To our complete shock, the Government Accountability Office has released a report blasting the Education Department’s understanding of basic mathematics and accounting concepts after finding the department drastically underestimated the costs of Obama’s student loan forgiveness programs. The 100-page report entitled “Federal Student Loans: Education Needs to Improve Its Income Driven Repayment Plan Budget Estimates” found that taxpayers could be on the hook for $137BN of student loans to be forgiven over the coming years as a result of Obama’s executive actions on “income-driven repayment” (IDR) plans.
For the fiscal year 2017 budget, the U.S. Department of Education (Education) estimates that all federally issued Direct Loans in Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans will have government costs of $74 billion, higher than previous budget estimates. IDR plans are designed to help ease student debt burden by setting loan payments as a percentage of borrower income, extending repayment periods from the standard 10 years to up to 25 years, and forgiving remaining balances at the end of that period. While actual costs cannot be known until borrowers repay their loans, GAO found that current IDR plan budget estimates are more than double what was originally expected for loans made in fiscal years 2009 through 2016 (the only years for which original estimates are available). This growth is largely due to the rising volume of loans in IDR plans.
Education’s approach to estimating IDR plan costs and quality control practices do not ensure reliable budget estimates. Weaknesses in this approach may cause costs to be over- or understated by billions of dollars.
As the Wall Street Journal points out, the so-called IDR plans set caps on borrowers’ monthly student loan payments at 10% of discretionary income, which is defined as earnings above 150% of the poverty level. Then, whatever principal balance is left over on the loans at their maturity date is simply forgiven.
The report, to be released on Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office, shows the Obama administration’s main strategy for helping student-loan borrowers is proving far more costly than previously thought. The report also presents a scathing review of the Education Department’s accounting methods, which have understated the costs of its various debt-relief plans by tens of billions of dollars.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) ordered the report last year amid a sharp increase in enrollment in income-driven repayment plans, which the Obama administration has heavily promoted to help borrowers avoid default. The most generous version caps a borrower’s monthly payment at 10% of discretionary income, which is defined as any earnings above 150% of the poverty level.
That formula typically reduces monthly payments of borrowers by hundreds of dollars. Any remaining balance is then forgiven after 10 or 20 years, depending on whether the borrower works in the public or private sector.
Enrollment in the plans has more than tripled in the past three years to 5.3 million borrowers as of June, or 24% of all former students who borrowed directly from the government and are now required to be making payments. They collectively owe $355 billion.
Congress approved the IDR plans in the 1990s and 2000s, but Obama used executive actions, starting in 2010, to extend the most-generous terms to millions of borrowers. Ironically, that is precisely when loan volumes under the program started to skyrocket.
While there are numerous viewpoints on how to address the student loan crisis in America, we kind of like this guy’s idea that borrowers should stop playing video games in their parents’ basements and get a job…it just might be crazy enough to work.
— tom alex (@rejialex7) November 29, 2016