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by Paulina Mis

The credit crunch and its negative impact on student borrowers is no longer news.   Both FFEL and private lenders have been responsible for financial tensions, and now there’s more to gripe about. Numerous colleges have been complaining that they are not receiving sufficient funding to cover their students' Perkins Loan needs.

Perkins Loans are awarded to students by colleges and universities, but the government provides much of the funding. Because these loans are restricted to students who show particular financial need, shortages will affect students whose families have the lowest incomes most.  Perkins Loans have the cheapest interest rates and the most lenient payment options as far as government loans go, as far as most student loans go. Students are asked to pay a 5 percent interest rate on Perkins Loans as opposed to 6.8-7.22 percent on federal Stafford Loans and 7.9-8.5 percent on federal PLUS Loans. Those who turn to private lenders can expect even higher rates.

Due to a poor loan market and a lack of government subsidies, many schools have been forced to cut back on both the number and the size of their Perkins Loans. According to U.S. News & World Report estimates, about 50,000 students who would have qualified for Perkins Loans last year will not qualify for them this year.  Those who do qualify may still see their loan limits diminish. Technically, students can borrow up to $4,000 in Perkins Loans (though the number may be lower for those deemed less needy), but certain colleges will be decreasing the maximum funds available to students. 

This has left families worried that they may be forced to rely on private student loans after reaching their federal loan limits.  After dealing with increasing default rates, both Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) lenders and private lenders have been forced to make loans more difficult to receive and less appealing to borrowers. Major lenders are becoming sticklers about eligibility criteria and have been cutting back on the benefits offered to students with good paying records.  

Students who are no longer eligible for Perkins Loans still have financial aid opportunities. By applying for college scholarships and grants, students may find college funding they do not have to repay. Before considering loans, students should conduct a free college scholarship search to find awards they may be eligible to receive. It is also important to fill out a FAFSA each year. Just because an individual is not eligible for Perkins Loans does not mean they will not be awarded free money in the form of Pell, FSEOG, SMART or TEACH grants.


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by Paulina Mis

Deciphering the rewards one receives after filling out a FAFSA may be just as difficult as filling out the form itself. Students who plan to take advantage of government loans must pay particular attention to Award Letters detailing their financial aid options.

One of the difficulties associated with taking out government Stafford or PLUS Loans is understanding the differences between the two programs that administer them, the Direct Student Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. Students should be aware that although federal Stafford and PLUS Loans may be taken out through either program, the interest rates and conditions may differ based on which is used.

If the college or university participates in the Direct Loan Program, students will borrow money directly from the government at rates that, if the loan is a PLUS Loan, may be slightly lower than those offered through the FFEL program. If the school participates in the FFEL Program, students will be borrowing from a lender they have chosen to work with. 

While certain schools participate in both of these programs, about 80 percent of the time, a student will be borrowing through the FFEL program. If a student is taking out only Stafford Loans, the differences are slim. Because lenders participating in the FFEL Program are subsidized by the government, they have to abide by a rule that states all Stafford Loans taken out on or after July 1, 2006 will have interest rates fixed at 6.8 percent.

However, students who also take out a PLUS Loan (a loan offered to parents and graduate students), the interest rates and repayment plans may differ based on program and lender. Students whose parents have borrowed through the Direct Loan Program on or after July 1, 2006 will have their PLUS Loan interest rates fixed at 7.9 percent. If the PLUS Loan is borrowed through the FFEL program, the interest rate may be no greater than 8.5 percent. Individual lenders will choose whether they will set their interest rates at this or a lower number.

It is important that students who borrow through the FFEL Program take more than interest rates into consideration when choosing a lender. Details such as the length or repayment and the penalties for late payments should be considered. Some lenders also offer financial perks to students who have good payment histories, and these should also be taken into account. Usually, schools will provide students with a list of preferred lenders to help them sift through their options, but students should also take other lenders into consideration. While students can trust most financial aid offices to provide them with the most affordable and best-rated lender suggestions, incidences of financial relationships between schools and lenders  suggest that students should also conduct some research of their own. 

