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17 Sep

The Subprime Loans for College Hiding in Plain Sight

At the time, you could borrow only $3,000 per year. In 1992, that cap went away, thanks, it seems, to a successful push by a higher education lobbying association, according to a report from the Urban Institute report in 2019.

And, as college costs escalated, and schools included information about PLUS loans in a growing number of financial aid notifications that they sent to families, more of them borrowed. The government turns you down for the loan only if, at some point recently, you’ve discharged debt in bankruptcy, been subject to a tax lien, been 90 or more days late on a big bill or had similar problems.

A number of policy organizations have examined the impact of these loans as more data has become available. Let’s start by looking at the adjusted gross incomes of the parents who borrow using PLUS.

About one in three white borrowers earn more than $110,001, and about one in 10 earn less than $30,000 a year, according to Ms. Fishman, the acting director of the higher education program at New America and the author of a 2018 study on the matter.

Black families flip the script, with about one in 10 earning more than $110,001 and about one in three earning less than $30,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, given those income statistics, the federal government has, during the financial aid application process, told 42 percent of Black borrowers using Parent PLUS that they can’t afford to pay a single cent toward their children’s education, according to a Century Foundation report from this year.

But if there is not enough grant money available — from the government or the college — to subsidize their kids’ tuition in full, these parents and others like them borrow anyway. To put a finer point on it, the Department of Education says it doesn’t expect them to pay anything. And yet it tends to lend many of them nearly everything.

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