

When it was her turn, Monica brought her completed interview/intake form to my workstation. I looked over the information she had provided and asked a few follow-up questions, including if she had any student loan debt.

She shifted in her seat and explained that she took out $10,000 in student loans when she was in college in the 1980s. She said that she has been doing her best to repay the loans since graduating but wasn’t really sure about how much she had repaid, how much of the principal she has knocked down, or how much she still owed. As a single person who rented, Monica needed all of the deductions to which she was entitled, so I encouraged her to get some specifics about her loans. She agreed to come back the following week with her student loan interest amount.

I’ve prepared Monica’s taxes many times since that first meeting in the early 2000s. Each year, she provided statements from her loan servicers which reported student loan interest received. During the 2017 tax season, while preparing her return, I discovered that she was still paying down the original student loan debt she’d taken out 30-plus years earlier.

How could that be?

My curiosity piqued, and I asked Monica if I could perform a review of her student loan debt. A week later, she handed me a large and overflowing manila folder containing 30 years’ worth of payments, loan documents, and servicer statements.

I dove into it with passion.

The following is a narrative on what I found (below narrative is summary recap of events by date, numbers are rounded):

1984 -1987: Origination of Student Loans

Monica attended a large public university outside New Jersey, graduating in the spring of 1987. In order to pay for tuition, housing, and other college costs, Monica obtained four (4) Federal Stafford FFEL loans for $2,500 each. All of the loans were fully subsidized.

What are FFEL Loans?

The Federal Family Education Loan program (FFEL) was a student loan program in which commercial bankers issued student loans directly to borrowers or colleges. FFEL loans are what the accounting industry calls “cash cows,” a type of business investment which rewards investors beyond risk (initial investment costs) with liberal guaranteed payments and profitability. FFEL loans are 100% guaranteed by the government, including subsidized interest rates, and administrative costs (special allowance payments).

FFEL loans issued for qualified educational expenses began to earn interest from the date the loan was distributed to the borrower or school (date of origination). While the borrower is in college, interest accruing on subsidized FFEL loans is paid by the government directly to the lender. Since this interest is paid by the government, the borrower is only responsible for repaying the original principal balance upon graduation.

The FFEL program was terminated by President Obama effective July 2010. Federal student loans are now issued directly by the government to borrowers (or colleges) and are a part of the Direct Loan program.

December 1987: Graduation, Repayment Begins

Monica graduated from college in the spring of 1987. Once her six-month grace period expired, her FFEL loans entered repayment.

Overview of Monica’s student loan debt in 1987:

Term of note: 10 years, 120 monthly payments
Monthly payment: $127.00
Interest Rate: 9%
Principal: $10,000 (because interest while attending college was paid to the lender by the government)
Interest over loan term: $5,238.00.
Total repayment: $15,238.00
Grace period: 6 months
Repayment to begin: December 1987

Over the next two years, Monica made consistent monthly payments of $127 directly to the commercial bank in New Jersey which originated the FFEL loans.

1989: Monica Gets a New Loan Servicer

November 1989; the commercial bank notified Monica that the servicing of her loans was being transferred to the Student Loan Servicing Center (SLSC), effective January 1990. The principal loan balance at the servicing transfer date was $8,706.

The commercial bank reported student loan interest received for 1989 was $746.33.

1990 – 1992: Negotiating New Terms in Hard Times

Despite working two jobs, full-time for a local nonprofit during the day and waitressing at the local bar at night, Monica had problems meeting her repayment obligations. She fell behind on the $127 monthly payments and approached her servicer for help.

July 1991; Monica signed a new note with SLSC (replacing her original loan note) for 90 monthly payments of her loans at 9% interest. Her new monthly payments were $136. The principal at note date was $8,148 plus accrued interest of $368 (for periods when she was unable to make payments interest was still being charged). With the interest capitalized (added to principal), her new principal balance totaled $8,516 ($8,148 plus $368).

