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Is student loan debt the next housing crisis?

As more and more debt piles on, many make comparisons between this bubble and the one that burst a few years back: housing. But are they really that similar?

As we look back at five years since the financial and housing crisis began, we see another possible bubble forming: student loans. But can the two really be compared?

"Those are two different stories that are going to end in two different ways," says Betsy Mayotte, director of regulatory compliance at the nonprofit American Student Assistance.

The biggest difference, Mayotte says, is that in the case of the mortgage crisis, there was a physical asset to walk away from -- or for the bank to foreclose on.

"Unless the NSA has invented some other program that I'm not aware of, there really isn't a way to repossess a diploma," Mayotte jokes. On the plus side though, there are a lot more options available to those who are struggling to pay off their student loan debt -- including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and income-based repayment.

 

Those options might be hard to see when you feel like you are drowning in debt -- or even just plain old misinformed. "Just remember, it's very common for student loans to change loan holders, regardless if it is a federal or private loan," she says. The best way to check? If it is a federal loan, you can find out by doing a quick search on the National Student Loan Data System. Have a private loan? Check your credit report. If you still have questions and don't seem to be getting answers, keep pushing.

"If you walk away with one thing from this story," Mayotte says, "I hope you remember this: always call. I see a lot of people that assume that nothing can be done for their situation so they sort of bury their head in the sand. And there's almost always something that can be done to relieve someone's situation if they can't afford their debt."

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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