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Updated Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt statistics—2018–19


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

This FlagPost summarises the ATO HELP data. Previous versions were published for the 2017–18 financial year release, and the 2016–17 financial year release.  

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 nearly $67.0 billion in 2018–19, up from $62.0 billion in 2017–18.

Figure 1: Total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2009–10 to 2018–19 financial years ($m) 

Total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2009�€“10 to 2018�€“19 financial years ($m)

(Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2018-19, Table 6, updated 24 October 2019.) 

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 15.76 per cent (according to the Department of Education Annual Report 2018–19 (p. 32)). This is a significant decline from the DNER estimate of 18 per cent provided last year (according to the then Department of Education and Training’s Annual Report 2017–18 (p. 44)), which the Department attributes partly to the introduction of new HELP repayment rates and thresholds, including a lower minimum repayment threshold of $45,881, from 2019–20.

The ‘fair value’ of HELP debts, which calculates the value of the loans as an asset, taking into account DNER and the concessional nature of HELP loans (as HELP debt indexation is set at the Consumer Price Index, which is generally lower than the Government’s cost of borrowing), was estimated at $46.1 billion at 30 June 2019 in the 2019–20 Budget papers (p. 6-20).

Number of people with outstanding HELP debt

The number of people with outstanding HELP debts reached 3.0 million in 2018–19, up from 2.9 million in 2017–18. 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.

After rapid growth in the number of people with outstanding debt in 2013–14 (10 per cent), 2014–15 (11 per cent) and 2015–16 (11 per cent), growth during 2016–17 was down slightly to 8 per cent, and remained at 8 per cent for 2017–18. In 2018–19, the number of people with HELP debts continued to grow, but only by 3 per cent.

This is likely at least partly attributable to the stricter provider compliance requirements that have applied to student loans for VET since the introduction of VET Student Loans as a replacement for VET FEE-HELP in 2017. The number of unique students accessing VET FEE-HELP peaked at 272,026 in 2015. In comparison, 57,874 unique students used the replacement program, VET Student Loans, in 2018.

Figure 2: Total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2009–10 to 2018–19 financial years 

Total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2009�€“10 to 2018�€“19 financial years

(Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2018-19, Table 6, updated 24 October 2019.) 

Size of outstanding HELP debts

The number of debts above $50,000 also continued to grow in 2018–19, reaching 244,201, up from 208,146 in 2017–18. Among people with debts above $50,000, 22,514 have debts above $100,001, up from 18,729 in 2017–18. More detail is provided in Table 1 below.

The average amount of outstanding debt is much lower at $22,425, up from $21,557 in 2017–18.

The time taken to repay HELP debts has also been steadily rising, reaching 9.2 years in 2018–19, up from 9.1 years in 2017–18.

Table 1: Number of people with outstanding HELP debt, by size of outstanding balance 2009–10 to 2018–19 financial years 

Outstanding
HELP debt
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Up to
$10,000
657,876 696,577 723,714 768,048 799,772 827,484 851,313 893,574 910,732 910,821
$10,000.01
to $20,000
471,039 471,194 495,681 524,986 566,386 619,799 665,697 679,259 706,962 713,363
$20,000.01
to $30,000
224,071 252,253 269,787 296,244 338,949 403,064 473,584 509,360 548,229 563,779
$30,000.01
to $40,000
71,669 91,733 114,051 131,384 157,758 195,492 242,240 281,594 328,753 350,824
$40,000.01
to $50,000
21,976 31,679 42,338 53,877 67,468 84,863 110,455 135,795 169,781 189,044
Over
$50,000
15,141 n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.
$50,000.01
to $60,000
n.a. 11,978 17,444 23,705 32,258 43,096 56,919 70,265 87,380 99,389
$60,000.01
to $70,000
n.a. 4,601 7,322 10,589 15,002 21,035 29,235 37,363 50,425 58,675
$70,000.01
to $80,000
n.a. 2,429 3,507 5,009 7,433 10,629 15,164 19,996 27,393 33,374
$80,000.01
to $90,000
n.a. 1,515 2,126 2,943 4,147 5,827 8,120 10,809 14,850 18,772
$90,000.01
to $100,000
n.a. 1,034 1,391 1,851 2,527 3,563 5,216 6,996 9,369 11,477
$100,000.01
and above
n.a. 2,107 3,339 4,652 6,273 8,189 10,996 14,046 18,729 22,514

(Source: ATO and Parliamentary Library calculations, HELP statistics 2018-19, Table 5, updated 24 October 2019.) 

Note amounts of debt up to $20,000 have been aggregated for Table 1—more detail is available in the source tables from the ATO.

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