For more information about federal aid, students can take a look at the Scholarships.com Resources section. To find information about scholarships opportunities, students can complete a free college scholarship search.

Posted Under:

FAFSA , Financial Aid , Student Loans


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by Paulina Mis

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an excellent opportunity for students in need of college funding. It may be tedious to fill out, but those who receive financial aid will be glad they did. Before submitting, students should review their applications for completeness, accuracy and, of course, deadlines. The June 30th federal cutoff may be months away, but often overlooked state and college deadlines are not.

In addition to federal aid such as Pell Grants, Federal Work Study and loans, students may receive state and college aid based on the information provided in their FAFSA. To be eligible for assistance from one's state and school, students must meet federal, state and college deadlines.

Many states set closing dates between the months of March and May, so students should act quickly. The FAFSA deadlines for individual states are listed below, and college ones can be found by contacting the financial aid office at one's college or university of choice.

State Deadlines

Alabama  Check with your financial aid administrator Alaska  April 15, 2008 American Samoa  Check with your financial aid administrator Arizona  June 30, 2009 Arkansas For Academic Challenge - June 1, 2008; For Workforce Grant, check with your financial aid  administrator;For Higher Education Opportunity Grant - June 1, 2008 (fall term); November 1, 2008 (spring term) California For initial awards - March 2, 2008; For additional community college awards - September 2, 2008 - date postmarked Colorado  Check with your financial aid administrator Connecticut  February 15, 2008 Delaware  April 15, 2008 District of Columbia  June 30, 2008 Federated States of Micronesia  Check with your financial aid administrator Florida  May 15, 2008 Georgia  Check with your financial aid administrator Guam  Check with your financial aid administrator Hawaii  Check with you financial aid administrator Idaho  March 1, 2008  Illinois  First-time applicants - September 30, 2008 Continuing applicants - August 15, 2008 Indiana  March 10, 2008 Iowa  July 1, 2008 Kansas  April 1, 2008 Kentucky  March 15, 2008 Louisiana  July 1, 2008 Maine  May 1, 2008 Marshall Islands  Check with your financial aid administrator Maryland  March 1, 2008 Massachusetts  May 1, 2008 Michigan  March 1, 2008 Minnesota  30 days after term starts Mississippi  MTAG and MESG Grants - September 15, 2008 HELP Scholarship - March 31, 2008 Missouri  April 1, 2008 Montana  March 1, 2008 Nebraska  Check with your financial aid administrator Nevada  Check with your financial aid administrator New Hampshire  May 1, 2008 New Jersey  June 1, 2008 if you received a Tuition Aid Grant in 2007-2008 All other applications - October 1, 2008, for fall and spring terms; March 1, 2009, for spring term only New Mexico  Check with your financial aid administrator New York  May 1, 2009 North Carolina  March 15, 2008  North Dakota  March 15, 2008 Northern Mariana Islands  Check with your financial aid administrator Ohio  October 1, 2008 Oklahoma  April 15, 2008 for best consideration Oregon  Check with your financial aid administrator Palau  Check with your financial aid administrator Pennsylvania  All 2007-2008 State Grant and non State Grant recipients in degree programs- May 1, 2008; All other applicants - August 1, 2008 Puerto Rico  Check with your financial aid administrator Rhode Island  March 1, 2008 South Carolina  Tuition Grants - June 30, 2008 South Dakota  Check with your financial aid administrator Tennessee  For State Grant - March 1, 2008; For State Lottery - September 1, 2008 Texas  Check with your financial aid administrator U.S. Virgin Islands  Check with your financial aid administrator Utah  Check with your financial aid administrator Vermont  Check with your financial aid administrator Virginia  Check with your financial aid administrator Washington  Check with your financial aid administrator West Virginia  March 1, 2008 Wisconsin  Check with your financial aid administrator Wyoming  Check with your financial aid administrator

(State deadlines provided by the Department of Education)


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Federal Direct Loans

April 10, 2008

by Paulina Mis

With a growing number of lenders leaving the FFEL Program, the Direct Loan Program has been receiving additional attention from schools and from the media. Unlike the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, more commonly known as the Direct Loan Program, allows students to borrow money directly from the government.

