Why do you still have so much interest in my interest?

Hello all!

Just a quick note to share some information that may be of “interest” to you, specifically great news on student loan interest rates for 2020-21.

Interest rates going down, down, down…

You may know (or you may not know) that Federal student and parent loans (Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS) have interest rates that are fixed for the life of the loan. Each year when you borrow a loan, your interest rate for that particular annual loan is based on that fixed rate (and it will not change during the time that you pay that loan). This does mean that if you borrow one loan each year of your four year undergraduate career, you could have four different loans with four different interest rates.

Well, the interest rate is set annually based on (wonky stuff coming) the auction rate for 10 year Treasury bills in early May. And, guess what? We are in a tough economic time, so the T-bill rate is at an historic low, so that means student loan rates will also be at an historic low in 2020-21.

How low?

Subsidized Student Loan and Unsubsidized Student Loan interest rates for undergraduates will be 2.75% (down from 4.53% in 2019-20). Parent and Graduate PLUS Loan rates will be 5.3% (down from 7.08% in 2019-20). And Graduate Unsubsidized Student Loans will be at 4.3% interest rate (down from 6.08% in 2019-20).

Of course, remember that currently Federally held student loans have an interest rate of 0% through September 30 anyway, but this is a major reduction in rates which will leave this year’s borrowers feeling some economic impact from the pandemic throughout the lifetime of their repayment.

More information on these rates can be found at CNN or Forbes.

Pound the Alarm (Coronavirus CARES Act)

Mad props to Nicki Minaj. That’s it. No other reason. Just love for her.

OK, well, I will say that if there is a big alarm bell for higher education, we pounded it these last few weeks! “Somebody call 911… shawty fire burning on the dance floor”. Never mind, that’s Sean Kingston.

Doesn’t matter what you call it; we’re in pretty urgent times. Can we all just hit snooze?

Regardless of the background music you have running in your head right now, it is pretty clear that we are in emergency times. Last week, the US Congress passed (and the President signed) the CARES Act (the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act”), also known as the $2 trillion relief package. There are some pretty important parts of this law and today’s post is going to review them (and what might have impact for you). If you want to read along in the final text of the law, feel free to do so — you can find the text here. Just keep in mind that the final bill is 335 pages long; I’ve picked out the important pieces for you and for higher education below.

First let’s talk about the individual taxpayer checks that are coming. Under Section 2201 of the Act (pages 55-60), a new program called “Recovery Rebates for Individuals” is created. Under this program, most taxpayers will be getting a stimulus check in the amount of up to $1200 per adult (with income caps) and $500 per child under the age of 17 in the household. CNN has a pretty handy calculator to determine how much you can expect in your stimulus check. Remember, this is based on your 2019 Adjusted Gross Income (if you already filed your 2019 Federal Income Tax Return) or your 2018 return. Since I know you read every blog entry with care, just a reminder that you can learn a lot more about Federal Taxes by visiting this section of the blog.

The next big item is the amount of Emergency Grant funds for colleges and universities. The Act sets aside about $12.5B in emergency funds for institutions to help students during this crisis; you can find the rules for this under Section 18004 (pages 287-288) of the Act. These funds can be used in the following manner: 1/2 MUST be used to help offset student expenses by providing direct grants to students, while the other 1/2 CAN be used to offset the institution’s expenses in moving to online education (including technology, payroll, etc). Individual colleges will see large amounts of money directed to them under this program; the American Council on Education ran an estimate of how much they think colleges will each receive (based on enrollment, Pell participation, and other data). These numbers are estimates only, but as an example USF (Main Campus) is expected to receive $29.5M, UCF to receive $47.6M, Miami-Dade College to receive $47.4M, Broward $27.5M, and so on. To be clear, these are only estimates and no final rules have yet been shared by the Department of Education (nor do we as colleges have this money yet since the law was just signed Friday) but we know that whatever comes this will be very helpful for you, our students.

