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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Federal Student Loans Made Under the Federal Family Education Loan Program and the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program: Terms and Conditions for Borrowers

David P. Smole
Specialist in Education Policy

The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (DL) program, authorized under Title IV, Part D of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended, is the primary federal student loan program administered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The program makes available loans to undergraduate and graduate students and the parents of dependent undergraduate students to help them finance their postsecondary education expenses. The following types of loans are currently offered through the DL program: Subsidized Stafford Loans for undergraduate students; Unsubsidized Stafford Loans for undergraduate and graduate students; PLUS Loans for graduate students and the parents of dependent undergraduate students; and Consolidation Loans through which borrowers may combine multiple loans into a single loan. For FY2013, ED estimates that 22.5 million loans (not including Consolidation Loans) totaling $120.8 billion will be made to students and their parents through the DL program.

Until July 1, 2010, Subsidized Stafford Loans, Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, and Consolidation Loans were also available through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, authorized under Title IV, Part B of the HEA. The SAFRA Act, part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA; P.L. 111-152), terminated the authority to make new loans under the FFEL program after June 30, 2010. While new loans may no longer be made through the FFEL program, approximately $289 billion in FFEL program loans are outstanding and are due to be repaid over the coming years.

FFEL and DL program loans are low-interest loans, with maximum interest rates for each type of loan established by statute. Subsidized Stafford Loans are unique in that they are only available to undergraduate students demonstrating financial need. With certain exceptions, the federal government pays the interest that accrues on Subsidized Stafford Loans while the borrower is enrolled in school on at least a half-time basis, during a six-month grace period thereafter, and during periods of authorized deferment. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans and PLUS Loans are available to borrowers irrespective of their financial need; and borrowers are responsible for paying all the interest that accrues on these loans. FFEL and DL program loans have terms and conditions that may be more favorable to borrowers than private and other non-federal loans. These beneficial terms and conditions include interest rates that are often lower than rates that might be obtained from other lenders, opportunities for repayment relief through deferment and forbearance, loan consolidation, and several loan forgiveness programs.

In the recent years, numerous changes were made to the terms and conditions of DL program loans. The Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA; P.L. 112-25) eliminated the availability of Subsidized Stafford Loans to graduate and professional students for periods of instruction beginning on or after July 1, 2012; and terminated the availability of certain repayment incentives for loans made on or after July 1, 2012. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, FY2012 (P.L. 112- 74) eliminated interest subsidies during the six-month post-enrollment grace period on Subsidized Stafford Loans disbursed between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2014. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21
st Century Act (MAP-21; P.L. 112-141) lowered the interest rate from 6.8% to 3.4% on Subsidized Stafford Loans made between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013. Also, for individuals who are new borrowers on or after July 1, 2013, MAP-21 restricted both the period during which individuals may borrow Subsidized Stafford Loans and the period during which the in-school interest subsidy may be provided to 150% of the published length of their educational program.

Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 68
Order Number: R40122
Price: $29.95

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