September 30, 2012 - Whereas earlier today we presented one of the most exhaustive presentations on the state of the student
debt bubble, one question that has always evaded greater scrutiny has been the very critical default rate for student borrowers: a number which few if any lenders and colleges openly disclose for fears the general public would comprehend not only the true extent of the student loan bubble, but that it has now burst. This is a question that we specifically posed a month ago when we asked "As HELOC delinquency rates hit a record, are student loans next?" Ironically in that same earlier post we showed a chart of default rates for federal loan borrowers that while rising was still not too troubling: as it turns out the reason why its was low is it was made using fudged data that drastically misrepresented the seriousness of the situation, dramatically undercutting the amount of bad debt in the system.
Luckily, this is a question that has now been answered, courtesy of the Department of Education, which today for the first time ever released official three-year, or much more thorough than the heretofore standard two-year benchmark, federal student loan cohort default rates. The number, for all colleges, stood at a stunning 13.4% for the 2009 cohort. The number is stunning because it is nearly 50% greater than the old benchmark, which tracked a two year default cohort, and which was a "mere" 8.8% for the 2009 year. Broken down by type of education, and using the new improved, and much more realistic benchmark, for-profit institutions had the highest average three-year default rates at 22.7 percent, with public institutions following at 11 percent and private non-profit institutions at 7.5 percent. In other words, more than one in five federal student loans used to fund private for-profit education, is now in default and will likely never be repaid!
And while it is impossible using historical data to extrapolate with precision what the current consolidated federal student loan default rate is, we do know that there is now $914 billion in federal student loans (which also was mysteriously revised over 50% higher by the Fed just a month ago). Using simple inference, all else equal (and all else has certainly deteriorated), there is now at least $122 billion in federal student loan defaults. And surging every day.
Ladies and gentlemen: meet the new subprime.
This means that in just about 18 months, the total size of the Federal student loan market will hit $1.3 trillion. Why is that number important? Because that is how big the subprime market was at its peak in late 2007, when everything went to hell and the last credit bubble popped.
And the biggest problem: unlike housing where there is always at least some recovery of collateral, as the house remains, with student debt there is no recoverable asset as the asset is a human being. Granted said human effectively becomes a debt slave courtesy of the non-discharge nature of the student loan, which can not be wiped out even with a personal bankruptcy, but assuming the taxpayer can recover any money using discounted garnished wage flows of what are effectively perpetual(ly discouraged) debt slaves of the system, is simply idiotic.