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Stash Wealth Financial Planning Review – The Planner for HENRYs

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Stash Wealth Financial Planning Review - The Planner for HENRYs

Millennials are a lot more interested in their personal financial well-being at a younger age than the members of the two generational cohorts that came before them. But what else would you expect of the kids that came of age during the financial crisis and saddled with an average $30,000 student loan debt?

Luckily, millennials also came of age during the digital revolution, and a number of the cohort’s members have created platforms designed specifically to help millennials handle their finances.

Online financial planner, Stash Wealth, is one of those resources.

What Is Stash Wealth?

Stash Wealth is the online financial planner dedicated to serving the HENRYs (High Earners, Not Rich Yet) of the world. The startup was founded in 2013 by former Wall Street executives Priya Malani and Rob Kovalesky to serve millennial high earners they felt had been ignored by traditional firms or who may be fearful of financial management.

Stash Wealth’s services include personalized financial planning and investment management. Clients can also get personalized advice from Stash’s in-house experts — dubbed “rebels” — on topics like estate planning, investing, taxes, and accounting. For additional assistance, the company provides financial information to the general public through articles on its blog.

This review only covers Stash Wealth’s financial planning offerings, but we briefly touch on their investment management services at the end of this post.

How Do You Know If You’re a HENRY?

Stash Wealth defines a HENRY as an individual — or couple — who’s already earning about six figures annually. That’s a tough bracket to reach considering only 2.7% of millennials earned $100,000 or more in 2015, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But becoming a HENRY isn’t all about income.

Stash has created a quiz to help potential clients figure out if they qualify as a HENRY. If you’re not quite there yet, Stash Wealth has a partnership with invibed, which runs a low-cost Wealth Coaching program for about $450.

How Much Does Stash Wealth Cost?

Stash Wealth’s pricing makes it clear HENRYs are their target audience. You — or you and your partner — can complete a Stash Plan for a one-time fee of $997. The Stash Plan is a financial plan for your life that will address how and when you can reach all of your financial goals.

After your plan is created, you’ll graduate to Stash Management, a full wealth management service, which you’ll be charged for based on how much money Stash is investing for you. It has two payment tiers:

  • $50 per month for those with less than $50,000 in assets managed by Stash
  • 1.2% of the assets Stash manages for you annually ($100,000 invested = $1,200 annually) if Stash is managing more than $50,000 worth of assets

If you’re an entrepreneur, you can build a Stash Plan for Entrepreneurs for $1,597, but you’ll need to call to learn more about the entrepreneur’s plan.

What Do You Get for $997?

Stash Wealth will create a customized Stash Plan, which is a financial plan customized to your current and future needs. You’ll be prompted via email to fill out two documents that will help establish your “baseline,” then you’ll have two meetings with a certified financial planning duo who will create your Stash Plan.

Even at close to $1,000 plus ongoing management fees, Stash’s completely digital service is a cheaper alternative to paying $1,100 to $5,600 a year for the average personal financial adviser.

Unlike some other online financial advisory firms, Stash Wealth doesn’t offer a payment plan. In the FAQ on the website, the company explains the reasoning is because they want to be sure they are attracting clients who truly can afford the service and qualify as HENRYs.

Stash Wealth has a particular client in mind, so their pricing isn’t comparable to competitors like LearnVest, which will run you about a third of the cost at $299 for the initial financial planning fee, and they will charge $19 for ongoing financial planning, although the LearnVest program doesn’t include investment brokerage.

How the Stash Wealth Financial Planning Process Works

Every Stash Wealth client will receive a comprehensive financial plan. MagnifyMoney reviewed the process over the course of several weeks.

Your baseline paperwork

Shortly after you make your online payment to get started, you’ll receive an email from Stash asking you to do three things:

  1. Fill out your profile.

This is one of the two PDF forms that will be attached to the email. It will ask you to fill in basic information about yourself like your name, address, employment, and income. It will also have you enter basics related to your finances such as which banks you have relationships with, who you already use for money-related items like taxes, and how much you have in your emergency fund. This form will also ask for the same information about your significant other if you’re completing the Stash Plan as a couple.

  1. Schedule your baseline meeting.

In the email, you’ll see a link to book a meeting using the online scheduler, TimeTrade. Once it’s booked, you’ll get an email confirmation in your inbox.

  1. Complete and return the Baseline Workbook.

The final thing Stash asks of you before your meeting is to fill out your Baseline Workbook. Your workbook is an 8-page document that will dive deep into your financial business. You will trace where your money goes after you get paid, check off whether you use cash or credit more often, explain what your savings are consist of, and list your debts and assets, in addition to providing other information.

Stash understands this may take a while, so they give you some time and ask that you email the document back at least a couple of days before your scheduled baseline meeting.

Your baseline meeting

This will be your very first meeting with your Stash advisers. It will take place over video chat and recap all of the information you entered into your Baseline paperwork. The meeting should take no longer than an hour. Your planners will share a screen with you during the call to show you a Baseline Results document, which was created from your information. It will show, with charts and diagrams, how you spend your money, what your money map should look like, and how you’re doing so far saving for retirement.

screen shot 1

The Stash program is intended to be educational as well, so your advisers may sound very similar to your finance professors in college. They will spend a good portion of the time explaining things like a money map (see above) or how different kinds of retirement accounts work. They’ll also make sure to ask if you understood everything and will re-explain if necessary.

The “reverse budget”

Stash will create what they call a “reverse budget.” The reverse budget calculates how much you can spend guilt-free each month after subtracting your fixed and flexible expenses. They will show you a budget with and without debt, so you’ll be able to imagine how much extra cash you’ll have on hand once your debts are settled.

The homework assignments

After this call, you’ll get some more homework to complete before your second meeting. The second meeting is meant to help align your life to your reverse budget. I was advised to open up an online savings account with Capital One 360 and nickname it “emergency fund” and to keep a checking account open at a brick-and-mortar bank. I had just closed my checking and savings account with my brick-and-mortar bank, Wells Fargo, and opened checking and savings accounts with Ally, so I didn’t take this advice. I was earning 1% on my savings account with Ally anyway, which was slightly more than the 0.75% I would have earned at Capital One.

I did, however, set up multiple savings accounts for emergency, travel, and moving costs to correspond with my savings goals.

My other homework was to find my most-recent monthly statements for my credit card, my retirement accounts, and student loans and send this information to them as soon as I could.

The follow-up email includes a link to schedule your second call, which should take place in about three weeks, and will have a final workbook attached to it. A PDF copy of your Baseline Results will be attached to the email for your use.

Your Stash Plan Workbook: goal setting

Your Stash Plan Workbook will come attached to the follow-up email for your first call. It’s intended to make you think about your financial goals and how you’ll reach them. A major part of this workbook requires you to think of what you want your life to look like in retirement.

You might already keep a few basic goals in mind like saving for retirement (check) or an emergency fund (double check), but your workbook will force you to consider savings goals to which you may not have given any thought. Some examples: traveling twice a year, returning to school for a post-bachelor’s degree, taking a six-month hiatus from work in Europe, remodeling your home, or saving to care for your parents in their old age.

screen shot 2

You’ll rate each goal from 1 to 10 based on its importance to you, and make note of how much you think you’ll need and when you’ll need the money. For example, going back to school for a graduate or doctorate degree is about a 7 in importance to me, and I want to have about $25,000 saved for it and (ideally) start my post-college education in 2020. I also want to travel to see family members, who live in Ghana, every few years. I set that travel goal at about a 9 and allocated about $2,000 for a trip every two years.

The workbook continues to a section called “Retirement Lifestyle Goals,” which addresses any big dreams or goals you have for your life in retirement (think: buy a yacht) and asks you to put them down even if you’re not sure if you’ll be able to afford them. You’ll move on to a “Retirement Living Expense” section that asks you important questions like when you plan to retire, what your retirement income will be, and if you’re willing to delay retirement to reach all of your goals.

You’ll finish the workbook by filling out detailed information about all of your current assets, investments, and liabilities. While you’re doing all of this, be sure to gather any supplemental financial documents to send back digitally with your completed workbook. Examples include:

  • Bank and investment statements
  • Retirement account statements
  • College fund account statements
  • Employer benefits
  • Social Security Administration Statement
  • Liability statements
  • Insurance policies

Stash asks that you send in your completed Stash Plan Workbook and documents via email 10 to 14 days before your second call.

Filling out the workbook was a lot of work, but it was worth it. It took about an hour for me, and I only use one bank and one credit card and my only other debt is in student loans. Most of my time went to setting financial goals for the long life ahead of me. It was eye-opening as there were a lot of things I knew I wanted in life — like rental property — that I had yet to set a deadline or budget to. Completing the workbook helped me realize I should start saving now for almost any larger purchases I wanted to make within the next decade like a possible wedding or owning rental property. I was a little confused when it came to the investing and retirement parts of the document like retirement income but was able to complete the form using context clues.

I did have to fill out the form three times, as it had trouble saving some of the information I had input. I’m still unsure whether the problem was the way I was saving it to my computer or the form itself. In the end, it was no big deal. I typed up some of my goals in an email to supplement what the form had held onto.

Your Stash Plan meeting: how to execute your Stash Plan

Your final meeting with your advisers will explain to you exactly how to make your Stash Plan a success. During this meeting, your advisers will first check in with you to ask if anything about your financial situation has changed since you sent in your workbook. For example, I decided within the month to move to a significantly cheaper apartment, so my monthly budget had to be adjusted. My planner made note of that and sent me an updated Stash Plan with the follow-up email at no additional charge.

After your touch base, your advisers should walk you through the details of your new financial plan, which they will have up on a shared screen for you to see. They’ll speak with you about how you should budget for your savings goals and when you’ll likely reach them.

Your Stash Plan meeting: how to execute your Stash Plan

My advisers emphasized making the most of automation for my savings goals and any recurring expenses. This takes some element of human error out of the picture. I’d used automation before and found it would bite me in the ass when I forgot which date I’d set a service to credit my checking accounts. To avoid my unfortunate recurring lapse of memory, I set my automated payments for the day right after payday, and if I couldn’t change the due date, I used the budgeting app Mint, which has a bill reminder feature.

They will also give you a few suggestions for managing your new financial plan. My advisers suggested I open up a 0% balance transfer card (they recommended I use Chase Slate or Citi Simplicity) to help pay down my credit faster. They also recommended an app called Debitize, that lets you use your credit card like a debit card. The app pays off charges to your credit card with money from your checking account so you can build credit without overspending.

They also advised me to channel any extra funds I had to paying down my credit card debt faster, as it’s the highest interest debt I have. After my credit card was paid down, I was to use the extra money to build up my emergency fund.

