Is the Student Loan Bubble Ready to Pop? One Expert Weighs In

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Could student loans trigger the next financial crash?

When looking at the more than $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, some experts worry that it could be the next financial bubble. After all, subprime mortgage lending was at $1.3 trillion in 2007, just before the market crashed, according to a study published by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Student loan debt has surpassed those numbers — and continues to rise. What’s on the horizon for America’s student loan debt?

Where student loan debt stands today

Because young people are pushed to go to college and encouraged to get loans to make it happen, they are in deep debt. The availability of these loans makes it relatively easy for students to pay for college.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the biggest increase in non-housing debt in 2017 was due to student loans:

Though all types of debt have been on the rise, student loan debt saw the biggest jump. It’s beginning to eat up a bigger chunk of household finances; not even credit card debt is increasing at the same rate.

Unfortunately, graduates aren’t making enough money to handle the burden. A whopping 11 percent of student debt was delinquent or in default in early 2017.

Eventually, student loan defaults could rise to unsustainable levels. When that occurs, the economy will face a challenge.

But is the student loan bubble on track to repeat the housing market crash that occurred a decade ago? Not everyone thinks so.

The student loan bubble may be a ‘leaky balloon’

Joseph Hogue, a former economist for the state of Iowa and finance writer at PeerFinance101, doesn’t see the student loan bubble as something ready to pop at any second. Instead, he views the student loan crisis as a balloon with the air slowly seeping out.

“It’s more of a slower deflation, like a leaky balloon,” said Hogue. “It’s not really a bubble in terms of expansion and a sudden pop. But it’s definitely going to have an impact on the economy.”

Hogue believes that trouble from a student loan bubble will result from the enormous amount of debt millennials carry.

“Student loans have a huge effect on the largest demographic population in the United States,” Hogue said. “We’re looking to millennials to keep the economy going. Unfortunately, with such a huge student loan burden, they probably aren’t going to be able to do that.”

Hogue pointed out that many millennials put off major financial milestones and are wary of spending money because of their student debt.

“They have to make those student loan debt payments,” he said. “It impacts all the consumption that money could be spent on instead, like homeownership and buying cars. It’s going to hold them back from investing and getting started in other aspects of their financial lives.”

Without millennial spending, the economy is likely to see problems down the road, said Hogue, in spite of current leaders touting efforts to boost future economic growth.

Student loan debt outpaces wage growth

According to the Huffington Post, the typical college student in 1990 graduated with debt equivalent to 28.6 percent of their annual earnings. By 2015, that number had grown to 74.3 percent of earnings. Meanwhile, median wages have stagnated over the years.

Image via Huffington Post

Even as student loan debt has increased to keep up with the rising cost of college, wages have remained steady. That makes it harder to make student loan payments and keep up with other bills. As student loan payments continue to eat up a larger percentage of millennials’ incomes, they’re unable to spend on other items.

Eventually, more millennials are likely to be unable to make their payments and enter default.

The effect of a rising student loan default rate

Even though student loan defaults could cause problems for the economy, Hogue thinks the damage might be limited. He points to the difficulty borrowers face in getting out of paying for their student loan debt.

“Student loan debt is much harder to walk away from than other types of debt,” he said. “You can’t look at car loan and housing debt and compare that to student loan debt. There are factors keeping the student loan bubble from bursting due to massive default.”

For example, most borrowers can’t get rid of student loans by declaring bankruptcy. You can’t walk away from your student debt like you can from a foreclosed home.

That doesn’t mean default won’t have its impact; it’s just more likely to be a slow-moving impact, in line with Hogue’s idea of a leaky balloon.

Borrowers who default on their student debt are more likely to see their wages garnished, Hogue said. Instead of massive defaults and losses, student loan borrowers are likely to limp along trying to make payments and pursuing other repayment methods, such as income-driven repayment plans.

Hogue thinks the impact of this will be seen in the economy, but not on a scale as dramatic as the housing bubble.

“Student loan defaults won’t affect the economy quite the same as the fiasco with mortgage debt,” he continued. “There’s more likely to be a massive restructuring of payments, rather than people being allowed to massively default. It’s a creeping thing.”

Millennials put off major spending, and that harms the economy

When many pundits discuss the student loan debt bubble, they focus on the large amounts of debt students are taking on, said Hogue. However, it’s the fact that they can’t make other purchases because of the debt that really matters.

It’s the struggle to repay these loans that result in many millennials putting off other financial choices, said Hogue. They don’t have enough money to make their payments and engage in activities that will keep the economy running.

