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by Scholarships.com Staff

Rising unemployment rates and other symptoms of the ongoing recession continue to drive more people to attend college and look for ways to pay their bills, causing an uptick in state and federal financial aid applications. However, states are also hurting for money to meet financial aid requests and other budget demands. According to the Associated Press, 12 states have made significant cuts to state grant programs so far this year, with additional cuts likely. At least anecdotally, these cuts are already leading to more reliance on student loans, especially among groups that, according to a brief published this week by the College Board, may already be finding themselves overburdened with debt.

This week, the College Board released some new numbers on student debt loads and borrowing habits, culled from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, data released every four years by the Department of Education. Students at for-profit colleges are the most likely to borrow (96 to 98 percent graduate with some amount of loan debt), have the largest average debt loads at graduation, and are also some of the poorest college students (students at for-profit schools received 19 percent of the Federal Pell Grants disbursed in 2007-2008 despite making up only 7 percent of the college-going population). With additional sources of need-based aid drying up, these students may find themselves even more burdened with debt.

Students at other types of schools have also had to do more borrowing in recent years, according to the study. A full 59 percent of college students graduate with some amount of student loan debt, including 66 percent of bachelor's degree recipients. While most students took on manageable amounts of debt, 10 percent of students at four-year public schools, 22 percent of students at four-year private colleges, and 25 percent at four-year for-profit colleges borrowed more than $40,000 to attend college.

The average loan debt of undergraduate students in 2007-2008 was $15,123 (this is all students, not graduates), up 11 percent from the last time the survey was conducted. While increases in loan burdens were most modest at four-year state and non-profit colleges, reductions in state grant programs that are often earmarked for students at state colleges or nonprofit private colleges could send these numbers climbing.

You may want to consider statistics on student debt as a factor in your college search, but keep in mind that there are alternatives to borrowing. Scholarship opportunities exist for students at every type of college pursuing many different types of degree programs.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

According to newly released data, default rates on federal student loans continued to climb in 2008, reaching a nine-year high of 6.7 percent, most likely as a result of the recession. The annual cohort default rate, released by the Department of Education on Monday, covers federal student loans that went into repayment between October 2006 and September 2007 and had gone into default by September 2008.

The 2007 cohort default rate was 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate for the previous year, as significant increases took place across the board. Defaults were higher in the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program than in the Federal Direct Loans Program, which is typically the case, but the discrepancy between the two grew this year. A total of 7.2 percent of loans in the bank-based system were in default, compared to 4.8 percent of the loans in the Direct Loans program.  he numbers for 2006 were 5.3 and 4.7 percent, respectively.

Much of this discrepancy can be attributed to a higher percentage of students at proprietary schools participating in the FFEL Program, as these schools carried a default rate of 11.1 percent, compared to rates of 6.0 percent and 3.8 percent at public and private colleges. Still, the lower default rate in the direct lending program is likely to be brought up as Congress debates moving all lending from FFEL into Direct Loans.

Default is defined as failure to make payments on a student loan according to the terms of the master promissory note the borrower signed, and federal student loans are considered in default only after several months of missed payments. This means that 6.7 percent of students in this cohort had stopped making payments for 270 days or more within 1-2 years of their first loan payment coming due. It's likely that the cohort default rate numbers released paint an optimistic picture of the number of borrowers currently having trouble making payments on student loans.

New repayment options may help troubled borrowers, though, and several have been introduced in recent months. One is the federal Income-Based Repayment Plan, which allows students to make payments they can afford and forgives all remaining debt after 25 years. Borrowers worried about repayment can also look into loan forgiveness programs offered in exchange for public service, which have been expanded under the Higher Education Act and national service legislation.

The best way for students to avoid the prospect of defaulting on loans is to limit borrowing as much as possible. Put some serious effort into a scholarship search, and consider affordability when doing your college search, as well. Practices such as keeping your options open and landing a scholarship can go a long way towards reducing your loan debt and your risk of being unable to pay once you graduate.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

The House of Representatives is poised to vote today on legislation to eliminate the Federal Family Education Loan Program and increase funding for Federal Pell Grants. The bill, currently known as the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2009, is widely expected to be approved by the House, possibly with some amount of bipartisan support.  While most of the provisions in the bill have relatively widespread backing, one element has generated a fair amount of controversy. Under the proposed legislation, all federal student loans, such as Stafford Loans and Plus Loans, originated after July 1, 2010 would be part of the Federal Direct Loans Program, rather than the current bank-based system.

