October 26, 2007
A recent evaluation released by NASFAA, an organization representing the interests of financial aid professionals, brings into question the effectiveness of a new student lender auction system. The recently-passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act created, among other things, a new auction system wherein student lenders would bid on exclusive market rights in each state. While the law concentrated on cuts in student lender subsidies and increases in free student grants, the auction system aimed at lowering taxpayer burdens was also enacted.
When the system goes into effect in 2009, lenders interested in participating in the government's subsidized FFEL Plan would have to compete for the lowest subsidies. Those who won the bid would get exclusive state lender rights. Only lenders who would choose to take part in the government’s FFEL program would be effected, and only rights to PLUS loans would be auctioned.
However, the NASFAA report questions whether an auction would really be as effective as it initially seems.The statement suggested that the auction program was based on the rash assumption that lenders who bid for loan rights would be willing to greatly lower subsidy expectations, and that taxpayers would really benefit from lower subsidies. This assumption, based on the report, may prove to be faulty. State competition could be lower than expected, and some states could problematically benefit more than others. After a few years, the competition is likely to decrease altogether, and lenders may simply choose to opt out of the program.
Doubt was also cast upon the assumption that student borrowers would not be affected by the auction system. Based on the report, it is more likely that lenders will get rid of certain student benefits once they have exclusive rights to a state. Borrower services that could be affected include default prevention, financial literacy and electronic processing. The report disputes the claim that very few students are eligible for benefits. Instead, it suggests that most students qualify for at least some helpful services or benefits.
How an auction would in effect change the financial aid system and affect taxpayers remains to be seen. However, a "Bill Gates is about to take over the world" scenario is unlikely. First of all, a total overhaul is not going to occur; PLUS loans will be used to test out the system. Based on the results, a general idea of what could happen in such situations should be obtained. Secondly, the auction would repeat after two years, and it’s unlikely that lenders will get comfy enough to cause a ruckus. Because two lenders will be chosen per state, some competition is likely to keep them in line. Let us also remember that PLUS loans are not the only loans on the planet. If FFEL PLUS loans become too pricy, students could look to competing loans and lenders. FFEL program winners will still have a reputation to upkeep.
Ultimately, the government has the last word on this one. We'll see if that’s a good thing.
November 2, 2007
After months of investigations into the legality of practices within the student loan industry, new regulations have been approved by the Department of Education. The guidelines came shortly after the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act which increased financial aid and decreased lender subsidies. The new rules, however, are more targeted at the behavior of student lenders and financial aid officials.
Department regulations now state that colleges offering preferred-lender lists must suggest at least three different lenders. In the past, some schools mentioned only one lender, the one they had an exclusive contract with. The investigation also found that certain schools listed a number of lenders, but the choice was illusory. Because some lenders sold their loans to others on the list, the options were smaller than they appeared.
Approved mandates also cleared up some ambiguities between state and government laws regulating lender and school relationships. Lenders are generally pleased that the Department of Education has made clear their rules, when discrepancies arise, supersede rules laid down by the state. (Not that this wasn't already the legal rule of thumb.
Numerous schools and lenders have already agreed to abide by a new code of ethics and have donated millions to loan-education funds—even some who denied wrongdoing—after being accused of misdeeds by Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General spearheading the investigation. Citibank and Sallie Mae each agreed to pay $2 million while Education Finance Partners agreed to pay $2.5 million in settlements. New York University, Syracuse University and the University of Pennsylvania, among others, also settled and agreed to return some money to student borrowers. Knowing that Mr. Cuomo is not the loan king, although he sure has proven himself, will assuage some lender and college frustrations, but not by much.
June 4, 2008
June 11, 2008
Affording a college education is becoming increasingly difficult, but help is available. Students who demonstrate financial need can look to numerous sources for assistance in paying for tuition and living expenses. Even those who do not demonstrate exceptional merit can qualify. Below is a list of financial aid resources students may be eligible to receive based on financial need. Additional need-based awards may be found by conducting a free college scholarship search.
Federal Grants The Federal Student Aid office oversees programs that comprise the nation’s largest source of student aid. Each year, billions in aid are awarded to college students across the country. The best of these, federal grants, do not have to be repaid. Students can look to federally-run need-based grants such as the Pell and the FSEOG to help pay for college expenses. Grants that are based on both merit and financial need—the SMART and the Academic Competitiveness Grant—are also a good option.
