The implications of these findings for current borrowers are difficult to assess. Undergraduates are borrowing more, which would suggest more repayment problems, but the characteristics of borrowers have changed. Now that borrowing is no longer restricted to students with financial need, more middle- and high-income students are borrowing.
It is clear from this analysis, however, that the financial circumstances of bachelor’s degree recipients 10 years after graduation are not easy to predict. While loan payments remain constant, income, which is key to the ability to repay, does not. General economic conditions affect income over time, and career trajectories vary. The data show that students with high incomes soon after graduation are not necessarily those with the highest incomes 10 years later. On average, students did not have difficulty repaying their loans right away; problems came a number of years into repayment. For many, the problems were temporary, with about half of defaulters able to enter repayment again at a later date. In addition, most borrowers who deferred or had periods of forbearance were able to recover financially and did not default. This highlights the fact that when students and their families must make the decision to borrow, it is difficult for them to predict the actual burden of that debt.