Washington state student loan borrowers collectively owe $24.4 billion in student loan debt, an increase of more than 35 percent compared to a decade ago.
A report released Thursday by Attorney General Bob Furgerson's office seeks to bring attention to large numbers of student loan borrowers as the attorney general peruses legislation aimed at limiting deceptive college loan practices and generating protections for borrowers.
There are currently roughly 800,000 student loan borrowers in Washington. Of those with student loans, most average $23,000. But student loan debt has the highest delinquency rate of any form of consumer debt and the delinquency rate has nearly doubled in the last five years for Washington borrowers claims the report.
The report also found that students from low-income backgrounds are more likely to have trouble repaying loans. Borrowers making less than $40,000 from 2006 to 2011 had a 35 percent default rate, while the rate of those making $60,000 to $80,000 was almost half that. The report also found that student loan borrowers age 60 and over are on the rise.
Black graduates tend to have over $7,000 more debt upon graduation than their white classmates. Four years after graduation, that gap widens to nearly $25,000 more debt. Hispanic borrowers have about the same level of debt as white graduates but are more than twice as likely to default, claims the report.
Ferguson hopes to address many of these discrepancies and the overall burden student loans place on Washingtonians by supporting a Washington Student Loan Bill of Rights. There is currently a House (HB 1440) and Senate version (SB 6029) of a Student Loan Bill of Rights.
The bills would provide basic guarantees to student borrowers, including the assurance their payments are credited within one business day; requests for information will be responded to promptly in writing and fees assessed due to servicer error will be refunded.
"There are too many student loan borrowers in Washington who are struggling to make payments," said Ferguson. "Pursuing an education should not force students to take on insurmountable debt. We must do more to protect Washingtonians who feel like higher education equals a debt sentence."