Debt Ceiling Deal Still Not Enough?

A recent CNBC report casts a negative shadow over the deal that, at the 11th hour, prevented the U.S. from defaulting on its debt. The report mentions that the U.S. debt crisis appears to have been resolved temporarily, but politicians and economists are still warning that the deal won’t resolve all of the country’s economic ills. The report, based on statements made by Anthony Doyle, director of investment specialists at M&G Investments, even suggests that the country is headed for another recession.

Doyle points out that “when US GDP growth falls below 2 percent, it usually means that a recession is not far away, and combined with yesterday’s much weaker than expected ISM report and an unemployment rate at 9.2 percent, it suggests that the U.S. Federal Reserve won’t be in any rush to hike interest rates this year.”

The U.S. economy grew by just 1.6 percent in the second quarter of 2011, according to official figures released last week. Investors have also been spooked this week by Institute of Supply Management (ISM) data showing that its manufacturing index read 50.9 in July, barely above the 50 mark that separates expansion from contraction, and new orders contracted for the first time in two years.

The last U.S. recession lasted 18 months, the longest since World War II, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The respected research body said the last recession began in 2007, and the recovery did not start until June 2009.

President Obama signed the new debt bill, which limits student loan cuts (among others), a day after it cleared the House of Representatives by a 269-161 margin, and shortly after it passed the Senate by 74-26 votes overnight. The emergency bill increases the nation’s $14.3 trillion cap on borrowing.

  

New Rules are out for for-profit colleges

We’ve been highlighting some of the troubling news stories about for-profit college scams, and we’ve welcomed the notion of new rules governing the industry.

The new rules from the Obama administration are out, but they’ve been scaled back a bit from the initial proposed rules.

The Obama administration on Thursday issued a series of highly anticipated regulations aimed at cracking down on for-profit colleges and other career training programs that leave students saddled with unmanageable debts and contribute to an unequal share of federal student loan defaults.

The final rules issued by the Department of Education, however, are significantly less stringent than a draft version released last year, giving college programs an additional three years to come in line before possibly losing access to lucrative federal student aid dollars. The changes come after an unprecedented lobbying and campaign finance offensive over the past year by the for-profit college industry, which derives a vast majority of revenues from federal student loan and grant programs and has sought to protect that income by gaining influence in Washington.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the changes came after discussion with “lots and lots of different folks,” not just the industry, and he pointed out that the colleges were not unanimous in their suggestions for changes.

“What we really wanted to do was give people a chance to reform … this was not about ‘gotcha,'” Duncan said. “We tried to be very thoughtful, very reasonable and give people every opportunity to succeed, but be very clear where we wouldn’t permit ongoing failure.”

The intense lobbying campaign helped the industry, as the rules are weaker. You can check the article for the details. Lobbyist hacks like Lanny Davis did their job.

That said, this is a decent first step. It’s appropriate that the schools have a time frame to remedy problems, and this should help weed out the worst abuses.

Meanwhile, 10 states have opened a joint probe to look into the marketing practices of for-profit colleges, so we might yet see some interesting developments in this area.

The key here is you have to do your research before enrolling in one of these schools and taking on a mound of student debt.

  

Understanding Direct Loans

DIRECT LOANS

For the 2007-2008 academic year, 65.6 percent of al undergraduates received some form of financial aid. Of the 65.6 percent, nearly 40 percent received student loans. Although students may receive grants, which do not have to be paid back, they might not be enough to cover tuition costs, books, housing, and day-to-day living expenses. Student loan programs, such as the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, can help fill the gap.

Direct Loans are low-interest loans for students and parents. Direct Subsidized Loans for undergraduates with a first disbursement date between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 have an interest rate of 4.5 percent. For graduate students Direct Subsidized Loans (no interest payments until after the grace period ends) have an interest rate of 6.8 percent and Direct Unsubsidized Loans (interest must be paid while enrolled) for all students have an interest rate of 6.8 percent. Direct Plus Loans have an interest rate of 7.9 percent.

Although the U.S. Department of Education is the Direct Loan Lender, the loan servicer is usually a private entity that is responsible for collecting, monitoring, and reporting loan payments. One such entity is American Education Services (AES) which was established by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) to guarantee and service student loans for millions of borrowers across the U.S.