1993 – 1995: Struggles and Forbearance

Over the next three years, Monica continued to work at least two and sometimes three jobs. Despite her hard work, she still struggled to make her loan payments. During these years, Monica’s housing and transportation costs accounted for more than 50% of her income. She had very little left for discretionary purchases and the payment of student loan debt.

November 1994; SLSC accelerated the loan due to nonpayment. The principal balance at acceleration was $7,325 plus accrued interest of $375. The interest was capitalized, bringing the principal balance to $7,700.

Monica requested forbearance. Forbearance allows student loan debtors to pause their payments for a short period of time. While payments are not due, the interest on the loan generally continues to accrue. As a result, the balance due will be greater after forbearance. SLSC agreed to grant a six-month forbearance, giving Monica a little bit of breathing room.

January 1995; Monica signed a new note with SLSC. Under the new deal, Monica would be required to pay 63 monthly payments of $154 at 9% interest. The principal of the note at signing was $7,325 plus accrued interest of $495, which came to a grand total of $7,820. Monica would begin payments in April 1995.

1996 – 1998: Increased Cost of Living Leads to Default

Over the next two years Monica did her best to make payments each and every month. Cost of living and transportation increased, continuing to swallow more than half of her monthly income. Monica skipped or delayed payments on her $154 plan.

August 1997 – ten years after graduation – Monica’s FFEL loans had been purchased by the NJ Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (NJHESAA). SLSC (the loan servicer) denied a request for economic hardship relief forbearance allowing the forbearance period to be interest free. Principal balance in August 1997 was $5,187.

[The NJ Higher Education Student Assistance Authority is a State agency which administers NJ CLASS loans (private student loan debt* originated through the sale of bonds to investors) and, as investments, maintains large quantities of purchased FFEL loans in their portfolio. As of 6/30/17, NJHESAA’s FFEL-owned loans totaled almost $2 billion].

*The Federal Reserve categorizes any loan that is not a Title IV loan as private. Title IV refers to the Higher Education Act of 1965 and amendments.

September 1997, after SLSC granted forbearance through April 1998, Monica signed another note with SLSC. The terms of the new note included 38 monthly payments of $173 at an interest rate of 9%. Principal balance was $5,187 plus accrued interest of $520 which was capitalized, bringing repayment of principal to $5,708. Payments were to begin May 1998.

1999 – 2003: Default and Rehabilitation

Over the next 2 years, Monica struggled to make the increased loan payments. Originally her monthly payment was $127 and a decade later, the monthly student loan commitment had jumped to $173. Working 60 hours a week, Monica’s yearly income rarely exceeded $25,000. In addition to struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living, Monica endured a series of medical catastrophes, fell behind on her payments, and defaulted in early 2000. NJHESSA told Monica she had to “rehabilitate” the loans.

Default

Default of federal loans occurs when payment has not been made (or acknowledged by the lender) for more than 270 calendar days. Default causes the loan to be subject to higher interest rates, collection, and late fees. Collection costs for Monica’s loans were 18.5%.

Rehabilitation

A process where the borrower must bring the loans current by making consecutive monthly payments over no less than a 10-month period. Most often payments are determined by calculating 15% of borrower’s discretionary income, are not applied to the principal, and are used to pay for collection costs, fees, and interest.

Late 2000; Monica enters the rehabilitation program. After a year, she was notified by the guarantor, NJHESAA (who owned the FFEL loans), her rehabilitation was completed, and the loans had been referred to Sallie Mae for servicing. Principal at completion of rehabilitation was $5,282 plus accrued interest of $338 plus collection and late/collection fees of $1,076 (both of which were capitalized) brought the new loan principal balance to $6,697.

Monica signed a note with Sallie Mae for 104 monthly payments at $86.

February 2003; Monica continued struggling to make payments on the latest note. She was still working on paying off medical debt and dental work. Housing and transportation costs exceeded 60% of income. She requested and was granted a forbearance of 12 months.

2004 – 2007: Request for Consolidation

Early 2004; Monica’s forbearance ends. Housing and transportation costs still accounted for more than 60% of Monica’s income, and she was still paying off medical debt. Adding to this burden, she encountered large veterinary bills for her dog. Monica could not keep up with the new payment plan and was delinquent.

