A recent survey about financial difficulties resulting from student debt found that in some categories, midcoast residents were harder hit by the repercussions of education loans than the rest of the state.

The “Student Lending Reform” survey released November 29 by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) polled 400 adults throughout the state about the financial challenges they face while trying to pay back higher education loans.

Among its findings, 60 percent of respondents said they have struggled to make a student loan repayment, while one in three said a repayment had prevented purchases of basic necessities such as food and clothing.

The survey included 56 respondents from the midcoast, comprising 14 percent of the total who participated online and by phone. For the purpose of the poll, Lake Research Partners, the firm contracted by MECEP to conduct the survey, classified the midcoast as Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc counties.

The survey presented a list of the most common impacts of student loans. Respondents were asked whether, “in the last few years,” they had put off purchases of necessities, struggled to pay a student loan, reduced the amount saved for retirement, delayed a major purchase such as a car or home, failed to pay another bill to afford a student loan repayment, skipped a medical appointment or prescription drug purchase, delayed starting a family, or lost wages, tax refunds, or Social Security payments.

Across the state, 50 percent of respondents said they had experienced four or more of the common impacts, 36 percent were affected by one to three, and 13 percent said none of the conditions applied to them. In the midcoast, 52 percent said they endured four or more of the impacts, 33 percent experienced one to three, while 15 percent said they had not experienced any.

“Generally speaking, education debt is harming residents of the midcoast at least as much as the state average, but in some cases it’s harming them more,” said Mario Moretto, MECEP communications director.

He noted the percent of midcoast residents was higher than the state average among respondents who said they had skipped another bill payment to make a monthly student loan repayment, 44 to 39 percent, as well as those who were unable at some point to buy necessities, 41 to 35 percent.

Borrowers from the region also said they experienced difficulties with loan servicing companies at a higher rate than the rest of Maine, 48 to 39 percent. “When it comes to problems with loan servicing companies, midcoast residents again described more dire results than the statewide average,” Moretto said.

Loan servicing companies are contracted by the federal government to conduct accounting and collection functions for the millions of students who rely on loans to help fund their college educations. They include American Education Services (AES), Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), CornerStone, EdFinancial Services, and Navient, the nation’s largest student loan servicing company overseeing approximately 12 million loans.

“Higher education is good for individuals and the economy, leading to higher overall lifetime earnings with benefits that ripple out from families to the greater community. But massive education debt is a drag on the economy, and it puts the brakes on those benefits for individuals, our state and the country,” Moretto said.

“Predatory practices by student loan servicers and some for-profit colleges just make matters worse,” he added. “The next legislature should tackle the problem head-on, and part of the solution must be accountability and oversight for the predatory actors who make it harder for Mainers to pay down their debt.”

More information about the MECEP survey is available online at www.mecep.org.