(Forbes) With interest rates on federal student loans set to double on July 1, Congress is considering new legislation that would prevent the increase. But there’s a problem—no one seems to know how much the student loan program costs in the first place.

According to the official accounting ledgers, the federal government earns tens of billions of dollars in profit from running the student loan program. But economists, including those at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), strongly disagree. Government accounting standards dramatically underestimate the cost of student loans, and Congress appears happy to go along.

The student loan program is not an isolated case of budgetary malfeasance. It’s part of a larger pattern in which governments at all levels use accounting tricks to hide the full cost of programs. The problem affects a wide range of spending, from public pensions to flood insurance.

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