Income Share Agreement

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An Income Share Agreement (or ISA) is a United States financial structure in which an individual or organization gives a fixed amount of money to a recipient who, in exchange, agrees to pay back a percentage of his/her income for a fixed number of years. ISAs have gained prominence as a proposed alternative to the traditional student loan system in American higher education, and a number of private companies now offer ISAs for a variety of purposes, including as a funding source for college tuition.[1] ISAs are often considered to be less financially risky to a borrower than a traditional private student loan.

Characteristics[edit]

All Income Share Agreements involve an investor transferring funds to an individual in exchange for a fixed percentage of his/her future income for a fixed period of time.[2][3] Other features of Income Share Agreements could include a) an income exemption where the borrower does not owe anything below a certain income, and b) a buyout option, where the borrower pays a fee to exit the contract early. Some ISA investors offer different terms to different student based on their predicted likelihood of success, while others offer the same terms to all students. Potential groups of investors could include for-profit companies, altruistic non-profits, alumni groups, educational institutions, and local, state, or federal governments.[2]

History[edit]

Milton Friedman originally proposed the concept in 1955, in his essay The Role of Government in Education, in which he argued that students should be funded through an "equity investment" such that:

[Investors] could "buy" a share in an individual’s earning prospects: to advance him the funds needed to finance his training on condition that he agree to pay the lender a specified fraction of his future earnings. In this way, a lender would get back more than his initial investment from relatively successful individuals, which would compensate for the failure to recoup his original investment from the unsuccessful.

In the 1970s Yale University attempted a modified form of Friedman’s proposal with several cohorts of undergraduate students. At Yale, instead of making individual contracts for a fixed number of years, all members of the cohort agreed to pay back a percentage of earnings until the entire cohort’s balance had been paid off. However, the system left students frustrated that they were paying more than their fair share, by being forced to make payments on behalf of peers unwilling or unable to pay back their loans.[4]

In 2013, Oregon legislators passed a bill that would investigate Pay It Forward as a college financing scheme. The model would allow students to attend college tuition-free, and then pay a proportion of their incomes post-graduation to finance the cost of their studies. However, unlike the Income Share Agreement model, Pay It Forward would be publicly funded, and it would offer fixed percentage repayments across all institutions.[5]

Public debate over the Oregon plan led to renewed interest in equity-based funding models, including a prominent summit on Income Share Agreements at the New America Foundation[6] and a policy paper from the American Enterprise Institute. On April 9, 2014, Senator Marco Rubio announced the introduction of legislation that would 'broaden the use' of Income Share Agreements.[1][7]

Advantages[edit]

Proponents of ISAs argue that they provide significant benefits over existing models of college financing:

Efficient allocation of resources

Since investors have an incentive to allow students to pay lower shares of their income when they enroll in high quality, low-cost educational programs, ISAs lead to a more efficient allocation of financial resources between colleges.[2]

This allows students to go to universities and educational institutions with higher placement and completion rates. A significant problem right now is that students frequently "underplace," i.e. prefer to go to a less expensive school, even if career outcomes from such schools are worse. ISAs allow a way to reward going to schools that provide more value and better career outcomes.

Insurance and downside protection

ISAs reduce risk for students,[8] and therefore act as an insurance policy for graduates with low earnings:

[With an ordinary student loan] my nominal monthly payment is fixed but my income could change or go away altogether (making certainty just a monthly repetition of bad news). With an Income Share Agreement the converse is true: I don’t know what my nominal monthly payment will be over the entire term, or how much I will pay overall, but I do know that I will always be able to afford it.[9]

This is a non-trivial benefit, since we know, based on current studies that student loans can impact both short term career outcomes and long term wealth.[10] For instance, recent articles indicate that student loans make it difficult for individuals to participate in the stock market to build long term wealth:

“My money is spent servicing student loans,” said Marcus Wallace, a 25-year-old waiter in Washington, D.C. Until that debt is reduced, he explained, the great stock market bull run will have to go on without him.[11]

Lower job search costs

Research indicates that income based repayments make students' career outcomes more efficient by making the job search process less costly.[12][13] If you are not worried about how to make your next repayment immediately, you are free to search for a job that is a better fit for your skills and can help you grow your career.

Career development augmentation

Income share agreements align the incentives of investors to that of the student—i.e., both would like the student to do well in the job market. This creates an opening to combine ISA financing with career enhancement tools like career mentoring and networking support. Such a model can also help overcome many of the common concerns with ISAs (listed below).