While initially both sides appeared ready for battle over the proposed legislation, controversy and rhetoric have cooled since the legislation was introduced. Alternative proposals that preserve some element of FFEL or otherwise grant a larger role to banks than in the bill currently before Congress have been proposed, but ultimately failed to generate the savings the Congressional Budget Office estimates this plan to carry, and thus have gained little momentum. Some Representatives still suggest submitting the proposal for further study and reviewing alternatives, but the plan to eliminate FFEL has gained the most widespread support.

Many Republican lawmakers still oppose the proposal to switch entirely to Direct Loans, with some making comparisons to the bank bailouts of earlier this year and the healthcare legislation currently being debated. The move to direct lending has also been repeatedly framed as eliminating choice for students, though the choice of direct loans versus bank-based loans has always rested with colleges and never with student borrowers.

Despite these objections, though, the bill appears to have the support necessary to pass the House and move on to the Senate, where it may face greater challenges. The option of passing it through the process of budget reconcilliation, which requires only a majority vote in the Senate, has been proposed, but whether the Senate goes that route remains to be seen.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

As the wrangling over proposed healthcare legislation drags on in the Senate, progress on other bills has stalled, including a piece of legislation that would impact federal student financial aid programs.  The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, passed by the House of Representatives in September, has yet to see its counterpart taken up for debate in the Senate.  Yet the debate over student loan reform is heating up again as the Department of Education and lenders both attempt to press their agendas forward.

Student loan reform has been a topic of contention since President Obama announced his 2010 budget proposal at the beginning of the year.  Among them was doing away with the Federal Family Education Loan Program, which subsidizes private banks to make and service federal student loans, such as Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans. Students would borrow directly from the Department of Education through the Direct Loans Program. The money saved from the subsidies would then be channeled into Pell Grants and Perkins Loans, among other education funding priorities.  The proposed changes would go into effect on July 1, 2010 necessitating a quick switchover to direct lending for all colleges still participating in FFELP.

After the bill passed the House, the Department of Education began urging schools to voluntarily make the change to Direct Loans, which concerned some financial aid administrators and most lending agencies.  Concerns have been expressed over the efficiency of direct lending, the loss of choice in eliminating FFEL, the feasibility of making the switch, and the continuation of services such as financial aid counseling that some lenders currently provide.  Many of these were aired at a recent meeting of a panel of financial aid experts in Washington.  Representatives of student lenders were also there to champion an alternate plan that would bring some of the savings proposed by SAFRA, but would maintain a role for banks in student lending.

It's widely expected that the Senate will ultimately pass a version of the bill similar to what was passed by the House, but when that will happen remains uncertain.  Procedural regulations and concerns over support are currently preventing the bill from progressing until the issue of healthcare is settled.  In the meantime, it appears debate, analysis, and lobbying will continue on both sides of the issue.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

It's looking like federal student financial aid will be increased in the forthcoming economic stimulus package, at least based on the legislation presented in each house of Congress in its current form.  While the House stimulus bill contains more aid for education, the Senate bill also proposes higher education tax benefits and increases in Federal Pell Grant funding.

The House bill promises:

  • $15.6 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350 and fully fund the increase
  • $490 million to Federal Work-Study
  • $12.5 billion over the course of 10 years to offer a $2,500 tax credit that will be 40% refundable for those who would otherwise make too little to qualify
  • $6 billion to higher education infrastructure
  • $1.5 billion to improve energy efficiency for colleges, schools, and local governments
  • $39 billion to school districts and state colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority needs" which can include education
  • a $2,000 increase in loan limits on federal Stafford Loans

The Senate bill appropriates:

