The recession seems to be bringing an almost constant stream of stories about people in all sorts of circumstances who are facing new and varied financial troubles. These stories could easily be read as a guide for "things not to do in a recession." The latest addition? "Default on your student loans."
While neglecting even one payment is a bad idea at any time, borrowers who have found themselves in default on their loans are facing an even more difficult time as a result of the credit freeze. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a story today about this particular aspect of the trouble facing participants in the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Currently, 19 of the nation's 35 guarantee agencies (the companies that service student loans in the FFEL program) lack a buyer for their student loans, including rehabilitated loans.
People who borrowed Stafford loans, defaulted on their payments, then agreed to "rehabilitate" their loans, or make consistent payments until the loan can be repackaged and resold and thus brought out of default, are finding that there's currently no market for their rehabilitated loans, so they're stuck in default status longer than necessary. This hurts their credit score and also keeps them from being eligible for federal student financial aid if they choose to go back to college, as many people affected by the recession are doing.
Currently, the federal government cannot buy up these loans, though legislation may be in the works to fix this. While students do have other options, such as consolidation through Direct Loans (the federal government loan program), students were typically pushed toward rehabilitation before the credit crunch, as it was most profitable for the lenders, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education article.
If you have a student loan currently in repayment, be sure to work with your lender if you're having trouble making payments. Look into consolidation loans, and ask about extended payment plans, in-school deferments (if you're planning to go back), loan forgiveness programs for certain career paths, and hardship forebearances. Student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, so if you default, you're stuck with the consequences--possibly for much longer than you'd think.