Washington -- Suppose you took out an unsubsidized student loan to pay for college back before interest rates were so low. Now you’d like to refinance.
But your lender won’t let you.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown says this happens too often. Graduates and others who attended school with private loans five or six years ago are paying them back with interest rates of 8 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent and higher. And while this assures lenders a healthy profit in today’s low-interest environment, it leaves graduates with heavy debt and an inability to do what many other borrowers do: Refinance at a lower rate.
Brown tomorrow will introduce a bill that he says could change that.
It would task the departments of Treasury and Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to come up with incentives that could make it worthwhile for a student lender to restructure a loan. It would not put the government in the role of direct lender -- a role the government now has in the subsidized-student-loan sector.
But the government could use its authority to help banks borrow more cheaply, for example, or back or collateralize pools of loans to give the banks more security. The government could create incentives to broaden the field of private student lenders, which Brown’s office says is dominated by a small group of big banks and Sallie Mae.
Private student lending represents about $150 billion in outstanding student loans, out of about $1.1 trillion in total student loans including subsidized ones.
"Why should our students and graduates be the last to benefit from historically low interest rates?” said Brown, a Democrat. “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. It makes sense for our students and graduates and it makes sense for our economy."
Brown’s ‘Refinancing Education Funding to Invest for the Future Act” (just call it “REFI”) would have no net cost to taxpayers. So what’s not to like?
Plenty, if you’re a private lender getting back 10 percent.
And many members of Congress, particularly Republicans, do not like the government meddling in private finance. In fact, the bigger part of the student loan universe -- subsidized loans -- for years was handled by private lenders. The government’s role was limited to guaranteeing these loans against default and subsidizing the lenders so they would give loans at lower interest rates.
This cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but Democrats were unable to persuade congressional Republicans to cut out the middle men (the banks) and just make the loans directly to the students, through their universities. Democrats finally changed the system by wedging direct-lending into the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and passing it with a bit of legislative derring-do.
What resulted? To Democrats, it created a more efficient subsidized loan program. To Republicans, it represented a raid on student lending to pay for Obamacare.Sen. Sherrod Brown hoping to let student borrowers save by refinancing »