Tasha Younger has been one of the hidden statistics in the growing number of graduates and former students overburdened with education loans.
The 38-year-old mother of two — still trying to pay off her loans a decade after quitting nursing school — has been delinquent on her monthly payments but never in default.
Statistics typically show how many students simply fail to make payments. But a recent survey has found that for every person who defaults on student loans, at least two more are like Younger: late or short on payments.
In Younger’s case, she was late for a few months and then was able to make interest-only payments for a while, which extended the term of the loans.
The study conducted by the nonprofit Institute of Higher Education Policy sheds light on a segment of the borrowing population that is usually ignored — and it is a large portion. Among all students borrowing to pay for their education, 1 in 4 is having trouble making full monthly payments, the study said.
"We talk endlessly about default rates and what that means for colleges, but not about delinquency," said Alisa Cunningham, coauthor of the report. "It’s a really big problem, and I’m not sure that anybody really knew the extent of it."
Borrowers are delinquent when they are behind on payments, which can affect their ability to get a good rate on any future loan, including auto loans and mortgages, and will affect their credit reports.
For Younger, the problems started as soon as she left school. She couldn’t find a job that paid enough to cover basic expenses plus the loan payments.
"It began to overwhelm me," Younger said. "Do I pay my electric bill or pay back my loans? I’m not able to make my payments because I need four new tires to drive my children around."
Being able to defer principle payments for a while kept her from defaulting. Now, as an administrative analyst for an insurance company, Younger has been able to catch up and continue making full payments.
The number of college graduates with debt increased from less than half in 1993 to two-thirds in 2008, according to the Education Department. And the average debt is going up sharply — to $23,200 in 2008 from $18,650 four years earlier.