2006; Monica contacted NJHESAA and requested to have her loans consolidated. She completed the Direct Loan Consolidation application complete with loan detail, personal information, and references and submitted it to the Direct Loan Consolidation center. If the loan consolidation were approved, Monica’s loans would only be subject to 8% interest. She received a postcard informing her that her application had been received on 06/22/2006. Loan balance at June 2006 was $9,436. 18 years after graduation, her principal balance was almost as much as the original loan amount of $10,000.

There is no evidence her application for loan consolidation was ever processed and/or approved. If Monica’s loans had been consolidated, they would no longer be the cash cow FFEL-guaranteed loans were and may have been a deterrent to consolidation by the loan holders.

February 2007; Monica was notified by NJHESAA that her loans had again defaulted. They threatened garnishment of her wages. Monica agreed to a voluntary repayment arrangement of $112 a month over a 10-month period which required direct deduction of the payments from her bank account.

NJHESAA Form 1098-E for 2007 reported “defaulted FFELP loan” interest received of $972.87.

2008 – 2010: Struggling to Find a Solution

March 2008: After completing the second rehabilitation** program of her loans and 20 years after graduating from college; Monica entered into another repayment agreement with loan servicer AES, agreeing to monthly loan payments of $95.

[**According to studentaid.ed, prior to 2008, defaulted federal loans could only enter rehabilitation once. After receiving the notice from NJHESSA reporting her loans in default and threatening wage garnishment, Monica “volunteered” to make 12 monthly payments of $112].

NJHESAA Form 1098-E for 2008 reported “defaulted FFELP loan” interest received of $633.48.

2008 and 2010, Monica attempted to make monthly payments of $95. She was granted several periods of forbearance. In September 2010, AES notified Monica that her most recent forbearance had ended.

NJHESAA Form 1098-E for 2009 reported “defaulted FFELP loan” interest received of $580.77.

September 2010; Principal balance was $6,211, accrued interest of $1,000 (during forbearance) was capitalized, and resulted in new a principal balance of $7,209. Housing and transportation costs continued to hover around 55% to 65% of income. Old and new medical and dental bills exceeded $1,000.

NJHESAA form 1099-E for 2010 reported “defaulted FFELP loan” interest received of $225.86.

2011 – 2016:

Monica’s income stabilized a bit, and she was able to make monthly payments of $95.

2017 – 30 Years After College Graduation

January 2017; A statement issued by loan servicer AES reported principal balance at $3,208.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Postscript

January 2017 According to servicer statements and after thirty years after college graduation, Monica still owed over $3,000 on her original student loans. Along the way, she’d made over $24,000 in payments. The loans were not consolidated, although she tried to do so to lock in a lower interest rate.

Her New Jersey refunds were levied for over a decade and seized by NJHESAA. Additionally, her tenant homestead rebates were also seized. Total amount of income tax refunds or homestead rebates taken by NJHESAA, exceeded $1,000.

Student loan payments are applied as follows:
1. First to late charges, fees, and collection costs,
2. Second to outstanding interest, and
3. Last to reduce principal.

During forbearance; interest does not stop accruing when payments were not made and if payments are less than the amount to pay accrued interest, the principal balance increases. When a borrower is seeking forbearance for FFEL subsidized loans claiming economic hardship, application must be made and approved by the loan servicer. Monica made application for economic hardship in 2007 but it was denied by the servicer.

Student loan borrowers should be aware of the daily interest cost of their loans. This is important because if payment is made for less than the daily amount, principal will never be reduced. At the beginning of Monica’s repayment journey in 1987, her daily interest cost on the 4 FFEL loans with a principal balance of $10,000 at 9% was $2.50 per day. She needed to pay at least $75 ($2.50 times 30 days) per month in order to satisfy the interest accrued and due before payment would be applied to principal. The daily interest rate decreases with each payment, assuming interest has first been fully satisfied.

