Updated Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) debt statistics—2019–20


The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has released new data on the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP, formerly HECS) debts, covering the 2019–20 financial year.

This FlagPost summarises the ATO HELP data. Previous versions were published for the 2018–19 financial year release2017–18 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 $66.4 billion in 2019–20, down from $66.6 billion in 2018–19 (Figure 1 below). This is the first decline in total outstanding debt since the series began in 2005. However, much of this decline is attributable to fact that, unlike prior years, VET Student Loans debts and debtors are not included in the 2019–20 financial year data. This is because the Education and Other Legislation Amendment (VET Student Loan Debt Separation) Act 2018 separated the administration of VET Student Loan debts for vocational education and training students from HELP debts for higher education students from 1 July 2019.

Figure 1: total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2010–11 to 2019–20 financial years ($m)

Figure 1: total amount of outstanding HELP debt 2010–11 to 2019–20 financial years ($m)

(Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2019–20, Table 5, 28 October 2020) 

Since HELP is an asset on the Government’s balance sheet, ‘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 14.69 per cent for new loans incurred in 2019–20 (Department of Education, Skills and Employment Annual Report 2019–20, p. 43). However, this estimate is based on data to 30 June 2019, which does not account for the effects of COVID-19.

The ‘fair value’ of HELP debts, which calculates the value of the loans as a Government asset, taking into account DNER and the concessional nature of HELP loans, was estimated at $50.6 billion at 30 June 2020 in the 2020–21 budget papers (p. 9-45) (HELP debt indexation is set at the Consumer Price Index, which is generally lower than the Government’s cost of borrowing). However, this estimate includes VET Student Loans, and is therefore no longer precisely comparable to the total amount of outstanding debt figures provided above.

Number of people with outstanding HELP debt

The number of people with outstanding HELP debts was 2.9 million in 2019–20, down from 3.0 million in 2018–19 (Figure 2 below). As explained above, this largely reflects the omission of VET Student Loans borrowers from the 2019–20 data. However, even before 2019–20, the rate of increase in the number of borrowers was slowing, as discussed in last year’s HELP data FlagPost.

Figure 2: total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2010–11 to 2019–20 financial years (‘000)

Figure 2: total number of people with outstanding HELP debt 2010–11 to 2019–20 financial years (‘000)

(Source: ATO, HELP statistics 2019–20, Table 5, 28 October 2020) 

Size of outstanding HELP debts

Despite the decreases in the number of debtors and the overall size of outstanding debt, the number of debts above $50,000 continued to grow, reaching 256,053 in 2019–20, up from 244,201 in 
2018–19. Among people with debts above $50,000, 24,544 have debts above $100,001, up from 22,514 in 2018–19. More detail is provided in Table 1 below.

The average amount of outstanding debt is $23,280, up from $22,425 in 2018–19.

The time taken to repay HELP debts has also been rising, reaching 9.3 years in 2019–20, up from 9.2 years in 2018–19.

Table 1: average debt and number of people with outstanding HELP debt by size of outstanding balance 2010–11 to 2019–20 financial years

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Average debt $14,404 $15,191 $15,898 $16,925 $18,075 $19,396 $20,303 $21,557 $22,425 $23,280
Up to $10,000 696,577 723,714 768,048 799,772 827,484 851,313 893,574 910,732 910,821 841,645
$10,000.01 to $12,000 108,154 117,981 120,642 119,501 129,860 136,734 139,944 149,823 155,742 146,131
$12,000.01 to $14,000 98,392 103,094 104,464 119,592 129,003 142,151 141,177 153,444 152,355 137,501
$14,000.01 to $16,000 95,257 99,648 104,059 109,580 116,075 124,820 129,834 138,964 140,701 129,823
$16,000.01 to $18,000 91,046 94,334 104,921 110,775 121,207 122,157 124,045 131,439 133,832 123,403
$18,000.01 to $20,000 78,345 80,624 90,900 106,938 123,654 139,835 144,259 133,292 130,733 135,020
$20,000.01 to $30,000 252,253 269,787 296,244 338,949 403,064 473,584 509,360 548,229 563,779 544,486
$30,000.01 to $40,000 91,733 114,051 131,384 157,758 195,492 242,240 281,594 328,753 350,824 347,708
$40,000.01 to $50,000 31,679 42,338 53,877 67,468 84,863 110,455 135,795 169,781 189,044 189,955
$50,000.01 to $60,000 11,978 17,444 23,705 32,258 43,096 56,919 70,265 87,380 99,389 102,829
$60,000.01 to $70,000 4,601 7,322 10,589 15,002 21,035 29,235 37,363 50,425 58,675 60,708
$70,000.01 to $80,000 2,429 3,507 5,009 7,433 10,629 15,164 19,996 27,393 33,374 35,273
$80,000.01 to $90,000 1,515 2,126 2,943 4,147 5,827 8,120 10,809 14,850 18,772 20,400
$90,000.01 to $100,000 1,034 1,391 1,851 2,527 3,563 5,216 6,996 9,369 11,477 12,299
$100,000.01 and above 2,107 3,339 4,652 6,273 8,189 10,996 14,046 18,729 22,514 24,544

(Source: ATO and Parliamentary Library estimates, HELP statistics 2019–20, Table 5, 28 October 2020) 

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

 

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