Each program has its advantages, but schools have more frequently opted for the FFEL. About eighty percent of colleges and universities process their loans through the FFEL Program, one which involves working with lenders who are subsidized by the government. With the student loan market quickly souring, numerous schools are rethinking their decisions and scrambling to find a new plan, the Direct Loan one.

Students whose schools process loans through the Direct Loan Program are less likely to receive financial perks often provided by FFEL lenders, but then again, FFEL lenders staying with the program are cutting back on these anyway. The lack of administrative assistance offered to schools participating in the Direct Loan Program may make it less appealing to financial aid officials, but to those taking out PLUS loans, the program is promising. 

Although the government has capped Perkins and Stafford loans at 5 and 6.8 percent respectively, caps on PLUS loans are lower under the Direct Loan program than they are under the FFEL one. If they borrow from the government, graduate students and parents eligible for PLUS loans may pay no more than 7.9 percent in interest. If they borrow from FFEL lenders, they may pay as much as 8.5 percent.  The actual interest paid will depend on the chosen FFEL lender, but don't hold your breath for a good deal.

To eliminate or lessen the burden felt by students who borrow from the government or from outside lenders, families should consider applying for scholarships and grants. For information about scholarship and grant opportunities you may be eligible to receive, try conducting a free college scholarship search.


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by Paulina Mis

Nervous about economic turmoil and the uncertainty associated with oversized college loans, students are increasingly turning to community colleges for a low-cost alternative to a postsecondary education. Though certainly lower in cost, some students still need assistance in affording local schools. According to a recent study conducted by the Project on Student Debt, federal loans are not always an option for these students.

Based on the report, 20 percent of community college students living in eight states do not have access to low-interest federal loans. In Georgia, the state which fared worst, about 60 percent of community colleges did not participate in the federal loan program. Throughout the nation, the problem was most severe in low-income areas where students were most likely to seek out federal student aid in the form of loans.

After interviewing administrators at nonparticipating schools, it was found that the most cited reason for not taking part in the program was a fear that high default rates would lead to sanctions on Pell Grant disbursements to students. According to federal regulations, colleges with student default rates that exceed 25 percent for three consecutive years lose the ability to disburse the Pell Grant, a form of need-based federal aid that does not need to be repaid.

Capped at $4,310 for the 2007-2008 school year, the Pell Grant frequently suffices in making community college an option for students, especially those who work while attending school. However, the size of the grant is based on a student’s Expect Family Contribution (EFC) as determined by information provided on one's FAFSA, and many complain that the form does not take into account special circumstances that could result in a student’s inability to contribute the full expected amount. Families who receive no federal assistance in the form of a Pell Grant and those who receive an insufficient amount may be forced to take out more expensive private loans to attend. If ineligible, they may have to work until college is an affordable option.


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by Paulina Mis

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at halting the mass leave of student lenders from the federal loan program. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 50 lenders have left the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program to date. The growing departure has left families fearing that students will have no one to turn to for financial assistance once their Pell Grants and savings run dry.

To lessen the plight of FFEL lenders and students who depend on them for financial assistance, the bill would allow the Secretary of Education to purchase loans student lenders were not able to sell to investors. By pouring money into the loan market, the Department of Education would enable student lenders to use their capital for issuing new loans rather than paying out the original ones.

The new bill also addressed the lender of last resort, an emergency plan wherein guaranty agencies would be forced to lend money to students who were turned away by other lenders. Under the new plan, the Department of Education would have permission to advance funding to the agencies if need should arise.

To make the transition from the FFEL to the lender of last resort loan program easier on students, loans would be petitioned for on a college by college basis rather than a student by student one. Based on previous outlines of the untested program, students in need of a lender of last resort loan would have had to seek permission from the Department of Education and prove that at least two lenders had turned them down before receiving money.

A bill similar to the House version was introduced but not yet addressed by the Senate. Before the ideas are implemented, both the House and the Senate will have to iron out differences and send the final version to the president for approval.


