Federal parent plus loans: helping or hurting?

A federal loan program designed to help parents pay for their children’s college costs may actually be hurting the families it is supposed to help, a report co-published by ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education found.

The federal government has approved nearly twice as many Parent Plus loans and for larger amounts than a decade ago. But the program does not look at the parents ability to pay the money back. It doesn’t check income, employment status or other debt, this report found.


“Right now, the government runs the program by the seat of its pants,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of two authoritative financial-aid websites. “You do have some parents who are borrowing $100,000 or more for their children’s college education who are getting in completely over their heads. Those parents are going to default, and their lives are going to be ruined, because they were allowed to borrow far more than is rational.”


Parent Plus loans do not have a cap on the amount parents can borrow but are nearly impossible to get rid of, even in bankruptcy, if the borrower is in over his or her head.

The lesson to parents seems to be that you’re on your own to determine how much of a loan you can afford, regardless of how much the government may be willing to give you.