A recent survey of U.S. bankruptcy attorneys found a major jump in student loan debtors seeking their help, pointing the way to a possible mortgage-style debt crisis.
Now that state attorneys general across the country have reached a $25 billion deal with the major banks on their investigation into “robo-signing” and other foreclosure abuses, the next financial crisis may be on the horizon, one group is warning.
A survey and report released Tuesday by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys found that 81 percent of the bankruptcy attorneys polled said that potential clients with student loan debt have increased “significantly” or “somewhat” in the past three to four years. Overall, 48 percent of the bankruptcy attorneys in the survey reported significant increases in such potential clients.
In addition, 39 percent of the bankruptcy attorneys surveyed said they have seen potential student loan client cases jump 25 to 50 percent in the past three to four years. An additional 23 percent of bankruptcy attorneys have seen such cases jump by 50 percent to more than 100 percent.
Not only that, but a whopping 95 percent of the bankruptcy attorneys in the survey report that few of the student loan debtors they have seen have any chance of obtaining a discharge as a result of undue hardship.
While the agreement announced Thursday by the state attorneys general with the banks could lead to another wave of home foreclosures and seizures, it should also provide some relief to those with underwater mortgages and lower payments on their loan principal. On the other hand, the student loan debt problem is not showing any sign of abating. Eighty-two percent of the bankruptcy attorneys surveyed by NACBA see the limited availability of student loan discharge in bankruptcy as “a big problem” barring a fresh start for clients.
Seven out of 10 bankruptcy attorneys see the lack of ability to separately classify student loan debts for debtors using Chapter 13 as a “big problem.”
Student loan debt collectors can be relentless too. Nearly two-thirds of the bankruptcy attorneys polled (65 percent) said that student loan provider debt collections have become “much more” or “somewhat more” aggressive in the last 18 months.
There is often no relief with the passage of time. More than three out of five bankruptcy attorneys (61 percent) who are dealing with potential student loan debtor clients have seen cases of debts more than 15 years old still being pursued.
Of the Class of 2005 borrowers who began repayments the year they graduated, one analysis found 25 percent became delinquent at some point and 15 percent defaulted. The Chronicle of Education estimates the default rate on government loans at 20 percent. The report from the group, "Student Loan 'Debt Bomb': America's Next Mortgage-Style Economic Crisis," points out that college seniors who graduated with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,250, up 5 percent from the previous year.
It’s not only young people who have been affected. Borrowing has grown far more quickly for those in the 35 to 49 age group, with school debt burden increasing by a staggering 47 percent. That’s especially true with so many out of work Americans seeking retraining and new educational degrees in order to get a job.
Students are not alone in borrowing at record rates, the groups points out. Their parents are oftentimes on the hook too, especially if they have been forced by lenders to co-sign for their children’s loans. Loans to parents for the college education of their children have jumped 75 percent since the 2005-2006 academic year. Parents have an average of $34,000 in student loans, and that figure rises to about $50,000 over a standard 10-year loan repayment period, according to the group. In addition, an estimated 17 percent of parents whose children graduated in 2010 took out loans, up from 5.6 percent in 1992-1993.
One such parent is Dave Ingham, a disabled Vietnam vet who lives outside Minneapolis and co-signed a loan for his son to attend college.
“I have been personally and gravely affected by the student loan bankruptcy crisis being discussed today,” he told NACBA. “And I know our family is only one of many thousands across America facing these issues. My wife and I live in a condo and she receives barely over $500 per month in Social Security. Our son has to live with us or else he would be homeless. My wife and I and our son are being sued by a collection agency representing Sallie Mae and are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 13, 2012. My wife and I stand to lose our assets, including our condo. I realize my son made a mistake by being taken in by predatory lenders, but that does not mean his life and ours should be allowed to be ruined by these people.”