Most of us know that the high cost of housing in this state has locked many aspiring homeowners out of that dream.
The same can be said about attaining a college education.
Because even for those who find a way to pay for that undergraduate degree, the debt burden that accompanies that diploma can seem overwhelming.
It’s reached a crisis level in this country. At a staggering $1.5 trillion, it trails only $8.8 trillion in home mortgages as Americans’ main debt obligation.
And it will only get worse. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that $1.27 trillion in new federal student loans will be added in the next 10 years.
Given the financial stakes involved, it’s incumbent on student-loan borrowers to understand what they’re signing up for.
Due to a combination of factors, that’s not always the case.
According to a new report outlined by the State House News Service, five states so far this year have passed laws to protect student loan borrowers, due to the lack of oversight at the federal level.
A pair of bills filed by Massachusetts lawmakers would do the same.
An issue paper from the Hildreth Institute, a Boston nonprofit focused on college affordability, says states have been left with “no choice” but to pass such bills “in the absence of federal leadership on regulating the loan servicing industry.”
The institute’s paper cited a March report in a U. S. Department of Education’s inspector general’s federal student aid office audit that found nearly 92 percent of monthly reports on monitored calls between servicers and borrowers included at least one instance of the servicer “not sufficiently informing borrowers about available repayment options,” and that 61 percent of oversight reports included examples of loan servicers not complying with federal requirements.
The institute supports “student loan bill of rights” legislation filed by Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, which would create the position of student loan ombudsman within the attorney general’s office and require state licensing of student loan servicers.
The ombudsman, according to the institute, would resolve disputes with loan servicers and help borrowers explore repayment options, avoid or get out of default, end wage garnishments and apply for income-driven repayment plans.
Higgins, a Leominster Democrat, said in previous legislative testimony that she’s paid more on her home mortgage than toward the $130,000 in student debt she accumulated attending law school.
Lesser’s bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee; Higgins’ bill had a hearing in May before the Financial Services Committee.
Obviously, students and parents should perform their own due diligence in identifying lenders that clearly state their rates and repayment policies.
However, if these two bills can bring some transparency to the student-loan process — like forcing lenders to specify a borrower’s ability to refinance these debts at a lower rate — it would be a significant improvement over the unintelligible language that accompanies most student loans.
A version of Lesser’s bill passed the Senate unanimously last April, but House leaders never brought it to the floor for a vote.
It’s time for both bodies to pass legislation that reflects the spirit of these two bills.