Direct Loans have loan limits and the limit depends on the year of study and whether the student is a graduate, undergraduate, dependent or independent. Direct Loan limits are as follows:

Dependent Student
1st-year undergraduate: $5,500 (maximum $3,500 subsidized)
2nd-year undergraduate: $6,500 (maximum $4,500 subsidized)
3rd- and 4th-year undergraduate: $7,500 (maximum $5,500 subsidized)

Independent Student
1st-year undergraduate: $9,500 (maximum $3,500 subsidized)
2nd-year undergraduate: $10,500 (maximum $4,500 subsidized)
3rd- and 4th-year undergraduate: $12,500 (maximum $5,500 subsidized)

Graduate Student
$20,500 (maximum $8,500 subsidized)
*All graduate and professional students are considered independent

To apply for a Direct Loan, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To complete your application, use FAFSA on the Web. Once your application has been processed, you will receive an award package that contains information about which grants and loans you will receive and the amounts. Direct Loans are awarded as part of this package. Direct Loans are not based on credit or employment history, so unless you are independently wealthy, you are almost guaranteed approval.

For more information about the Direct Loan Program, please visit the official Department of Education Federal Student Aid website at www.direct.ed.gov.

  

A Guide to Student Loan Consolidation

Graduate

The federal government offers many options for financing your education from Federal Pell Grants and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) to PLUS Loans, Stafford Loans, and Federal Perkins Loans. Pell Grants and MAP awards do not have to be repaid, but student loans do.

Stafford Loans are low-interest student loans guaranteed by the government. Perkins Loans are campus-based loans with a fixed 5% interest rate, and a nine month grace period. Perkins loans are also guaranteed by the federal government. PLUS Loans (Parent Loans for Undergraduate Student) are granted to students based on the parents creditworthiness.

To cover the costs of tuition and education related expenses, most students will have to take out a number of loans from multiple lenders. The amounts, repayment terms, and repayment schedules will vary. Students may find that repaying several different lenders is not only taxing, but the payments may be too high after graduation and beyond. Fortunately, relief is possible through student loan consolidation.

Student loan consolidation is the refinancing of multiple student loans guaranteed by the federal government. The Higher Education Act (HEA) provides for a loan consolidation program under the Direct Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. Under these programs, the student’s loans are paid off and a new consolidated loan is created. The loan consolidation program is a good option because:

-It simplifies the loan repayment process by combining all of the student’s Federal student loans into one loan, meaning there’s only one place to pay each month
-The interest rate will be lower than one or all of the original loans
-The monthly payments are typically lower, possibly 50% lower than the original monthly payments
-The amount of time to repay the loan will be extended beyond the original time period
-Consolidation may act as a safeguard against default

Applying for student loan consolidation is easy. Before applying, use an online calculator to estimate what your new monthly payments would be under one of four repayment plans including:

-Standard Repayment Plan
-Graduated Repayment Plan
-Extended Repayment Plan
-Income Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR)

Under the Standard Repayment Plan, you will pay a fixed amount each month and your payments will be no less than $50 a month for 10-30 years, based on total debt. Under the Graduated Repayment Plan, your minimum payment amount will equal the amount of interest accrued monthly. Payments will start out on the low end, then gradually increase every two years for 10-30 years.

The Extended Repayment Plan is for students with student loan debt that exceeds $30,000. Under this plan, you will have a maximum of 25 years to repay the loan and you can choose a fixed rate payment option (same amount each month) or a graduated monthly payment option, as discussed above. Under the Income Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR), monthly payments are based on several factors including yearly income, Direct Loan Balance, and family size. Payments will be spread out over a time period not to exceed 25 years.

To apply for student loan consolidation, gather the following documents:

-Your monthly billing statement
-Your annual statement or quarterly interest statement
-Your coupon book
-Website of your lender or servicer
-Your school’s financial aid office information (if you are currently in school)

Once you have all of the information listed here, visit the Federal Student Aid Programs Student Loan Consolidation Website to apply.

  

Both parties shill for the for-profit college industry

Some Democrats and Republicans are trying to scuttle attempts by the Obama administration to impose new rules on for-profit colleges to prevent abuses against students to rack up huge debt for dubious degrees.

The Department of Education is tired of federally subsidized student loans going to shady for-profit colleges that have poor track records of getting the students who do graduates good work — often leaving them stuck with mountains of debt. To curb this phenomenon, the agency has been moving along with a new regulation they call the “Gainful Employment” rule.

Under “Gainful Employment” rules, for profit schools would have to show that their students can find work without getting stuck with unreasonable debt in order to qualify for federal loans.

But behind the scenes, a bipartisan bloc of House members see things differently. They say the rule would reach too far and clamp down on institutions that do a decent job of educating and preparing students. But they want to tie the Department of Education’s hands completely, and block the funds they’d need to implement the rules at all.

Fortunately, many members of Congress are with the administration on this, and Obama could veto any bill with this language.

  

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