College students need a bailout too!

By Aaron Brooks

Growing up, we were told that to make it in this world we needed to get a college degree. So, we studied hard in high school and were willing to take on substantial debt to satisfy our end of the promise of a better life.Unfortunately, for at least a decade of college graduates, fulfillment of that promise will not come as soon as hoped.

The depression (let us not fool ourselves) has so diminished the job market for graduates that many find themselves either taking jobs for which a high school diploma is required or on unemployment. This is not the future that we were promised. And what makes it worse is that now, on top of a minimum wage income, we have to figure out a way to pay back our loans.

The average college graduate owes about $24,000 in student loans, according to a U.S. News article titled, “Think Hard Before Borrowing for College.” For a $24,000 loan at 5.6 percent interest, a graduate will pay $262 a month for ten years and total interest of $7,400.

Many graduates have to sacrifice to meet such a monthly payment. The promise of a solitary apartment or a newer car has been swapped out to living in their parents’ basement and driving a 92 GEO Metro to save on gas and insurance costs so they have the funds to repay the debt incurred to improve themselves and the society in which they live.

As I keep up with news feeds, a soon-to-be-developing story is the amount of graduates in default on their student loans. I sat down with NIU Bursar Kinga Mauger to discuss the options students have if they find themselves financially distressed after graduation.

A graduate only owes NIU directly if they have received a Perkins loan, but the steps are applicable to federal loans as well. First there is a grace period for repayment of nine months for the Perkins and six months for federal loans.

After that period, if the graduate has not made a payment they go into default for one year. After that year, if the graduate has not been accepted for a rehabilitation to lower the cost of payments (Perkins only), deferment or forbearance to extend the grace period, their account goes into collections.

Entering into collections is something a graduate wants to avoid at all cost, for it not only harms your credit, but the contingency collection fees are ridiculous.

NIU has contracts with three collection agencies that specify fees from 21 percent to 33 percent per each monthly payment collected by the agency; the Department of Education’s collection agencies can charge up to 25 percent per monthly payment on federal loans. Taking the contingency collection fee at 25 percent, a graduate in default would end up paying $66 per month, $786 a year, and $7,860 over ten years to collection agencies on top of that average loan monthly payment of $262.

To avoid the collection agency fees, the best thing that a graduate facing default can do is not run away. Always update your address with either your university or the Department of Education, because if they know where you are, they will submit paperwork to either the state’s comptroller’s office or the Department of Treasury. Those agencies will take any money owed to you by the government (like tax refunds) and apply it to your loan, but it is a loophole around the collection fees.

Finding loopholes is not good enough. We have a large bargaining chip with the $1 trillion in debt we can pay…or cannot. The cost of a college education has risen 2.5 times that of average inflation while the value of that education has seemed to diminish.

I am not saying that a college education is something that should not be pursued, but we have been defrauded in terms of what it should cost.

It is time to use the power we have to force change in the interest we pay on loans and the principal on what our education was really worth.

Where is our bailout?