Student Loan Repayment

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Author(s): The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) - Office of Research

Published: Aug. 16, 2017

Report Intro/Brief:
"While student loan originations, outstanding balances, and defaults are regularly reported, there are surprisingly few data on the payment patterns of student loan borrowers over the last fifteen years. Steady increases in student loan balances raise concerns as to whether student loan borrowers’ access to other credit products, such as obtaining a mortgage, will be affected in the years to come. Unfortunately, there have been few opportunities to study how quickly consumers have repaid their student loan debt due to a lack of data that allow researchers to see how balances evolve after students leave school.

Recently, researchers have begun to document the share of borrowed amounts that are repaid within a few years of entering repayment in addition to trends in outstanding balances. But a more dynamic analysis of repayment behavior over time is necessary to understand how recent changes in the student loan market—including increased use of alternative repayment plans and increased student loan indebtedness among older consumers—are affecting the repayment behavior of student loan borrowers and their usage of and performance on other consumer credit products.

To learn more about the behavior of student loan borrowers, we analyze data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Credit Panel (CCP). These data contain detailed information on the balances and payment status of the student loans held by de-identified consumers in the panel. Using this information, we can track the overall repayment history for borrowers who entered repayment at different points in time and observe how borrower behavior changed over a 14-year period. In this Data Point, we also show how payments have changed over time for different cohorts of borrowers and how delinquency has changed among cohorts of borrowers who are not paying down the balance on their loans.

Key findings include:

- Holding the amount borrowed constant, student loan borrowers whose repayment period began recently have fully repaid their loans at rates similar to those whose repayment period began fifteen years ago. However, 25 to 30 percent of the borrowers in the older cohorts do not pay off their loans within the standard 10-year repayment period, and the more recent cohorts appear to be following the same trend.

- There is a strong relationship between repayment speed and loan amount which has changed overall payoff rates across cohorts. Borrowers with more than $20,000 in loans, who represented only 20 percent of all student loan borrowers entering repayment 15 years ago, now make up more than 40 percent of all borrowers entering repayment. Average repayment periods for the overall student loan portfolio have increased over this same span because of the slower repayment speed of these large dollar borrowers. For example, borrowers with very small loan amounts (less than $5,000) are 2.5-4 times more likely than borrowers with large loans ($50,000 or more) to fully repay their loans within eight years of entering repayment.

- Student loan borrowers are older now than in years past: the share of borrowers younger than 25 fell from 30 percent in the 2002 cohort to 15 percent in the 2014 cohort while the share of borrowers 35 or older almost doubled over this period. However, there is remarkably little variation in repayment speed by consumer age despite potential differences in income or resources and the repayment progress of recent older borrowers is not noticeably different from older borrowers in the early or mid-2000s.

- Among student loan borrowers making large enough payments to reduce their loan balances, the median number of months remaining until full repayment is lower for recent cohorts than for earlier cohorts.

- Meanwhile, the share of borrowers not making payments large enough to reduce their balances has increased, particularly among borrowers with loans smaller than $20,000. Indeed, five years after starting repayment over 23% of these small-loan borrowers in recent cohorts are not making payments large enough to reduce their balances. While some of this trend likely reflects the growth of income-driven repayment plans, over half of this group is made up of borrowers who are delinquent or in default on their student loans.

Taken together, these results suggest that most borrowers have continued to repay their student loans over the 14-year period analyzed in this Data Point, despite changes in the macroeconomy and the student loan market (including increases in student loan interest rates and the availability of alternative repayment plan options as well as changes in the composition of borrowers). However, growing student loan amounts mean many borrowers will be affected by student loan debt much longer than in prior cohorts. This points to a greater need to understand how large loan balances affect consumers’ use of other credit products. While the majority of borrowers may continue paying down their balances or remaining in good standing on their loans, the cost of doing so may be changing and constraining consumers’ other financial decisions. Additionally, increases in the share of borrowers in delinquency, especially among those with smaller loan amounts, suggest borrowers may not be successfully accessing their available alternative repayment options—raising important questions about whether the available debt management options such as income-driven repayment plans and the servicing delivery platform are adequate for this important segment of student loan borrowers."