Covering Innovation & Inequality in Education

Hidden Debt Trap

Contribute to The Hechinger Report's investigation of college debt

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Ask someone about student loan debt in America, and they will most likely think of federal loans. But there are many other ways students can end up in debt that can push them and their families to the brink of financial ruin. We’d like your help bringing them to light.

We have begun to investigate various forms of what we’re calling “hidden debt,” since it flies below most public radars. For example, we have found student loans sold to collection agencies, sometimes because of a state policy, which can increase a student’s original bill by thousands of dollars. In other cases, unpaid tuition sent to collections has landed a student in court. The collection agencies and in some cases the colleges and or even the state government itself will file lawsuits against students for overdue bills.

Tell us your story

If you have experience with college debt outside the federal student loans program — such as loans from your college or from a nontraditional lender — or want to tell the Hechinger Report about a lending practice that does not seem normal, leave as much detail as you can in the form.

And we have spoken with many students who don’t realize what happens if you don’t pay your college tuition, even if the reason is a health care emergency or sudden unemployment. Often, students requesting college transcripts find that even when they owe as little as $25, the college won’t release them until they pay up. And many employers don’t accept an unofficial transcript.
The backdrop to this crisis is the steady rise in college tuition. Increasingly, decent-paying jobs require a post-secondary degree, while the cost of college continues to rise. The result is that more students and their families are taking on debt to try to ensure a stable financial future.
The hidden aspects of student debt mean that when the federal government calculates average student loan debt, the calculation misses the plight of thousands of students. In reality, current student loan debt is hundreds of millions of dollars higher than what’s usually cited in the media.
The Hechinger Report has been investigating this hidden debt and we need your help. If you have experience with college debt outside federal student loans — such as loans from your college or from a private lender, or an unpaid balance causing your college to withhold your academic transcript, we want to hear about it. Use the form on this page.
You can use the same form to tell The Hechinger Report newsroom about a lending practice that does not seem normal. Leave as much detail as you can in the form.
© 2021 The Hechinger Report.