The U.S. Department of Education recently unveiled a new and improved methodology for calculating student-loan payment delinquencies. Where it once figured the late-payment rate of student loans as a whole to be 17%, the department has now determined that when the same data is expressed in terms of individual borrowers, it’s as high as 38%.
However, the new calculations don’t even take into account the borrowers who are currently in default or have had their payment plans modified by loan servicers so that their accounts no longer appear to be past due – even though many technically are. Taking all that into consideration, the number of distressed borrowers approaches 50%.
There are two problems with the ED’s latest effort to convince a skeptical world that it really does know how to manage the more than $1 trillion of directly-originated and government-guaranteed student loans that are on its books.
The first problem is, frighteningly, the ED has demonstrated that it really doesn’t know what it is doing — not with all its restated metrics and loan-administration mishaps. The second is that even this latest parsing of payment-performance data has yet to inspire anything more than a frustratingly incremental approach to solving what is clearly a rapidly deteriorating situation.
Starting with the manner in which performance is evaluated, there are three categories of loans: those that are not in default, those that are and those that are someplace in between because the contracts have been temporarily restructured (granted forbearance) or permanently modified (via the government’s Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn plans).
True, the above three categories combine to make up the aggregate value of student loans currently in repayment, but each of these types must be separately tracked and analyzed, for two reasons: first, so that migrations between delinquency statuses (30-, 60-, 90-days past due, for example) can be monitored and corrective actions (with regard to servicing) taken; second, so that the activities of the loan servicers can be more closely scrutinized than they currently are.