Fresno State reacts to hiked student loan rate

Congress fails to act on plan for Subsidized Stafford loans, causing rate to jump to 6.8%

The Fresno BeeJuly 1, 2013 

Fresno State business administration major Daniel Clark was working full-time while juggling a full load of classes.

The sophomore's GPA began to suffer, but he needed the money to pay bills and cover tuition costs. Even then, he took out $5,000 in federal Subsidized Stafford loans to make ends meet.

At least Clark's interest rate was cheap: 3.4%.

Next semester, incoming students like Clark can expect to pay double in interest on loans they sign on to pay for the costs of getting a degree.

That's because Congress failed to act before a July 1 deadline on a plan to prevent Subsidized Stafford loans, which account for roughly a quarter of all direct federal borrowing, from jumping to 6.8% interest.

Congress' Joint Economic Committee estimates the cost passed to students would be about $2,600.

The new rates will only apply to students entering college or taking out loans for the first time. Subsidized Stafford loans taken before Monday are not affected by the rate hike, nor are federal PLUS, Perkins or unsubsidized Stafford loans slated for an interest-rate hike in the coming year.

At California State University, Fresno, between 1,600 to 1,700 new students who are expected to take out loans will see the higher Stafford rates.

Bernie Vinovrksi, Fresno State associate vice president for enrollment services, said the jump likely won't impact the university's enrollment figures. And borrowing from the government under the new rates, he said, is still relatively affordable compared to using a credit card or taking out private loans.

Even so, he said, the new rates could affect students' financial stability in the long run.

"The average student who leaves Fresno State owes roughly $17,000 in student loans, so that's going to go up, $18,000 or $18,500 as far as an average goes," he said. "Down the road, it's unwise for Congress to not have continued that. If people leave here borrowing more money, they are less likely to buy a home."

Efforts to keep interest rates from doubling on new Stafford loans fell apart last week amid partisan wrangling in the Senate. Democratic senators and the White House both predicted that a deal would be reached in Congress to bring the rates down again before students return to campus.

"The only silver lining is that relatively few borrowers take out student loans in July and early August. You really can't take out student loans more than 10 days before the term starts," said Terry Hartle, a top official with the colleges lobbying operation American Council on Education.

But that is little consolation for students looking at unexpected costs waiting for them on graduation day if Congress doesn't take action before it breaks again for the month of August.

"It's a little frustrating as a student to see them not take any action on this measure," said Clark, the Fresno State sophomore. "Students have to get jobs and that takes away time from them studying. Finally, when they do get out of college, rather than using money to put into a house or a car, they will be paying back their loans."

Fresno State Student Body President Moses Menchaca, a senior studying political science, said he's worked part-time jobs, applied for financial aid and saved his pennies to begin paying down a $1,200 loan he took out his freshman year.

"It makes students more aware of the loans they're getting involved with," Menchaca said of the hike. "Hopefully this will wake up students and encourage them to contact their local representatives."

For months, the student loan issue was the subject of partisan sniping -- sometimes within the same party. Lawmakers knew for a full year the July 1 deadline was coming, but were unable to strike a deal to dodge that increase. During last year's presidential race, both major-party candidates pledged to extend the 3.4% interest rates for another year to avoid angering young voters.

But the looming hike lacked sufficient urgency this year and Congress last week left town for the holiday without an agreement. Instead, the Democratic-led Senate pledged to revisit the issue as soon as July 10 and retroactively restore the rates for another year.

Vinovrksi said he's hopeful a deal will be reached, but said he's not holding his breath.

"With all the other debates going on, from immigration to border security, I just don't think they've had enough time," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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