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Early On, Student Loan System Leaves Borrowers Struggling to Repay

Each year, more than 1 million people default on their student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. (Adobe Stock)
Each year, more than 1 million people default on their student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. (Adobe Stock)
November 14, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Nearly 25% of federal student loan borrowers default within five years of starting the repayment process, according to a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Most of those borrowers showed signs of financial distress almost immediately when it came time to start repaying their student loan debt, the report says.

Sarah Sattelmeyer, who manages The Pew Charitable Trusts’ project on student borrower success, says the student loan system is outdated, confusingly complex, and often undermines borrowers' efforts to repay their debt.

"So, we know that before they even enter repayment, some groups are more likely to struggle,” she points out. “For example, counterintuitively, those who owe the least and often less than $10,000, default at higher rates than those with higher balances."

In Kentucky, defaults are especially concentrated among low-balance borrowers.

More than 40% percent of people in student loan default in the Commonwealth borrowed less than $5,000 while enrolled in community college, according to data by the Association of Community College Trustees.

Sattelmeyer points out that some segments of the population are more likely to default than others.

"Recent research does indicate that African-American borrowers have higher rates of default than others,” she states. “So, this problem needs solutions that include the repayment system, but go above and beyond it."

Because defaulting on student loans can have serious long-term financial consequences, Sattelmeyer says the government needs to come up with effective ways to help struggling borrowers.

"But a huge barrier in this space is that there's a lack of data to help us develop evidence-based solutions," she points out.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that currently about 20% of student loan borrowers – that's more than 1 million people – are in default, and millions more are behind on their payments.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY