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House Votes to Postpone PLUS Auction

April 1, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a "technical corrections" bill that would make several changes to the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed last year.  Most of the changes are minor corrections, such as fixing typos or clarifying language, but the bill also includes two major fixes that would help borrowers if signed into law.

One of the corrections taken up in the bill was a move to postpone the controversial PLUS loan auction program by a year.  Under the auction plan, lenders would bid to service PLUS loans in each state, a move that made much more sense when proposed in 2007 than when enacted in 2009.  Bids for the auction were due this week, but so far it has generated little interest from most lenders and a statement from major lender Sallie Mae saying they had no plans to participate.  Congress hasn't scrapped the plan entirely, but tabling it for a year will hopefully allow it to be revisited under more favorable, or at least different, conditions, and in the meantime will allow parents and graduate students to continue borrowing as normal.

The other much talked about provision would provide relief to people currently repaying their student loans who have defaulted in the past.  The credit crunch has made it difficult for borrowers who are now making payments on time to move out of default and have their credit rehabbed and federal aid eligibility reinstated.  Guarantee agencies have had trouble finding borrowers willing to buy up the rehabbed student loans and allow the default status to be removed from the borrowers' credit.  A provision in the correction bill will allow the federal government to buy up rehabbed loans under the same authorization they're currently using to buy up other loans from student lenders.

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More Students Receiving Financial Aid

April 15, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

As college costs continue to rise, the percentage of students receiving financial aid also continues to grow.  As of the 2007-2008 academic year, a full two-thirds of undergraduate students received some form of student financial aid, with 47 percent receiving federal aid. This is according to the "First Look" report on the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study published by the National Center for Education Statistics yesterday.

The First Look report shows that the percentage of students receiving aid has continued to increase, from 63 percent in 2003-2004, and 55 percent in 1999-2000.  It also provides a breakdown of the percentage of students receiving different forms of financial aid, such as grants and scholarships, federal student loans, federal work-study, and federal PLUS loans.  According to the report, 52 percent of students received college scholarships and grants, while 38 percent of students borrowed federal student loans.  Relatively few students took advantage of work-study and PLUS loans.

NCES collects and publishes data on financial aid every three years and the First Look report is typically followed by a more in-depth analysis.  The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study draws from a sizable sample of students:  114,000 undergraduates and 14,000 graduates at 1,600 colleges and universities. Additional information is available on the NCES website.

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College Students' Credit Card Debt Increasing

April 16, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

While an increasing number of college students received financial aid in the 2007-2008 academic year, that calendar year students also ran up more credit card debt.  The average college student owed $3,173 on credit cards in March 2008, compared to $2,169 in 2004.  This information comes from the student lender Sallie Mae, which has been tracking students' credit card debt since 1998.

The study also found that student credit card debt increases with grade level.  The average freshman owed $2,038 on credit cards, while the average senior owed $4,138.  The money is not just being spent on beer and pizza, either.  According to a supplemental survey by Sallie Mae, the vast majority of students (92 percent) report charging at least one educational expense, such as books, to a credit card.  This figure is also higher than in 2004, as is the percentage of students charging tuition to a credit card, which now stands at nearly 30 percent.  Students reported charging an average of $2,000 in educational expenses to credit cards.

Higher tuition, a poor economy, and difficulty finding private loans may have already pushed these numbers higher for 2009.  With high interest rates and the need to begin repayment immediately, credit cards are one of the worst ways to pay for school.  Scholarship opportunities and federal student financial aid should definitely be explored before students resort to charging tuition to a card.  A variety of grants and scholarships, as well as low interest student loans, can help students avoid credit card debt while in college, and keep their debt from consuming their entire salary when they graduate.  Before you reach for the plastic to pay your campus bills, spend a few minutes doing a free scholarship search.  You may be very glad you did.

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Study Shows Substantial Increase in Private Student Borrowing

April 23, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Analyses of the data published last week by the National Center for Education Statistics are already starting to emerge.  The Project on Student Debt has announced that a significantly larger portion of students borrowed private loans in the 2007-2008 academic year than in 2003-2004, according to the NCES survey.