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by Paulina Mis

To alleviate the affects of the intensifying credit crunch, Sallie Mae has been lobbying for government assistance. In past months, student lenders have been struggling to find buyers for both their loans and their loan securities. Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the business, has turned to the government for assistance, asking that the US Treasury assuage loan market tensions by purchasing their securities.

In yesterday’s PBS Nightly Business Report, specialty finance analyst Sameer Gokhale and student loan expert Tom Stanton weighed in on the potential effects of such a move. According to Sameer Gokhale, a quick infusion of cash from the Treasury would, “help all of those lenders and ultimately result in a smoother flow of capital back into the student loan system.”

Tom Stanton took a different approach claiming that federal intervention was not yet necessary. “In its last year as a government sponsored enterprise, Sallie Mae made something like 73 percent return on equity, a very generous return. There’s no need at this point to go back to the government and get support,” he stated.  

Even if student lenders continue to drop out of the government’s FFEL program and assistance such as that requested by Sallie Mae is not offered by the Treasury, students will have federal student aid  resources to rely on. A Department of Education lender of last resort measure wherein the government would act as a lender to students denied loans by other lenders would prevent financial catastrophe, but according to the Nightly Business Report Correspondent Stephanie Dhue, resorting to such a plan would be more time consuming than enhancing funds for the one already in place. 

The lender of last resort is yet untested, and, although details are being addressed by Congress, setting up the new program could be painstaking for schools. However, with the Chronicle of Higher Education citing more than fifty FFEL student lender departures, the program may be put into action regardless.


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A College Loan Glossary

April 29, 2008

by Paulina Mis

Financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants is a student’s best bet when searching for college funding. Families who cannot pay for a student’s education without outside assistance should first turn to cost-free resources. When these prove insufficient, students can consider borrowing money for college.

With recent articles detailing the plights of indebted students and their troubled lenders, it’s no surprise that students are intimidated by the borrowing process. If one’s economic situation calls for assistance in the form of student loans, getting comfortable with the lending process is a good way to get rid of the loan jitters. So before you sign on the dotted lines, familiarize yourself with the following terms:

The Basics:

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): The Annual Percentage Rate is the total annual cost of a loan, including all fees and interest, expressed as a percentage.
  • Co-Borrower/ Co-Signer: A person, other than the borrower, who signs the loan promissory note. If the borrower does not pay, the co-borrower is responsible for payment of the debt.
  • Consolidation: The process of combining several federal or private loans from multiple lenders into a single loan. Consolidation is done to reduce the monthly payment amount, simplify the repayment process and/or increase the repayment period.
  • Default: A default is a failure to repay a loan in accordance with the terms of the promissory note. Defaults can also occur if students fail to submit requests for deferments or discharges (cancellations) in a timely manner. For Perkins Loans: Failure of a borrower to make a loan-installment payment when due or to meet other terms of a signed promissory note or written repayment agreement. For FFEL and Direct Loans: Failure to make a loan-installment payment on (a) a loan repayable in monthly installments for 180 days or (b) for FFEL, a loan payable in less frequent installments for 240 days.
  • Interest: Interest is an amount charged to the borrower for the privilege of using the lender's money. Interest is usually calculated as a percentage of the principal. The percentage rate may be either fixed or variable, depending on the terms of the loan.
  • Lender: A financial institution, agency or school that provides loan money
  • Principal: The amount borrowed (may increase because of interest capitalization). Interest is usually calculated as a percentage of the principal.  