Federal LoansThough less attractive than grants, federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and better, more flexible, repayment options than private loans. This holds particularly true for need-based subsidized Stafford Loans and need-based Perkins Loans. Students interested in taking out a federal loan will first have to submit a FAFSA.
Sallie Mae Scholarships The Sallie Mae Fund is one of the largest sources of non-federal college aid. All awards offered by the organization have a need-based component. Since 2001, the Sallie Mae Fund has given away $12.7 million in scholarships to more than 5,000 college students.
College Scholarships Students may be eligible for need-based aid offered by their college or university. Elite colleges such as Harvard, Northwestern and Stanford have been particularly gracious with their awards—Harvard students whose parents make less than $60,00 do not have to pay for tuition, room and board or expenses—but others are following in their footsteps.
June 13, 2008
Students who enter into loan agreements can be bombarded with unfamiliar terms and overwhelming agreements. The meaning of a student lender is obvious enough--it's the entity in charge of borrowing money--but the role a guaranty agency plays in the student lending process is a bit less obvious. The information below will give you a better idea of how guaranty agencies work, and how their work affects you.
What are guaranty agencies?
Guaranty agencies are state or private non-profit organizations in charge of administrating the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, one that subsidizes participating student lenders. Because lenders who participate in the FFEL program receive subsidies from the government, they must abide by certain rules. (e.g. they cannot charge an interest rate higher than that set each year by the government.) In return, the government agrees to insure them through one of the 35 existing guaranty agencies. If an individual defaults on a student loan, a guaranty agency will pay the student lender most of the remaining loan balance.
How do guaranty agencies affect me?
Students who enter into a loan agreement with an FFEL lender agree to pay their guaranty agency a maximum 1% default fee (also known as a guaranty fee) to cover insurance costs. Guaranty agencies with a sufficiently large reserve may choose to lower or eliminate the student default fee. Some may also reduce fees for students who sign up for direct bank withdrawal or for those who make a certain number of on-time payments.
If a guaranty agency is forced to repay a student lender for a student's loan default, they are also responsible for collecting the outstanding balance. Students who are unable to fulfill their borrowing responsibilities due to certain circumstances may be eligible to have their loans discharged (forgiven).
For additional information about the guaranty agency serving your state, you may contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID or visit the Department of Education website.
June 26, 2008
On Tuesday, a Senate panel approved a budget that would increase, among other things, the Pell Grant funding for the 2009 school year. Currently, students who demonstrate financial need—as determined by a Department of Education's FAFSA calculation—can receive no more than $4,300 in Pell Grant money, but not all eligible students receive the full sum. For the upcoming year, the Pell Grant cap will be $4,731. If the Senate panel’s budget is approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and by the Senate, students could be eligible for up to $4,800.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Senate panel’s bill would also provide new funding for the TRIO program, a seven-part financial aid initiative created to aid students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those facing circumstances that might hinder their academic pursuits. Additionally, it would provide colleges and universities with more money to pay for the Perkins Loan forgiveness program, one wherein colleges cancel the loans of students who enter select public service fields.
Today, the new initiative will move from the Senate panel to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and, if approved, it will be voted on by the Senate. Any differences between the Senate and House versions will have to be ironed out, and, only then, will President Bush have the option of signing.
June 27, 2008
Kathy L. Hardy, her two daughters and two other associates are being charged for having allegedly taken out numerous fraudulent private student loans since 2005. The five women were accused of having received a combined sum of more than $690,000 by filling out over 70 student loan applications, reported U.S. News.
Though many of the loan applications were denied, a number of lenders, including Sallie Mae, the biggest student lender in the business, lent tens of thousands to the applicants. By using stolen Social Security numbers and the information of victims whose names resembled their own, the five women were able to slip by lender verifications.
The FBI's investigation into the matter began when one of the victims complained that someone had taken out a loan under her name. Upon further investigation, it was found that the women alleged to have been at fault had stolen numerous identities—including one that belong to a deceased person—to collect money.
The case raised concerns that the stealing of identities to obtain private student loans may be too simple. Because private student loans are easier to obtain than Federal Stafford and Perkins Loans, and because private student loans are not sent directly to colleges and universities, the potential for fraud may be considerable.
To minimize the chance that similar problems will arise in the future, a congressional provision that would force student lenders to forward loans directly to schools is being considered. The suggestion has received mixed reviews from lenders who, one hand, would like to eliminate the possibility of fraud, and, on the other, want to facilitate the borrowing process for potential customers.
