MONEY

Obama Plan Aims to Streamline College Loan Shopping

Right now about 80% of the federal Stafford (student) and PLUS (parent) loans for college are doled out through third-party lenders via the FFELP program, with the Federal Direct Loan Program handling just 20% or so of loan volume.

The FFELP program is now on the endangered species list.

President Obama’s new budget proposes for 100% of college loan shopping to come in-house. Under the administration proposal third-party FFELP lenders would be cut out of the mix and all Stafford and PLUS loans would be originated through Uncle Sam’s Federal Direct Loan Program.

The Obama bean-counters estimate that moving the entire program in-house would save about $4 billion a year, and $47.5 billion in the first 10 years. The bulk of the savings comes from the elimination of federal subsidies to FFELP lenders.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the finaid.org website says this move would be “a death blow to the student lending industry.” If so, it’s just the final punch.

Let’s remember that this is the same student loan industry that was rocked in 2007 when New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo revealed kick-back schemes where lenders offered financial aid offices incentives for steering potential clients in their direction. That scandal no doubt played a role in Congress pushing through a big college lending reform bill later that year that severely cut back federal subsidies paid to the third-party lenders through FFELP.

Certainly not having to shop around various FFELP lenders for a Stafford or PLUS will be a boost to students and parents, but it will remain to be seen if the actual cost to borrowers will be lower (taxpayers are another matter.) Many FFELP lenders offered small rate-reductions and discounts to qualified borrowers, under the Federal Direct Loan Program those discounts may not be available.

Stay tuned as this budget item is sure to get plenty of air-time in Capitol Hill debates. That said, there’s still no official plan for fixing the really big headache in the college loan process: the insanely difficult FAFSA form that is required to obtain financial aid.

– Carla Fried

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