Federal student loans are exempt from most consumer protections (Fair Debt Collections Act, Truth in Lending, Statute of Limitations), are excluded, for the most part, from oversight by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and are dischargeable in bankruptcy only under the most dire of circumstances (you have to meet the Brunner test proving harm and undue hardship). Collection costs are punitive, enormous, and add to the principal.

Like most students entering college right after high school, Monica was a teenager when she signed her student loan contracts. It is apparent she had no idea what kind of indenture she’d “agreed to.” This can be said for the majority of student loan borrowers. Financial education at the high school level is seriously lacking, if existent at all. Student loans are originated between borrower (student) and lender without much scrutiny, oversight, awareness, or repayment considerations. Politicians in Congress made this possible.

Over the past decade, through both pro bono and paid tax preparation work; I’ve seen many student loan borrowers like Monica struggle to make ends meet and have tried to understand what is happening with their student loans. I’ve watched as refundable credits in the thousands of dollars have been seized by federal and state agencies year after year to pay for student loan debt. Many low-income taxpayers who took out debt decades ago and who have tried to pay this debt back, find – with accrued interest and collection fees – they owe much more than the original loan amount. Those who qualify for tax credits earned for dependents, education, or economic qualifications (refundable child tax credit, education, and earned income tax credits), never see the refunds which could have helped with housing, utilities, and child care. Instead the money is siphoned off into a vat of pots to pay for bloated collection costs, fees, interest, and most likely never touching principal. It is a cycle that can last decades, is rarely broken, and often without any reconciliation of seized funds.

This past tax season I prepared the return for an 80-year-old man who came into the tax clinic. He handed me his W-2 form which reported wages of $500 and a Social Security statement. He needed to file a tax return to obtain a refund of federal and state withholding reported on the W-2. While reviewing his Social Security statement, I noticed one-third of it was garnished. When I questioned him about this, he became very solemn, put his head down, and explained it was for an education loan taken out for his daughter “some time ago” to help her attend college. She had since died. Piecing together what he told me, I figured he took out a federal Parent Plus loan, had defaulted (before, during, or after his daughter’s illness and death) and didn’t know what to do. The default resulted in the garnishment of his Social Security, most likely without end for the rest of his life. There isn’t even an accounting of what is taken each year.

Without basic consumer protections, financial education, understanding, or advocacy, and absent the ability to discharge in bankruptcy, the contracts Monica and other borrowers enter to secure loans to help fund higher education are heavily lopsided in favor of lenders, investors, and loan servicers.

I question, as required by the basic principles of contract law, whether there is even a meeting of the minds between borrower and lender. Additionally, there seems to be some amount of unconscionable favor on behalf of one party over the other.

Student loan debt has topped $1.3 Trillion. By entering into these cumbersome, confusing, complicated, non-transparent contracts, the US has been devouring its citizens- young and – old in a cruel system of endless servitude.

Summary

Original principal 10,000
Interest added to principal 5,173
Collection fees added to principal 2,225
Revised principal increase over 30 years 17,398
Principal paid 14,370
Principal balance January 2017 3,028

Recap
Total paid over 30 years Dec 1987 thru Jan 2017
Paid toward principal 14,370
Paid toward interest 9,710
TOTAL PAID TOWARD LOAN 24,080

Lynn Petrovich, CPA
Copyright 2018

A Wake-Up Call for Students

Guest Author: Alan Collinge, StudentLoanJustice.Org,Both Alan and I have written various posts on the student loan crisis. Alan has been featured on Angry Bear Blog from time to time.

If you are in college and looking for something worthy to fight for today; as a student, you should consider the student loan issue. Student loans and how they are administered are the national injustice of our time reaching threatening proportions and impacting the livelihood of young adults going forward. While at first glance, the problem appears complicated, confusing, and overwhelming; it is actually quite simple and its debt genesis hearkens back to the creation of this country. This problem transcends partisan and cultural divides and could serve to bring together those on the left and right on campus.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others were in debt up to their eyeballs to British banks and merchants. They came to understand how a lending system could be used against the citizens. Of course it was not just the Founders who were being exploited, many early settlers were indebted to English banks as well. John Adams famously remarked;

“There are two ways to enslave and conquer a country. One is by the sword. The other is by debt”

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When the Founders created the Constitution, they made it a point to reflect on bankruptcy rights prominently. Few people realize that a uniform bankruptcy system is called for before the power to raise an army or a navy, ahead of the power to coin currency, and even ahead of the power to declare war in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.
Obviously, bankruptcy rights were very important to these men.

