Private loans becoming harder to obtain

D.J. Petty

If students thought the sluggish state of U.S. economy didn’t affect their college career, they should think again.

Although Kent State’s undergraduate tuition costs are still under ice – mandated by Ohio’s two-year tuition freeze – the price of books, equipment and other course material continues to rise.

According to an April 2008 brief from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, “the growing price of a college education, combined with insufficient sources of public financial aid at all levels,” is creating a fiscal desert.

An increasing number of students are seeking an oasis in the form of alternative, or private, loans. As credit criteria become more stringent, in light of high unemployment rates and the national mortgage crisis, loan approval rates are dropping – and students can be left with nothing more than a mirage.

Lawrene Bottorf, co-founder of GetCollegeFunding, Inc., said part of the problem is the financial chaos that surrounds the economy, making it unpredictable and therefore unreliable.

“Securing private loans depends totally on the credit rating of the borrowers,” she said in an e-mail. “Like so many things, if we were able to predict the ‘fallout,’ we could probably avoid a myriad of problem(s).”

Even major companies are feeling the fiscal sting of a weak U.S. economy. Sallie Mae spokeswoman Patricia Christel said in early 2008, Sallie Mae began to seek ways to adjust and improve private loan programs.

Christel said students should also be cautious in the face of economic woes. She said private loans should be “a last resort.”

Numerous publications advise students to seek grants first and federal loans second. Although grants do not require repayment, federal loans, just as any other loan, have to be repaid. Even federal loans have become harder for student borrowers to pay off. The U.S. Department of Education tracks student default rates for federal loans. Fiscal year reports are not available past 2005, but there were 405 defaults in that year, an almost 17 percent increase from fiscal year 2003, when there were 347 defaulted loans for Kent State.

Despite increasing default rates, Christel said federal options are still better alternatives.

“We would always recommend that someone looks for scholarships and grants … first,” said Christel, reiterating students should “explore federal loan options” before seeking a private loan.

In July, the national unemployment rate reached a four-year high, according to a recent U.S. Department of Labor report. The sluggish economy makes private loan donors query to donate.

“We don’t want to make a loan to somebody who may not be able to pay it off,” Christel said.

Contact general assignment reporter D.J. Petty at [email protected].