The Rest:

  • Accrued Interest: The accumulated interest on a loan. It may be compounded or simple and is usually paid when the principal becomes due. Depending on the loan, the interest accrued between the disbursement date and the time a payment must first be made may be the responsibility of the borrower or of the government.
  • Average Daily Balance (ADB): The sum of unpaid principal on all qualifying loans. The ADB is based on each day’s current interest rate and the number of days in the quarter.
  • Amortization: The process of gradually repaying a loan through periodic payments of principal and interest.
  • Cancellation/Discharge: A cancellation occurs when a borrower meets the requirements necessary to nullify his/her obligation to repay all or a part of the loan.
  • Capitalized Interest: The interest added to the principal amount of your loan. Future interest will be based upon the higher amount. Capitalizing is a consequence of delaying interest payments; it increases the amount of the principal and, consequently, the total amount that must be repaid.
  • Collateral: Property of a borrower that is pledged as security in case he/she does not repay the loan. It may become property of the lender if the borrower fails to repay the loan.
  • Commercial Bank: An institution whose primary function is to make loans to businesses.
  • Deferment: A period of postponement during which loan repayment is suspended. The borrower must meet deferment requirements as established by law to have his/her payments suspended. For subsidized loans, interest is not accumulated during the deferment. Interest does accrue during the deferment period on an unsubsidized loan.
  • Deferred Interest: Interest payments that are delayed while a borrower is not employed, as, for example, when the borrower is a student. This benefit is generally characteristic of federal and state guaranteed student loans.
  • Delinquency: You are delinquent if your payment is not received by the due date. Delinquencies greater than 30 days are reported to national credit bureaus.
  • Disbursement: The release of loan funds to the school for delivery to the borrower. Disbursements are usually made in equal multiple installments co-payable to the borrower and the school.
  • Entrance Counseling: Each institution participating in the Federal Perkins, FFEL, and Federal Direct Loan Programs (excluding PLUS and Direct PLUS Loans) must offer loan entrance counseling to first-time student borrowers. The institution must offer this counseling before the delivery of the first disbursement of any loan to a borrower at the institution. Entrance counseling covers the borrower's rights and responsibilities, the terms and conditions of the loan and the consequences of default.
  • Exit Counseling: Each institution participating in the Federal Perkins, FFEL, and Federal Direct Loan Programs (excluding PLUS and Direct PLUS loans) must offer loan counseling called "exit " counseling to student borrowers. For Federal Perkins borrowers, the interview must take place before the borrower leaves school. In the case of FFEL and Federal Direct Loan student borrowers, the interview must take place shortly before the borrower ceases at least half-time enrollment. During the interview, the borrower's rights and responsibilities are reviewed, details about handling loan repayment are discussed, and the average indebtedness of the school's borrowers must be disclosed. Borrowers are also required to provide updated personal information such as address, telephone number, employer (if known), and driver's license and state of issuance.
  • Fixed Interest: Interest rate that remains the same for the life of the loan.
  • Forbearance: When an FFEL lender (or the U.S. Department of Education for Direct Loans) allows a temporary cessation of payments or reduction of payment amounts for subsidized or unsubsidized Federal Stafford, Federal PLUS, Federal Perkins, or Federal Direct Loans. In doing so, it allows an extended period for making payments or accepts smaller payments than were previously scheduled. Forbearance may be given for circumstances that are not covered by deferment. Interest expenses continue to accrue during forbearance.
  • Grace Period: The period that begins the day after a loan recipient ceases to be enrolled at least half time and ends the day before the loan repayment period starts. Some loans have a grace period so that repayment doesn't begin until several months after graduation. Grace periods are specified in the promissory note.
  • Interest Subsidy: Interest the federal government pays on certain loans while borrowers are in school, during authorized deferment, or during grace periods.
  • Interest-Only Payment: A payment that covers only accrued interest owed on a loan and none of the principal balance. Interest-only payments do not prohibit borrowers from making additional or larger payments at any time if the borrower desires.
  • Loan Disclosure Statement: A statement sent to a loan borrower by the lender before or at the time it disburses a loan, as well as before the start of the repayment period. The purpose of the disclosure is to provide the borrower with thorough and accurate information about the loan terms and the consequences of default. It includes information such as: • amount of the loan, • interest rate, • fee charges,• length of the grace period (if any),• the maximum length of the repayment, the minimum annual repayment, deferment conditions, and the • definition of default.
  • Master Promissory Note (MPN): An agreement a student signs when taking out a Stafford Loan. The Master Promissory Note covers both the Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans the student may receive for the same enrollment period. If the student is attending a 4-year or graduate school, the Master Promissory Note also covers Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans the student may receive for future enrollment periods.
  • Origination Fee: The origination fee is an upfront charge deducted from the loan to pay part of the loan's administrative costs.
  • Prime Rate: The prime interest rate is the rate charged by commercial financial institutions for short-term loans to corporations or individuals whose credit standing is so high that little risk to the lender is involved in making the loan. This rate fluctuates and serves as a basis for the interest rates charged for other loans.
  • Private Loans: Private loans provide funding when other financial aid does not cover costs. These loans are offered by banks or other financial institutions and schools to parents and students.
  • Promissory Note: A binding legal document that a borrower signs to get a loan. By signing this note, a borrower promises to repay the loan, with interest, in specified installments. The promissory note will also include any information about the grace period, deferment, or cancellation provisions, and a borrower's rights and responsibilities with respect to that loan.
  • Repayment Schedule (A Specific Timetable): The borrower's repayment plan detailing the amount of loan principal and interest due in each repayment installment and the number of payments that will be required to pay off the loan in full. A repayment schedule traditionally lists the loan's interest rate, the due date of the first loan payment, and the frequency of loan payments.
  • Simple Interest: Interest computed only on the original amount of a loan.
  • Subsidized Loan: A subsidized loan is awarded based on financial need. You will not be charged any interest before you begin repayment or during authorized periods of deferment. The federal government "subsidizes" the interest during these periods.
  • Variable Interest: Interest rates that fluctuate periodically (usually annually). The interests rates of federal Stafford and PLUS Loans disbursed between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 2006 are variable. Those disbursed after this date are fixed.