Free men are not forced into any type of behavior by the government that We The People established and ordained. The government is to serve the people – not to force them into servitude and obedience. The people are sovereign, as the people came before the government and the Constitution that gave rise to the government.

Adam Smith, the founder of free market economics provided the basis for western economic theory, was compelled to advocate for bankruptcy protection as a means to encourage entrepreneurship, risk taking, and also a means to compel good faith in a lending relationship.

When an individual or firm goes bankrupt, a legal process is instigated to discharge debts that cannot be repaid. In former times such debtors might have been put into a debtors’ prison and languished there for years. The process weighs assets against liabilities and allows the debts to be discharged at some fraction of their nominal value, leaving the debtor free of the burden, albeit subject to rules of financial behaviour and with a blemish on their credit record which can last for years.

Student loans violate longstanding economic principles and as such the beliefs of the Founders. Today, Congress has placed conditions on student loan bankruptcy so severe; that of 169,000 people with student loans who filed for bankruptcy in 2014, fewer than 20 received relief. When our legislators first restricted the right to student loan bankruptcy in the 70’s, some members warned that such a move had dire constitutional implications, but their concerns went unheeded. As one University of Connecticut expert Philip Schuhman testified to Congress:

” students should not be singled out for special and discriminatory treatment. I have the further very literal feeling that this is almost a denial of their right to equal protection of the law. Nor do I think any evidence has been presented that these people, these young people just beginning their years on the whole should be singled out for special, and as I view it, discriminatory treatment. I suggest to you that this may at least in spirit be a denial of their right to equal protection with the virtual pole star of our constitutional ambit.”

Today, student loans are the only type of loan in this country from which bankruptcy rights have been removed leading to consequences so severe as to result in a form of peonage. Despite peonage being made illegal after the civil war in 1867, it still flourished in the form of sharecropping with former slaves and poor farmers farming plots of land owned by others. Sharecroppers supposedly received a percentage of the profits from sale of grown crops. The sharecroppers were forced to take out relatively large loans just to get by and meet daily expenses, buy seed, rent land, and pay the interest rates imposed on them by landlords.

Also in the past African Americans could be accused of falsely owing money or trivial sums, given sham trials and quickly sold off by the courts into a privatized system of debt slavery to pay back debt. The peonage contracts contained enslaving terms and conditions, allowing the employer to trade, confine, whip and beat workers as long as the debt was deemed unpaid, which could practically last forever.

While not as severe as peonage, students in default are denied access to federal programs and unemployment benefits. Social Security and employment wages can be garnished leading to diminished lifetime earnings and poverty. All of these conditions have a severe impact upon the overall economy as younger workers do not achieve their full earning potential.

The student loan industry is willfully predatory and profitable for the banks who lobbied intensely for the removal of bankruptcy protections and work hard to keep their monetary advantage. As Mr. Potter would say; “The bank always get paid” and this comes no matter what the terms or conditions of the loan are.

(run75441) In my own discussion with a former University of Michigan lobbyist who was regaling me after I dared to make a statement to Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow about what her stance and actions were with regard to student loans. “There is IBR and Repaye which are programs allowing payment back on student loans based upon income.” Many students struggle to make money while they study so they sell notes to make some money to help them pay their student loans. These programs are mostly failing because of one rule requiring the yearly application to the program rather than an automatic re-up into the program. The re-up is required to report income a factor which is automatically done for Medicare via computer systems. The manual yearly application for the programs was bound to be a failure just by this alone.

