The burden of student loan debt is preventing potential home buyers from starting households, which in turn is hindering overall economic growth, according to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director Richard Cordray in remarks made on September 23.
"I believe we are standing at a precipice when it comes to student loan debt in this country," Cordray said. "That load has reached $1.2 trillion, second only to mortgages as a category of consumer finance. This burden is growing fast and the issues that flow from it are central to public policy in America."
The rising cost of tuition is causing higher student loan debt, which is in turn causing more borrowers to default. Cordray said CFPB estimates that more than seven million Americans are in default on more than $100 billion in student loan balances. For those who default at a young age, the black mark on their credit report may prevent them from buying a home – and might even keep them from getting a job, Cordray said.
"The domino effect of student loan debt is real, and it is spreading," Cordray said. "It is hard to erase this debt quickly – paying it back may take many long years and prevent people from achieving other financial milestones."
Thought leaders in the industry have long believed that reform is necessary in order to reduce skyrocketing student loan debt and free up the finances of would-be homebuyers.
"If we are truly committed to promoting homeownership for generations to come, it is time to address the more than $1.2 trillion of federal student loan debt that is crippling the finances of future homebuyers and keeping them from experiencing the promise of homeownership," Five Star Institute President and CEO Ed Delgado said last week in his remarks to industry leaders at the 2014 Five Star Conference and Expo. "If Washington wants to make a real difference for the future of our children – we must reform student education financing."
Cordray stated that young people are not forming new households at the same rate as they used to, and the decrease in household formation is preventing economic growth. Increased student debt is causing millennials to live with their parents until a later age, or to share living arrangements with peers.
"The homeownership rate for young people peaked before the financial crisis and by the first quarter of this year was down more than 15 percent," Cordray said. "This is very troubling because most first-time homeowners are young people who drive the market for home purchases."
The effects of heavy student debt are not felt in just the housing sector, Cordray said.
"Student debt burdens can get in the way of young people buying a car, starting a small business, or saving for retirement," Cordray said. "We are deeply concerned about how debt influences career choices by acting as a barrier to public service for a rising share of student loan borrowers."
Tools are available now to assist consumers with managing their student loan debt, Cordray said. CFPB has partnered with the Department of Education to develop a set of online tools known as "Paying for College," which helps better educate students and their families as to what their financing options are when deciding how to cover educational costs. CFPB also offers answers to common questions it is asked regarding consumer finances (including student loans) in a feature known as "Ask CFPB." Notably, Cordray said, CFPB now handles individual consumer complaints regarding student loans. Also, many who work in public service positions are eligible for student loan forgiveness, which "can enhance the affordability of public service careers," Cordray said.
Cordray announced that two organizations, AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps, are both signing the pledge to help consumers handle student debt. CFPB includes employees who are alumni of both organizations.
"They are pledging to talk to employees about their options for student loan forgiveness, verify that they work for a public service organization, and check in with them annually to make sure they stay on track," Cordray said. "We have also created toolkits for employers and employees to help them understand how to take advantage of these benefits. We want everyone eligible to be signing up for the loan forgiveness that federal law provides, which they are earning by virtue of their public service work. These are great first steps toward that objective."