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by Paulina Mis

After passing the Senate and the House in varying formats, a compromise was reached on legislation that would help lenders stay afloat in a troublesome student loan market. The Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act of 2008 was sent to the President yesterday, and rapid approval is expected.

If signed into law, the bill would give the Secretary of Education the right to buy loans from struggling lenders, thus providing them the capital needed to offer new student loans. Worried that lenders may continue to depart from the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program—as fifty have already done—legislators have been scurrying to provide financial assistance before the school year begins. Though the law would only serve as a backup plan, the hope is that knowledge of a federal cushion would make both lenders and students more willing to engage in business.

To decrease student dependence on private lenders, ones generally offering loans options that are more expensive and less flexible than those offered by FFEL lenders, the maximum sum a student could borrow from the government was also increased. According to The Christian Science Monitor, the caps on unsubsidized loans available to students of any income level would increase by $2,000 for each school year. Dependent students would now be able to borrow up to $31,000 for their undergraduate education.


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by Paulina Mis

In recently published (previously-known) financial aid news, student lenders were found to have made millions by accepting excess subsidies from the government. By finding loopholes in government regulations, the student lender Nelnet, one of the biggest offenders, was able to collect $278 million in excess payments between 2003 and 2005. Based on calculations released by the Washington Post, other lenders accepted an estimated $300 million in excess subsidies between 2003 and 2006—paid for by taxpayers.

Because students applying for government aid are restricted in how much they can borrow, the government offers subsidies to lenders who borrow to students. In exchange for the money, lenders offer students loans at rates that, although usually higher than those offered by the government, tend to be lower than those offered by unsubsidized lenders.

When average student loan interest rates were higher, the government guaranteed lenders a 9.5 percent interest rate for loans. Once average loan rates fell, many lenders continued to take in large subsidies.

And although the government lowered some subsidy sums after rates fell, they continued to guarantee a 9.5 percent rate on loans previously funded with tax-exempt bonds. To extend the pool of loans still eligible for larger subsidies, Nelnet divided tax-free bonds among various pools. They would then claim that pools of loans at least partially composed of tax-free bonds were eligible for 9.5 percent subsidies.

The government did little to stop them in the past, and it is doing little to punish them now. According to the Washington Post, the Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings did admit that the government shouldered some of the responsibility for the “confusion”. However, she indicated no intent to pursue full accounting, nor did she suggest that reimbursement from lenders would be sought.


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