Act may complicate repaying loans, official says

Students graduating in May will find fewer options to pay off loans, a financial aid officer said.

Loan debts will be more difficult to pay off for some students than it has been in the past because of the current credit crunch in the student loan market, said Melet Leafgreen, assistant director of scholarships and financial aid.

Although loan consolidation has been a popular option to pay off loans in the past, it will more than likely be a struggle for students this year, Leafgreen said.

When a student cannot pay off a loan, either the lender or the government can issue a consolidation loan, Leafgreen said. “Consolidators” pay off whatever debt a student may have. Students are then issued a new loan in the full amount needed to be paid off, she said. An extension in time is given to pay off the consolidation loan, which can reach up to 30 years.

Time extensions are what have been beneficial for students, Leafgreen said, and sometimes the interest rates are even lower than normal.

Three years ago interest rates were, what Leafgreen calls low, at 3 percent. About 80 percent of students consolidated that July, she said.

This year’s credit crunch has harmed the benefits students usually have taken advantage of.

“It is a scary time for students to pay off loans this year because of the less-than-great economy,” Leafgreen said.

In September, an act was passed to cut money from the federal student loan market. That money, $20 billion, was geared toward direct-lending programs and granting student aid, said Melissa Wagoner, spokeswoman for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who sponsored the bill, in February.

The changes in the market have caused student lenders, such as Sallie Mae and College Loan Corporation, to either cut back or quit loan programs.

Since then, lenders have decided to decline certain students of consolidation loans, leaving them with fewer options to pay off debts, Leafgreen said.

Students with large loans, more than $20,000, will be counseled to seek other options through their designated lenders, Leafgreen said.

If interest rates stay low, 30 to 40 percent of students graduating in May are expected to consolidate, Leafgreen said.

“My biggest piece of advice is to stay in touch with your lenders,” Leafgreen said. “The financial aid office at TCU can help you if you do so,” she said.