In addition, the advisers suggested I consider adding a disability insurance policy and some estate planning documents to my life. I was told to ask my employer’s human resources department about disability insurance. For estate planning documents, they included a recommendation to a Stash Expert in the follow-up email. Finally, they explained to me what my next steps would be should I choose to graduate to Stash Management.

Next Steps: Investing with Stash Management

Once you have your financial plan set up, you’ll make the decision to either stop there or continue to Stash Management. This review only covers Stash Wealth’s financial planning offerings, but we did dig a bit deeper to look into their investment management services.

After your plan is created, you can choose to graduate to Stash Management, a full wealth management service, which you’ll be charged for based on how much money Stash is investing for you.

It has two payment tiers:

  • $50 per month for those with less than $50,000 in assets managed by Stash
  • 1.2% of the assets Stash manages for you annually ($100,000 invested = $1,200 annually) if Stash is managing more than $50,000 worth of assets

With Management, you’ll get ongoing help with financial planning. That includes your taxes, purchases, budgeting, combining finances with a significant other, planning for a baby, buying your first home, or anything else. You’ll have access to monitor your accounts and investments through an online portal, but you likely won’t have to do anything.

Stash gives you a unique ID so you can log on to the company’s online platform. You’ll grant Stash’s team permission to implement their suggestions for you like automating your savings and investing your money in the stock market. When you have a question, you can call, email, text, or even use Facebook’s messenger 24/7 to communicate with Stash.

Stash isn’t a robo-adviser like Hedgeable, Wealthfront, or Betterment. A human being will actually invest your money and communicate with you as needed.

screen shot 5

Pros and Cons of Stash Wealth for Financial Planning

Pro: Quick responses

I was impressed with Stash’s response time. If I had any problems filling out the PDFs or any questions, I could expect an answer to my email on the same day or within 24 hours at the latest.

Pro: Some face time

Both meetings with your financial planner will take place over a video chat, which adds a personal layer to the totally digital process. You won’t awkwardly stare at your adviser the entire time since they’ll be showing you your results or plan for most of the conversation, but I thought it was nice to put a face (and a smile) to who was handling my sensitive information.

Con: No mobile app

Stash Wealth is only accessible to you on a desktop, which can present an issue if you want to check on your plan or investment on the go. However, you do have the option to download your plan as a PDF, which most smartphones will allow you to pull up without cellular data or Wi-Fi.

Con: No budgeting software

Your Stash plan will lay out what you need to do, but it’s up to you to implement and track your progress — unless you pay for Stash Management. You can use other platforms such as the free version of competitor LearnVest or budgeting services YNAB or Mint to manage your financial information, goals, and more, but it would be convenient to have a budgeting platform to show you your awesome new plan right away.

Con: No credit score information

You’ll need to download a separate app it you want to monitor your credit score. Unlike other popular budgeting apps like Mint, or a credit monitoring service like Credit Karma, you won’t be able to see any information related to credit score or credit report information with Stash Wealth.

Other Financial Planning Platforms to Consider

There are a host of other robo-advisers and online financial planning tools that target millennials cropping up to choose from that you may prefer over Stash Wealth.

LearnVest

LearnVest Premium is a more-affordable alternative for those looking for personalized financial advice from an expert. If you sign up for LearnVest’s premium service, you’ll complete a process similar to Stash’s, where you’ll meet twice with an adviser who will create a plan for you and then have the option to pay for ongoing support. LearnVest costs $299 for the initial setup, then $19 a month for email access to a personal financial planner, in addition to the budgeting and goal setting features online dashboard features. With LearnVest, you won’t get investment advice.

XY Planning Network

The XY Planning Network is a network of fee-only financial advisers who focus specifically on Gen X and Gen Y clients. There are no minimums required to get started as a client, and advisers in the XY Planning Network are not permitted to accept commissions, referral fees, or kickbacks. In other words, no high-pressure sales pitches or hidden agendas. Just practical financial advice doled out at a flat monthly rate. The organization is location independent, offering virtual services that enable any client to connect with any adviser regardless of where the client resides.

Garrett Planning Network

A national network featuring hundreds of financial planners, the Garrett Planning Network checks many key boxes for millennials. All members of the Garrett Planning Network charge for their services by the hour on a fee-only basis. They do not accept commissions, and clients pay only for the time spent working with their adviser. Just as important for millennials, advisers in the Garrett Planning Network require no income or investment account minimums for their hourly services.

Mvelopes

Mvelopes is an app that provides a spinoff of the cash envelope budgeting system popularized by Dave Ramsey. Like Stash Wealth, its basic version is free and allows you to link up to four bank accounts or credit cards. Mvelopes has a second tier called Mvelopes Premier. It costs $95 a year, and you can link an unlimited number of bank accounts and credit cards, among other features. Mvelopes’ top tier, Money4Life Coaching, adds one-on-one coaching tailored to your financial needs, as Stash Wealth Premier does. However, there is no price for this tier specified on the website.

The Final Verdict

Stash Wealth is a great deal if you’re a HENRY, but it’s definitely not a program for everyone. It forces you, as a young high earner, to swiftly exit any present hedonist mindset you may have and consider your future seriously.

For me, it demonstrates how important it is to take advantage of extra funds and invest them into your future while you’re young, handsome, wealthy, and only have yourself to think about. But if you’re not making enough to have an extra $1,000 stashed away for financial planning, there are less-expensive alternatives you can use on your way to HENRY status.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Featured, Strategies to Save

What Your Teen Should Do With Their Summer Earnings

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Source: iStock

According to a 2017 survey released by the National Financial Educators Council, 54% of respondents (all 18 years and older) said a course in money management in high school would benefit their lives. Another survey — the most recent from the Program for International Student Assessment — reports that only about 10% of U.S. 15-year-olds are proficient in personal finance matters, falling in the middle among the 15 countries studied. The message is clear: Young Americans need to learn more about money and managing it wisely. One way to start them off is giving them hands-on experience with their own money. Enter the summer job.

Having a summer job can be a good introduction to adulthood for many reasons: The discipline, submission to management, team work, and a regular paycheck are just a few of the things a teenager will get used to with their first summer job.

It’s also a good way to introduce kids to the real world of money. Though the money your teen earns is technically theirs, as a parent, you should use summer job earnings as an opportunity to help your kids form good habits with money. There’s no better time to show them the value of money than in the crucial years before they’ll be saddled with obligations like student loans, car notes, and mortgages.

Here are a few ways to make sure your teen will get the most out of their money-making experience that will keep them money savvy for years to come.

Pay their fair share

Once your teen begins making money, you’ll to want consider how they can begin to cover certain expenses. You’ll be tempted, no doubt, to let your teen keep their hard-earned money for themselves. Trust this process. If the goal is to raise money-smart kids who become even savvier adults, there will have to be simulations of the real world that include actually paying for things

If your teen uses the car, consider having them cover a portion or all of their car insurance bill. Another option is to have them contribute to their cellphone bill or even some of the Wi-Fi they use.

Having expenses is a real part of life, so it’s better to help them understand that now rather than later when ignorance isn’t so blissful.

If the thought of making your child pay for expenses bothers you, consider a different approach: Teach them about the costs of everyday life by asking them to cover their portion of a bill, but take that money and put it away for them. You can save up all that money and, as a nice gesture, give it to them when they need it most, like when they go away to college or finally leave the nest to launch out into the real world.

Open bank accounts

Source: iStock

While many families do not have access to or elect not to participate in the traditional banking system — it’s estimated that 27% of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked — you’d ideally want to get your teen familiar with banks and how they work. Though check use has been on the decline since the mid-1990s, it’s still important for teens to learn how to write a check, along with keeping a checkbook register. Sure, this practice probably won’t last long, as electronic payments and money management apps continue to grow, but this approach gives your kids the gist of how to keep track of their cash flow.

While your teen has a bank account, you’ll also get them used to understanding how a debit card works. They’ll get familiar with how easy it is to swipe for things they want, yet how difficult it can be to replenish their account with the money they’re making at their job.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your teen opens a savings account. In most states, a person can open a bank account when they become 18. For younger teens, many banks have special teen or kid accounts that a child can share with their parents. Co-owned checking accounts can be opened as young as 13, while custodial savings accounts can be opened at any age.

Developing good habits around saving and managing money takes time and some getting used to. So using their summer earnings would be a perfect opportunity to get into the groove of budgeting for expenses and managing money through a bank account.

Set money goals

Once money starts to flow into your kid’s hands, seize the moment and get them to see the bigger picture. Summer money is great, but paying for life will take much more than what your teen earns from a few hours of work in a bike shop. Begin to show them the cost of things like college, cars, homes, and luxuries like vacations or hobbies.

Once you compare the costs with their summer job earnings, it should help them come to conclusions about how money works: The more you have, the more you can do. The idea is to inspire them to increase their earning potential with tools like education or savings to invest in income-producing assets.

Another result of these conversations could be your teen realizing they’ll want to start saving up for life sooner than later. They may decide to put away money for the purpose of paying for school or their first condo.

Ron Lieber, New York Times financial columnist and author of the book The Opposite of Spoiled, says parents should prompt their kids with an immediate goal like having a college fund. “The best thing to do is to use any earnings to begin a conversation with parents about college, if your teen plans on going,” Lieber says.

Lieber suggests questions to guide the conversation:

  • How much of your college expenses will be covered by parents versus the child?
  • How much have the parents saved for the child’s college expenses?
  • How much are kids/parents willing to borrow or spend out of their current income?

According to Lieber, “The answers to these questions may cause a teen to save everything, if they think it will help them avoid debt in their effort to attend their dream college.”

No matter how temporary their summer job is, you’d do well to use it as a springboard for more conversations about money. Whatever their long-term money goals are, it’s never a bad idea to start working toward them early on.

Learn compound interest

While your teen is making all of those big money goals, you could drive the point home with a lesson in compound interest. Using a compound interest calculator, you can show your teenager many scenarios where interest can either work for or against them.

Run scenarios around savings for big-ticket items versus financing them. The math will speak volumes:

*Example APRs are used. APR will vary on factors like individual credit score, loan amount, and bank requirements.

In the above scenario, you’d end up paying a total of $226,815 in interest. That same amount ($226,815) invested for 30 years with a moderate 3.5% return yields over $636,000!

Seeing these numbers in action should motivate your teen to start a savings habit that they will maintain throughout adulthood.

If they are really excited about the prospects of compound interest working on their behalf, encourage them to open their own IRA to begin investing themselves. This way, they’ll not only understand the theory of investing but also get hands-on experience with it. After all, the time value of money works even better when you’ve got more time. Investing as a teen could set the stage for copious returns later on in life.

Create a budget

Making money can be the fun, somewhat easy part of a summer job. Figuring out how to spend it can be difficult. Make your teen prioritize needs and wants by learning to create a budget. A good practice would be to have your teen make a list of things they’ll spend money on versus how much money they will bring in. You could also introduce them to a money-management app — here are some of the best ones.

