U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has a new bill aimed at allowing Americans burdened by private student loan to refinance at lower interest rates.
Americans owe more than $150 billion in student loans to private banks and companies. Those borrowers are often among the most indebted of all college students and graduates; they can pay uncapped variable interest rates or as much as 10 percent on their loans; and they have few relief options, experts say.
Brown’s “Refinancing Education Funding to Invest for the Future Act of 2013” is viewed as a rare attempt to help people who already hold loans, as legislators engage also in a partisan fight over the interest rate on future subsidized Stafford Loans for low- and middle-income students. The rate on those federal loans is set to double to 6.8 percent on July 1 for loans taken out after that date. Brown has actively campaigned for keep the interest rate at 3.4 percent, adding the issue affects more than 360,000 college students in Ohio. He is collecting stories at brown.senate.gov/CollegeLoanStories.
The Ohio Democrat’s new bill would help private student loan holders “reduce their student loan debt payment by refinancing at no cost to taxpayers,” according to his office. Brown has support for the bill, but he warned that “with Wall Street banks on the other side, usually it’s uphill.”
Private loans represent only 15 percent of the $1 trillion in student loans owed by Americans, according to Brown’s bill. But 81 percent of graduates who owe more than $40,000 had a private student loan. Their excessive debt “reduces economic activity, threatens home ownership, hurts small business growth and limits opportunities for economic expansion in rural communities,” the bill says.
“It’s a terrible burden,” Brown said. “It isn’t good for them. It isn’t good for this economy.”
“Why should our students and graduates be the last to benefit from historically low interest rates? Helping graduates refinance their private student loan debt into more affordable terms frees up funds for them to buy houses, start businesses, or contribute to their communities,” Brown said in a news release.
Financial aid experts call private students loans a “risky” way to pay for college.
Private loans do not offer as many options for financial relief if a borrower runs into difficulties, such as losing a job, said Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of Edvisors.com.
Kantrowitz said the number of lenders doing refinancing has dropped to about four or five.
“It is possible to refinance, but it’s not as common as it once was and it never was very common,” he said. “A lot of lenders aren’t really focused on that. They’re making the loans and want to hold the loans indefinitely and they don’t have a financial incentive to refinance.”
Piqua resident Doris Clark, 75, said she needs relief on the student loan she has had for 18 years. Clark said she took out $4,583 to pay for a one-year business certificate at an Indiana business college after she could no longer work as a waitress because of a foot injury.
But she fell behind on payments, and to this day, still owes $1,085. Now retired, the nearly $75 monthly payments are a burden, she said. Her own attempts to negotiate payment have failed, she added.
“I have been paying on this loan 18 years, and it’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “Something should be done. It’s happening every day with all these student loans. I just don’t think it’s fair, but I have nowhere to reach out and I don’t know who to talk to about it.”