September 15, 2009
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.
September 17, 2009
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.
November 12, 2009
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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