This will help them understand the finite nature of money and how their current cash flow stacks up against their current earnings.

Have fun

According to Brian Hanks, a certified financial planner in Salt Lake City, “Don’t be concerned if your teen ‘blows’ a portion of their earnings on things you consider to be worthless.” Hanks goes on to say that it’s better to make money mistakes as a youngster: “Everyone needs to learn tough money lessons in life, and learning them as a teen when the consequences are relatively small can save bigger heartache down the road.”

A summer job should be fun and low-stress, but it can also be used as a learning experience that prepares your teen for the real world. If your teen turns out to be a terrible budgeter or extreme spendthrift, give them more than a summer to learn better ways. Remember, they’ll have the rest of their lives to continue grasping and mastering money concepts.

Aja McClanahan
Aja McClanahan |

Aja McClanahan is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Aja here

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Auto Loan Interest Rates and Delinquencies: 2017 Facts and Figures

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Led by a prolonged period of low interest rates, consumers now have a record $1.2 trillion1 in outstanding auto loan debt. Despite record high levels of issuance, the auto lending market shows signs of tightening. With auto delinquencies on the rise, consumers are facing higher interest rates on both new and used vehicles. In particular, over the last three years, subprime borrowers saw rates rise faster than the market as a whole. MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in auto lending and interest rates to determine what’s really going on under the hood of automotive financing.

Key insights

  1. Overall auto delinquency is on the rise, and the first quarter of 2017 saw near record levels of new auto loan delinquency rates.54
  2. Interest rates are on the rise, with average new car loan rates up to 4.87%, 60 basis points from their lows in late 2013.2
  3. The average duration of auto loans (new vehicles) is a record 67.37 months, reducing the monthly payment impact of higher interest rates.31

Facts and figures

  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 4.87%2
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 8.88%3
  • Average Loan Size New: $29,3144
  • Average Loan Size Used: $17,1805
  • Median Credit Score for Car Loan: 7066
  • % of Auto Loans to Subprime Consumers: 31.34%7

Subprime auto loans

  • Total Subprime Market Value: $229 billion8
  • Average Subprime LTV: 113.4%9
  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 11.05%10
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 16.48%11
  • Average Loan Size (New Car): $28,09912
  • Average Loan Size (Used Car): $16,02613
  • % Leasing: 25.9%14

Prime auto loans

  • Total Prime Market Value: $717 billion15
  • Average Prime LTV: 97.91%16
  • Average Interest Rate (New Car): 3.77%17
  • Average Interest Rate (Used Car): 5.29%18
  • Average Loan Size (New Car): $32,15319
  • Average Loan Size (Used Car): $20,77820
  • % Leasing: 37.4%21

Auto loan interest rates

Interest rates for auto loans continue to remain near historic lows. As of the first quarter of 2017, interest rates for used cars was 8.88% on average. The average interest rate on new cars (including leases) is 4.87%. However, the low average rates belie a tightening of auto lending, especially for subprime borrowers.

New loan interest rates

Consumer credit information company Experian reports that the average interest rate on all new auto loans was 4.87%, up six basis points from the previous year.24 The small interest rate increase masks a larger underlying tightening in the auto loan market for new vehicles.

During the last year, lenders tilted away from subprime borrowers. Just 10.88% of new loans went to subprime borrowers compared to 11.41% the previous year. The movement away from subprime borrowers led to a smaller increase in new car interest rates compared to if car rates had stayed the same.25

Across all credit scoring segments, borrowers faced higher average borrowing rates. Subprime and deep subprime borrowers saw the largest absolute increases in rate hikes, but super prime borrowers also saw an 18 basis point increase in their borrowing rates over the last year. The average interest rate for super prime borrowers is now 2.84% on average, the highest it’s been since the end of 2011.27

When comparing credit scores to lending rates, we see a slow tightening in the auto lending market since the end of 2013. The trend is especially pronounced among subprime and deep subprime borrowers. These borrowers face auto loan interest rates growing at rates faster than the market average. Consumers should expect to see the trend toward slightly higher interest rates continue until the economic climate changes.

Even with the tightening, interest rates remain near historic lows, but that doesn’t mean consumers are paying less interest on their vehicle purchases. The estimated cost of interest on new vehicle purchases is now $4,223,29 up 42% from its low in the third quarter of 2013.

Growth in interest paid over the life of the loan stems from longer loans and higher average loan amounts. The average maturity for a new loan grew from 62.5 months in the third quarter of 2008 to 67.4 months in early 2017.31 During the same time, average loan amounts for new vehicles grew 14.7% to $29,134.32

Used loan interest rates

Over the past year, interest rates for used vehicles fell by 35 basis points to 8.88%. The drop in average interest rates came from a dramatic increase of prime borrowers entering the used car financing market. In 2017, 47.4% of used car borrowers had prime or better credit. The year before, 43.99% of used borrowers were prime.34

On the whole, borrowers in the used car market face nearly identical rates to this time last year. Super prime and prime borrowers saw upticks of 15 basis points and 4 basis points, respectively. This brought the average super prime borrowing rate up to 3.56% for used vehicles, and the prime rate to 5.29%.36

On the other end of the spectrum, subprime and deep subprime borrowers saw their interest rates fall by approximately 10 basis points year over year. Despite the decrease, interest rates for these borrowers are up a dramatic 250 basis points (2.5%) from their 2008 rates.

Although average interest rates on used vehicles continue to fall, the estimated interest paid on a used car loan rose $12 from the previous year to $4,046. The increase in overall interest is part of a larger trend. Over the past four years, estimated interest on used cars was 8.4%. Almost all of the increase comes from longer average loan terms (61 months vs. 57 months),38 leading to more interest paid over the life of a car loan.

Auto loan interest rates and credit score

As of March 2017, the median credit score for all auto loan borrowers was 706.40 A credit score of 706 is just shy of the prime credit rating (720). This is the highest median rate since the first quarter of 2011.

In the first quarter of 2017, just 31% of all auto loans were issued to subprime borrowers compared with an average of 35% over the past three years.

Total auto loan volume decreased dramatically between 2008 and 2010. During that time, subprime and deep subprime lending contracted faster than the rest of the market. Since early 2010, auto lending as a whole is near prerecession levels. However, subprime lending has not completely recovered. In the first quarter of 2017, banks issued just $41.5 billion to subprime borrowers. That’s $6.7 billion less than the average $48.2 billion of subprime auto loans issued each quarter between 2005 and 2007.

Loan-to-value ratios and auto loan interest rates

One factor that influences auto loan interest rates is the initial loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. A ratio over 100% indicates that the driver owes more on the loan than the value of the vehicle. This happens when a car owner rolls “negative equity” into a new car loan.

Among prime borrowers, the average LTV was 97.91%. Among subprime borrowers, the average LTV was 113.40%.44 Both subprime and prime borrowers show improved LTV ratios from the 2007-2008 time frame. However, LTV ratios increased from 2012 to the present.

Research from the Experian Market Insights group46 showed that loan-to-value ratios well over 100% correlated to higher charge-off rates. As a result, car owners with higher LTV ratios can expect higher interest rates. An Automotive Finance Market report from Experian47 showed that loans for used vehicles with 140% LTV had a 3.03% higher interest rate than loans with a 95%-99% LTV. Loans for new cars charged just a 1.28% premium for high LTV loans.

Auto loan term length and interest rates

On average, auto loans with longer terms result in higher charge-off rates. As a result, financiers charge higher interest rates for longer loans. Despite the higher interest rates, longer loans are becoming increasingly popular in both the new and used auto loan market.

The average length to maturity for new car loans in 2017 is 67.37 months.48 For used cars, the average is 61.12 months.49 The increase in average length to maturity is driven primarily by a concentration of borrowers taking out loans requiring 61-72 months of maturity.50

In the first quarter of 2017, just 7.1% of all new vehicle loans had payoff terms of 48 months or less, and 72.4% of all loans had payoff periods of more than 60 months.51 Among used car loans, 18.5% of loans had payoff periods less than 48 months, and 58.3% of loans had payoff periods more than 60 months.52

Auto loan delinquency rates

Despite a trend toward more prime lending, we’ve seen deterioration in the rates and volume of severe delinquency. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion in auto loans fell into severe delinquency.54 This is near an all-time high.

Overall, 3.82% of all auto loans are severely delinquent. Delinquent loans have been on the rise since 2014, and the overall rate of delinquent loans is well above the prerecession average of 2.3%.

Between 2007 and 2010, auto delinquency rates rose sharply, which led to a dramatic decline in overall auto lending. So far, the slow increase in auto delinquency between 2014 and the present has not been associated with a collapse in auto lending. In fact, the total outstanding balance is up 33.4% to $1.167 billion since 2014.57

However, the increase in auto delinquency means lenders may continue to tighten lending to subprime borrowers. Borrowers with subprime credit should make an effort to clean up their credit as much as possible before attempting to take out an auto loan. This is the best way to guarantee lower interest rates on auto loans.

Sources

  1. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  2. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Car Average Rates – Page 25, from Experian.TM
  3. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Average Rates – Page 25, from Experian.TM
  4. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, July 17, 2017.
  5. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for Used Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVEUANQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUANQ, July 18, 2017.
  6. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  7. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  8. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market” Loan Balance Risk Distribution Q1 2017 – Page 5, from Experian,TM and “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.(3.76% of All Loans Are Deep Subprime + 15.94% of All Loans Are Subprime)X ($1.167 trillion in Auto Loans)
  9. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  10. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Car Subprime Average Rates, Page 25, from Experian.TM
  11. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Subprime Average Rates, Page 25, from Experian.TM
  12. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  13. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  14. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” % Leasing By Tier, Page 16, from Experian.TM
  15. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market” Loan Balance Risk Distribution Q1 2017 – Page 5, from Experian,TM and “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.(41.7% of All Loans Are Prime + 19.74% of All Loans Are Super Prime)X ($1.167 trillion in Auto Loans)
  16. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  17. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (New Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  18. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (Used Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  19. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  20. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Amounts By Tier, Page 19, from Experian.TM
  21. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” % Leasing By Tier, Page 16, from Experian.TM
  22. Graph 1 – Auto Loan Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  23. Graph 2 – Average New Vehicle Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  24. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Interest Rate Prime Rating (New Car), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  25. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” New Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  26. Graph 3 – % of New Car Loans Issued to Subprime Borrowers, data compiled from historic Experian State of the Automotive Finance Market Reports.
  27. Average Interest Rate by Credit Score, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  28. Graph 4 – Average Interest Rate by Credit Score (New Car Loans), data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  29. Calculated metric: Total Interest over the Life an Auto Loan (New Car).
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, July 17, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, July 18, 2017.
    3. Average New Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  30. Graph 5 – Estimated Interest on New Car Loan.
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, July 17, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, July 18, 2017.
    3. Average New Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  31. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, July 18, 2017.
  32. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for New Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVENANM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENANM, July 17, 2017.
  33. Graph 6 – Average Used Vehicle Interest Rates, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  34. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  35. Graph 7 – Lending By Credit Score Q1 2016 vs. Q1 2017 “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Used Car Loan Risk Distribution, Page 15, from Experian.TM
  36. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Average Loan Rates By Credit Tier (Used Cars), Page 25, from Experian.TM
  37. Graph 8 – Average Interest Rate by Credit Score (Used Car Loans), data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.
  38. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, July 17, 2017.
  39. Graph 9 – Calculated metric: Estimated Interest on Used Car Loans.
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Amount Financed for Used Car Loans at Finance Companies [DTCTLVEUANQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUANQ, July 18, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, July 17, 2017.
    3. Average Used Car Interest Rate, data compiled from historic Experian State of Automotive Finance Reports.

