JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Department of Higher Education reported student loan default rates are on the rise.
The department released figures that showed 4,617 borrowers from across the state are in default on their student loans -- up 40 percent since 2008.
State officials attributed this increase to the current economic climate and high unemployment rates.
"When people lose their jobs or are working less, they typically have to prioritize things like housing and food. Sometimes they're not able to make a payment like a student loan payment--that might lead to create a default," said Paul Wagner, deputy commissioner of the state's higher education department.
Raymond Bayer, director of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, agreed with Wagner that loan default rates can be directly linked to unemployment rates. He also said rates have been effected by graduates unable to find jobs. With no income, they are unable to make loan payments.
Both officials recommended that if borrowers are fearful of defaulting, they should contact their lender immediately.
"If some one is having trouble making their payment they need to contact their lender and see what arrangements can keep you out of default. Lenders want to prevent default too," Wagner said.
Bayer said that borrowers should be aware that phone calls from lenders aren't always "pay or else calls."
"We want to help you and find out why you're not paying and what options you might qualify for," Bayer said.
Wagner said MOHELA has several options available to prevent default. Unemployment deferment and income contingent repayment options allow borrowers to either defer or freeze payments based on decreased income or job loss.
Although rates have increased, Wagner said they've been higher in the past. He also added, "The vast majority of students do repay their loans and repay them on time."
Even if college graduates file for bankruptcy, they are still repsonsible for paying off their student loans.