NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Fitch believes most student loan asset-backed securities (ABS) transactions remain well protected due to the government guarantee on Family Federal Education Program (FFELP) loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently reported that as many as 27% of all student loan borrowers are more than 30 days past due. Recent estimates mark outstanding student loans at $900 billion- $1 trillion. Fitch believes that the recent increase in past-due and defaulted student loans presents a risk to investors in private student loan ABS, but not those in ABS trusts backed by FFELP loans.
Several macroeconomic factors are putting pressure on student loan borrowers. The main ones are unemployment and underemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the current unemployment rate for people 20 to 24 years old at nearly 14% and for those 25 to 34 years old, 8.7%. Underemployment is difficult to measure for these demographics, but it is likely having a negative impact.
However, we believe that ABS trusts backed by FFELP loans are unlikely to be affected by employment trends, as they are at least 97% backed by the federal government. In addition, recent securitizations have been structured more robustly and many have backup servicing agreements.
We anticipate elevated pre-payments in FFELP transactions later this year attributable to the Special Direct Consolidation Loan program. This is a federal program scheduled to be active only in the first half of 2012 that allows consolidation and interest rate reductions designed to encourage repayment. The Department of Education is controlling access to this program and extending the offer only to certain borrowers, so it is difficult to estimate how many borrowers will consolidate.
While FFELP loans are largely protected from these trends, private student loan ABS trusts, especially those that were structured aggressively and with less stringent credit standards before the recession, are expected to continue experiencing high defaults and ratings pressure. Fitch will continue to monitor these political and macroeconomic factors as they evolve and will determine any impact they may have on ABS trusts.
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