$1.4 trillion. That's become the widely recognized value of outstanding student loans from the federal government and private lenders. That's about 9% of the gross domestic product.
Last summer it was $1.3 trillion. Then the whisper number was $1.4 trillion. Now it's no longer a whisper. But what do these numbers mean? Do they illuminate or obscure a larger problem?
"We do not have much good data on student loans," said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex.com. "What data we have is a patchwork of data sources, each of which has a different set of flaws."
Where student loans sit in relation to other types of consumer debt--credit cards, for example--and how they interact is typically not taken into account.
Department of Education (ED) spokesperson Alberto...