Official numbers on student debt don't tell the whole story

Published: Thursday, March 20 2014 12:55 p.m. MDT

In this Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011 file picture, students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The number of borrowers defaulting on federal student loans or who are delinquent is much more than the official numbers suggest, indicating that rising college tuition costs, low graduation rates and poor job prospects are getting more and more students over their heads in debt.

Butch Dill, Associated Press

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The percentage of student loan borrowers who are delinquent is much bigger than a first glance would imply.

Mitchell D. Weiss at credit.com's blog sees what is going on behind the numbers.

First off, in the New York Federal Reserves' recent report on household debt and credit, says, "About 11.5 percent of student loan balances are 90-plus days delinquent or in default."

Weiss says that sound comparable to the rate of credit card debt delinquency, around 9.5 percent.

The difference with student loan debt, however, isn't due usually until the person is out of school and has that liberal arts degree in hand. Weiss says of the "$1.2 trillion of education debt that's currently on the books, only about half that amount is actually amortizing."

"So the 11.5 percent is really closer to 23 percent because the total amount of delinquent loans should be divided by $600 billion instead of $1.2 trillion," Weiss writes. "What's more, these are just the loans that are 90-plus days past due. What of the debts that are 30 or 60 days late?"

So about one quarter of student loan debts that are due are more than 90 days delinquent.

But it is even worse, as Weiss asks, what about debts that are one or two months behind?

By looking at the New York Fed's report closer, Weiss finds that about 5 percent more are delinquent. That jumps the figure up to about 28 percent.

But wait, there is even more. Many student loans are counted as current, Weiss says, because they have been granted forbearance or given payment deferment.

The Consumerist explains the bottom line: "So, in total, nearly one-third of the $600 billion in student loans that are currently in repayment mode could be considered delinquent. With such a high delinquency rate, it should come as no surprise that student loan debt has had a negative impact on borrowers' credit scores."

As Bryan Hanley, a mortgage broker in Brooklyn, N.Y., told the Deseret News, student loan debt is not "good" if you want to get a mortgage. "All debt is the same, whether it's $30,000 on an AmEx or $30,000 in student loans," he says. "We are only looking at the payment due on the debt each month. It doesn't matter if it's a boat loan or school loan."

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

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