It was not just the banks cashing in on the removal of consumer protections. In 2012, the federal government booked over $50 billion in profit on the lending system and this has increased in more recent years. What is disturbing is White House Budget data showing a profit being made on defaults. Think about this: where a credit card company is thrilled to get back a dime on the dollar for their defaulted accounts; the federal government is actually getting back more than a dollar in return. This is a defining hallmark of a predatory lending system and unfortunately for the students, the Department of Education sits on top of it all doing everything it can to perpetuate this situation. Department of Education lawyers fight tooth-and-nail behind the scenes to deny legitimate bankruptcy. This form of government enforced peonage spans many presidents and Congresses and both political parties going back to the seventies.

In 1998, when Congress made bankruptcy permanently unavailable for the overwhelming majority of borrowers, the nation owed roughly $100 Billion in student loans. Today that has exploded to $1.5 Trillion. By the end of this year, nearly one in four borrowers will have defaulted on their loans. People’s lives are being devastated. Families are being torn apart, particularly where cosigners are put on the hook for their kid’s exploded loans. People are fleeing the country, and some are even committing suicide as a result of their student loan debt.

If you think you don’t need to worry because there are forgiveness programs in place, you are wrong. With 57% already kicked out of them income based repayment programs are failing misrably. Assuming the programs are not ended by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, I estimate only 10% will be successful and have their loans forgiven and still potentially taxed as income. The rest will be disqualified from the program and left owing far more than when they graduated.

Alan Collinge is the Founder of Student Loan Justice Org and author of “The Student Loan Scam” (Beacon Press).

Republicans Can Seize a Political Opportunity by Backing Student Loan Reform

Allan Collinge is the founder of the Student Loan Justice Organization a grassroots citizen’s organization dedicated to returning standard consumer protections to student loans. The group was started in March of 2005 and has focused primarily on research, media outreach, and grassroots lobbying initiatives. located in Washington DC. From time to time Angry Bear has publicized Allan efforts to restore bankruptcy protection for student loan.

In a rare display of political courage and bipartisanship last week, Rep. John Katko (R-NY) filed the Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act with Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). This bill will return standard bankruptcy protections to all federal and private student loans. Katko is well ahead of the conservative curve on this issue and has a unique opportunity to revitalize the Republican Party in the current session by stepping up to lead the fight on this issue.

President Obama federalized the student loan system during his eight years in office and the nation’s student debt tab increased by $1 trillion. From these student loans, the federal government profits well over $50 billion annually from the student loan program, and also makes a profit on defaulted student loans. This is something no other lender of any loan in this country can claim. In fact, this is a defining hallmark of a predatory lending system. During the same time period, the price of college rose far faster than any other commodity, including healthcare, and this trend is continuing to accelerate today.

The student loan program is a structurally predatory lending system and Uncle Sam sits atop the hornet’s nest. What has caused this hyper-inflationary lending behemoth and its consequences is the fact that the Department of Education is not constrained by standard free-market protections like bankruptcy rights, statutes of limitations, and other standard protections existing for every other type of loan. Congress stripped these protections from student loans and in the end greatly destabilized the entire loan system.

Make no mistake: The Department of Education loves this freedom from free-market protections and fights tooth and nail behind the scenes to keep bankruptcy gone from its source of income. Since Trump was elected, the student loan swamp of unelected bureaucrats in and around the Department of Education have made bold moves to make this lending system harsher and more profitable.

Some true conservatives have noticed this problem and have begun to speak out. Jeb Bush, for example, put the return of bankruptcy protections to student loans as a plank in his presidential platform. Pundits and think tanks such as David Brooks and the Cato Institute have also publicly called for the return of bankruptcy protections to student loans. The issue screams out to conservatives for justice by sponsoring the Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy Act. By his actions, Congressman Katko is demonstrating to his colleagues that it’s fine, in fact,it is a great political benefit to stand up for the citizens, fight for free-market mechanisms, and against big government.

Sponsoring this bill will endear Katko to tens of thousands of Democratic voters who would have otherwise voted against him next year. There are roughly 100,000 people in his district with student loans, of which 63,000 are currently unable to pay down their loans.