Students that need education finance the most (including low income, minority, and first generation students) also typically have limited social capital like family-based networks and career mentors that are frequently critical to success in the job market. ISAs augmented with career development provide a nice way to overcome such limitations.[14][15]

Common concerns[edit]

Indentured servitude[edit]

One of the most frequently cited concerns with Income Share Agreements is that they are a form of indentured servitude. Critics argue that because students owe a percentage of their income, the investor therefore own a piece of the student. For instance, Kevin Roose wrote in New York magazine that ISA companies give "young people in the post-crash economy the chance to indenture themselves to patrons in the investor class."[16]

However, advocates of ISAs contend that since students have no legal obligation to work in a particular industry, and since it is illegal for investors to pressure them into a certain career, students are no more “indentured” than those with a student loan. In fact, someone with a traditional student loan has less choice than someone with an ISA, because the student with a loan needs to be in a career where they make at least enough income to cover their monthly payment, whereas someone with an ISA can choose to never make any money, and would never owe the investor a dime.[2][9]

Uncaptured positive externalities[edit]

Since Income Share Agreements are priced based on likely economic success, critics argue that programs that are not economically viable but still valuable to society may not receive ISAs. For instance, a Masters of Social Work is an expensive degree, but social workers often are not paid very much. Therefore, investors may not offer Income Share Agreements for social workers given current tuition rates. However, the same argument could be made for those with certain majors in the liberal arts. This risk is mitigated so long as other financing options are available, such as subsidized loans and grants from the federal government.[2]

Discrimination[edit]

As of now,[when?] there are no documented cases of discrimination based on race or gender with ISA agreements, but some worry that should ISAs become a more popular model, the potential for discrimination could increase.[2] While there are already anti-discrimination laws in most financial markets that would likely apply to ISA investors, the question, as of now, has not been completely resolved. Some advocates argue that ISAs are less discriminatory as compared to loans:

Even when everyone receives the same interest rate, loans discriminate intensely on the dimension that really matters: affordability. Under a loan program with the same terms for all borrowers, a group who earns less than another despite having identical qualifications ends up with proportionally lower income after paying off that loan than the other group. To the extent that any systematic difference in income between two groups is unfair, loans in effect amplify the unfairness. If ISAs pool groups with similar qualifications but different income potential, then ISAs will partially address the unfairness that loans amplify.[2]

Creaming[edit]

Some worry that ISAs would have the effect of "creaming" the best students and only fund elite institutions. However, ISAs should theoretically fund all economically viable programs (that is the future income of their graduates proportionately aligns with the cost of the degree), so the only way that could be true is if the vast majority of institutions are not economically viable.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "What Would Happen if Investments in People Succeeded". 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Investing in Value, Sharing Risk" (PDF). 
  3. ^ "Home". Jain Family Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-24. 
  4. ^ Palacios Lleras, Miguel (2004). Investing in Human Capital: A Capital Markets Approach to Student Funding. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 126. ISBN 0-521-82840-6. 
  5. ^ "Can 'pay it forward' pay for college?". 
  6. ^ "A Future With Zero Education Debt". 
  7. ^ Shindler, Michael (March 15, 2016). "Students Need Investors, Not Lenders". Real Clear Policy. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  8. ^ Shindler, Michael (March 15, 2016). "Students Need Investors, Not Lenders". Real Clear Policy. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "You Want a Piece of Me?". 
  10. ^ Batkeyev, Birzhan; Krishnan, Karthik; Nandy, Debarshi (March 2016). "Student Debt and Personal Portfolio Risk". Northeastern U. D’Amore-McKim School of Business Research Paper No. 2777062. SSRN 2777062Freely accessible. 
  11. ^ Otani, Akane; Dieterich, Chris (2018-01-04). "As Dow Tops 25000, Individual Investors Sit It Out". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2018-01-05. 
  12. ^ Herkenhoff, Kyle; Phillips, Gordon; Cohen-Cole, Ethan (May 2016). "How Credit Constraints Impact Job Finding Rates, Sorting & Aggregate Output". NBER Working Paper No. 22274. doi:10.3386/w22274. 
  13. ^ Weidner, Justin (November 2016). "Does Student Debt Reduce Earnings?" (PDF). Working Paper. 
  14. ^ "A New Solution to the Student Loan Crisis: Income Share Agreements Augmented with Career Mentorship". 
  15. ^ "How It Works - MentorWorks". MentorWorks. Retrieved 2018-01-05. 
  16. ^ "In the New Economy, Everyone Is an Indentured TaskRabbit".