College Debt
August 10, 2020
Will COVID-19 send borrowers’ default rates soaring?

The coronavirus pandemic has made it harder for student loan borrowers to make payments on debt that totals $1.67 trillion nationally. With students graduating into what some experts call the worst job market in U.S. history, Congress has offered federal student loan rate reductions and interest-free payment pauses — although these are set to expire Dec. 31 without additional action. As of early August, with a COVID-19 surge occurring in many states, many students considering college this fall don’t know whether schools will open in-person, virtually or at all, and some may postpone enrollment. Some students have sued colleges for allegedly failing to provide adequate tuition and fees refunds after switching to online-only learning in the spring. New Trump administration rules, meanwhile, make it harder for students who believe they were defrauded by online, for-profit schools to have their loans forgiven.

Sign and campus of MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., closed permanently in May because of financial troubles. MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., closed permanently in May because of financial troubles. The pandemic is placing enormous strain on colleges, large and small, according to education experts. (Courtesy MacMurray College)

The COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 160,000 Americans, crashed the economy and shuttered schools has also upended college students’ futures. 1

And it has made it harder for many unemployed or underemployed student loan borrowers to make payments on their debt, which totals $1.67 trillion when all U.S. public and private student loans are combined. 2 The July unemployment rate was 10.2 percent, far above the 3.5 percent seen in February, before the virus hit full-force. 3

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