House bill could lower loan rates

By Kathleen Foody

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Jan. 17 that will reduce interest rates on student loans by 50 percent in the next five years.

Passed by a vote of 356-71, the College Student Relief Act now faces consideration by the U.S. Senate.

It is currently under consideration of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The Act cuts interest rates for both variations of federal loans, including those obtained through Federal Direct Subsidized Stafford Loans Program, in which the University participates.

These need-based loans are awarded based on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, according to the Web site for UI’s Office of Student Financial Aid.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., voted in support of the Act.

Johnson praised the act as “a crucial step on the road to college affordability, according to a press release issued by his office following its passage.

The 15th district, represented by Johnson, is home to three major public universities as well as many community colleges and private universities.

“This bill will save borrowers thousands of dollars. That’s especially important in my district,” Johnson said in a press release.

Interest rates currently stand at 6.8 percent. This bill will steadily decrease the rate over the next five years.

Dan Mann, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid, said 15,000 University students participate in the Federal Direct Program.

These students receive their loans from the Federal Direct Loan servicing office, not through the University’s financial aid office, he said.

Mann said it is important for students to be aware that the interest rates in place at the time they purchase their loan will be the rate they must pay.

“Students don’t pay anything on their loans until after they graduate,” Mann said. “They have to be mindful of the rate they agree to at the time of the loan purchase.”

Mann said he believes lawmakers will enact new legislation after the Act expires in January, 1 2012, so that interest rates will not dramatically increase at that time.

Despite this slight issue, Mann believes lowering interest rates is helpful.

“Anything that is going to reduce costs for students is positive,” he said.