Private loan borrowing increased by 9 percentage points, with 14 percent of students now relying on private loans, as opposed to 5 percent in 2003-2004.  Not surprisingly, more expensive schools saw the biggest increase in private student loans.  At for-profit colleges, the percentage of students borrowing private loans increased from 14 percent to 43 percent, while private non-profit colleges also saw a substantial increase.  Overall, 32 percent of students at schools charging more than $10,000 per year in tuition wound up borrowing private loans in 2007-2008.

While the credit crunch may slow the rate of private borrowing in the near future, these student loans still are regarded as the best or only option by some students.  According to the Project on Student Debt's analysis, 26 percent of private loan borrowers did not take out any Stafford Loans first, and 14 percent did not even complete the FAFSA.

Private loans generally carry the highest interest rates and least flexible repayment terms out of all student loans and most experts encourage students to avoid them if possible.  Explore other options for financial aid first, especially grants and scholarships.  You will also want to consider your potential debt loand when choosing a college.  Since students at more expensive schools are more likely to have to borrow private loans, students with limited financial resources should think carefully about the relative merits of a private college as opposed to a state college or community college before committing themselves to private loan debt.

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Student Loan Default Rates on the Rise

April 24, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student loan default rates are rising for both federal and private loans as more recent grads struggle to find work.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the federal default rate is nearing 6.9 percent, the highest it's been since 1998.  Similarly, some private lenders are experiencing default rates that have already nearly doubled in just a year or two.

Loan repayment woes are expected to get worse as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains depressed.  Since student loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, borrowers are stuck with their debt no matter what happens.  Add in continued increases in the number of students borrowing to pay for school and the amount they borrow, and student loan defaults are poised to be a serious long-term problem whether or not the economy recovers quickly.

Borrowers do have some flexibility in negotiating their loan repayment terms, especially with federal Stafford Loans.  Borrowers of federal and private loans are also able to apply for a temporary forbearance, halting payments but not the accrual of interest, if they find themselves unable to pay.  However, reduced monthly payments now will mean either larger payments or more payments in the long run.

If you are looking at ways to pay for college, the best strategy is still to avoid student loans to the greatest extent possible.  Do a free college scholarship search and be sure to factor cost and available financial aid into your college search, as well.

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Congress Working on Credit Card Legislation

April 30, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Student loans and credit cards make up the two most dangerous, and often difficult to avoid, debt traps for college students.  While some amount of borrowing for college can make life easier for students, too much debt can make life nearly impossible for graduates.  The same goes for credit cards.  Having a card is great for emergencies and your credit rating, but running up a large balance while in college can really hurt, especially for students who were approved during days of easy credit and are now seeing rates soar and credit limits plummet.

However, Congress is working to make things easier for current credit card holders and also to make the choice of whether or not to open a credit account less nerve-wracking for new college students.  Legislation in both the House of Representatives and the Senate seeks to create a "credit card holders' bill of rights," curbing confusing and predatory practices by banks issuing credit cards.  While the bills have received bipartisan support, including a ringing endorsement from President Obama, there is still some concern about possible backlash in the form of even more stringent credit requirements for people who want to open credit card accounts.

Still, picking up a poorly screen printed t-shirt along with a new line of credit with an 18+ percent interest rate is a campus tradition unlikely to be missed by many.  With college students' credit card debt still on the rise as of 2008 and relief from private loans still nowhere in sight, any new consumer debt protection will likely be welcomed by many college students and recent graduates.

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Students Encouraged to Write to Congress about Student Loans

May 6, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

A little over a week after announcing his plans to gear up for battle with student lenders over the future of the Federal Family Education Loan Program, President Obama has begun calling in the troops.  An e-mail message sent to young Obama supporters by the Democratic National Committee is urging students to speak up in favor of the President's proposal to switch all federal lending to the Direct Loans program and to use the savings to expand Federal Pell Grants.

Students have been asked to call, write, or e-mail their Representatives and Senators to let them know what they think of the proposal to eliminate FFELP for Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans.  The text of the e-mail, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, urges students to stand against "special interests" and to help "fix a broken system."  Rhetoric on the other side has focused primarily on preserving jobs and preserving choice (technically, the choice is primarily left to schools, not students, as students aren't able to choose freely between DL and FFELP until they graduate and consider consolidation loans).

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose this plan, now is a good time to let your people in Congress know how you feel, since changes in federal student financial aid are likely to affect you directly.  So, what do you think?  What changes, if any, should Congress make to student loans? Do you plan on writing to Congress about this issue?

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SpendonLife Credit Challenged Scholarship

May 18, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

The current state of the economy has made it increasingly difficult for students with poor or average credit to borrow money for college.  With many student loan companies announcing plans to cease or greatly scale back lending, and other companies drastically increasing credit requirements, student borrowers may feel like they have nowhere to turn.  College scholarships, such as this week's Scholarship of the Week, can help bridge this gap, however.  The SpendonLife Credit Challenged Scholarship offers awards of up to $5,000 to students struggling to pay for school after being denied student loans based on credit.

Prize: Up to 10 scholarship awards in amounts ranging from $500 to $5,000

Eligibility: High school students and college students ages 17-25 who will be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program in the 2009-2010 academic year or who are currently enrolled in college.  Applicants must be legal residents of the U.S. and must have been rejected for a private student loan based on credit.

Deadline: June 15, 2009

Required Material: A completed scholarship application and an essay of 500 words or less answering the question, "How has the slowed economy personally affected you, either financially or emotionally?"

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.

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Loan Forgiveness Programs Among Budget Cuts

May 27, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Loan forgiveness programs have been helping encourage students to enter careers in fields like education and nursing for years.  Such programs are typically offered by state student loan agencies or non-profit organizations, and are often well-publicized to prospective college students.  In many cases, students have borrowed liberally, banking on having a substantial portion of their student loans forgiven after five or ten years of work in their field.  But budget cuts and stock market woes have been forcing agencies to make cuts to their loan forgiveness programs, in some cases almost entirely eliminating them.

Kentucky, Iowa, California, and New Hampshire are some of the states that have made changes to loan forgiveness programs, according to The New York Times.  Even if you don't live in one of these states, if you're banking on having your student loan debt forgiven after you graduate college, you may want to see what guarantees there are that your state's program will still exist in its present form.  Make sure you know how much of what you borrow you can expect to repay, even in a worst case scenario.

Regardless of repayment and forgiveness options, it's still a good idea to minimize your borrowing by finding scholarships and practicing good money management.  Nursing scholarships and education scholarships are out there, as are numerous other scholarship opportunities.  There are also several federal loan forgiveness programs for teachers, nurses, and other public service employees.

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More States Making Cuts to Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

June 2, 2009

by Scholarships.com Staff

Last week, we blogged about states and loan companies making cuts to student loan forgiveness programs.  The New York Times initially ran a piece on these budget cuts and has followed up this week with a chart of state loan forgiveness programs and their current financial status.  If you're planning on using one of these programs to cancel some of your student debt after college, you can head over to their website to see if your program is among those facing potential budget cuts.  If you don't see it listed, The New York Times is encouraging people to contact state and local loan forgiveness programs and report back with details.

While many state programs are facing cuts, federal loan forgiveness programs have expanded in recent years. New federal options include a public service loan forgiveness program and a repayment plan set to debut next month that will forgive students' remaining balances of federal student loans after 25 years of income-based payments. Congress has also approved more funding for Americorps, which can help volunteers pay for school. Cancellation programs for Perkins Loans may also become more popular if an expansion to the Perkins Loan program is approved in the 2010 federal budget.

Regardless of the state of your loan repayment and forgiveness options, keep in mind there is free money out there.  Grants and scholarships are available for virtually every student based on any number of characteristics and criteria.  For example, many groups offer nursing scholarships and education scholarships, among other major-specific awards.  To find out more, do a free college scholarship search.

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