Going Back to School? Beware of Student Loan Debt And Their Collectors

At a protest last year at New York University, students called attention to their mounting debt by wearing T-shirts with the amount they owed scribbled across the front: $90,000; $75,000; $20,000.On the sidelines was a business consultant for the debt collection industry with a different take. ‘‘I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent — for our industry,’’ the consultant, Jerry Ashton, wrote in a column for a trade publication, InsideARM.com. ‘‘It was lip-smacking.’’

As the number of people taking out government-backed student loans has exploded, so has the number who have fallen at least 12 months behind in making payments — about 5.9 million people nationwide, up about a third in the last five years.

Nearly one in every six borrowers with a loan balance is in default! The amount of defaulted loans — $76 billion — is greater than the yearly tuition bill for all students at public two- and four-year colleges and universities, according to a survey of state education officials.