More than 40 percent of Americans with student loans aren’t currently making payments on them, raising the specter of massive loan defaults in Department of Education’s gargantuan $1.2 trillion student loan portfolio.
According to The Wall Street Journal, about 22 million Americans had federal student loans at the start of 2016, and of that group 43 percent were not making payments on those loans at the start of the year. 3.6 million of them, about 16 percent, were in default on the loans (meaning they were over a year behind in payments), while 3 million were behind at least a month and another 3 million had been allowed to temporarily halt payments due to a financial emergency.
The figures include only borrowers who have finished school or dropped out; borrowers who are still in school are not expected to make payments on their student loans. The figures also don’t include several million Americans who have private student loans.
While the numbers may look bad, they’re actually a small improvement from the year before, when about 46 percent of loans were going unpaid. The decline is partly thanks to increased participation in federal programs, such as Pay As You Earn, which reduce monthly loan payments for borrowers with lower incomes.
Student loans stand out in the American lending landscape because, unlike any other kind of loans, they can never be discharged via bankruptcy except in particularly extreme circumstances. (RELATED: Obama Admin Will Forgive Up To $3.6 Billion In Student Loans)
The rising number of people who are struggling with student loans has made the issue stand out in the presidential race, at least among Democrats. Both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have proposed plans for letting borrowers refinance student loans at lower interest rates.
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