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Student Loan Default Has Serious Financial Consequences


As of December 2019, about 43 million Americans held federal student loans, and the schooling financing system is beneath rising stress as extra debtors wrestle to repay, an issue compounded by the complexity of the reimbursement course of.1 The U.S. Department of Education experiences that about 20 % of debtors are in default—usually outlined as having gone at the very least 270 days with out a fee—and greater than 1,000,000 loans go into default annually.2 And though latest analysis signifies that many debtors finally are in a position to get their loans present, some default once more, even a number of instances: twenty-five % of people that restored their loans to good standing defaulted once more inside 5 years.3

Most federal student loans are managed by servicers—third-party firms beneath contract to the Department of Education—that carry out capabilities resembling amassing funds and serving to debtors choose reimbursement plans and entry instruments for pausing funds. After a borrower defaults, the servicer transfers the loan to the Department of Education, which typically reassigns it to a non-public company to gather the debt.

Failure to repay student loans can have severe monetary penalties for debtors, together with assortment charges; wage garnishment; cash being withheld from earnings tax refunds, Social Security, and different federal funds; injury to credit scores; and even ineligibility for different assist applications, resembling assist with homeownership. These outcomes may adversely have an effect on a household’s monetary safety.

Borrowers who default face a spread of dangerous outcomes

Loss of entry to reimbursement instruments and different federal applications

When debtors are in default, their loans proceed to accrue curiosity. Further, debtors who had been enrolled in income-driven reimbursement plans—which tie month-to-month funds to debtors’ incomes and household sizes, and provide loan forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of qualifying funds—lose entry to those applications and their advantages whereas in default. And debtors in default are ineligible for added federal student assist.

Collection charges that enhance debtors’ prices

The Department of Education and assortment companies can cost debtors who default as a lot as 25 % of principal and curiosity whereas curiosity continues to accrue. And authorities companies and debt collectors can also cost charges related to wage garnishment and U.S. Treasury Department withholdings, often called offsets, from debtors’ Social Security, federal earnings tax refunds, or different federal funds (see Repayment, under, for extra data).

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Damaged credit—from delinquency or default—for as much as seven years

Servicers are required to report loans which might be in default or greater than 90 days delinquent to the foremost nationwide credit bureaus. These notations stay on debtors’ credit experiences for as much as seven years.

Research means that, on common, student loan debtors’ credit scores—lots of which can already be low—decline by 50 to 90 factors within the interval main as much as a student loan default, doubtlessly a results of delinquent funds and presumably indicating that debtors who default on student loans are falling behind on different payments as effectively. And though these people’ credit scores can recuperate considerably shortly after they enter default, debtors with poor credit pays extra for or have problem acquiring credit playing cards, residence or automotive loans, and different client credit and insurance merchandise for a number of years.

Jeopardized employment

Some debtors who default–depending on their state of residence and loan type–are prone to having their driver’s or skilled licenses suspended, compromising their means to proceed working. Similarly, army service members, contractors, and federal workers with delinquent or defaulted debt could be denied safety clearances, responsibility stations, and promotions.

Exiting default could be difficult and complicated

The choices for getting out of default can current obstacles for a lot of debtors.


Borrowers in default can return their loans to good standing by “rehabilitation,” wherein they make 9 on-time funds based mostly on their incomes inside 10 consecutive months. Borrowers who can’t afford these funds could possibly make, on the discretion of the debt collector, decrease various month-to-month “reasonable and affordable” funds that take bills in addition to earnings into consideration. Rehabilitation can usually be used solely as soon as.

When loans are efficiently rehabilitated, the defaults are resolved on the debtors’ credit histories, though the delinquencies stay, and the loans switch again from the debt collector to a servicer and regain eligibility for income-driven plans. However, for some debtors, the “reasonable and affordable” fee made whereas in rehabilitation could be lower than the income-driven fee provided after they return to good standing, which might result in confusion and doubtlessly additional delinquency.

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This course of permits debtors to roll their current federal student loans into a brand new loan, which they’re then accountable for repaying. To consolidate a defaulted loan, debtors should both make three on-time month-to-month funds on the defaulted loan or enroll in an income-driven reimbursement plan. Borrowers typically can consolidate loans solely as soon as, and the default stays on their credit histories.


Borrowers might both voluntarily repay all or a portion of their defaulted loans or be compelled to take action by quite a lot of mechanisms. For occasion, the Department of Education can direct the Department of the Treasury to withhold cash from numerous federal funds, such because the borrower’s federal earnings tax refunds, together with the refundable portion of tax credit, and Social Security to offset a defaulted student loan. Similarly—and generally concurrently—the entity amassing a loan can garnish as much as 15 % of the borrower’s wages.

Like debtors who consolidate or rehabilitate their loans, those that are topic to wage garnishment or federal offsets additionally might incur assortment charges. Researchers have famous that variations in charges throughout assortment strategies can create confusion for debtors and that collections can injury household monetary safety.


In some circumstances—together with dying; incapacity; faculty closure; or sure misconduct, misrepresentation, or deception on the a part of a college—the federal government can also launch the borrower from the duty to repay a defaulted loan. Unlike most different sorts of debt, federal student loans can hardly ever be discharged in chapter. 

The Department of Education and Congress can do extra to assist debtors keep away from default

Higher schooling is among the many best methods obtainable to bolster households’ financial safety. A deal with the numerous challenges dealing with present debtors and enhancements to the student loan reimbursement system to assist them keep away from default are vital.

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Pew analysis factors to 3 actions that the Department of Education and Congress might take to spice up reimbursement success amongst struggling debtors:

  • Identify at-risk debtors earlier than they’re in misery—particularly, through the use of threat indicators resembling debtors lacking funds early, repeatedly suspending funds, and having beforehand defaulted.
  • Provide loan servicers with assets and complete steering on easy methods to prioritize interactions and engagement with high-risk debtors.
  • Continue to get rid of obstacles to enrollment in inexpensive reimbursement plans to construct upon the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act. The act authorizes knowledge sharing between the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education to streamline burdensome and duplicative earnings verification necessities for enrolling in income-driven plans. If successfully carried out, the act is a step in the fitting path, however policymakers can do extra to restructure the student loan reimbursement system, resembling simplifying the method for direct and focused outreach to these debtors most in danger for—or already dealing with issues with—delinquency and default.

These modifications must be carried out along side clear and constant repayment-management guidelines for servicers and different Department of Education contractors and with oversight mechanisms to make sure that these guidelines are efficiently utilized.


  1. Office of Federal Student Aid, “Federal Student Loan Portfolio,” U.S. Department of Education, accessed Feb. 24, 2020, The complete student loan holders determine contains direct and Perkins loans and loans from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program.
  2. Ibid.; Office of Federal Student Aid, “Default Rates,” U.S. Department of Education, accessed Feb. 24, 2020, The complete debtors in default determine contains direct and FFEL loans, and debtors with each sorts of loans could also be counted greater than as soon as. Although default technically happens after 270 days of missed funds, these figures measure default after 360 days.
  3. Unless in any other case famous, all knowledge on this truth sheet are cited in or from The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Student Loan System Presents Repayment Challenges” (2019),


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