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Millions of consumers across the country have outstanding student loan debts in their name and therefore owe as much as tens of thousands of dollars on them. Now, many of those loans that have fallen into default are being chased by debt collection agencies.

Debt collectors are now more doggedly pursuing defaulted student loans, and it’s making up a big business for them, according to a report from the New York Times. In all, the number of people whose student loan obligations have fallen more than 12 months behind on payments has risen to 5.9 million people, an increase of roughly 33 percent from the same figure five years ago.

That constitutes about one in every six student loan borrowers, and the total value of those defaulted loans now stands at $76 billion, the report said. That figure is larger than the total cost of tuition for every student at every two- and four-year college and university nationwide.

The U.S. Department of Education is now taking a more active role in trying to collect on these defaulted debts, paying more than $1.4 billion last year to organizations that will help them do so, the report said.

Experts say that many consumers who are being pursued by debt collection agencies may not be aware of the federal government’s student loan forgiveness rules, which allow them to pay just 15 percent of their discretionary income over 25 years before having the remainder of the debt obligation discharged, the report said. But the alternative to not participating may, in many cases, be willfully defaulting, which can carry massive penalties and cause myriad credit-related problems for those borrowers.

Studies have shown that the average college student now leaves school with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, not only as a result of their education loans, but also due to credit card balances and other obligations such as car payments. These can put many young adults in a serious hole, particularly if they have private student loan debts, which typically carry more stringent repayment rules than those from the government.

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