And the bill goes on from there. Below I am going to highlight some sections of the bill, page numbers, and a brief description of the relief coming from this part of the Act. All of these are higher education changes:

  • Section 3503 (page 116) – waivers of matching requirements for schools for Campus Based Fund (SEOG and FWS). This means that schools do not have to match Federal awards in these programs with their own dollars (it has been a 75/25 match) allowing schools to use this money in other ways to help students. This waiver is for two years (2019/20 and 2020/21).
  • Section 3504 (pages 116-117) – use of Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (SEOG). This section allows colleges and universities to use the funds awarded to them by the Feds in SEOG to now help both undergrads and grad students and to ignore the previous rules about awarding order (reserving this money for those who have Pell Grants first).
  • Section 3505 (page 117) – paying Federal Work Study (FWS) students. This section specifically allows schools to pay their FWS students if the campus has to close (although online classes are still being offered) and students cannot work any longer on campus.
  • Section 3506 / 3507 (page 118) – for students who withdraw, ignoring usage limits. Pell Grants and Subsidized Loans have aggregate limits so that once you use your limits, you can’t have any more Pell (or Subsidized Loans). Under this section if you withdraw during the period of national emergency, the Pell or Subsidized Loan you received won’t count against your limits.
  • Section 3508 (pages 118-119) – Institutional refunds and loan flexibility. Again this section is for students who withdraw during this emergency. Under this section, neither institutions nor students would have to return unearned aid to the government (like we usually do if you don’t attend at least 60% of the term). In addition, if a student withdraws, the amount of any Federal loan borrowed for that period would be cancelled.
  • Section 3509 (page 119) – Satisfactory Academic Progress. This section says that for students who withdraw due to the emergency, colleges can ignore the courses that they have withdrawn from in determining their completion percentage (which has to be above 66.6%).
  • Sections 3510, 3511, 3512 (pages 119-124). These cover foreign institutions, emergency waivers, and HBCU capital financing. Important for these schools, but not relevant to many of you students.
  • Section 3513 (pages 124-125) – Federal student loan relief. Under this section, Federal student loan interest rates are set to 0% and no payments are required for 6 months (until September 30, 2020). In addition, all forms of collection (wage garnishment, reducing tax refunds or other federal benefits) are halted.

There are some other Higher Ed sections but they are mainly technical (pages 125-130). The only one that may interest some of you is the waiver of teaching service for those receiving the TEACH grant during this time.

Sooooo…… lots of changes. When does this all go into effect?? Well technically as of the day the law was signed but we usually get some guidance from Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education on how to implement changes. We have no guidance or announcements yet on the CARES Act so stay tuned. There is a lot more to come.

For now, ask your questions. I’m sure you have some. I can’t promise answers but I will sure try!!

Why the sudden interest in my interest? (Coronavirus Update 2)

It has been quite a week. I’m sure you feel the same. I’m trying to balance my need to be updated constantly with the latest news with a desire not to be constantly inundated with what’s going on.

Last night I took a break and watched a great old movie. It was just the break I needed; light and comedic, and just fun. What are you doing to try to find time to balance? What tricks are you using if you are working out of the home (in a gas station, restaurant, grocery store) to relax, and if you aren’t able to work right now, what relaxation tip works for you? I’m interested!

Right now it may be hard to find balance. How are you doing it?

Speaking of interest, today’s update focuses on some interesting news: what is happening with student loan interest. As you may be aware, the President has put a temporary hold on interest for all Federally held educational loans (this includes Direct Subsidized Loans (in repayment), Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans (both for parents and for graduate students) and Direct Consolidation Loans.

But what does this really mean for student (and parent) borrowers? And what do you need to do in order to make sure that your loans are taken care of during this crisis? Well, moneyman has you covered.

According to the announcement by Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, interest on education loans held by the Federal government will be set to 0% for a period of at least 60 days. This means that for students still in school, interest will not accrue for their Unsubsidized Loans. For students in repayment, their loans will still have the same monthly payment amount, but their regular monthly payment will be applied entirely to their principle.

For borrowers in repayment, there is an ability to suspend repayment by asking for a forbearance. This means that (especially if you are struggling right now or need some relief for payment) you can qualify for a suspension of payments and during the time of that suspension of payment no interest will accrue. You must request a forbearance from your servicer (the company that processes your payments); don’t simply stop making payments (although borrowers who are 31 days late or more will automatically be placed on forbearancee). If you are possibly going to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness you also don’t want to stop making payments since you need to have 10 years of repayment (120 months) to qualify.

Well interest keeps on building in student loan interest so here is some breaking news. As I was working on this post, some details are coming out about the $2 trillion stimulus package passed today by Congress. According to CNN, the law includes a provision suspending student loan payments without payments for 6 month (through September 30). Stay tuned for more details as we know them. Another article specifies a few other financial aid related items which are part of this bill: 0% interest during these 6 months, the ability to keep unspent Pell Grant or student loans due to withdrawals, and the waiver of any penalties for further financial aid due to these withdrawals.

