The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 28, 2013

Neither party has cash for student loan rate fix

(Continued)

In any event, neither side is likely to get what it wants. And that could lead to confusion for students as they receive their college admission letters and financial aid packages.

"Two ideas ... have been introduced so far — neither of which is likely to go very far," said Terry Hartle, the top lobbyist for colleges at the American Council on Education.

House Republicans, led by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, have outlined a spending plan that would shift the interest rates back to their pre-2008 levels. Congress in 2007 lowered the rate to 6 percent for new loans started during the 2008 academic year, then down to 5.6 percent in 2009, down to 4.5 percent in 2010 and then to the current 3.4 percent a year later.

Some two-thirds of students are graduating with loans exceeding $25,000; one in 10 borrowers owes more than $54,000 in loans. And student loan debt now tops $1 trillion. For those students, the rates make significant differences in how much they have to pay back each month.

For some, the rates seem arbitrary and have little to do with interest rates available for other purchases such as homes or cars.

"Burdening students with 6.8 percent loans when interest rates in the economy are at historic lows makes no sense," said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, a nonprofit organization.

Both House Education Committee Chairman John Kline of Minnesota and his Democratic counterpart, Rep. George Miller of California, prefer to keep rates at their current levels but have not outlined how they might accomplish that goal.

Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, last week introduced a proposal that would permanently cap the interest rate at 3.4 percent.

Senate Democrats say their budget proposal would permanently keep the student rates low. But their budget document doesn't explicitly cover the $6 billion annual cost. Instead, its committee report included a window for the Senate Health Education and Pension Committee to pass a student loan rate fix down the road.

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