The Student Loan System is a Mess

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If you have student debt, or know someone who does, you probably know the system isn't ideal. Consumers Union has some ideas about how to fix it.

It’s time for Congress to renew the Higher Education Act, a law that governs how federal student aid is given out.

“It touches on everything from loan limits to accreditation, determining who gets money, how much, and when,” The Chronicle of Higher Education says.

Consumers Union is proposing Congress create fixes to help people with student loans. They begin by highlighting these facts:

  • Student loan debt tops $1 trillion, more than Americans owe on their credit cards.
  • Tuition at public colleges has increased more than 500 percent since 1985.
  • Average family incomes are lower than they were a decade ago.
  • About two-thirds of college students graduate with student loan debt, averaging $26,600.

“The federal government is the largest student lender, with roughly 85 percent of the market,” Consumers Union says. So, it reasons, the solution should start with the federal government.

Student loan offers are confusing and families often don’t understand the different types, eligibility requirements, and associated costs. Payments often aren’t processed fairly, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently noted. Loan servicers sometimes do a poor job of communicating information, maintaining and providing records, or working with consumers to resolve issues.

Consumers Union covers all of that and other problems in detail in its recent Degrees of Debt report. Here are the fixes it wants Congress to legislate:

  • Transparent lending options that should be easily comparable.
  • Schools should help students find the most affordable ways to pay for college, through pre-loan counseling and by working with private lenders.
  • Borrowers should be given reasonable, flexible repayment options, including income-based repayment plans, deferments and forbearances, and acceptance of partial payments.
  • Fees should be reasonable and payments should be processed fairly, not spread out to cover multiple loans in a way that triggers extra fees and damage to credit.
  • Require student loan servicers to establish clear procedures and a single point of contact for questions and complaints so they get resolved quickly.
  • Borrowers should have the opportunity to discharge or cancel loans in certain circumstances, including long-term economic hardship.

Some of these solutions are already at least partially in place for federal student loans, but not private ones. Consumers Union wants the protections to become stronger across the board.

Do you support or disagree with the fixes Consumers Union wants? Comment below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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