Expiration of bill may up loan interest rates

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Major changes to the structure of subsidized student federal loans may make paying them off significantly more burdensome.

On July 1, the 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act will expire. This act has kept interest rates on subsidized student federal loans, a type of Stafford loan offered through Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, down at 3.4 percent. Once the act expires, all interest rates on loans taken out after July 1 will increase to 6.8 percent.

According to records from the Office of Student Financial Services, 18,243 UT students took out subsidized student federal loans in the 2010-2011 school year — a total that amounted to 31 percent of all the financial aid dispersed to students that year.

The average UT student takes out $12,066 in subsidized federal loans by the time they graduate, and it typically takes students around ten years to pay back their loans, said Student Financial Services director Tom Melecki.

If the interest rate doubles, students would be paying $4,597 more in interest over the life span of the loan, he said.

“It will be a few years before we get to the point where all the money someone borrows will be at the 6.8 percent rate, but the fact of the matter is that the rate’s going to go up unless Congress takes steps to stop that,” Melecki said.

President Obama has recently proposed extending the life of the bill by another year, but Congress has not accepted this proposal as of yet.

“I would love to see the federal government delay the impact of this bill for another year to spend some time studying the impact of this on students,” Melecki said.

Student subsidized federal loans are also very difficult to discharge when they cannot be paid. Even in cases of bankruptcy, the federal government has the right to maintain the loan, said Armando Salinas, the financial director of the Graduate Student Assembly.

The GSA is currently lobbying Washington to ask for loan forgiveness, Salinas said, a system of cancellation programs that would alleviate students of the burden of some loans if students are able to qualify by providing a service that aids the public interest, such as medicine or law.

The GSA is also hoping to make the loan repayment process restructured according to income and make graduate student compensation taxable. The lobbying effort is a response to last years debt ceiling deal which ended subsidized federal loans for graduate students, Salinas said.

These changes come at a time when President William Powers Jr. is sending a proposal to the Regents for the largest tuition increase that the UT System can allow for the next two academic years. Budget funding from the state has also continually decreased to 14 percent last year from 52 percent in 1981.

Having entered the workforce as a young adult, studio art senior Ashley Birkner started college at 33 after deciding she wanted to break out of the cubicle and pursue a career in art through higher education.

Birkner said she relies almost entirely on subsidized federal loans for her tuition and plans to take out more loans in order to attend graduate school.

In addition to Texas, 42 states have similarly imposed cuts to the funding of higher education, according to a report by the Washington D.C. based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It seems like the government is trying to make it harder and harder for people to get an education, and the system is already so far behind,” Birkner said, who is now borrowing the maximum amount of student loans allowed. “I have to go to graduate school to have a career, and I have to pay for Stafford loans to go to graduate school. It’s a scary proposition and I don’t have any other choice.”