    Calculated Total Interest is Amortized Interest as a function of Average Amount Financed,a Average Interest Rate on New Cars,c and Average Length to Maturity of new car loans.b

  40. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  41. Graph 10 – Credit Score at Auto Loan Origination “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  42. Graph 11 – % of New Loans Issued to Subprime Borrowers. Calculated metric from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score ((<620+620-659)/Total Lending), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  43. Graph 12 – Auto Loan Origination by Credit Tier “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Auto Loan Originations by Credit Score, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  44. U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  45. Graph 13 – Average LTV at Auto Loan Origination “U.S. Auto Loan ABS Tracker: January 2017,” from S&P Global Ratings. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  46. Understanding automotive loan charge-off patterns can help mitigate lender risk,” from Experian.TM Accessed July 17, 2017.
  47. State of the Automotive Finance Market Q4 2010,” Pages 25-26, from Experian.TM
  48. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, July 18, 2017.
  49. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, July 17, 2017.
  50. State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  51. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  52. Calculated metric: “State of the Automotive Finance Market,” Percentage of new loans by Term, Page 22, from Experian.TM
  53. Graph 14 – Average Auto Loan Length to Maturity (Months).
    1. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of New Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVENMNM], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVENMNM, July 18, 2017.
    2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), Average Maturity of Used Car Loans at Finance Companies, Amount of Finance Weighted [DTCTLVEUMNQ], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DTCTLVEUMNQ, July 17, 2017.
  54. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Transition into serious delinquency (90+ days): Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  55. Graph 15 – New Severely Delinquent Auto Loans (90+ Days) “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Transition into serious delinquency (90+ days): Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  56. Graph 16 – % of All Loans Severely Delinquent “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” % of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017.
  57. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017.” Total Debt Balance and Its Composition: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 17, 2017. (Q1 2014 compared to Q1 2017.)
Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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Average Credit Score in America Reaches New Peak at 700

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

In late 2016, American consumers hit an important milestone. For the first time in a decade, over half of American consumers (51%) recorded prime credit scores. On the other side of the scale, less than a third of consumers (32%) suffered from subprime scores.1 As a nation, our average FICO® Score rose to its highest point ever, 700.2

Despite the rosy national picture, we see regional and age-based disparities. A minority of Southerners still rank below prime credit. In contrast, credit scores in the upper Midwest rank well above the national average. Younger consumers struggle with their credit, but boomers and the Silent Generation secured scores well above the national average.

In a new report on credit scores in America, MagnifyMoney analyzed trends in credit scores. The trends offer insight into how Americans fare with their credit health.

Key insights

  1. National average FICO® Scores are up 14 points since October 2009.3
  2. 51% of consumers have prime credit scores, up from 48.1% in 2007.4
  3. One-third of customers have at least one severely delinquent (90+ days past due) account on their credit report.5
  4. Average VantageScores® in the Deep South are 21 points lower than the national average (652 vs. 673).6
  5. Millennials’ average VantageScore® (634) underperformed the national average by 39 points. Only Gen Z has a lower average score (631).7

Credit scores in America

Average FICO® Score: 7008

Average VantageScore®: 6739

Percent with prime credit score (Equifax Risk Score >720): 51%10

Percent with subprime credit score (Equifax Risk Score <660): 32%11

Credit score factors

Percent with at least one delinquency: 32%12

Average number of late payments per month: .3513

Average credit utilization ratio: 30%14

Debt delinquency

Percent severely delinquent debt: 3.37%15

Percent severely delinquent debt excluding mortgages: 6.9%16

States with the best and worst credit scores

What is a credit score?

Credit scoring companies analyze consumer credit reports. They glean data from the reports and create algorithms that determine consumer borrowing risk. A credit score is a number that represents the risk profile of a borrower. Credit scores influence a bank’s decisions to lend money to consumers. People with high credit scores will find the most attractive borrowing rates because that signals to lenders that they are less risky. Those with low credit scores will struggle to find credit at all.

The Big 3 credit scores

Banks have hundreds of proprietary credit scoring algorithms. In this article, we analyzed trends on three of the most famous credit scoring algorithms:

  • FICO® Score 8 (used for underwriting mortgages)
  • VantageScore® 3.0 (widely available to consumers)
  • Equifax Consumer Risk Credit Score (used by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

Each of these credit scores ranks risk on a scale of 300-850. In all three models, prime credit is any score above 720. Subprime credit is any score below 660. All three models consider similar data when they create credit risk profiles. The most common factors include:

  • Payment history
  • Revolving debt levels (or revolving debt utilization ratios)
  • Length of credit history
  • Number of recent credit inquires
  • Variety of credit (installment and revolving)

However, each model weights the information differently. This means that a FICO® Score cannot be compared directly to a VantageScore® or an Equifax Risk Score. For example, a VantageScore® does not count paid items in collections against you. However, a FICO® Score counts all collections items against you, even if you’ve paid them. Additionally, the VantageScore® counts outstanding debt against you, but the FICO® Score only considers how much credit card debt you have relative to your available credit.

American credit scores over time

Average FICO® Scores in America are on the rise for the eighth straight year. The average credit score in America is now 700.

On top of that, consumers with “super prime” credit (FICO® Scores above 800) outnumber consumers with deep subprime credit (FICO® Scores below 600).

We’re also seeing healthy increases in prime credit scores, defined as Equifax Risk Scores above 720. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 51% of all Americans have prime credit scores as measured by the Equifax Risk Score. Following the housing market crash in 2010, just 48.4% of Americans had prime credit scores.20

A major driver of increased scores is the decreased proportion of consumers with collection items on their credit report. A credit item that falls into collections will stay on a person’s credit report for seven years. People caught in the latter end of the real estate foreclosure crisis of 2006-2011 may still have a collections item on their report today.

In the first quarter of 2013, 14.64% of all consumers had at least one item in collections. Today, just 12.61% of consumers have collections items on their credit report. Overall collections rates are approaching 2005-2006 average rates.40

Credit scores and loan originations

Following the 2007-2008 implosion of the housing market, banks saw mortgage borrowers defaulting at higher rates than ever before. In addition to higher mortgage default rates, the market downturn led to higher default rates across all types of consumer loans. To maintain profitability banks began tightening lending practices. More stringent lending standards made it tough for anyone with poor credit to get a loan at a reasonable rate. Although banks have loosened lending somewhat in the last two years, people with subprime credit will continue to struggle to get loans. In June 2017, banks rejected 81.4% of all credit applications from people with Equifax Risk Scores below 680. By contrast, banks rejected 9.11% of credit applications from those with credit scores above 760.22

Credit scores and mortgage origination

Before 2008, the median homebuyer had an Equifax Risk Score of 720. In 2017, the median score was 764, a full 44 points higher than the pre-bubble scores. The bottom 10th of buyers had a score of 657, a massive 65 point growth over the pre-recession average.23

Some below prime borrowers still get mortgages. But banks no longer underwrite mortgages for deep subprime borrowers. More stringent lending standards have resulted in near all-time lows in mortgage foreclosures.

Credit scores and auto loan origination

The subprime lending bubble didn’t directly influence the auto loan market, but banks increased their lending standards for auto loans, too. Before 2008, the median credit score for people originating auto loans was 682. By the first quarter of 2017, the median score for auto borrowers was 706.26

In the case of auto loans, the lower median risk profile hasn’t paid off for banks. In the first quarter of 2017, $8.27 billion dollars of auto loans fell into severely delinquent status. New auto delinquencies are now as bad as they were in 2008.28

Consumers looking for new auto loans should expect more stringent lending standards in coming months. This means it’s more important than ever for Americans to grow their credit score.

Credit scores for credit cards

Unlike other types of credit, even people with deep subprime credit scores usually qualify to open a secured credit card. However, credit card use among people with poor credit scores is still near an all-time low. In the last decade, credit card use among deep subprime borrowers fell 16.7%. Today, just over 50% of deep subprime borrowers have credit card accounts.30

The dramatic decline came between 2009 and 2011. During this period, half or more of all credit card account closures came from borrowers with below prime credit scores. More than one-third of all closures came from deep subprime consumers.

However, banks are showing an increased willingness to allow customers with poor credit to open credit card accounts. In 2015, more than 60% of all new credit card accounts went to borrowers with subprime credit, and 25% of all the accounts went to borrowers with deep subprime credit.

State level credit scores

Consumers across the nation are seeing higher credit scores, but regional variations persist. People living in the Deep South and Southwest have lower credit scores than the rest of the nation. States in the Deep South have an average VantageScore® of 652 compared to a nationwide average of 673. Southwestern states have an average score of 658.

States in the upper Midwest outperform the nation as a whole. These states had average VantageScores® of 689.

Unsurprisingly, consumers across the southern United States are far more likely to have subprime credit scores than consumers across the north. Minnesota had the fewest subprime consumers. In December 2016, just 21.9% of residents fell below an Equifax Risk Score of 660. Mississippi had the worst subprime rate in the nation: 48.3% of Mississippi residents had credit scores below 660 in December 2016.35

These are the distributions of Equifax Risk Scores by state:37

Credit score by age

In general, older consumers have higher credit scores than younger generations. Credit scoring models consider consumers with longer credit histories less risky than those with short credit histories. The Silent Generation and boomers enjoy higher credit scores due to long credit histories. However, these generations show better credit behavior, too. Their revolving credit utilization rates are lower than younger generations. They are less likely to have a severely delinquent credit item on their credit report.

Gen X and millennials have almost identical revolving utilization ratios and delinquency rates. Compared to millennials, Gen X has higher credit card balances and more debt. Still, Gen X’s longer credit history gives them a 21 point advantage over millennials on average.

To improve their credit scores, millennials and Gen X need to focus on timely payments. On-time payments and lower credit card utilization will drive their scores up.

