Student debt and delinquencies soar

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(MoneyWatch) Severely delinquent and charged off student loans soared 36 percent to $3 billion, according to the latest National Consumer Credit Trends report by Equifax. Outstanding student debt also jumped by double digits to $852.7 billion from $746.3 billion a year ago -- a 14 percent hike.

The number of student loans outstanding rose slightly less -- 13 percent, according to the latest Equifax report.

"Driven heavily by economic factors, including unemployed or under-employed consumers going back to school along with the rising cost of tuition, student lending has demonstrated consistent, year-over-year growth," said Equifax Chief Economist Amy Crews Cutts. "Continued weakness in labor markets is limiting work options once people graduate or quit their programs, leading to a steady rise in delinquencies and loan write-offs."

By contrast, seriously delinquent home loans have fallen by double digits, according to the same report. Specifically:

-- Severely delinquent balances on home equity lines of credit fell 28 percent from February 2012 to February 2013, to $10 billion from $14 billion.

-- Severely delinquent balances on home equity loans declined 25 percent to $5 billion from $6.6 billion.

-- Severely delinquent balances on first mortgages dropped 23 percent, to $375 billion from $490 billion.

Loans are generally considered seriously delinquent when the borrower has failed to pay for 90 days past the payment's due date.

Auto lending is also picking up, the Equifax report revealed, with total balances rising to $789 billion, a 50-month high.

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