November 19, 2008
A struggling economy, shrinking endowments, turmoil in the student loan marketplace, and state budget cuts have all raised questions about students' continued ability to pay for school. However, despite economic troubles, at least one state has plans to launch a new program to help its students find money for college in the form of low-interest student loans.
Connecticut students will soon have one more source of student financial aid, thanks to a new partnership between the state and its credit unions. The loan program, announced yesterday by the governor's office, would provide up to $17.5 million in student loans for college students from Connecticut and students attending college in the state.
Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell met with officials from the state's credit unions on Tuesday to discuss the partnership. Under the proposed college loan program, students would borrow directly from the credit unions at interest rates of 5.75 or 6 percent. Each credit union would be required to offer at least $100,000 in student loans to participate in the program. The loans are designed to help families who don't have access to sufficient amounts of financial aid, such as federal Stafford loans, to cover their tuition bills. The governor's press release did not make mention of borrowing limits or requirements.
November 26, 2008
Yesterday, the Federal Reserve and Treasury announced a new program to further shore up the banking industry in the face of a recession that appears to still be worsening. The program would devote $200 billion to shoring up consumer credit markets, including credit cards, car loans, and student loans. The hope is that this new program will make these forms of credit more widely available to people who need them, including students who depend on private loans to help pay for school.
The New York Times explains that this is the first time the federal government has intervened to finance consumer debt and describes the program as " com[ing] close to being a government bank." Coupled with recent efforts to expand and sustain federal student financial aid programs, namely the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the federal government has expended a fairly vast amount of resources on student financial aid. However, some are questioning how the money is being spent.
The Project on Student Debt is one organization that has encouraged the federal government to exclude private student loans from rescue packages. While the lending industry has been hit hard in the last year, this organization is one of several voices urging that students be steered towards more affordable means of financing their educations. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, while supporting the Treasury's decision, also called for a reevaluation of the role of private loans in paying for college. Private student loans, which carry higher interest rates than federal loans, are intended to be used as a last resort after Federal Stafford Loans, campus-based aid programs, and scholarship money have been exhausted and students are still coming up short on their education expenses.
August 12, 2008
Nearly 17% more students completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January and June 2008 compared to the same period in 2007 according to a report released last month by the Department of Education. Several states, including California and North Carolina, have seen an even more marked increase, with at least 20% more students applying for federal student financial aid for college this calendar year.
This increase in applications for financial aid is largely attributed to the rising cost of a college education, the recent loan crunch, and the general economic downturn, which are all making it more difficult for families to completely cover the cost of tuition. More people may also be applying for financial aid due to increased awareness of its existence, thanks to recent news coverage of financial aid issues.
Aside from longer lines at the financial aid office in the fall, this news is likely to have little impact on students attending college this year (although you may want to apply early for a work-study job lest you discover that the only available job is on the receiving end of that financial aid line). Aid programs with limited funds, such as state grants and campus-based programs like Perkins Loans and work-study jobs, could potentially be exhausted a bit earlier this year, but students still procrastinating on applying for financial aid should still fill out a FAFSA if they haven't missed their school's deadline. Federal aid, such as Stafford Loans and Pell Grants, is still available to late applicants, and as long as they haven't missed any deadlines, students could still manage to receive awards given on a first come, first serve basis.
For students considering financial aid for the 2009-2010 academic year, we recommend deciding early whether you intend to apply for federal aid (not sure? Use a college cost worksheet to estimate your actual cost of attendance), researching your school's financial aid and scholarship application deadlines (especially since some institutional scholarships are need-based), doing your taxes as soon as possible, and completing the FAFSA on the Web in January or February (or as far in advance of the deadline as possible) to ensure that you're considered for all the aid for which you're qualified (to get an idea, you can use the Department of Education's FAFSA4caster). Also, continue to conduct regular scholarship searches and to apply for scholarships, since scholarships continue to be the best way to make up the difference between what college costs and what you can afford to pay for school.
August 20, 2008
The results of a poll conducted by Sallie Mae and Gallup were released today, painting a picture of where Americans across income levels find money for college. The study found that sources of funding varied, with parent borrowing (16%), student borrowing (23%), and parent income and savings (32%) taking care of the majority of college costs. Scholarships and grants followed closely behind, making up 15 percent of college funding.
The average grant and scholarship awards and student loan amounts were roughly the same for low income families (families making below $50,000 a year), while middle income families relied most heavily on parent income and student loans, and high income families (families making above $100,000 a year) predominantly used parent income and savings to pay for school.
While more students than parents were likely to rule out a school at some point in their college search based on cost (63% vs. 54%), two in five families said that cost was not a consideration in choosing the right college for them, and 70 percent of students and parents said that future income was not a factor when determining how much to borrow.
