SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The number of students who are unable to pay back their college loans is skyrocketing.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, at least half of the students at 1,000 colleges and trade schools have defaulted or failed to pay down even $1 of their principal loan within seven years.

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Suzanne Martindale of Consumers Union said, “It wasn’t surprising because we hear all too often from students and families that they are struggling.”

Even so, the numbers are unprecedented.

Martindale said, “This is really a repayment crisis.”

San Francisco State University graduate student Charlotte Hummer says struggling to pay off student debt is just normal these days.

Hummer said she thinks about her student loans quite a bit.

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She said, “Part of getting a degree — getting an education — is realizing you’re going to be in debt for most of the rest of your life.”

But Martindale says the payback problem is made worse by loan servicing companies like Navient, which was charged Wednesday with failing to help students manage their payments.

“The servicing company wasn’t helping people with even the most basic information about repayment plans, about how to lower their payments…,” Martindale said.

And Hummer fear help isn’t on the way.

“It’s not going to improve. If anything — looking at the…political climate — it’s going to get a h*** of a lot worse,” Hummer said.

Navient is disputing the charges and says it “welcomes clear guidelines on student loan servicing standards.”

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The company is the largest student loan servicing company in the nation.