A report by FICO® showed that younger consumers can earn high credit scores with excellent credit behavior. 93% of consumers with credit scores between 750 and 799 who were under age 29 never had a late payment on their credit report. In contrast, 57% of the total population had at least one delinquency. This good credit group also used less of their available credit. They had an average revolving credit utilization ratio of 6%. The nation as a whole had a utilization ratio of 15%.39

Sources

  1. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  2. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  3. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  4. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  5. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017
  6. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  7. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  8. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  9. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  10. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  11. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  12. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 90+ Days Past Due, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  13. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Late Payments, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  14. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 Average Revolving Credit Utilization Ratio, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  15. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type, All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  16. Calculated metric using data from “Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Percent of Balance 90+ Days Delinquent by Loan Type and Total Debt Balance and Its Composition. All Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017. Multiply all debt balances by percent of balance 90 days delinquent for Q1 2017, and summarize all delinquent balances. Total delinquent balance for non-mortgage debt = $284 billion. Total non-mortgage debt balance = $4.1 trillion$284 billion /$4.1 trillion = 6.9%.
  17. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  18. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  19. Ethan Dornhelm, “US Average FICO Score Hits 700: A Milestone for Consumers,” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  20. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  21. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  22. Survey of Consumer Expectations, © 2013-2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). The SCE data are available without charge at http://www.newyorkfed.org/microeconomics/sce and may be used subject to license terms posted there. FRBNY disclaims any responsibility or legal liability for this analysis and interpretation of Survey of Consumer Expectations data.
  23. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  24. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Mortgages, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  25. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Number of Consumers with New Foreclosures and Bankruptcies, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  26. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed May 24, 2017.
  27. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Credit Score at Origination: Auto Loans, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  28. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  29. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Flow into Severe Delinquency (90+) by Loan Type, from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  30. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  31. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  32. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  33. Graham Campbell, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klauuw, “Just Released: Recent Developments in Consumer Credit Card Borrowing,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics (blog), August 9, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  34. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  35. 2016 State of Credit Report” State 2016 Average VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  36. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  37. Community Credit: A New Perspective on America’s Communities Credit Quality and Inclusion” from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  38. 2016 State of Credit Report” National 2016 VantageScore®, Experian. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  39. Andrew Jennings, “FICO® Score High Achievers: Is Age the Only Factor?” Fair Isaac Corporation. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  40. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
  41. Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit May 2017” Third-Party Collections (Percent of Consumers with Collections), from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Equifax Consumer Credit Panel. Accessed July 23, 2017.
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5 Smart Ways to Lower the Cost of Therapy

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Sasha Aurand has had to scramble for four years to find high-quality mental health care she can afford on her salary from running a website on psychology and sex.

The 25-year-old New Yorker suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety, and has no health insurance.

“So I’ve always had to find other solutions,” she tells MagnifyMoney. Aurand originally sought help for these conditions while still a college student in Indiana. But after the school’s counseling center referred her to a private practice she couldn’t afford, she researched, asked around, and found a community health clinic where a therapist helped her for $20 a visit.

After graduating from college, Aurand moved to New York, where she briefly had health insurance, enabling her to see what she describes as a “phenomenal psychiatrist” for depression medications. But her insurance ended, and she could no longer afford the psychiatrist’s $350/hour fee.

Aurand is not alone, having to be resourceful finding doctors and therapists in her price range. According to the 2016 State of Mental Health in America report, one out of five American adults with mental illness report they are unable to get the treatment they need, often due to cost. And with an uncertain health care climate in Washington, the challenges are unlikely to ease soon.

Although the Senate failed in its recent attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — an effort, says Colin Seeberger, strategic campaigns director for Young Invincibles, “that would have allowed states to opt out of the ACA’s essential benefits, such as substance abuse and mental health coverage” — there’s still some instability in the insurance markets as a result.

In such a confusing environment, how can you find the help you need at a price you can afford?

Here are a few options if you’re looking for affordable therapy options:

1. Work with a therapist-in-training

If you live near a university with a graduate psychology program, it most likely has an in-house clinic. You can see a trainee at one of these clinics for a reduced fee. Yes, the therapists are students, but each one is closely supervised by a seasoned, licensed professional.

Pros: “Because the therapists are still in school, they’re up to date on the latest developments in psychology,” says Linda Richardson , Ph.D., a psychologist who works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in San Diego. “You’ll also have the advantage of two heads being better than one.”

Cons: Most trainees work at these clinics for a year or less. If you find someone you like, they’re eventually going to leave.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask about sliding scales or reduced cash fees

After losing her insurance, Aurand went back to her $350/hr psychiatrist and “explained the situation and asked if there was anything she could do,” she says. The psychiatrist agreed to see Aurand for $100 a visit as long as Aurand paid in cash. Aurand now sees the doctor every three months.

Many therapists offer a sliding scale based on a patient’s income. If you find a therapist you like, let him or her know your financial concerns and inquire about paying a lower fee. Another option is to check out Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, a nonprofit that lists therapists who offer a few weekly sessions at a lower rate. There’s a one-time $49 fee to join the collective; therapists in the collective charge $30 to $50 per session.

Pros: With a sliding scale, you get all the benefits of good, one-on-one therapy at a lower rate.

Cons: If you don’t reassess the financial arrangement occasionally, says Erika Martinez, a psychologist in private practice in Miami, Fla., “a therapist can become resentful or frustrated with a client,” especially if your income rises. To avoid this, discuss payments every few months to see if an adjustment is needed.

3. Consider group therapy

According to the American Psychological Association, group therapy works as well as individual therapy for many conditions, such as depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder — and for a fraction of the price. Martinez, for example, charges $150 an hour for individual therapy but only $65/hour for a group session.

Pros: There’s a lot of power in knowing you’re not alone. “When you share about your struggles in group where others have the same concerns, and you feel their empathy, that’s incredible,” says Martinez.

Cons: Some people aren’t comfortable speaking about emotional issues in a group. Also, you have to share the therapist’s attention with others.

4. Try online services & therapy apps

There are many online tools, including Breakthrough.com and Betterhelp.com that offer individual therapy sessions with licensed therapists over the phone or via a secure, HIPAA-compliant video for considerably less than an in-office visit. Rates vary, but if you search, you can find someone affordable.

Several California-based therapists (among the most expensive in the nation) on Breakthrough.com, for example, offer sessions for as low as $55 an hour. A note of caution: Choose someone licensed in your state. In case of an emergency, a therapist can only help secure needed services if you’re in the same state.

Pros: You can get high-quality, one-on-one therapy without ever having to leave your home, office, or pajamas — and at a reasonable cost.

Cons: Insurance often doesn’t cover phone or video sessions. “Also, you can’t fully see the nonverbal language of the therapist,” says Martinez. “And the Internet connection can be bad.”

Better Help App. Source: iTunes

Therapy apps — which allow you to text or chat with a licensed therapist — are becoming increasingly popular. Among the many available are Betterhelp.com, Talkspace.com, and iCounseling.com. Studies in both The Lancet and the Journal of Affective Disorders have shown that online therapy is an effective way to get help, and many services start for as little as $35 a week.

TalkSpace app. Source: iTunes

Pros: You can get help anytime, anywhere, even while sitting in a business meeting or on the subway. Also, it’s a good option for people afraid to walk into a therapist’s office.

Cons: Chat and text therapy, which are not covered by insurance, are inappropriate if you’re feeling suicidal or have severe mental illness. And some people find the technology alienating. “I tried one of these apps a few years ago,” says Aurand, “ and I just missed the human interaction of seeing a therapist in person.”

5. Tap into community resources for free or discounted counseling

You can find psychological and psychiatric care at public mental health clinics, which offer services for free or on a sliding scale, based on your income. Organizations devoted to helping survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse also offer a wide range of services, including free counseling. And religious organizations, such as Jewish Family Services, often offer therapy on a sliding scale. The best way to find resources in your community, says Richardson, is to dial the information hotline, 211, on your phone or look online at http://www.211.org.

When her PTSD flares up and she needs to talk to a therapist, Aurand supplements her psychiatrist visits by going to a community health clinic, the Ryan/Chelsea Clinton Community Health Center, which offers a sliding scale based on her income and charges $100-$125 a session.

Pros: You can find good care for low or no cost.

Cons: The demand at public health clinics is huge, and staffs are often overwhelmed. “There can be long waiting lists, especially for individual counseling,” says Richardson. “You may have better luck if you’re willing to join a group, such as anger management, that fits your needs.”

The bottom line

When it comes to finding affordable mental health care, persistence is the key. “It can be really daunting, especially if you’re not feeling well or don’t have insurance and think you can’t get help,” says Aurand. “But if you take the time and do your research, you’ll find someone who wants to help you. There are a lot of good therapists and psychiatrists out there, and it’s not necessarily all about the money.”

Laura Hilgers
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With the Fate of Public Service Loan Forgiveness Uncertain, Here are Tips for Confused Borrowers

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More than half a million Americans are working toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), a program that eliminates federal student loan debt for people with jobs in the public sector. But the proposed 2018 White House budget reportedly calls for ending PSLF for future borrowers — and even current participants’ status could be in doubt, with a lawsuit claiming the government has reversed previous assurances given to certain borrowers that their employment qualifies.

Final decisions have not yet been made in either scenario. But even with this uncertainty, there are steps both current borrowers and interested potential future PSLF participants can take to make themselves as secure as possible.

First, a quick primer on PSLF: The program began in October 2007 under George W. Bush, and it wipes clean the remaining federal student debt for qualifying borrowers who have made 120 payments, or 10 years’ worth (more information is available at StudentAid.gov/publicservice). So the earliest any public service worker could receive loan forgiveness under PSLF is October 2017.

“The idea is to avoid making debt a disincentive to choosing public service,” explains Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert and publisher at college scholarship site Cappex.com. “Think about a public defender. They might make $40,000 a year, but they’ll incur $120,000 in debt for law school. That debt-to-income ratio is impossible, so PSLF makes that career path possible — and attracts people who might have otherwise taken high-paying private-sector jobs.”

Public Service Loan Forgiveness — on the chopping block?

At this time, the biggest threat to the future of PSLF is President Donald Trump’s 2018 White House education budget proposal. The budget proposal would eliminate PSLF — citing costs — and replace all current income-based repayment/forgiveness plans with a single income-driven system. While existing borrowers would be grandfathered into PSLF, any new students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018, would not qualify. Still, all of this can happen only if Congress passes the budget — and it remains to be seen whether this section will pass as currently written in the proposal.

If you’re one of the more than 550,000 borrowers who is already working toward forgiveness — that is, you have already taken out at least one federal loan and/or you’ve completed school and are working in public service — the proposed cancellation of PSLF won’t affect you. Again, if the program is cut, it will impact only students who take out their first federal loans on or after July 1, 2018.

But even existing borrowers working toward PSLF can’t fully relax. As first reported by The New York Times, the Department of Education added a serious wrinkle by sending letters to people saying their employment was no longer eligible for PSLF, after the borrowers had confirmed with their loan servicer that they qualified. Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a lawsuit against the department, and the case is currently in progress.