Additionally, 20 percent of families reported using either a second mortgage or a credit card to pay some portion of tuition, while only 9 percent of families reported using a college savings plan, such as a 529 plan, to pay for part of tuition (though those who did were able to cover nearly $8,000 of the cost of college with one). The study also found that only 76 percent of students whose families made between $35,000 and $50,000 per year, many of whom may be eligible for state and federal grant programs, did not complete the FAFSA. Only 73 percent of familes making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year completed a FAFSA, despite many families' reliance on loans to pay for college.
The full text of the report is available on the Sallie Mae website.
September 5, 2008
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is preparing a lawsuit against Goal Financial, the student loan company that also runs the website eStudentLoan.com. According to the New York Times, Goal Financial stands accused of misleading consumers about loans, and offering them gifts such as iPods to influence their choice in lenders. While other lenders accused of dishonest practices have repented and agreed to follow a code of conduct outlined by Cuomo, Goal Financial has not, hence the pending lawsuit.
Goal is accused of misrepresenting loan terms to promote private loans over low-interest federal Stafford loans, as well as failing to disclose their ownership of eStudentLoan on the latter's website. The company also allegedly failed to disclose that all lenders listed on the eStudentLoan loan rate comparison feature were companies that had paid a commission to Goal Financial.
While Cuomo's investigation of the student lending industry has undoubtedly made borrowing less risky, students should still proceed with caution and carefully vet the quality of the lender they choose to use. If you need to take out student loans to help fund your education, be sure to do your research. First and foremost, explore all federal student financial aid opportunities. Start by completing the FAFSA on the Web and visiting with your school's financial aid office. It would also be beneficial to conduct an extensive scholarship search at this point, as well, since you never know where you might find money for college.
If you do find you need to borrow a private loan, research several lenders, and if your college's financial aid office maintains a preferred lender list (which should consist of lenders that are actually preferable thanks to Cuomo's earlier investigations) take a copy. Begin evaluating your options, but be wary of anything that sounds gimmicky or too good to be true. Carefully research any loan before you apply.
Find out which banks have the best rates and repayment options, and whether you'll need a cosigner to get approved. Apply to one loan at a time and give yourself plenty of time for processing, since many student loans need to be approved by the bank and certified by your college before funds can be disbursed. Many lenders will let you know within a day or two whether your has been pre-approved or rejected so that you can move on to the next application if necessary.
September 10, 2008
Despite the student loan credit crunch that has been repeatedly making headlines this year, students and parents in several New England states had little to no trouble finding money for college this fall, according to a survey conducted by the New England Board of Higher Education.
The survey asked financial aid administrators at 214 colleges and universities to assess the level of difficulty students faced finding financial aid, as well as the effectiveness of the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act passed by Congress earlier this year to ensure continued availability of Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) funds.
The survey found an increase in students borrowing unsubsidized Stafford Loans, as well as no major concerns over the availabilty of those funds through FFELP lenders. It also showed that more families have borrowed Federal PLUS Loans this year, possibly due to recent changes that allow families to defer payments until after students graduate. These changes seem to have mostly made up for the decreased availability of private student loans. However, some financial aid administrators are still concerned over continued availability of student loans, and caution that families may face difficulties making tuition payments in future semesters.
Based on this information, it appears there's little reason to put your college plans on hold, but you might still want to devote an increased amount of time to finding scholarships. While it looks like students are still able to pay for school, changes in the student loan landscape may still leave some students without a plan B for covering college costs if their initial plans fall through.
Really, though, financial aid advice hasn't changed much. Now, as always, planning ahead is key. As always, a good college financing strategy involves doing the following: conduct a scholarship search, take time to complete the FAFSA, learn about and take advantage of all possible federal student financial aid, apply for university scholarships and campus-based aid, and only then consider applying for a private student loan.
September 11, 2008
Seven student loan lending agencies agreed to a settlement with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Tuesday, following an investigation by Cuomo's office into potentially deceptive lending practices. This is the latest group of lenders to settle in an inquiry that's been going on for nearly a year, after accusations first came to public attention last October.
The seven lenders were Nelnet Inc., Campus Door Inc., GMAC Bank, NextStudent Inc., Xanthus Financial Services Inc., EduCap Inc. and Graduate Loan Associates LLC. The lenders agreed to abide by a code of conduct drafted by Cuomo's office, and also jointly donated $1.4 million to a fund established to educate students about financial aid processes.
A number of lenders were being investigated for deceptive marketing practices that included sending out mailings that looked like they came from the federal government or a student's current lender, offering gifts such as iPods or gift cards to entice students to sign up for their loan, and advertising loan rates for which the majority of borrowers would not qualify. Lenders agreed to cease deceptive lending practices and to include a disclaimer in all loan offers that will encourage students to exhaust all other options for federal student financial aid before borrowing a private loan.
September 17, 2008
The House of Representatives voted Monday to extend the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act (ECASLA) into the 2009-2010 school year. The act also has broad support from lenders and financial aid administrators. The ECASLA was signed into law this May in response to concerns that the credit crunch would have a serious impact on the availability of student loans.
