The crushing debt taken on by Americans in order to get college degrees is having a huge impact on our economy and on our national politics.
By the fourth quarter of 2020, $1.56 trillion student loan debt was outstanding. About 44% of those borrowers were actively attempting to make payments as of 2019, while another 6.5% were considered to be in default or delinquency.
In March 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the federal government announced relief for federally-funded student loans: all loan payments and collection on defaulted loans stopped, and interest rates for student loans dropped to 0%. These measures are in effect till September 2021.
If you are considering taking out student loans, or have already taken them out and are struggling with repayment, here are some things you need to know about the consequences of non-payment.
Federal and Private Student Loans Are Different
That $1.56 trillion refers only to debt taken on by students or their parents who took out federal student loans. Some additional debt is owed to private banks and other lenders.
These private loans are collected in a totally different manner and there could be fewer forms of recourse available if your loan is private rather than public.
Consolidation and Repayment Plans Are Available
If you have problems making payments on your federal student loans, be aware that they can be combined into one loan to make repayment easier.
There are also a number of income-based repayment plans, which can give borrowers more time to repay their loan, reducing the financial burden.
The Difference Between Default and Delinquency
A loan becomes delinquent on the first day after a payment due date is missed. There are several stages of delinquency, including 30 days past due, 60 days past due, and 90 days past due.
Each level gets a little more serious. The loan does not go into default until much later, which could be at least 270 days (or nine months) of no payments, depending on the type of loan.
Borrowers whose loans are delinquent still have a number of repayment options. Default kicks a series of responses into action which are much more difficult to resolve.
The Initial Consequences of Default
Once a loan is considered to be in default, the consequences can be severe. The entire unpaid balance plus interest becomes immediately due and payable.
Borrowers lose any eligibility they might have had for deferment, forbearance and other repayment plans. They will not be eligible for any future federal student aid, and the loan account will be turned over to a collection agency.
The Long-Term Consequences of Default
There is no statute of limitations on the collection of federal student loan debt. Although the government may forgive student loans in certain cases, this does not apply to loans in default.
This information will be reported to the credit agencies and will affect the borrower's credit rating. That hurts the person's ability to borrow money or even get a job in the future.
The government can also withhold federal income tax refunds, garnish wages, or withhold Social Security payments to settle the debt.
Depending on how efficient the government is in updating its electronic records, it can affect a person's ability to renew a driver’s license or professional license and even prevent the borrower from enlisting in the Armed Forces.
The Amount Keeps Growing
The total debt will only get worse. There are additional interest costs, late fees, potential attorney fees, court costs, collection fees, and other costs associated with the collection process which can be added to the amount owed.
It Can Get Serious
The borrower can be sued and taken to court for non-payment.
Once an unpaid loan starts moving through the court process, the judge may issue certain orders. Although a borrower cannot be arrested solely for non-payment of a loan, an arrest warrant can be issued if a judge's orders are not followed.
There may be additional charges if it is determined that fraud was involved in the initial loan application or false information was provided.
It Affects Other People
Any co-signers on the original loan will be pursued for repayment. It can even damage the prospects of the borrower’s children when they in turn apply to take out student loans to pay for their own education.