William Brewer, head of NACBA, has said, “This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy” — something akin to the housing mortgage loan crisis that triggered the U.S. financial crisis.
“Obviously, in the short term, student loan defaults are not going to have the same ripple effect through the economy that mortgage defaults did,” Brewer said. “My concern is that the long-term effect may be even graver, because people who need student loans to try to get a higher education or retraining” will be unwilling to run the risk of taking out a student loan.
Moody’s Analytics has evaluated the chances of a student loan crisis.
“Despite its rapid growth even as credit quality weakened during and after the recession, student lending is not likely to turn into the next subprime crisis,” it said in a January report. The student loan market is one-tenth the size of the residential mortgage market. And more than 90 percent of student loans are federally guaranteed.
But the rapid growth of student debt — mostly from federally subsidized loans — has alarmed some in the financial world and looms as the biggest long-term economic problem facing many college graduates and their families today.
The amount of student loan debt has skyrocketed in recent years to a total of $867 billion last year — or more than the $704 billion in outstanding U.S. credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Of the 37 million borrowers who have outstanding student loan balances as of third-quarter 2011, 14.4 percent have at least one past-due student loan account.
During the 2010-11 academic year, students and families borrowed $104 billion in loans from the Education Department, a 50 percent increase over three years. Private education loans fell by 65 percent in that time, to $7.9 billion in 2010-11.
College seniors who graduated with student loans individually owed an average of $25,250, up 5 percent from the previous year, according to a study by Brewer’s group. Parents are responsible, on average, for $34,000 in student loans, a figure that rises to about $50,000 over a standard 10-year repayment period. An estimated 17 percent of parents whose children graduated in 2010 took out loans, a 5.6 percent increase from 1992 and 1993.