While it appears that students have had few problems finding adequate funding for school this fall, many lenders and financial aid administrators remain concerned about the potential for trouble in the next academic year based on the present economic situation. Many financial institutions continue to struggle with fallout from the subprime lending situation, and several major lenders have been forced to temporarily suspend student loan programs due to lack of financial backing.
The act still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. If this happens, the continued federal support will likely make it easier for families to figure out where they'll find money for college in the 2009-2010 academic year without worrying about student loan availability. The provisions of ECASLA help the federal government keep major student loan lenders and guaranty agencies in business and in a position to continue to serve students, which is good news, at least in the short term, for families who need to borrow to pay for school.
September 18, 2008
According to a Department of Education memo cited by the New York Times, the Federal Pell Grant program could face a budget shortfall of up to $6 billion in 2009 due to increases in grant amounts and numbers of applicants. The cap on Pell awards has risen from $4050 to $4731 between 2006 and now, and will increase to $6000 for the 2009-2010 academic year (if funding is available) according to the recently reauthorized Higher Education Act. Meanwhile, the number of FAFSA applications has risen by nearly 17 percent in the last year alone, driven by a worsening economic situation.
While data has not yet been released on whether more students are qualifying for Pell Grants or other need-based federal student financial aid this year, increasing college enrollment and unemployment rates, coupled with an overall economic downturn and increased cost of living for Americans, certainly suggest the possibility exists. According to the Department of Education memo to Congress, tough choices or an unpopular announcement regarding Pell Grant funding may have to be made shortly after the next President's inauguration. While it's speculated that Congress will ultimately find the money to fully fund the popular grant program, the federal government is by no means exempt from economic strain.
This announcement comes at the same time as the release of the results of an audit of 14 student loan guaranty agencies, which suggests the government may have lost over $1 billion to FFELP student loan companies taking advantage of a now-closed federal funding loophole. Lenders had been recycling new student loans through a loan program that guaranteed a 9.5 percent return from the government on student loans made before 1993. Lenders had been taking advantage of this loophole as late as 2006, claiming in some cases hundreds of millions of federal dollars for which they should have been ineligible.
When these loan recycling programs came to light, the Department of Education settled with lenders, allowing them to keep the money they had gained up to that point in the 9.5 percent program, but requiring them to immediately cease using the program or submit to an audit in order to continue receiving the subsidies on loans actually eligible. So far, 14 lenders have agreed to these audits. Based on the results, if the loan agencies audited are representative of all lenders that participated in the 9.5 percent program, federal losses could total $1.2 billion. Several of the lenders involved in this settlement, including Nelnet, a company that also recently settled with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over other questionable business practices, have also announced that they are unable to completely fund their student loan programs for the 2008-2009 school year.
September 25, 2008
In the wake of the credit crisis of the past year, innumerable articles have been written about the impact on the student loan industry, as several student lending agencies have been forced to stop offering federal and private loans to students or at least scale back their operations considerably. Credit requirements have gotten more stringent for students whose lenders are still in business, and taking out a student loan is an even more time-consuming and uncertain process now than ever.
At the same time, the economic downturn that's accompanied the credit crisis is highlighting the difficulty students are facing repaying all of these student loans--loans they're being told now that they're lucky to get. Many students feel caught in a difficult position. Do they take out student loans, go horribly in debt, but get to ultimately pursue a fulfilling degree and a potentially more fulfilling career? Do they work full-time through school and take longer to get the degree and spend less time in their dream job? Or do they minimize debt by going to work sooner in a field that's easier to break into and requires less education?
According to the results of a survey published in the Boston Business Journal, that first option might not even be an option for many students. An online poll of 336 recent college grads revealed that 47 percent said that their career pursuits were influenced by their need to make student loan payments, while 25 percent reported putting future education plans on hold in order to minimize debt. While these numbers are the results of only one web survey, they still send a pretty clear message that avoiding student loans is a good idea when trying to pay your way through school.
Congress is advocating the wider adoption of college savings accounts, such as 529 plans, and more universities are retooling their financial aid packages to benefit more needy students and rely more heavily on scholarships than on student loans. Many of the nation's top colleges have made a commitment to helping all accepted students afford to attend, and other schools are offering larger scholarship awards to students who most need them, as well. For example, Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia just launched the Starfish Initiative, where anonymous donations are used to cover the remaining tuition balances of deserving seniors who might otherwise need to take out a substantial private loan or leave college.
But institutional aid and college savings accounts aren't the only options available to students. A vast number of scholarship opportunities are out there, and despite the scholarship myths you may have heard, you can fund a substantial portion of your college education with such sources. So start your scholarship search early and be persistent. While soaring college costs and a weak economy may make it harder to pay for school, they don't mean you have to stay home or be overwhelmed by debt. Do your research and find out what resources are available to help fund your education.
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