Student-Loan Delinquencies Among the Young Soar

Student-Loan Delinquencies Among the Young Soar

By Ruth Simon
The number of young borrowers who have fallen behind on their student loan payments has soared over the past four years, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in a report released Thursday.

According to the report, 35% of people under 30 who have student loans were at least 90 days late on their payments at the end of last year, up from 26% in 2008 and 21% at the end of 2004.

The new figures, which exclude borrowers who are still in school or aren't yet required to make payments, show that young Americans are having a tougher time repaying college loans as debt loads increase and job prospects remain shaky.

Amplifying the burden: a growing number of young adults have become student borrowers. All told, 43% of 25-year-olds had student debt in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from about 33% in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Concerns about higher debt loads and rising delinquencies are leading government officials and families to focus more on the payoff from a college degree. Meanwhile, colleges and universities are facing increased pressure to limit tuition increases. Some are even freezing or cutting their charges.

The high delinquency rate is very worrisome, said Wilbert van der Klaauw, an economist with the New York Fed, noting that higher education has traditionally produced a sizable financial payoff. "We hope the returns to these educational investments are going to be there" as the labor market rebounds, he added.

The amount of U.S. student-loan debt increased 11% last year to $966 billion and is up 51% since 2008, according to the report. Student-loan debt climbed even as other types of borrowing fell.

While 40% of student-loan borrowers owe less than $10,000, a growing number have higher loan balances. Nearly 47% of borrowers owe between $10,000 and $50,000, up from 38% in the fourth quarter of 2005. The share of borrowers with balances of $100,000 or more has also jumped, to 3.7% from 1.7% during this period.

Student-loan borrowers of all ages are struggling to make their payments, according to the Fed report. Overall, the portion of borrowers who are 90 days or more past due climbed to 31% in 2012 from 24% in 2008. Delinquency rates were highest for borrowers under 30, with 35% of them 90 days or more past due last year, up from 21% in 2004.

The New York Fed's numbers exclude the roughly 44% of borrowers who don't have to make loan payments, typically because they are still in school or have been granted a loan deferral or forbearance. The share of all borrowers who are 90 days or more past due climbed to 18% in the fourth quarter from 10% at the end of 2004, according to the report.

The amount of other types of consumer debt held by borrowers ages 25 to 30 tumbled between 2005 and 2012 even as student loan balances have increased. The reduction in other types of debt was greatest for borrowers with $100,000 or more in student loan debt, a group that includes many borrowers with advanced degrees.

Borrowers who are behind on their student loan debts are far more likely to also be late on auto-loan, credit-card and mortgage payments, according to the report.

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