That may leave many workers questioning whether or not they will ultimately be eligible for loan forgiveness after all — even if they work in the nonprofit or public sector. MagnifyMoney has spoken to experts and reviewed the rules of the program to help.

How Can I Be Sure I Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Qualifying for PSLF depends on meeting several specific requirements, so the first step in determining your eligibility is to make sure your loans and employment check all the boxes.

1. Your student loan must qualify for forgiveness.

PSLF provides forgiveness only for federal Direct Loans:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans—for parents and graduate or professional students
  • Direct Consolidation Loans

Note that loans made under other federal student loan programs may become eligible for PSLF if they’re consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan, but only payments toward that consolidated loan will count toward the 120-payment requirement. And, according to ED, parents who borrowed a Direct PLUS Loan “may qualify for forgiveness of the PLUS loan, if the parent borrower—not the student on whose behalf the loan was obtained—is employed by a public service organization.”

2. You must be enrolled in the right type of repayment plan.

You must be enrolled in one of the Direct Loan repayment plans, some of which are income-based. The umbrella term for these plans is income-driven repayment plans, which include the Pay As You Earn and Income-Based Repayment plans. While payments under other types of Direct Loan plans, like the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, do qualify and count toward your 120 payments, you’ll want to switch to an income-driven plan as soon as possible — because if you stick with a standard 10-year repayment, you’ll have paid off your loan in full after 10 years with nothing left to be forgiven under PSLF. Check the official PSLF site for more details. And note that private loans, including bank loans that are “federally guaranteed,” do not qualify.

3. You must make 120 on-time payments while employed full time by an eligible employer.

If you drop to part-time work, those payments won’t qualify. You must also be employed full time in public service at the time you apply for loan forgiveness and at the time the remaining balance on your eligible loans is forgiven. After you make your 120th payment you’ll need to submit the forgiveness application, which the Department of Education says will be available in September 2017.

4. Your employer must count as a public service organization.

This is the big one, and the most complicated step of the process for some borrowers to figure out. While the Education Department does address types of employers that fit under the PSLF program, there are some gray areas. Broadly, the types of employers that qualify include governmental groups, not-for-profit tax-exempt organizations known as 501(c)(3)s, and private not-for-profits. That last category includes military; public safety, health, education, and library services; and more.

Pro tip: Certify that your employer is included in the program every year.

Each year and whenever you change employers, you should fill out and send an Employment Certification form to FedLoan Servicing. The form isn’t required to be submitted on an annual basis, but it’s highly recommended to fill it out annually so there are no unhappy surprises down the road. It also helps you keep track of progress toward your 120 payments and gives you a chance to find out whether there is any change to your eligibility status.

What if you fear your job’s eligibility is unclear?

The validity of that FedLoan Servicing certification form is at the center of the lawsuit against the Department of Education. Although it’s important to have your employer’s eligibility certified by the department, the Education Department has said the form isn’t necessarily binding and the eligibility of employers can possibly change. As The New York Times put it, the department’s position implies “that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent … are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the [DOE] said.”

That puts existing borrowers in a tough spot, says Joseph Orsolini, CFP and president of College Aid Planners: “[PSLF] is sort of an all-or-nothing in that you can’t apply for the forgiveness until you’ve already done your 120 payments. So to have someone choose this career path and work for years only to be told, ‘never mind, you no longer qualify even though we said you did,’ it would be hard for them not to see that as reneging on a deal.”

That possibility is “terrifying” for Frances Harrell, 35, a preservation specialist who works for a nonprofit that supports small and medium-size libraries in caring for their collections. She completed a library graduate school program in 2013 and emerged with a total of about $125,000 in debt, including her undergraduate loans.

“Everyone I know is in public service, and we all saw the Times article [about the PSLF lawsuit] and flipped out,” says Harrell, who currently lives in Gainesville, Fla. “I felt like I had been dropped in a bucket of ice. We’re making life decisions based on this understanding, and it feels so precarious not to have any true confirmation that we’ll get the forgiveness in the end.”

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Razo)

Harrell has also dealt with confusion from loan servicers and other experts — and based on incorrect advice, she nearly consolidated her loans in a way that would have reset the clock on her years of payments.

Christopher Razo, 22, who this month will begin classes at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School, is relieved that he is enrolling before the 2018 uncertainty begins. Razo is one of Orsolini’s clients, and he plans to take advantage of PSLF while working toward his dream of becoming a state attorney.

“[PSLF] is complex as it is, so my initial thought was, ‘Wow, great timing for me that I’m starting in 2017,’” Razo says. “But I understand the program affects way more than just me. [PSLF] gives you comfort to pursue public-service goals without having to make your employment about the money. I’m optimistic that [lawmakers] will see the good in the program so it can continue.”

When in doubt: Follow the ‘3 phone call rule’

While borrowers may think their loan servicer has all of the answers, Harrell’s situation isn’t uncommon, says Orsolini. He recommends “the three phone call rule”: Call three times and ask the same question, documenting whom you spoke to and when.

“These programs are complicated — which is one of the issues that critics [of PSLF] bring up — and you don’t always get the right information,” Orsolini says. “Before you plan your whole life around the [first] answer you get, you have to double- and triple-check that it’s right.”

If you’re taking out your first qualifying loan on or after July 1, 2018, Orsolini says “there’s not much to do besides hurry up and wait” to see what happens with the White House budget as it relates to PSLF.

“The important thing to remember is that a proposal is just a proposal, and these don’t always see the light of day,” Orsolini adds. “It doesn’t do any good to be overly worried, but you’ll want to keep a close eye on the news.”

Other types of loan forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge:

PSLF isn’t the only option. But not all types of federal student loans offer the same forgiveness, cancellation, or discharge options. See the chart below and check out StudentEd.gov pages here and here for more details.

Still, borrowers should know Trump’s desire to streamline federal programs into a single option means some of these loan types and forgiveness plans could be changed or canceled as well.

Julianne Pepitone
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Julianne Pepitone is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julianne here

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How to Master the College Enrollment Process and Beat ‘Summer Melt’

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As many as 40 percent of college-bound students never make to campus their freshman year thanks to a phenomenon called “Summer Melt.” The term was coined by researcher Karen Arnold in 2009 to describe what happens when high school seniors get accepted into postsecondary institutions but still fail to enroll.

Students susceptible to summer melt, many of whom are often low-income and first generation college students, may get stuck on one or more of the steps required to complete enrollment. These steps can be as simple as filling out housing applications, taking placement tests and attending summer orientation — but the most common culprit behind summer melt is the financial aid process.

“A lot of the reason why students struggle over the summer is wrapped up in the process of accessing financial aid and following through with the financial aid that they are offered,” says researcher Lindsay Page , who co-authored the book, “Summer Melt: Supporting Low-Income Students Through the Transition to College”.

Making a mistake on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or missing important financial aid deadlines could mean little or no scholarship or grant money for at-risk low-income students, who may not be able to attend attend school without the aid.

Here are a few steps students and their families can take to make sure they don’t fall prey to summer melt.

Reach out to school counselors and nonprofits for help

Dejah Morales, 19, could easily have fallen into the summer melt trap. As a first generation college student, the East Boston, Mass. teen told MagnifyMoney she wasn’t sure how to navigate the college matriculation process. But rather than giving up, she sought help from nonprofit organizations with experts on hand to guide her.

“I wanted to go find help because I knew all of the paperwork that is filled out needs to be done correctly because it affects how much [money] you get for financial aid and anything that has to do with you living on campus,” Morales said.

She started by contacting her high school college admissions counselor, who turned her on to a program offered by Bottom Line, a Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit that helps low-income and first-generation students get through the college application process and provides additional support when students are in school. Bottom Line made sure she correctly completed the application process in order to become a student. The nonprofit also has offices in Chicago, New York City, and Worcester, Mass.

For first generation college students like Dejah Morales, 19, (pictured above) getting accepted to college is only half the battle. Completing the enrollment process is the next hurdle. Photo courtesy of Dejah Morales.

When it came to sorting outout the nitty-gritty details of securing financial aid, Dejah turned again to her high school’s resources. All Boston-area high schools are staffed with a counselor from uAspire, a nonprofit that helps college-bound students get the information and resources they need to complete the college admissions and financial aid process.

“Submitting your actual [income verification] paperwork to the school was the hard part. And then having to get my parents tax information was always a struggle especially my dad since he wasn’t living with me,” says Morales. The uAspire counselor assisted her through the entire process.

Even if your school doesn’t have dedicated college counselors on staff, there are many free programs dedicated to helping students navigate the college financial aid process. Check out national non-profits like the College Goal Sunday Program hosted by the National College Action Network, or Reach4Succes. Also, students and families can contact their school counselor’s office for access to local resources.

Know your national AND state FAFSA deadlines — and submit your forms early

In order to get access to financial aid — that includes federal grants like the Pell grant and federal student loans — students and families absolutely MUST fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

That’s why it is so crucial to stay on top of deadlines to submit your FAFSA. If you miss the deadline, your options for financing school become incredibly limited.

Check out our guide on how to get through the FAFSA smoothly >

What’s more, federal grants and scholarships — ‘free’ money for school that you don’t have to pay back — are typically doled out on a first come, first serve basis. That means the later you wait to submit the FAFSA application, the less likely those funds will be available to you — even if you qualify for the aid.

There are two deadlines to keep in mind: the national FAFSA deadline and your state FAFSA deadlines.

State FAFSA Deadlines:

Your state may have set a different FAFSA submission deadline to qualify for state-specific aid. Check here to find your state’s deadline.

Get your parents on board early

Joe Orsolini, CFP and founder of College Aid Planners, says the majority of financial aid issues he sees occur just weeks before the fall semester begins are a result of parents not getting involved early on. Even small mistakes, like entering an incorrect social security number or miscalculating a parent’s income, could mean delays in receiving aid.

“The parents never really sat down with the kid and asked, ‘Hey. where is the rest of this money coming from?’” says Orsolini.

You’ll need to have important documents like your parent’s taxes and income from the past two years and your social security number on hand to complete the FAFSA form. Those can be difficult to get hold of when you don’t live with one or both your parents or if your parents don’t fully understand what they are being asked to provide.

Easy mistakes that can throw off your FAFSA submission

Incomplete e-signature. The FAFSA can also trip you up on seemingly-easy steps, like providing an e-signature. If you don’t provide the e-signature correctly, or think you hit ‘submit’ but didn’t, you may waste valuable time waiting for an email that won’t come until you sign the form properly.

