Americans owe the federal government more than $1 trillion in student loan debt, a tally that is higher and growing at a faster rate than credit card debt, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau projects. Combined with money owed to private banks for student loans and the amount of college-related debt climbs to $1.2 trillion.
The CFPB projects a 20% growth in student loan debt from the end of 2011 to May 2013, much higher than the 2% growth in credit card debt over the same time, according to Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman for the federal agency.
The news comes as Congress continues working on a deal that would push interest rates on new federal subsidized Stafford loans loser to 3.4%, the rate before July 1. Because no action was taken before July 1, the rate automatically doubled to 6.8%.
The delinquency growth estimate for student loans excludes home equity loans, credit cards and loans from retirement plans that some families use to finance college.
As a result, debt incurred for higher education may actually be much larger than the $1.2 trillion estimate, said Chopra, in prepared remarks for a speech Wednesday at a conference hosted by the Center for American Progress.
There are various plans floating in Congress to lower the subsidized loan rate. Most would tie the rate to the cost of the federal government borrowing, plus an extra charge. Some of the plans have caps on how high the rate can climb.
The federal government projects to make $50 billion this year off student loans a number that could increase by as much as $21 billion if no deal is brokered to roll back interest rates on the subsidized Stafford Loans. The profits come from lending money at rates higher than it borrows.
Borrowers have a number of federal loans to choose from when they look at financing their education.
The most commonly discussed loan is the subsidized Stafford loans, which are available to students meeting financial-need guidelines. Students can borrow up to $5,500 a year with these loans, depending on what year of school they are in.
The federal government pays the interest on these loans while a student is still in school. The unsubsidized Stafford loans are the most common loans the federal government gives out, budget documents show.