One of the big factors, he pointed out, is homeownership. The Federal Reserve is already concerned about declining homeownership rates among those with student loans. But it’s not just about buying a house — it’s also about the consumption that goes with it.

“Millennials are stuck renting with multiple roommates or heading back to Mom and Dad,” Hogue said. “They won’t be doing all the things that come with homeownership, like buying furniture and making home improvements. That consumption is vital to the economy, and it’s on a downswing due to student loan debt.”

He also points to spending on other items, including vacations, clothes, and cars.

“Millennials are acting thrifty and staying away from credit card debt. They’ve been scared off debt, and for good reason,” Hogue continued. “But it also means less spending to keep money moving around and the economy going.”

Wealth creation and entrepreneurship

Hogue also sees economic problems coming as millennials put off entrepreneurship. He’s not alone. In 2016, the Small Business Administration warned that entrepreneurship is lower among millennials than in previous generations.

Millennials are more likely to work for others than be self-employed, and that could have economic consequences down the road. Hogue said that small business development and entrepreneurship provides opportunities for economic growth.

“But if you’ve got all this debt, you’re looking for a stable nine-to-five,” he said. “You’re less likely to start a business.”

“We’re not going to get that small business push,” Hogue continued. “If we’re not getting that from an entire generation, what does it mean for the next 10 to 20 years? Not to say millennials don’t have that drive, but they have this extraneous burden holding them back.”

Hogue also sees impacts for the following generation. “As millennials get older and their kids start going to school, they are going to be much less ready to pay for their kids’ educations,” he pointed out. “That will have second-order effects as far as education in America.”

We might already be seeing a shift in Generation Z. They’re more likely to consider college affordability and community college than millennials.

How you can avoid contributing to the student loan bubble

If you’re drowning in student loan debt, you might be worried about the impact of a student loan debt bubble. While the country grapples with this issue on a national level, see what you can do to avoid becoming a casualty.

  • Federal student loan debt relief: Consider income-driven repayment plans and deferment options. These programs can make your payments more manageable.
  • Private student loan refinancing: You can refinance your student loans to a longer term, lower interest rate, or smaller monthly payment.
  • Debt reduction and retirement savings: Once you have your student loan payments under control, create a budget. Pay down your high-interest, non-student-loan debt, and then start investing for retirement.

Though your degree may have cost you a pretty penny, it’s likely still a smart investment.

“The price of higher education has grown exponentially,” explained Hogue, “but it’s still a good investment as long as people carefully consider what they study, and as long as they graduate or get a certification.”

No matter what your financial situation is, you can likely find a program that can make your student loan debt more affordable. See what steps you can take to avoid defaulting on student loan debt. That way, you can avoid contributing to the student loan bubble.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.14% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.79% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of September 6, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 09/06/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.49% APR to 7.94% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.14% APR to 7.84% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.14% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.14% minus 0.15% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.  
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

FIXED APR
Fixed rate options consist of a range from 3.50% per year to 5.55% per year for a 5-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.00% per year for a 7-year term, 4.30% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term, 4.60% per year to 6.80% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.05% per year to 7.02% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. The fixed interest rate will apply until the loan is paid in full (whether before or after default, and whether before or after the scheduled maturity date of the loan). The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.50% per year to 5.55% per year for a 5-year term would be from $184.00 to $193.00. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.00% per year for a 7-year term would be from $138 to $148. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.30% per year to 6.40% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104 to $115. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.60% per year to 6.80% per year for a 15-year term would be from $79 to $91. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.05% per year to 7.02% per year for a 20-year term would be from $68 to $80.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

VARIABLE APR
Variable rate options consist of a range from 2.43% per year to 6.05% per year for a 5-year term, 3.75% per year to 6.10% per year for a 7-year term, 4.00% per year to 6.15% per year for a 10-year term, 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 15-year term, or 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.25% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 1.50% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 1.75% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.00% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.25% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 2.43% per year to 6.05% per year for a 5-year term would be from $179 to $195. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.75% per year to 6.10% per year for a 7-year term would be from $137 to $148. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.00% per year to 6.15% per year for a 10-year term would be from $103 to $114. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.25% per year to 6.40% per year for a 15-year term would be from $77 to $88. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.50% per year to 6.65% per year for a 20-year term would be from $65 to $77.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

All credit products are subject to credit approval.

Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.


4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.


5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.19% effective August 10, 2019.


6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.


7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.

4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 08/01/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

2.14% – 6.79%1Undergrad
& Graduate

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2.14% – 7.84%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.43% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.43% – 7.60%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

2.14% – 8.01%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

2.06% – 8.93%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.74% – 7.24%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

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