July 11, 2008
The morose state of the lending industry, recent cuts in federal loan subsidies and a loss of interest in loan securities investing have caused chaos within the student loan market over past months. According to Forbes, Student Loan Corp., a previous division of Citibank, has become the latest victim in the student loan credit crunch, announcing plans to lay off 146 of its 523 employees.
On Wednesday, the company announced that the 146 Student Loan Corp. jobs, plus an additional 28 Citibank N.A positions, would be eliminated sometime in August. The affected employees will be offered counseling, assistance in finding new work, severance packages and, for some, the chance to take advantage of job openings in other parts of the country. Business has been so poor for the company that their stock has dropped by 48% over the past 52 weeks, reported Forbes.
Student Loan Corp. is just one of many companies who have been forced to either cut jobs or to exit the student loan industry altogether. Other major lenders who have either stopped or suspended offering certain student loans include Bank of America, NextStudent, Brazos, and American Education Services. Even Sallie Mae, the largest student lender in the business has been struggling to stay afloat, suspending select loan services.
August 30, 2007
When it comes to loans, this is the real deal. The Perkins Loan program is a government
and school funded program with the smallest interest rates, only 5%. Compared to
other low-interest government loans and their high-interest private counterparts,
the Perkins Loans are ideal for students who need on-the-spot funds.
Of course, the best of loans are not available to all. Seeing as these loans have
the lowest rates, they are usually reserved for the neediest students. Luckily,
needy graduate students are also eligible. They may have gotten the cold shoulder
when it came to Pell Grants, but graduates still have options when it comes to low-rate
Even though the government puts forth a large amount of funding for Perkins Loans,
the loans are still considered campus-based. This is because schools match some
government contributions and are in charge of loan administration. They even have
to apply to participate. Not to worry, most schools do participate in the program.
Approximately 1,800 schools across the country provide students with financial aid
in the form of Perkins Loans.
Students who are interested in the Perkins Loan should submit their FAFSA. Whether a student qualifies and how
much aid they qualify for is based on their determined financial need and their
school of choice. Undergraduates with the greatest need may be eligible for up to
$4,000 in yearly aid; graduates may receive up to$6,000. Over the course of their
education, undergraduate may borrow up to $20,000 and graduates can borrow up to
$40,000 (this includes undergraduate loans.) Thankfully, if these loans add up,
students have up to 9 months after graduating, withdrawing or dropping below part-time
status to find repayment funds.
Perkins Loans are a good option for quick aid, but before applying, students should
take advantage of free funding options. Performing a free scholarship and grant
search at Scholarships.com
and browsing through school websites may eliminate the need for loans altogether.
September 17, 2007
After what seemed like a never-ending battle between the Senate and the House, a compromise was finally reached on the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. What’s more, based on White House reports, President Bush is even going to retract his earlier threat to veto the bill. The proposal was sent to the president on Friday, and a signature is expected shortly.
The main points of the bill include an increase in Pell Grant allocations to students and a decrease in government subsidies to student lenders. According to Bloomberg L.P., about $20 billion of the estimated subsidy savings will be redirected to student loan programs. Among these is the Pell Grant program which, for the 2007-2008 year, awards a maximum $4,300 per student per year. Over the next few years, the maximum sum is expected to rise to $5,400.
Lenders are obviously unpleased and warn that the new bill will harm students in the long run. Certain lender and Congress members predict the changes will push many smaller lenders out of business and will lead to cuts in fee reductions for students with good payment records. However, with many large lenders still competing for business, the bill is likely to help much more than it hurts.Additional bill provisions include a forgiveness plan that will allow students to stop loan payments after ten years of work in public sector fields such as education. Only those who borrow under the Federal Direct Loan Program are eligible, but students who borrow under the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) can still apply by consolidating their loans under the direct plan.
The bill was initially proposed as a reply to the student loan investigation that uncovered numerous illegal actions within the student loan industry. Many student lenders were found to have offered financial aid officials money in exchange for spots on preferred-lender lists. As the investigation continued, incentives such as stock tips, vacation packages and tickets to entertainment venues were found to be offered regularly.
As always, students should look to free grants and scholarships before taking out loans. However low the rates are, loans still have to be repaid. By conducting a free scholarship search at Scholarships.com, students will be exposed to a world of financial aid opportunities that may enable them to bypass loans altogether.
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