Students who took out their first federal student loan this past fall will someday be glad that they are only paying 3.86%. Just ask those of us whose loans were nearly double that percentage. But a new bill introduced in the Senate today by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would allow student loan borrowers to refinance at the rates set for new borrowers by last year’s legislation.
The Bank On Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act [PDF] would give those with outstanding federal and private student loan debt the opportunity to refinance at the rate offered to first-time borrowers.
That rate was set last summer by legislation that tied student loan interest rates to the yield rate on 10-year treasury bonds. While that change ensured that new borrowers are getting very accommodating interest rates, it didn’t do anything to deal with the more than 1 trillion dollars in student loan debt that is currently on the books for around 40 million Americans.
Even certain private loans may be eligible for refinancing at the lower rates. Borrowers would need to be current on their private loan payments and meet debt-to-income ratios that would be determined by the Dept. of Education if the bill were to pass.
“Exploding student loan debt is crushing young people and dragging down our economy,” said Senator Warren. “Allowing students to refinance their loans would put money back in the pockets of people who invested in their education. These students didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card. They worked hard and learned new skills that will benefit this country and help us build a stronger middle class and a stronger America.”
The huge roadblock facing the bill is how it would be financed. Warren points to a recent GAO report that estimates the government will make $66 billion off of federal student loans disbursed between 2007 and 2012 as an indicator that there is room for refinancing.
“This is $66 billion on just the loans issued during that period. That is insane,” Warren told MassLive.com. “This (bill) brings that down. Instead of taxing students who can’t afford to pay for college up front, it says we are investing in those students.”
The legislation also introduces a number of tax reforms intended to enact what has been dubbed the “Buffett Rule,” in reference to billionaire Warren Buffett’s statement that he shouldn’t pay lower taxes than his secretary.
In 2012, lawmakers tried to pass financial reform that would have done just that by guaranteeing those that earn at $2 million or more pay a federal income tax rate of at least 30%. However, that bill was defeated in the Senate.
That said, Warren tells the Wall Street Journal that she may be flexible about how the refinancing would be funded.
“I would be delighted to work with the Republicans to find a way to pay for this,” the Senator explained.