Missing mistakes on your Student Aid Report. About two weeks after you submit the form, you should receive a Student Aid Report which gives you basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid along with your Expected Family Contribution – what your family is expected to pay. The SAR also includes a four-digit Data Release Number (DRN), which you’ll need to allow your school to change certain information on your FAFSA.The SAR also lists your responses to the questions on your FAFSA, so be sure to review it and correct any mistakes.

Income verification notifications. After you receive your SAR, check to see if you’ve been flagged for ‘income verification’ as about 1/3 of students are required to verify their parent’s income with additional proof to complete the FAFSA process. The government usually follows up on students who are more likely to qualify for the federal Pell grant or other grant-based aid, Page says. If flagged for income verification, you’ll have to submit verification to each school you apply to, and the schools may have different paperwork and processes.

Missing deadlines in e-mail. When you create and submit the FAFSA, you give the Education Department your email address. The Education Department will email you, so you need to check the inbox of the email address you provided for correspondence. Create your FAFSA account using an email account you check regularly. Turn on your email notifications on your devices so you won’t miss any emails reminding you to submit your FAFSA form or letting you know if something went wrong somewhere in the process.

Formally accept your financial aid awards

After submitting your FAFSA, you will receive a student aid award letter from your college. But your work isn’t done there. You’ll have to sign online to officially accept the aid (student loans, grants, work-study programs, etc). Typically, that will be facilitated through your college’s website.

If you applied for federal work-study, this is when you’ll decide if accepting it is best for your circumstances. Work with a financial aid counselor at the college if you need help weighing the pros and cons of accepting or denying any aid you’ve been offered.

Don’t forget to sign your Master Promissory Note. In order to receive federal student loans, you must sign a Master Promissory Note. The MPN is a legal document you must sign saying you promise to repay your loan(s) and any accrued interest and fees to the U.S. Department of Education. If you miss this final step, you won’t actually get any of the federal loans you’ve been assigned.

Log into your school’s student portal ASAP

Income freshman likely have access to a student portal provided by their college or university. There, you’ll likely find a checklist of important steps to complete before you can officially enroll.

The list may include important financial aid actions like accepting grants and scholarships or signing your Master Promissory Note.

Contact your school’s financial aid counselors early

If you’re not sure what your next steps should be in the financial aid process, you should reach out to the school you’re planning to attend. Call or send an email to the financial aid or admissions offices at your school if you are concerned about receiving the aid you need or get stuck completing all of the steps in the process.

In the future, your college may be the one reaching out to you first, as Georgia State University did with it’s Fall 2016 freshman class. The school experimented using a “chatbot” to send a control group of incoming freshmen alerts about the enrollment process.

The chatbot ‘nudged’ students to remind them of things they needed to do, like signing their MPN, or accepting scholarships, but it could also respond to students’ questions or help them get in contact with a human if asked or if it couldn’t answer the question.

“We saw our melt rate drop from 18% to 14%,” says Scott Burke, the school’s’ Associate Vice President and Director of Undergraduate Admissions. “That was 300 more students in our freshman class in fall 2016 than in fall 2015.”

Don’t forget your high school resources

Like Morales, high school seniors can still ask their high school counselors for help after they’ve graduated. Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions you may have about your transcripts or other parts of the financial aid process.

High school counselors, like Morales’ uAspire counselor, are usually equipped to answer many of the questions you may have about the financial aid process or with the FAFSA, but they may not be able to answer more college-specific questions. For example, your high school counselor could help you navigate your way through Loan Entrance Counseling, but may not be able to explain the process you need to go through to accept any awarded scholarships or grants from the university.

If a high school counselor can’t answer your questions, they generally direct you to the proper entity or person who can.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Older Americans Are Getting Crushed by Debt, New MagnifyMoney Analysis Shows

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More American seniors are shouldering debt as they enter their retirement years, according to a new MagnifyMoney analysis of data from the latest University of Michigan Retirement Research Center Health and Retirement Study release. MagnifyMoney analyzed survey data to see whether debt causes financial frailty during retirement. We also spoke with financial experts who explained how seniors can rescue their retirements.

1 in 3 Americans 50 and older carry non-mortgage debt

The Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center surveys more than 20,000 participants age 50+ who answer questions about well-being. The survey covers financial topics including debt, income, and assets. Since 1990, the center has conducted the survey every other year. They released the 2014 panel of data in November 2016. MagnifyMoney analyzed the most recent release of the data to learn more about financial fitness among older Americans.

In an ideal retirement, retirees would have the financial resources necessary to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during their working years. Debt acts as an anchor on retiree balance sheets. Since interest rates on debts tend to rise faster than earnings from assets, debt has the power to destroy the balance sheets of seniors living on fixed incomes.

We found that nearly one-third (32%) of all Americans over age 50 carry non-mortgage debt from month to month. On average, those with debt carry $4,786 in credit card debt and $12,490 in total non-mortgage debt.

High-interest consumer debt erodes seniors’ ability to live a quality lifestyle, says John Ross, a Texarkana, Texas-based attorney specializing in elder law.

“From an elder law attorney perspective, we see a direct correlation between debt and institutional care,” Ross says. “Essentially, the more debt load, the less likely the person will have sufficient cash assets to cover medical care that is not provided by Medicare.”

Even worse, debt leads some retirees to skip paying for necessary expenses like quality food and medical care.

“The social aspect of being a responsible bill payer often leads the older debtor to forgo needed expenses to pay debts they cannot afford instead of considering viable options like bankruptcy,” says Devin Carroll, a Texarkana, Texas-based financial adviser specializing in Social Security and retirement.

Some older Americans may even be carrying debt that they don’t have the capacity to pay.

According to our analysis, 40% of all older Americans have credit card debt in excess of $5,000. More than one in five (22%) Americans age 50+ have more than $10,000 in credit card debt. On average, those with more than $10,000 in credit card debt couldn’t pay off their debt even by emptying their checking accounts.

Over a third of American seniors don’t have $1,000 in cash

It’s not just credit card debtors who struggle with financial frailty approaching retirement. Many older Americans have very little spending power. More than one-third (37%) of all Americans over age 50 have a checking account balance less than $1,000.

Low cash reserves don’t just mean limited spending power. They indicate that American seniors don’t have the liquidity to deal with financial hardships as they approach retirement. This is especially concerning because seniors are more likely than average to face high medical expenses. Over one in three (36%) Americans who experienced financial hardship classified it as an unexpected health expense, according to the Federal Reserve Board report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015. The median out-of-pocket health-related expense was $1,200.

Debt pushes seniors further from retirement goals

Seniors carrying credit card debt exhibit other signs of financial frailty. For example, seniors without credit card debt have an average net worth of $120,000. Those with credit card debt have a net worth of just $68,000, 43% less than those without credit card debt.

The concern isn’t just small portfolio values. For retirees with debt, credit card interest rates outpace expected performance on investment portfolios. Today the average credit card interest rate is 14%. That means American seniors who carry credit card debt (on average, $4,786) pay an average of $670 per year in interest charges. Meanwhile, the average investment portfolio earns no more than 8% per year. This means that older debtors will earn just $4,508 from their entire portfolio. Credit card interest eats up more than 15% of the nest egg income.

For some older Americans the problem runs even deeper. One in 10 American seniors has a checking account balance with less than $1,000 and carries credit card debt. This precarious position could leave some seniors unable to recover from larger financial setbacks.

Increased debt loads over time

High levels of consumer debt among older Americans are part of a sobering trend. According to research from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, in 1998, 36.94% of Americans age 56-61 carried debt. The mean value of their debt (in 2012 dollars) was $3,634.

Over time debt loads among pre-retiree age Americans are becoming even more unsustainable. Today 42% of Americans age 50-59 have debt, and their average debt burden is $17,623.

Credit card debt carries the most onerous interest rates, but it’s not the only type of debt people carry into retirement. According to research from the Urban Institute, in 2014, 32.2% of adults aged 68-72 carried debt in addition to a mortgage or a credit card, and 18% of Americans age 73-77 still have an auto loan.

Even student loan debt, a debt typically associated with millennials, is causing angst among seniors. According to the debt styles study from the Urban Institute, as of 2014, 2%-4% of adults aged 58 and older carried student loan debt. It’s a small proportion overall, but the burden is growing over time.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2004, 600,000 seniors over age 60 carried student loan debt. Today that number is 2.8 million. Back in 2004 Americans over age 60 had $6 billion in outstanding student loan debts. Today they owe $66.7 billion in student loans, more than 10 times what they owed in 2004. Not all that student debt came from seniors dragging their repayments out for 30-40 years. Almost three in four (73%) older student loan debtors carry some debt that benefits a child or grandchild.

Even co-signing student loans puts a retirement at risk. If the borrower cannot repay the loan on their own, then a retiree is on the hook for repayment. A co-signer’s assets that aren’t protected by federal law can be seized to repay a student loan in default. Because of that, Ross says, “We never advise a person to co-sign on a student loan. Never!”

How older Americans can manage debt

High debt loads and an impending retirement can make a reasonable retirement seem like a fairy tale. However, an effective debt strategy and some extra work make it possible to age on your own terms.

Focus on debt first.

Carroll suggests older workers should prioritize eliminating debt before saving for retirement. “Several studies have shown a direct correlation between debt and risk of institutionalization,” he says. Debt inhibits retirees from remodeling or paying for in-home care that could allow them to age in place.

Downsize your lifestyle

As a first step in eliminating debt, seniors should check all their expenses. Some may consider drastic measures like downsizing their home.

Cut off adult children

Even more important, seniors with debt may need to stop supporting adult children.

According to a 2015 Pew Center Research Poll, 61% of all American parents supported an adult child financially in the last 12 months. Nearly one in four (23%) helped their adult children with a recurring financial need.

Wanting to help children is natural, but it can leave seniors financially frail. It may even leave a parent unable to provide for themselves during retirement.

Work longer

Older workers can also eliminate debt by focusing on the income side of the equation. For many this will mean working a few years longer than average, but the extra work pays off twofold. First, eliminating debt reduces the need for cash during retirement. Second, working longer also allows seniors to delay taking Social Security benefits.

Working until age 67 compared to age 62 makes a meaningful difference in quality of life decades down the road. According to the Social Security Administration, workers who withdraw starting at age 62 received an average of $1,077 per month. Those who waited until age 67 received 27% more, $1,372 per month.

Retirees already receiving Social Security benefits have options, too. Able-bodied retirees can re-enter the workforce. Homeowners can consider renting out a room to a family member to increase income.

Consider every option

If earning more money isn’t realistic, a debt elimination strategy becomes even more important. Ross recommends that retirees should consider every option when facing debt, including bankruptcy. He explains, “A 65-year-old, healthy retiree would be well advised to pay down the high-interest debt now. Alternatively, an 85-year-old retiree facing significant health issues is better off filing bankruptcy or just defaulting on the debt. For the older person, their existing assets are a lifeline, and a good credit score is irrelevant.”

