School-loan reckoning: Seven million are in default

As of July, 6.9 million Americans with student loans hadn’t sent a payment to the government in at least 360 days, quarterly data from the Education Department showed this past week. That was up 6%, or 400,000 borrowers, from a year earlier.

That translates into about 17% of all borrowers with federal loans being severely delinquent, a share that would be even higher if borrowers currently in school who aren’t yet required to repay were excluded. Millions of other borrowers are months behind but haven’t hit the 360-day threshold that the government defines as a default.

Severe delinquencies are rising despite the sharp drop in unemployment over the past year and a big push by the Obama administration to enroll borrowers in programs that lower their monthly payments. Delinquencies on other types of debt such as credit cards and mortgages have fallen. And shorter-term defaults on student loans have declined over the past year.