More information will be coming I am sure. For now, though, let me know how you are finding balance in these days. I will be watching some silly old comedies.

Puzzled about Student and Parent Loans

I am a logic puzzle fan. I enjoy solving puzzles like The Lady or the Tiger, or figuring out Nonograms. So when I logged into my browser this morning and this article popped up (“The Logic Puzzle You Can Only Solve with Your Brightest Friend”), I was happy to waste spend a few minutes playing my way through it. Go ahead; try it. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you get back.

Have fun figuring out the puzzle!

So, did you solve it? I admit, I needed a little help on that one. Just like you might need a little help with today’s blog post – all about Parent and Student loans and the impact of your credit history on them.

Let’s start with some definitions. There are two main types of loans for education: parent loans and student loans. As you might guess, the main difference between them is who is defined as the borrower. For parent loans, the parent (or parents) borrow for the student (and sometimes, depending on the loan, the student may be a co-borrower). For student loans, the student borrows (although for many private loans, a parent or other “adult” must be a co-borrower). So you can see, often the main difference is simply who’s name is listed as the main borrower.

The second important piece to know is who is doing the lending: is this a Federal or Private loan? In the case of Federal loans, the Federal government is the lender; these are called Direct Loans (Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal PLUS Loans). For Private Loans, the lender could be a bank, a credit union, or a state financing agency; Private Loans come under various names and have lots of different terms and conditions.

Federal Direct Student Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized) have loan limits, depending on a students grade level (the farther along in your career, the more you can borrow per year). For Graduate Students, the only Federal Direct Student loan available is Unsubsidized. The main difference between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans is who pays the interest while the student is in school or in grace period: if Subsidized, the Federal government covers the interest payments during the in school, grace and deferment periods, while for Unsubsidized Loans, the student is charged the interest and can either pay the interest off each month while in school or can defer the interest until payments start, but the interest will be added to amount owed at that point. Students borrow these loans with no cosigner. In addition, note that to qualify for these loans you must complete the FAFSA,

The other kind of Federal Loan is the Direct PLUS Loan. There are two types of these: Undergraduate PLUS Loans for Parents, and Graduate PLUS Loans for Students in graduate degree programs. These loans are available up to Cost of Attendance minus other aid. The interest rate for these programs is higher than the rate for Direct Student Loans, and interest charges begin immediately; there is no interest subsidy.

So what about credit? Does your credit history matter when it comes to Federal Loans? There is no credit check for Direct Student Loans (Subsidized or Unsubsidized). As long as a student has not defaulted on a previous Direct Loan, and does not owe back an overpayment for a Federal grant, then she can receive a Federal Direct Loan. Even a student in default on a previous loan can make a limited number of payments to rehabilitate their loan and qualify for future loans.

For PLUS loans (both for parents of undergraduate students and for graduate students themselves), a credit check is run, but as long as the applicant does not have “adverse credit history” they will qualify for the loan. Adverse credit history basically means being 90 days or more past due on a current obligation, or having other more serious examples of repayment difficulty (see the link above). Note that nowhere above does the definition refer to credit scores; and any student who is approved gets the same interest rate and terms. There is no reward for better credit history from the Federal government, but neither is there any punishment for lower credit scores (as long as you do not meet any of the definitions above). If you do have an adverse credit history, you may be able to add a cosigner or explain the situation that caused your adverse credit history and still qualify.

Private loans on the other hand absolutely look at your credit score. The better your credit score, the better interest rate will be offered to you (and sometimes the rate could be better than the Federal government’s interest rate on their loans), the more flexibility you will have around length of repayment, and the less likely you will need a cosigner. Private loans may also look at your ability to repay (using a debt-to-income ratio) to ensure that you can afford your monthly obligations (and they will likely use your credit report to determine what loans and other obligations you currently have).

So, long story short, most Federal loans don’t require perfect credit, and if you have significant credit issues you can work through them; however interest rates can be higher than private loans, and terms aren’t generally as flexible. Private loans can be a better choice for student or parent borrowers with excellent credit, but these loans don’t have as many benefits as Federal Loans (more about these in a later post), and for student borrowers will generally require a cosigner.

So what did I miss? What questions do you have? Let me help you solve this puzzle!