While few of these voters would ultimately file for bankruptcy, all of them feel the predatory weight of the lending system on their backs, and all will appreciate having this constitutionally mandated power back on their side. I suspect that a large majority of these voters — regardless of party — will be strongly compelled to vote for him based upon this issue alone because it is that strongly held by these borrowers.

What is most interesting is that even if his Democratic challengers’ parrot Katko on this issue, his being a Republican makes the chances for success of the bill go up dramatically. No Democrat with the same position can claim this, and indeed we have seen similar Democrat bills flounder and fail in years past.

This is one of the hottest issues today in Congress and Congressman Katko is in the forefront of it with his bill. Other Republicans in Congress could benefit and capitalize on it to reduce the strong headwinds from Democrats in next year’s election. Republicans could do well in supporting this bill and avoid a crushing defeat.

UVA Slushfund just the tip of the Iceberg

In July, the former Rector at the University of Virginia, Helen Dragas, accused the school of having created a $2.3 Billion “slush fund” during a period when the university had raised tuition on students by 74%, and cut grant aid to poor students. While this is an astounding story in itself, the fact of the matter is that there is much, much more to this story than meets the eye.

In 2013, it was discovered the University of Wisconsin had similarly amassed between $400 million and $1 Billion in reserves, built largely from excess tuition income. Members of the state legislature, furious that the college had been stockpiling cash while using stories about their dire financial straits to convince the state to allow them to raise their tuition, actually demanded that the president of the university resign. However, the president ultimately was able to hang on to his job by using, essentially, a“but everyone’s doing it” defense.

The university compiled a list of similar cash stockpiles their peer institutions had accumulated, roughly during the same time. As the table below shows, the numbers are staggering.

slush fund

While the University of Wisconsin had built up assets exceeding $1 Billion, they were correct about their peer institutions engaging in similar hoarding activities and some to a far greater degree. The University of Texas, for example, had amassed $9.5 Billion in restricted assets, and another $3.5 Billion in unrestricted assets. The University of Michigan had stockpiled $3.3 Billion in restricted assets and $2.5 Billion in unrestricted assets. Even relatively small, private schools like Temple University had managed to squirrel away billions in expendable assets! A couple of years ago, I was at a meeting where the president of a smallish community college in central Illinois bragged that the school had managed to amass some $80 million in reserves. I held my tongue at the time; but, the time for silence on this issue is over.

These revelations scream out for further scrutiny. If ever there were a worthy subject for investigative journalist teams to examine, the growth of college/university slush funds is ready for sunlight. Remember, these mountains of cash are over and above the endowments of these schools and only came into being over the past ten years. The universities are claiming that this is prudent fiscal management, but the facts of the matter speak for themselves. These pots of money barely existed ten years ago. Now they are everywhere and they are everywhere HUGE.

If these numbers are at all representative of Academia broadly, it is quite safe to say that the cumulative total of these stockpiles could easily exceed the combined value of all college endowments (about $630 billion), and could even match the size of all student loan debt in this country (roughly $1.4 Trillion).

Colleges and universities in this country have raised their tuition at record rates over the past ten years. All have also given administrative staff massive increases in pay, and most have undertaken massive capital improvement projects. They justified their tuition hikes by citing state cuts in funding. This is a complete fiction. In fact (but for a slight dip in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008), the states have consistently increased their funding to colleges, in real dollars, roughly with the rate of inflation. These cuts the colleges claim to have happened, never happened and are really only college officials pointing to the fact that the states “slice of the budget pie” is now smaller due to the colleges skyrocketing operating budgets. This blatant dis-ingenuity of the higher education complex must end.

While Helen Dragas is undoubtedly being vilified by her colleagues, she should be given a medal for demonstrating that at least one college official as the moral compass to point to what is obviously wrong, and demand that the universities be held accountable for their greed, and their gross neglect of the community purpose that they claim to serve.

run75441: The slush fund build is going on at the same time cuts in funding for minority and low income students is occurring. Much of the funding for tuition for lower income and minority students is going to higher income students.

Alan Collinge is Founder of StudentLoanJustice.Org, and author of The Student Loan Scam (Beacon Press). Alan Collinge has been featured at Angry Bear over the years.