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House passes lower rates on student loans

For Francis Marion University senior Asa Fludd, the decision to switch his major to something he loved was a costly one.

Fludd, a graduate of Timberland High School, has had to rely on student loans, like most students, to finance his education.

But now, increasing student loans rates are one less thing Fludd and other students do not have to worry about — at least until next year. The House gave final congressional approval Wednesday to bipartisan legislation linking student loan interest rates to the financial markets. The impact: lower rates for most students now but higher ones down the line if the economy improves as expected.

Undergraduates this fall would borrow at a 3.9 percent interest rate for subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Graduate students would have access to loans at 5.4 percent, and parents would borrow at 6.4 percent. The rates would be locked in for that year’s loan, but each year’s loan could be more expensive than the last. Rates would rise as the economy picks up and it becomes more expensive for the government to borrow money.

Fludd learned from the school’s financial aid office this week that this upcoming school year must be his last because he will not be able to receive any more loans. He has to cram in extra classes to make up for staying an extra year for his new major.

He started college as an education major, partly because of tuition assistance, especially for African American males entering the profession. But he decided to switch to English after realizing he wants to become a technical writer.

“I found something I would be happy with, but I know at the end of the day it is going to be a sacrifice,” Fludd said of paying back his loans.

Student body presidents, such as University of South Carolina senior and Fort Dorchester High School graduate Chase Mizzell, did not take the possible increase lightly.

In June, Mizzell traveled to Washington, D.C. with the National Campus Leadership Council to discuss student loan rates with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, White House Youth Liaison Ronnie Cho and other Department of Education representatives. His predecessor, student body president Kenny Tracy, had already started working on the issue in 2012 and was part of a conference call on student loan rates with President Obama.

“The vote to base loan rates on financial markets is a move in a positive direction as it gives a logical basis to the price of student loans,” Mizzell said in an email.

He represents students such as Alyssa Lang, a University of South Carolina broadcast journalism junior from Huntersville, N.C., who also relies on student loans to finance her education.

Lang comes from a middle-class family and worries about being a burden to her parents, who will have to start financing her brother’s college education when she graduates. Her parents provide her money for food and she works to pay other expenses, like gas.

“I know there’s really not much else I would want to do with my life. I’ll just try to get the best job I can. It’s really intimidating,” Lang said of her career as a sports broadcaster. She is currently interning for a local news station and will continue to work with them during school.

Mizzell said that although scholarships and in-state tuition have allowed him to avoid student loans personally, it still affects him and everyone else in America.

“The financial independence and discretionary spending of millions of current and former students who have student loans will affect our entire economy,” Mizzell said.

The next step for the bill would be to send it to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law.

Negotiators of the Senate compromise were mindful of the House-passed version, as well as the White House preference to shift responsibility for interest rates to the financial markets. The resulting bipartisan bill passed the Senate 81-18.

Interest rates would not top 8.25 percent for undergraduates. Graduate students would not pay rates higher than 9.5 percent, and parents’ rates would top out at 10.5 percent. Using Congressional Budget Office estimates, rates would not reach those limits in the next 10 years.

The White House and its allies said the new loan structure would offer lower rates to 11 million borrowers right away and save the average undergraduate $1,500 in interest charges.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill as written would reduce the deficit by $715 million over the next decade. During that same time, federal loans would be a $1.4 trillion program.



Philip Elliott with The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.

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