Lenders pull out from the market; students search harder for loans

Freshman premajor Alyssa Posey feared she wouldn’t be able to go to her first choice school because she couldn’t get a private loan.

“I applied (and got denied) twice and got a loan the third time,” Posey said.

Despite national credit crisis reports, most TCU students applying for private loans have ultimately managed to secure the money needed to pay for school, said Mike Scott, director of scholarships and financial aid.

“Many students did have to find new lenders and it caused quite a bit of confusion, but in the end other lenders were available,” Scott said.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of finaid.org and a nationally recognized financial aid expert, said that amid the credit crunch, more than 130 federal loan lenders and 30 private loan lenders have pulled out of the federal student aid program.

Scott said students at four-year schools like TCU commonly have a lower default rate on loans, and some lenders have decided to no longer accept loan applications from any student at certain schools with higher default rates, generally community colleges and trade schools. However, some private lenders have raised interest rates over the last year, he said.

“Our students are not among those a bank would be hesitant to loan to, but they might still charge them higher rates,” Scott said.

Kantrowitz said the average increase of interest rates among lenders has generally been about 1 percent nationwide. He said private lenders are also adopting more stringent credit underwriting criteria.

Lenders are tightening the application process, and as a result applicants are having to jump through a few more hoops.

“The application was more extensive,” said Jacquelyn Wiley, a first-year MBA student. “I know they ran a credit check through a couple of different agencies.”

Kantrowitz said last year, students were able to secure a loan with a credit score as low as 620. “Now you need at least a 650, and in some cases a 680 or a 700,” he said.

Martha Holler, a spokeswoman for Sallie Mae, which according to its Web site is the nation’s leading student loan provider, said it is tightening its underwriting criteria.

Sallie Mae’s range of interest rates for private loans is as low as it was last year, but where a student falls in that range may be slightly higher than where they would have fallen a year before, Holler said.

Tuition increases have continued to outpace any federal increases to the student aid programs, and TCU has experienced a significant increase in private loan volume, Scott said.

Scott said the federal student loan limits this year have increased by a small amount, but they have not risen significantly over 10 years.

“More students are turning to private loans to make up the difference,” Scott said.

According to College Board statistics, private loans made up 24 percent of total education loans for the 2006-2007 school year, which is up from 6 percent a decade ago.