Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Temporary Window of Opportunity is Closing Soon: Do You Need to Take Action Now?

When President Obama signed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA), Public Law 111-152, on March 30, 2010, the bill included temporary changes to the conditions under which a borrower may consolidate loans into a Federal Direct Consolidation Loan. These changes apply only to a Direct Consolidation Loan that is made based on an application received by the U.S. Department of Education on or after July 1, 2010 and before July 1, 2011.

Borrower Eligibility Under the HCERA Temporary Consolidation Authority
If a borrower's Consolidation Loan Application and Promissory Note is received by the U. S. Department of Education before July 1, 2011, the borrower may consolidate a loan that has not yet entered repayment status, including a loan that is in an in-school status, if the borrower meets the following requirements:
1. The borrower has one or more loans from two or more of the following categories: (i) FFEL Program loans that are held by an eligible lender; (ii) FFEL Program loans that have been purchased by the Department ("PUT" Loans); and (iii) Direct Loan Program Loans.
2. The borrower has not yet entered repayment on one or more of the loans in any of the categories in #1.
3. The borrower is not consolidating any loans other than loans from the categories listed in #1.

Interest Rate Calculation for Loans made under the Temporary Consolidation Authority
For any Direct Consolidation Loan made to a borrower under the temporary consolidation authority, the interest rate will be calculated as follows:
1. Unless the borrower is consolidating certain loans that have a variable interest rate (see below), the interest rate on the Direct Consolidation Loan is the lesser of (a) the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, or (b) 8.25% (that is, the interest rate is calculated in the same manner as the interest rate for a regular consolidation loan, but without the rounding up to the nearest higher one-eighth of one percent).
2. If one or more of the loans a borrower consolidates is a Federal Stafford Loan (subsidized or unsubsidized), a Direct Subsidized Loan, or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan with a variable interest rate that is lower during the in-school, grace, and deferment periods, the interest rate on the Direct Consolidation Loan is the lesser of (a) the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans being consolidated, rounded to the nearest higher one-eighth of one percent, or (b) 8.25% (that is, the interest rate is calculated in the same manner as the interest rate for a regular consolidation loan).

Factors for Borrowers to Consider Before Consolidating
Because a Direct Consolidation Loan enters repayment on the date the loan is made, there are important factors a borrower needs to consider before deciding to consolidate loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan under this temporary authority.

Grace Period: There is no grace period on a Direct Consolidation Loan made under the temporary authority. The 6 month grace period is a unique feature of the Federal Student Loan Program, designed to allow borrowers to become established in their new careers before they begin repayment on their student loans. As with an in-school deferment, the interest is paid on the borrower’s subsidized loans while they are in grace. This can amount to a significant savings.

If a borrower consolidates while still in school on at least a half-time basis and before the loan has entered the grace period, the borrower will not receive a grace period on that loan after the borrower ceases to be enrolled on at least a half-time basis. However, the borrower will be eligible for an in-school deferment on the Direct Consolidation Loan while enrolled at least half-time at an eligible institution. (Note: If the borrower’s loans enter grace before June 30th, and wants to wait to consolidate until the end of the grace period by completing Item 17 in section C1 of the Direct Consolidation Loan Application and Promissory Note. Another word of caution, borrowers who delay applying until their loans enter the grace period and whose application is received by the Department before the July 1, 2011 deadline may receive the modified interest rate associated with the temporary authority, provided that they are not consolidating certain variable interest rate loans, as explained above.) Contact Direct Loans for information regarding the effects of consolidation on your student loans. Call 1-800-557-7392 or on-line @ .

PLUS Loans: Borrowers with Federal PLUS Loans or Direct PLUS Loans that were first disbursed on or after July 1, 2008, are eligible to defer repayment of these loans for a 6-month period that begins on the date the borrower (or the dependent student on whose behalf the borrower obtained the loan) ceases to be enrolled at least half-time. Parent PLUS borrowers are also eligible to defer repayment while the dependent student is enrolled in school on at least a half-time basis.

If a PLUS borrower consolidates a PLUS loan while the borrower (or the dependent student) is still enrolled in school at least half-time, or during the 6-month post-enrollment deferment period, the borrower will lose eligibility for these deferments. Again, for detailed information on Consolidating and its effects on your personal loans, contact Direct Loans. Call 1-800-557-7392 or on-line @ .

Personal Financial Decisions Require Research, Analysis and Thoughtful Decisions
You have probably already received mail concerning your student loans and the June 30th deadline for this one-time opportunity. There are many benefits to consolidating, including: lower payments, combining multiple servicers & payments into one location/payment, and the return of deferment or forbearance rights on older loans that may have exhausted these options. However, as we all know, there are no perfect solutions that will work for everyone. As with any personal financial decision, make sure that you evaluate and weigh all of the facts before you make a decision.

Finally, there is one disadvantage a SWFC student or former student will encounter if you decide to consolidate your loans. As you know, SWFC’s Financial Literacy staff monitors the accounts of our loan borrowers and help students if their loans become delinquent. We gather our documentation based on an ID that identifies your loans as originating with SWFC. Once the loans are consolidated, this ID link is removed, so we no longer automatically have access to monitor the status of the consolidated loans. In an effort to help our former students who want to take advantage of student loan consolidation, we have established a special process to assist SWFC borrowers with their consolidated student loans. If you have questions regarding consolidation and your student loans, please contact us @ and we will be happy to help you gather the information you need to make an informed decision regarding consolidation and your student loans.