  • $13.9 billion to increase the Pell Grant by $281 in 2009-2010 and $400 in 2010-2011 and fully fund the increase
  • $12.9 billion to create a 30% refundable $2,500 tax credit
  • $61 million to Perkins Loans
  • $3.5 billion to improve energy efficiency and infrastructure on college campuses
  • $39 billion to school districts and public colleges
  • $25 billion to states for "high priority" needs which may include education

The House bill also includes money to improve financial aid administration and further assist student loan lenders, while the Senate bill will allow computers to be counted as education expenses towards which 529 plans can be used.  The bills are facing some Republican opposition, especially regarding education spending, as it's been argued that construction projects and increases to student financial aid will not directly and immediately benefit the economy.  As Congress and the White House continue to hash out the details of these bills, amounts are likely to change.  But for now, it appears that colleges and college students may receive a little extra financial aid from the government this year.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Fifth Third Bank could potentially lose its right to participate in the Federal Family Education Loan Program, the Department of Education's program that allows private banks to offer Stafford Loans and PLUS loans.  An audit by the Department of Education's Office of the Inspector General suggests that Fifth Third may have offered illegal inducements to third-party lenders.  Lenders that participate in FFELP, such as Fifth Third, are legally allowed to act as trustees for third-party non-FFELP lenders, allowing the non-FFELP lenders to make or purchase federal student loans.  Fifth Third's actions in some of these "eligible lender trustee" agreements have come under scrutiny, resulting in the audit and harsh recommendations from the Office of the Inspector General.

Fifth Third and the now-defunct Student Loan XPress entered into eligible lender trustee agreements with three lenders: MSA Solution Inc., Pacific Loan Processing Inc., and Law School Financial.  The two FFELP lenders then paid these three trustees premiums to generate higher volumes of student loans.  According to the audit, this violates federal law and could cost Fifth Third its status as an FFELP lender.  The Office of the Inspector General also recommended that the Department of Education further penalize Fifth Third through fines and the withholding of federal guarantees on the over $3 billion in loans generated through these agreements.

This is not the first time an FFELP lender has come under fire for lending practices.  Over the past two years, numerous lenders have been investigated by the Department of Education or New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for questionable actions ranging from bribing schools for places on preferred lender lists to recycling loans through a loophole to claim millions of dollars in federal subsidies.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Brazos Higher Education Service Corporation, Inc., the fourth largest holder of guaranteed student loans and the largest nonprofit loan provider, will not be able to issue new student loans to college students this fall. The company had initially announced in March that it would suspend providing Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) student loans, but after emergency legislation passed this summer to help FFELP lenders, it looked like Brazos may be able to stay in the game. However, they recently issued a news release stating they would not be able to provide new loans to students this fall, citing the short amount of time between the passage of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act and fall semester loan disbursement dates. "We have simply run out of time to secure financing to disburse loans as soon as they are needed," said Brazos CEO Murray Watson.

In another blow to many families' pocketbooks, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA), the state's nonprofit student loan agency, also announced that it would be forced to suspend its student loan services in the fall. With continued uncertainty in the availability of FFELP Stafford Loans and private student loans, now more than ever students are encouraged to keep in touch with their financial aid offices, and also to explore alternate ways to find money for college.  Many universities and state governments are continuing to look at adding new grant programs, with North Dakota being the latest to introduce legislation to provide a new $2000 state grant to its residents attending college in-state.

In addition to grants, scholarships remain excellent resources to pay for school.  Students can conduct a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com to find out instantly which scholarship opportunities may be open to them.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick asked his state's wealthiest universities (such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to help bail out the Massachusetts Education Financing Authority (MEFA), which announced last week that it would not be able to provide loans to over 40,000 students this fall.  However, as an article published today in The Chronicle of Higher Education explains, many parties regard this request as well-intentioned but highly problematic, mainly due to recent lawsuits and legislation regarding potential conflicts of interest in relationships between colleges and student loan providers.  The Massachusetts state treasurer, who vetoed the governor's request to invest money in MEFA, stated that bailing out MEFA was not a good investment and could set a dangerous precedent for use of state funds.  While several colleges said they would consider investing in MEFA to help them provide enough loans to be able to receive assistance from the federal government, none have yet said yes, and many express concerns about what people will think of their relationship with the lending agency once the economy recovers.  When viewed in light of last year's preferred lender list scandal, such hesitation is understandable.

