Crisis Grows As Student Loan Debt Passes $1.5T. For Some, It’s A Business Opportunity

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student-loan debt across the U.S. — a number so astronomical that education researchers describe this as a time of crisis, one that will get worse without government and institutional intervention.

The chances of the federal government doing anything to help are getting less likely by the minute. The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices stepped down today, according to NPR.

Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFP), says current leadership “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” He addressed a scathing letter to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s acting director.

Mulvaney on Wednesday announced staffing changes at the bureau. He said “The office of ‘Students & Young Consumers’ … will be folded into the office of ‘Financial Education.'”

“Since 2012, when college students are mistreated or misled, the CFPB’s Student and Young Consumer division has been there to help, NPR reported.”

Student loan debt reached $1.52 trillion in March 2018, according to Federal Reserve Data, NBC reported. It’s now the biggest category of borrowing after mortgages.

Women hold more than half of that total — about $900 billion worth, or close to 60 percent.

A growing ecosystem of brands are looking to target the market of mid-20- to 30-something student loan borrowers, InsideHigherEd reported. This includes potential customers who are educated, have some disposable income but also are under pressure to pay off their loans.

The rise in student loan default  “is worse than we thought,” wrote Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University’s Teachers College in a January Brookings Institute report. Based on the most recent trends, it’s likely that by 2023, about 40 percent of borrowers may default on their student loans.

“The thing about student debt is nobody talks about how much they have,” said Abra Belke, a Washington State lawyer who racked up a six-figure loan debt between college and grad school.

Belke worked two jobs and took on side hustles her first decade after law school to make more-than minimum payment on her loans.

Eventually, she started trying her luck on Givling, a crowdfunded mobile gaming app that promises winners a payout of up to $50,000 on their student loan debt.

Givling describes itself as not just a chance to win debt relief but also a community of borrowers and supporters working together to crowdfund student debt forgiveness, according to InsideHighEd.com:

“The tagline for the game is “a force for good.” The company says it just recently passed the $1 million mark for award winnings, of which about $700,000 went directly to student loans.”

Givling has 350,000 active users — a lot less than some other mobile games — but it wants to hit 1 million users in the next six months, which would allow it to offer loan forgiveness to one winner a day.

Another student loan payoff business endeavor is the TruTV game show, Paid Off, where borrowers compete at trivia for a payout on their student loans while calling on Congress to come up with better solutions for loan debt.

Student loans are one of the only kinds of debt that cannot be dismissed through bankruptcy.

More women are attending college than men and women are more likely to take on debt, according to an updated report by the American Association of University Women, based on analysis of government statistics.

As of the fall 2016 semester, 56 percent of college enrollees were female, and  41 percent of female undergrads took on new student loan debt compared to 35 percent of male. Women earned 82 cents for every dollar that men earned on average in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, making student loans more difficult for women to pay off.

Givling’s revenue grew from $97 in July 2017 to $6,742 per day a year later. It just reached its 21st loan payout.

Seth Beard, Givling’s chief marketing officer, said the company has been criticized for its new approach.

“When you’re an innovator and you’re disrupting something and accomplishing what’s never been done before, you’re going to have those critics,” he said. “We’ve just stayed focused on our mission.”