U.S. Student Loan Picture Grim as Total Debt Surpasses $1.2 Trillion

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Despite federal programs developed to relieve the weight of college loans, the student loan picture in the United States continues to worsen, according to the latest report on household debt from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Student loan debt surpassed the $1.2 trillion mark, college students are taking out bigger loans to pay for their postsecondary education and a growing number of borrowers are failing to make payments and going into default. The report said outstanding student loan balances increased by $13 billion in the third quarter of 2015.

The report shows that 11.6 percent of student loan borrowers are either 90 days late in paying their loans or their loans are in default. The New York Fed said there’s also a good chance that the measure of delinquency is on the conservative side “because about half of these loans are currently in deferment, in grace periods or in forbearance and therefore temporarily not in the repayment cycle.”

In other words, it’s simply taking some borrowers longer to default.

The student loan delinquency rate for the third quarter of 2015 is higher than the percentage of late payments for mortgages, credit cards and car loans.

In fact, “[s]tudent debt delinquency is now worse than mortgage delinquency was during the worst period of the housing crisis,” according to the Washington Examiner.

The Fed also found that borrowers with less than $10,000 in student loan debt have the highest chance of defaulting.

The Department of Education is urging students to take advantage of income-based repayment plans, where borrowers’ payments are based on their income and loans are forgiven after a set period of time, typically 20 years.

But according to the Detroit Free Press, it’s proved challenging to get a typical defaulter to enroll in an income-based repayment plan for their student loans because they tend to have a relatively low balance and they are oftentimes unwilling to work with loan services or complete the necessary paperwork for the repayment plans.

The 10th annual report from The Institute for College Access and Success revealed that students’ average debt at graduation rose 56 percent from 2004 ($18,550) to 2014 ($28,950), more than twice the rate of inflation (25 percent) during the same period.

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