There is so much we do not know about the things that put us into debt. From credit card fine print to car lease agreements and as the last few years have demonstrated, even the most basic facts about our home loans.
To anyone with the ability to fog a glass, it is more than evident that our collective ignorance on these matters is precisely what causes our country to carry so much personal debt. And despite the government's best effort, whether in credit card reform or mortgage assistance programs, the only way to solve our financial problems is for the American consumer to educate itself as to the practices, jargon and bureaucracy that obfuscate the critical, debt-inducing rules of credit and loan products.
However, education, specifically student loans, is one of the things helping to add weight to America's debt anchor. They have caused countless bankruptcies and yet remain a non-dischargeable debt under Chapters 7 and 13 unless you can prove that paying them will cause a substantial hardship on your family. As if the bankruptcy itself was not enough hardship.
Those in the student loan profit circle are hesitant to ever address the debt issue in public, despite it's prevalence on so many household balance sheets.
In a Wall Street Journal column, an expert on the student loan debt problem cited a 2003 report by the Department of Education with some staggering statistics. It stated that default rates for loans that cover 4-year, 2-year and for profit colleges are 25 percent, 35 percent and 45 percent. In simpler terms, around one in three students default on the loans they accepted to pay for education.
Not sinking in yet? Try this: the student loan default rate is higher than credit cards, sub-prime mortgages and even over the counter payday loans. Yet, the issue is never introduced or addressed in Washington circles, even in the midst of today's middle class stabilization efforts.
Even though the Department of Education (DOE) created and published the report demonstrating the nation's difficulty in repaying student loans, it later boasted complete confidence in a full return on every loan it issues plus a 20 percent boost in interest and fees on forbearance, adjustments and default penalties.
Now, mix in organizations like Sallie Mae, who buy, issue and oversee billions in student loans and also own collection companies to track down those who can't pay, and it's easy to understand just how much money is being made on the back-end of our college diplomas.
The higher-ups in Washington are in on it too, as a number of very common consumer protections that apply to most loan vehicles, such as the bankruptcy code and truth in lending requirements simply can't be found in the fine print of your student loan. Thus, the DOE is the lone source of control when it comes to student loans, wielding powers over your wallet and financial stability like no other wing of our democracy.
And it's only going to get worse.
Reuters is reporting that the rate of student loan growth in the last two years is close to setting records, jumping 29 percent. In total, there are now close to 69 million student loan accounts open in the United States. This is primarily because the recession has put so many people back into the classroom to refresh job skills, obtain additional degrees or change careers. Additionally, with so many parents out of work, more children have to apply for loans to cover their schooling.
In total, the country now owes close to $527 billion in student loans. And just about every penny of it will be repaid. Plus interest.