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Updated Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt statistics


The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has released new data, including updated information on Higher Education Loan Program (HELP, formerly HECS) debts.

The HELP data in the Taxation Statistics 201516 (available from Data.gov.au) is contained in Tables 2022. Although the release primarily relates to the 2015–16 financial year, HELP is one of the programs for which data for 2016–17 is also included. All figures are at 30 June for the relevant financial year. Figures have not been adjusted for inflation.  

Total amount of outstanding HELP debt

This release updates the total amount of outstanding HELP debt to $54.0 billion for the 2016–17 financial year, $9.3 billion above the estimate of$44.7 billion contained in the 2017–18 Budget (p. 10-29).

Figure 1: Total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2005–06 to 2016–17 financial years ($m) 

Figure 1 Total amount HELP debt

(Source: ATO, Taxation Statistics 201516, published 27 April 2018.) 

However, since HELP is an asset on the Government's balance sheet, the proportion of outstanding debt not expected to be repaid (DNER) is arguably more important than the overall size of the loan portfolio. The latest DNER estimate from the Australian Government Actuary is 25 per cent, or 18 per cent if vocational loans are not included (according to the Department of Education and Training Annual Report 2016–17 (p. 45)). An updated DNER estimate and projected HELP debt from 2017–18 is expected in the upcoming budget papers. More information about the budget treatment of HELP is available in the Parliamentary Budget Office’s paper on the HELP Impact on the Budget.

Number of people with outstanding HELP debt

The number of people with outstanding HELP debts reached 2.7 million in 2016–17, up from 2.5 million in 2015–16. This includes people who borrowed for Commonwealth supported (HECS-HELP) or full-fee (FEE-HELP) higher education qualifications, and vocational education qualifications (VET Student Loans, previously VET FEE-HELP). It also includes SA-HELP, for higher education students to defer the cost of their student services and amenities fees, and OS-HELP, for higher education students to defer the cost of eligible overseas study.

The number of people with HELP debts has increased fairly steadily since HELP was introduced as the replacement for HECS in 2005, as access to tertiary education and HELP loans has expanded. However, after 11 per cent growth per year from 2013–14 to 2015–16, growth during 2016–17 was down slightly to 8 per cent.

Figure 2: Total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2005–06 to 2016–17 financial years 

Figure 2 Total number of people outstanding HELP debt

(Source: ATO, Taxation Statistics 201516, published 27 April 2018.) 

Size of outstanding HELP debts

The number of debts above $50,000 also continued to grow in 2016–17, reaching 159,475, up from 125,650 in 2015–16. Among people with debts above $50,000, 14,046 have debts above $100,001, up from 10,996 in 2015–16.

The average amount of outstanding debt is much lower at $20,303, up from $19,396 in 2015–16 (rounded versions of these figures were published in the Department of Education and Training’s, Annual Report 2016–17 (p. 44), tabled last October, this ATO release publishes the underlying data for the first time).

Table 1: Number of people with outstanding HELP debt, by size of outstanding balance 2005–06 to 2016–17 financial years 

Outstanding HELP debt, years ending June    2006  2007    2008   2009 2010   2011  2012  2013  2014 2015   2016  2017
 Up to $10,000  649,355   638,162   635,236   629,541   657,876   696,577   723,714   768,048   799,772   827,484   851,313   893,574 
 $10,000.01 to $20,000  401,194   437,979   456,966   462,428   471,039   471,194   495,681   524,986   566,386   619,799   665,697   679,259 
 $20,000.01 to $30,000   111,094   132,786   166,941   200,610   224,071   252,253   269,787   296,244   338,949   403,064   473,584   509,360 
 $30,000.01 to $40,000   21,504   30,173   39,528   54,470   71,669   91,733   114,051   131,384   157,758   195,492   242,240   281,594 
 $40,000.01 to $50,000  4,106   6,923   10,406   15,131   21,976   31,679   42,338   53,877   67,468   84,863   110,455   135,795 
 Over $50,000   1,084   2,614   5,293   9,734   15,141    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a. 
 $50,000.01 to $60,000  n.a.   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   11,978   17,444   23,705   32,258   43,096   56,919   70,265 
 $60,000.01 to $70,000  n.a.   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   4,601   7,322   10,589   15,002   21,035   29,235   37,363 
 $70,000.01 to $80,000   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   2,429   3,507   5,009   7,433   10,629   15,164   19,996 
 $80,000.01 to $90,000   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   1,515   2,126   2,943   4,147   5,827   8,120   10,809 
 $90,000.01 to $100,000   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   1,034   1,391   1,851   2,527   3,563   5,216   6,996 
 $100,000.01 and above   n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.    n.a.   2,107   3,339   4,652   6,273   8,189   10,996   14,046 

(Source: ATO and Parliamentary Library calculations, Taxation Statistics 201516, published 27 April 2018.) 

Note amounts of debt up to $10,000 have been aggregated for Table 1—more detail is available in the source tables from the ATO. 

There are currently two Bills before Parliament which propose changes to HELP: The Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill 2018, which includes proposals to apply borrowing limits across all HELP loans and reduce the minimum income at which people with HELP debts are required to make repayments; and the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (VET Student Loan Debt Separation) Bill 2018, which proposes to separate VET Student Loan debts from HELP debts—one effect of this change would be to separate data about VET Student Loans for vocational qualifications from the HELP data from 1 July 2019.  

 

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