$1.4 Trillion in Student Loans–Bubble, Bubble, Bubble

April/28/2017 10:30AM
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How soon we forget. Every 20 years or so investment dementia sets in. Memories are wiped clean allowing us to make the same mistakes over and over again. “Tulipmania” in the 1600’s, the tech bubble, and the housing bubble. All forgotten. This is from these gentlemen explaining more of the housing bubble.

Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Edward J. Pinto is a consultant to the mortgage finance industry.

“Congressman Frank makes assertions about who was responsible, but he, like all those who hold his position, have no data. He says that the banks were responsible, but cannot challenge the numbers I have outlined above. These numbers show, beyond question, that it was government housing policy that caused the financial crisis. Even he has admitted it. In an interview on Larry Kudlow’s show in August 2010, he said “I hope by next year we’ll have abolished Fannie and Freddie … it was a great mistake to push lower-income people into housing they couldn’t afford and couldn’t really handle once they had it.”

Long-term pressure from Frank and his colleagues to expand home ownership connects government housing policies to both the housing bubble and the poor quality of the mortgages on which it is based. In 1992, Congress gave a new affordable housing “mission” to Fannie and Freddie, and authorized the Department of Housing and Urban Development to define its scope through regulations.

Shortly thereafter, Fannie Mae, under Chairman Jim Johnson, made its first “trillion-dollar commitment” to increase financing for affordable housing. What this meant for the quality of the mortgages that Fannie–and later Freddie–would buy has not become clear until now.

On a parallel track was the Community Reinvestment Act. New CRA regulations in 1995 required banks to demonstrate that they were making mortgage loans to underserved communities, which inevitably included borrowers whose credit standing did not qualify them for a conventional mortgage loan.

To meet this new requirement, insured banks–like the GSEs–had to reduce the quality of the mortgages they would make or acquire. As the enforcers of CRA, the regulators themselves were co-opted into this process, approving lending practices that they would otherwise have scorned. The erosion of traditional mortgage standards had begun.

Shortly after these new mandates went into effect, the nation’s homeownership rate–which had remained at about 64% since 1982–began to rise, increasing 3.3% from 64.2% in 1994 to 67.5% in 2000 under President Clinton, and an additional 1.7% during the Bush administration, before declining in 2007 to 67.8%. There is no reasonable explanation for this sudden spurt, other than a major change in the standards for granting a mortgage or a large increase in the amount of low-cost funding available for mortgages. The data suggest that it was both.

As might be expected, the market for subprime and Alt-A loans grew along with the rise in homeownership. Some have argued that unregulated groups such as mortgage brokers and bankers, working with subprime lenders such as Countrywide Financial, supplied both the easier credit and the lower loan standards, but the facts belie this.

From 1995 until 2004, subprime loans by the traditional subprime lenders like Countrywide averaged slightly more than 5% of all mortgages, far too few to account for the growth in either homeownership or the housing bubble. CRA loans, totaling 3% of originations, were also too few. Where, then, did all the low-quality loans come from?

From 1994 to 2003, Fannie and Freddie’s purchases of mortgages, as a percentage of all mortgage originations, increased from 37% to an all-time high of 57%, effectively cornering the conventional conforming market. With leverage ratios that averaged 75-to-1, and funds raised with implicit government backing, the GSEs were pouring money into the housing market. This in itself would have driven the housing bubble.

But it also appears that, perhaps as early as 1993, Fannie Mae began to offer easy financing terms and lowered its loan standards in order to meet congressionally mandated affordable housing goals and fulfill the company’s trillion-dollar commitment. For example, in each of the years 2000 and 2001, the first years for which data are available, 18% of Fannie’s originations–totaling $157 billion–were loans with FICO scores of less than 660 (the federal regulators’ cut-off point for defining subprime loans). There is no equivalent data available for Freddie, but it is likely that its purchases were proportionately the same, amounting to an estimated $120 billion.

These sums would have swamped originations by the traditional subprime lenders, which probably totaled $119 billion in these two years. Data for Alt-A loans before 2005 are unavailable, but the fact that that Fannie and Freddie now hold 60% of all outstanding Alt-A loans provides a strong indication of the purchases they were making for many earlier years.

The GSE’s purchases of all mortgages slowed in 2004, as they worked to overcome their accounting scandals, but in late 2004 they returned to the market with a vengeance. Late that year, their chairmen were telling meetings of mortgage originators that the GSEs were eager to purchase subprime and other nonprime loans.

This set off a frenzy of subprime and Alt-A mortgage origination, in which–as incredible as it seems–Fannie and Freddie were competing with Wall Street and one another for low-quality loans. Even when they were not the purchasers, the GSEs were Wall Street’s biggest customers, often buying the AAA tranches of subprime and Alt-A pools that Wall Street put together. By 2007 they held $227 billion (one in six loans) in these nonprime pools, and approximately $1.6 trillion in low-quality loans altogether.

From 2005 through 2007, the GSEs purchased over $1 trillion in subprime and Alt-A loans, driving up the housing bubble and driving down mortgage quality. During these years, HUD’s regulations required that 55% of all GSE purchases be affordable, including 25% made to low- and very low-income borrowers. Housing bubbles are nothing new. We and other countries have had them before. The reason that the most recent bubble created a worldwide financial crisis is that it was inflated with low-quality loans required by government mandate. The fact that the same government must now come to the rescue is no reason for gratitude.”

A little history lesson on the housing bubble that threw the country into recession.

Now this:

It’s 2017 and Americans are more burdened by student loan debt than ever.

You’ve probably heard the statistics: Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 44 million borrowers. That’s about $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. In fact, the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, up six percent from last year.

But how does this break down at a more granular level? Are student loans being used to attend public or private universities? Is it mostly from four-year or graduate degrees? What percentage of overall graduates carry debt? Are more grads utilizing private student loan consolidation and refinancing?

Let’s take a look.

BONUS: Get a PDF of these statistics to print out, save, or send

General student loan debt facts

First, let’s start with a general picture of the student loan debt landscape. The most recent reports indicate there is:

  • $1.41 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt
  • 44.2 million Americans with student loan debt
  • Student loan delinquency rate of 11.2% (90+ days delinquent or in default)
  • Average monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $351
  • Median monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years): $203

(Data via federalreserve.gov, newyorkfed.org here, here and here and clevelandfed.org here)

Let’s analyze a bubble and how they occur. We had the tech bubble. The average NASADAQ share was held for seven days, the volumes were immense and speculation was rampant. Based on the “greater fool theory:. Someone will always come along and pay more. In the housing bubble and the student loan bubble there is a variable that allows for artificial inflation. That variable was the US Government. The government that backs the mortgages and the student loans.

Politicians are oblivious to the bubble as it happens. When the collapse happens they move to the blame game. The euphoria which fuels the bubble is due to some cause other than the real culprit. In the mortgage bubble, it wasn’t Clinton, Bush and Barney Frank, it was the banks and Wall Street. In the Student Loan bubble it won’t be Obama and the incompetent college administrators who used the euphoria and easy money to drive up costs and tuitions, it will be Trump and the Republicans who are in ;power.

That’s how it works and has worked since the tulip bubble of the 1600’s . Google “tulipmania” and see how that ended. When you have “irregular” lending practices, irregular sales practices and financial engineering. The impossible is made possible. Every kid in America can go to college. Suddenly, those who have gone can’t pay back the $1.4 trillion in outstanding loans because the job market won’t support that. Boom, recession  and all that went with the bursting of the housing bubble. Then the blame game begins.

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