Don’t take on new debt

It’s also important to avoid taking on new debt during retirement. “The only exception,” Ross explains, “[is taking on] debt in the form of home equity for long-term medical care needs, but then only when all other reserves are depleted and the person has explored all forms of government assistance such as Medicaid and veterans benefits.”

Every senior’s financial situation differs, but if you’re facing financial stress before or during retirement, it pays to know your options. Conduct your research and consult with a financial adviser, an elder law attorney, or a credit counselor from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to choose what is right for your situation.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah at hannah@magnifymoney.com

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4 Lessons We Learned from Buying Our House at an Estate Sale

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Newlyweds Laura and Chris Mericas, pictured above, stumbled upon their dream home at an estate sale in Houston, Texas. “We were never wanting to buy a brand new house,” Laura told MagnifyMoney. “We knew that whatever house we got, we would want to do work.” Photo courtesy of Laura and Chris Mericas.

Around a year ago, newlyweds Laura and Chris Mericas were eager to purchase their first home in Houston, Texas. It didn’t take long before they realized homes in the neighborhoods they liked were out of their budget, so they put home buying on hold. Laura and Chris aren’t alone — like other millennials, they’re being priced out of markets across the country. Homeownership among millennials is lower than decades past: For those under 35, 39% owned homes in 1995, compared to 43% in 2005 and just 31% in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

On the off chance that he might come across a good deal, Chris, 26, continued to look at realtor websites. A year later, he happened upon a home in the Garden Oaks-Oak Forest neighborhood in Northwest Houston that piqued his interest. The property — a three-bedroom, one-bathroom fixer-upper — was listed as part of an estate sale, and it was within their maximum budget of $350,000. They made their move.

“We found the house on a Monday and had an offer accepted by Friday,” Chris says.

But the journey was far from smooth. Here’s what they learned along the way.

You can’t judge a house by its cover photo

Browsing through realtor photos of the house online, Laura wasn’t exactly impressed. Driven by the price point, however, they decided to give it a shot.

They were pleasantly surprised.

“Because it was an estate sale and because the people selling it weren’t super motivated [to stage the home for photos],” says Laura, 25. “For whatever reason, the pictures online were awful.”

The home had belonged to a man who was born in the house and purchased it after his parents died. He had rented the home out and planned on permanently moving into the house before he passed away. It was his children who decided to sell rather than continue renting it out.

Laura says she thinks because the home was a rental property, the children were even more eager to sell it. Brian Davis, a real estate investor, says family members eager to sell estate sale properties is common.

“The adult children typically want to sell the property as quickly as possible, since it will continue to accrue costs while it sits vacant,” he says. “Mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and maintenance all add up quickly. These adult children often don’t have as strong of an emotional attachment to the house as live-in owners do, and are less likely to be offended by low offers.”

Emotions will inevitably add complications

Despite the children not being attached to the home, Laura, a freelance journalist, and Chris, a mechanical engineer, still felt unsure how to act during negotiations.

“I think the fact that it was an estate sale made it different on our end,” Chris says. “In the negotiation phase, we were a little conflicted. We don’t want to belittle the fact that they just lost their father … but in addition to that, we wanted to play off the fact that they weren’t selling this house to buy another house. It was extra income that they weren’t expecting because their father died at a young age.”

There were other offers on the table, but most were from professional house flippers who were offering land value only, so theirs was accepted quickly.

A good home inspection is everything

Laura and Chris first found their new home in early March, and they closed on April 24. All in all, the whole process took around 50 days.

“It was a pretty stressful two weeks at the beginning, getting all of our paperwork and getting all of our employment records to get the loan,” Laura says. They both had strong credit scores and were already pre-approved for a mortgage because they had looked into buying a home a year earlier, which helped speed up the process.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“We had to scramble to get the inspection done,” Laura says. The couple initially asked for 10 days to get the appraisal done, but then asked for a two-day extension because a lot of inspection companies were closed for spring break.

After their initial offer was accepted, inspectors came to look at the home and found it was rife with problems: outdated and dangerous electrical wiring, plumbing troubles, and holes in the sewer line. The inspectors said it would cost around $20,000 for these repairs, so Laura and Chris sent a second offer that took these costs into consideration.

Their offer was accepted immediately.

Fixer-uppers require a lot of imagination — and cash

In most home sales, the property is tidy and beautifully staged. Laura and Chris discovered this wasn’t the case in their estate sale. “I feel like when people are trying to sell their house, they might try to spruce it up a bit in the months leading up to it,” Laura says. “There was definitely none of that. It was dirty. There was dog hair.”

So they used their imagination. Laura and Chris always envisioned purchasing a home in need of renovation and a little TLC, so the problems with the house didn’t faze them. “We were never wanting to buy a brand new house,” Laura says. “We knew that whatever house we got, we would want to do work.”

After completing around $20,000 in necessary home renovations after closing, Laura and Chris moved in early June. Although it’s been a whirlwind few months, the couple feels lucky to have swooped in on the estate sale at the perfect moment. They say every other comparable home they saw in the same neighborhood about $75,000 more than what they paid.

“We saw an opportunity to get into the neighborhood with a steal,” Laura says. “Down the street, there are people building enormous houses. We would never be able to get into this neighborhood at that price ever again.”

Tips for purchasing a home from an estate sale

Kevin Godfrey, an agent with Douglas Elliman and the owner of Henry Laurent Estate Sales, shares his advice for purchasing a home through an estate sale.

  1. Use the estate sale as the open house. Go into the rooms, check the water pressure, inspect the foundation, and discreetly take measurements. Take your time and make sure it’s what you are looking for. A standard open house lasts for two hours, while an estate sale lasts for two days — eight hours each.
  1. If you get in early enough, the owner won’t have an agent yet. Dealing directly with them and only using real estate attorneys to finalize the transaction can save the owner the typical 4% to 6% agent fee.
  1. As with any purchase of a home, you’ll still want to do all of the necessary inspections and search the property records for liens or encumbrances.
Jamie Friedlander
Jamie Friedlander |

Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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How These Student Loan Borrowers Are Getting Their Debt Dismissed in Court

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Student debt is only forgiven or discharged in special cases, but a new report by The New York Times might offer a glimmer of hope to some student loan borrowers struggling to manage their debt.

If a student loan lender or servicer can’t prove that they own the debt that they are attempting to collect from a consumer, it’s possible that the debt can be dismissed in court.  That’s what happened in a recent case profiled by New York Times reporters Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg involving private student lender National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, one of the nation’s largest owners of private loans.

National Collegiate sued dozens of former students who had defaulted on their private student loans. But in court National Collegiate failed to prove they owned the loans. This happens often when loans are sold to another lender, or otherwise handed to another account manager and paperwork gets lost. Ultimately, the courts dismissed the lawsuits, citing the fact that National Collegiate had no way of proving they owned the debts in the first place.

This isn’t always how the scales tip in cases against consumers for unpaid debts.

If consumer debts are left unpaid for an extended period of time, consumers can and often are taken to court by the companies they owe. Often, consumers don’t answer these lawsuits at all. And when lawsuits aren’t answered, judges usually rule in favor of the plaintiffs. With those judgments in place, companies can then push to have the consumers’ wages or federal benefits like Social Security garnished.

The outcomes in these National Collegiate lawsuits are proof of what can happen if consumers simply show up at court and try to fight back.

“Individuals trying to get rid of student loan debt should be proactive in demanding proof of ownership of the loan documents from the lender that is collecting or trying to enforce the [loan],” says Attorney Evelyn J. Pabon Figueroa, based in Orlando, Fla.

People who are going through the bankruptcy process and are attempting to have student loan debt discharged should also ask their lenders for proof that they own the debt, Figueroa says. If proof isn’t provided, they should dispute the debt.

Figueroa says in some cases borrowers should even stop making payments if they believe the lender doesn’t have the right documents to prove they own the loan. Instead, send the lender a debt verification letter, which asks lenders to provide proof that the debt belongs to a person. You can download a sample debt verification letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website.

The CFPB suggests asking these three questions in your letter:

  • Why a debt collector thinks you owe this debt.
  • The amount of the debt and how old it is.
  • Details about the debt collector’s authority to collect this money.

If the lender can’t provide proof, you should consider disputing the debt, either in court (if the lender has filed a lawsuit against you at that point) or through the three major credit bureaus (if the debts are appearing on your report and subsequently hurting your credit score).

How student lenders lose track of their debts

If the National Collegiate debacle sounds familiar, it should. It’s similar to the same issues mortgage lenders encountered during the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Lenders took borrowers to court to pursue unpaid mortgage debts, but when the lenders could not provide proof that the borrowers owed the debt, courts often ruled that the loans were not collectible. The lack of documentation was so pervasive that many borrowers intentionally defaulted on their mortgage loans on the off chance a lender could not prove they owned the debt.

National Collegiate is already anticipating that it will face the same problem — that borrowers will simply stop paying their debts — as word spreads of its inability to win lawsuits against borrowers. “[A]s news of the servicing issues and the Trusts’ inability to produce the documents needed to foreclose on loans spreads, the likelihood of more defaults rises,” the company said in a recent legal filing.

What to do if you’re sued by a student lender or debt collector

First, don’t panic. The last thing you want to do if you’re ever sued is admit in writing or verbally that you owe the debt. In the event the lender can’t prove they own the debt, this may come back to haunt you. By taking these few key steps, you can protect yourself both legally and financially in the event you’re served with a lawsuit from a lender:

  1. Ask them to verify the debt. If you’re already suspicious your loan lender may have lost your paperwork and can’t prove the debt, start by sending out a debt verification letter. If the lender doesn’t respond (give them 30-60 days), they must cease attempting to collect the debt. If they don’t stop, you’ll likely need to contact a lawyer. You may not need to hire one, but a quick consultation for legal advice for your best course of action will be well worth it.
  1. Never discuss the debt over the phone. If a lender or collection agency contacts you via phone before you are served a lawsuit or receive anything in the mail, be sure to get the the caller’s name, company, and license number. Once you have this information, it’s best to communicate via certified USPS mail to track and document that every correspondence has been received by the legitimate collections company and lender. If you end up in court, this is important, as it establishes a paper trail for your communications. (Email and electronic timestamps can easily be forged.) Keep in mind you don’t ever have to answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, and you have a legal right to tell debt collectors to stop contacting you entirely.
  1. Contact a lawyer. Lawsuits involving large sums of money are no small game to play in a courtroom. Most consumers don’t know the intricacies of the laws that actually protect them (and sometimes may not know how to read the contracts they signed), but a lawyer versed in contract law or one who specializes in bankruptcy can easily help dispute the debt and, if it’s valid, negotiate a settlement without ever stepping into a courtroom. The CFPB keeps a handy list of legal aid groups so you can find an affordable lawyer in your state.

 

Kelly Clay
Kelly Clay |

Kelly Clay is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kelly here

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