Senate Set To Vote On Bill To Refinance Private & Federal Student Loan Interest Rates

A bill left for dead in the Senate back in June has been resurrected. The Bank On Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act that would allow consumers to refinance their student loans to the rate currently being issues on new federal and private student loans is slated for a vote Tuesday morning.

Although the bill failed a provisional hurdle in June, senators have chosen to bring the measure back for discussion and a vote.

The bill, which was introduced by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in May, would allow federal and private student loan borrowers to refinance to rates set for first-time borrowers; 3.86% for Undergraduate Direct Loans, 5.41% for Graduate Loans, and 6.41% for PLUS Loans taken out by a student’s parents.

Under the bill, borrowers would have to be current on their loan payments and meet debt-to-income ratios that would have been set by the Department of Education.

In addition to refinancing student loans, the bill sets forth a number of tax reforms intended to enact what is called the “Buffett Rule,” a reference to billionaire Warren Buffett’s statement that he shouldn’t pay lower taxes than his secretary.

The bill encountered criticism early on when supporters were looking at how to finance such an endeavor. At the time the bill was introduced, Warren suggested funding could be found in the form of the estimated $66 million a GAO study found the government would make off federal student loans disbursed between 2007 and 2012.

Co-signer for the legislation, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, spoke about the bill’s resurgence last week to a group of students and alumni at Northern Illinois University.

“Reasonable borrowing has long been part of keeping higher education affordable,” Durbin said. “The bill which I co-sponsored earlier this year will help ease that burden by allowing them to lower their interest rates. The Senate will soon take up this common-sense legislation, and I hope my colleagues join me in supporting it.”

Generation Progress, a non-profit organization that works to promote progressive solutions to political and social challenges, plans to gather supporters of the refinancing bill at the Capitol prior to Tuesday’s vote.

Consumer groups previously urged legislators to pass the Act and potentially save consumers billions of dollars.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union said the bill promotes “common sense solutions to the student debt crisis that will have a meaningful impact on the lives of millions.”

“[The Act] will help borrowers pay down their loans faster and give them the chance to put the extra money they save each month toward purchases or investments that stimulate the economy,” CU senior policy counsel Pamela Banks and staff attorney Suzanne Martindale wrote in June.

Consumers Union estimates that approximately 40 million consumers currently have student loan debts totaling $1.2 trillion. The majority of outstanding student loans have interest rates fixed from the time they were taken out, and while market rates are historically low right now, at the time most were issued federal loan rates were at 6.8% or higher.

With one-in-three students loans considered delinquent and often affecting a student’s ability to make purchases in the future, the Act could offer much needed reprieve for college students left with mountains of both federal and private student loans.

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