However, while both sides of this issue have adopted positions based on sound principles and the belief in doing what will ultimately be best for students, thousands of students are still left in a lurch when it comes to finding money for college.  With the new Higher Education Act still sitting on President Bush's desk, and the school year fast approaching, many families, and not just ones in Massachusetts, may be struggling to find ways to pay for school.  It's never too late to start applying for financial aid, though!  Students who haven't yet done so should complete a FAFSA on the Web, which could potentially qualify you for federal grant programs.  Once you've received your financial aid award letter, be sure to talk to your school's financial aid office, especially if you plan on receiving loans.   Finally, students of all ages should also check out our free scholarship search, as there are scholarships being awarded year-round, and scholarship awards can be one of the best means of funding your education.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Students who took out Stafford Loans shortly before July 1, 2006 may have fumed upon finding that rates would be fixed for future lenders. Those repaying older, variable-rate loans during the 2007-2008 school year were stuck with a 7.22% interest rate (6.62% during in-school or grace periods) while those whose student loans were disbursed after July 1, 2006 were secure knowing their annual rates would not exceed 6.8%. 

Well, the tables may be turning. During the 2008-2009 school year, interest rates on variable loans will be cut to 4.21% (3.61% during in-school and grace periods) while fixed rates will barely budge. For those with fixed loans first disbursed between the July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2008, these changes will be meaningless--their annual 6.8% rate will still apply. Those whose loans are first disbursed this year may get a bit of a break with the new 6.0% fixed rate (which only applies to undergraduates), but that’s a bittersweet consolation when one considers the larger variable rate cuts and the quickly rising college costs.

Luckily, the future is not completely sour for students with fixed-rate loans. Those who are able to hold off borrowing for a few more years may benefit from doing so. That's because interest rates on fixed loans will gradually fall over the next few years. Understandably, not everyone can afford to hold off. This being said, those who can should.

By 2011, the interest rates on fixed loans are expected to drop to 3.4%. Students who can't wait that long can still save money by waiting for at least one more year. Undergraduates who take out a Stafford Loan between July 2009 and July 2010 will be paying a fixed rate of 5.6%. That's certainly better than 6.8% or the upcoming 6.0%.

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by Scholarships.com Staff

As you've probably noticed, the current student loan market is not so great.  Between lenders backing out of the Federal Family Education Loan Program and temporarily or permanently suspending private loan operations, finding a loan has gotten tougher.  Family financial troubles and lenders' increased credit requirements for private student loans have made qualifying for a loan more challenging, as well.  While scholarship opportunities remain available, and many colleges and universities are even implementing new plans to help students cover college costs, many students and families are still coming up short on their tuition bills.

New models for student lending have surfaced in recent years, but have gained media attention as the troubles with student loans have continued throughout 2008.  One idea, which we've blogged about previously, is peer-to-peer lending, where students set up deals with friends, family members, or other interested parties to borrow money for college.  These deals are brokered through a lending company, and since the parties involved typically know each other, interest rates and default rates are expected to be low.

Another lending model that has succeeded in other countries and is now being tested in the United States, is more akin to investing than lending.  Investors, such as individuals or companies, agree to pay for a student's college education.  In return, the student agrees to repay a portion of their income to the investor for an agreed upon period of time.  In some ways, this resembles the income-contingent repayment plans available for federalconsolidation loans.  These contracts are also meeting criticism, including comparisons to indentured servitude.  Others worry that students with prospects for high income will not be interested and that few people will want to invest in humanities students, who are likely to provide low returns on their investments.  Nevertheless, such "human capital" contracts are expected to be well-received by many students and investors.  As reported by The Boston Globe, one company is already piloting a human capital contract program with a handful of business school students pursuing MBA degrees.

While human capital contracts and peer-to-peer lending are unlikely to wholly replace private student loans, they may provide students with more alternatives to the current forms of "alternative loans."  While college scholarships, institutional aid, and federal student financial aid should always come first, some families do need to borrow significantly to pay for school, and many are likely to welcome a wider range of options for doing so.

Posted Under:

Financial Aid , Student Loans


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