Big banks that offer private-label college loans are facing new competition from credit unions that are looking to issue their own private student loans.
Credit unions, in increasing numbers, are developing partnerships with private loan companies like Sallie Mae and Credit Union Student Choice to deliver private loan products to credit union members. In one such agreement, Southeast Corporate Federal Credit Union, which itself has more than 400 member credit unions, will offer private student loans through Sallie Mae.
Private loans, non-federal education loans issued by banks and private lenders, are designed to assist students who have exhausted their federal loan options. Private loans can be used to cover up to 100 percent of a student’s approved educational expenses.
Credit Unions Offering Flexibility in Student Loan Programs
Some credit union private loan programs are being structured to appeal to families with more than one student in college by enabling parents to make multiple withdrawals on a single line of credit worth as much as $75,000. In addition, credit union-backed student loans are eliminating loan origination fees and offer both in-school loan repayment and deferred, post-graduation repayment plans.
In-school repayment options enable students to reduce the overall amount of interest their private loan accrues before they graduate. According to Sallie Mae, students who begin college loan repayments while still in school can reduce their student loan debt by 30 to 50 percent over traditional college loan payment plans, which defer repayment until after a student has graduated or left school.
Investors Looking to Private Student Loans’ Long-Term Growth
The prospects for private loan companies and college loan securitization are improving marginally. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) recently sold a bond worth nearly $1.2 billion that was backed by student loans, after previously relying on commercial and residential mortgages to secure its bond sales.
Credit rating agencies are less sure that private student loan companies represent a good risk; however, many analysts remain optimistic about the long-term investment potential of private loans.
Fueling investor confidence in the longer-term prospect of the private student loan market is the growing demand for student financial aid as record numbers of students are entering college each year.
Federal Budget Cuts May Pave the Way for More Private Student Loans
Indeed, private loans may gain market share in a more immediate future than analysts had been predicting.
On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate is currently struggling to pass a continuation of its earlier spending authorization to fund the Department of Education’s federal Pell Grant program, which awards government-issued college grants to financially needy and lower-income students. The current authorization expires December 18.
If the Senate fails to reauthorize the funding proposal at its current level, students who are eligible for a Pell Grant may find their Pell Grant award reduced or eliminated. With less Pell Grant aid available to them, many of these students would then need to take out more money in student loans in order to pay for college and complete their degree.
Congress is already considering elimination of the Pell Grant program altogether, as recommended by President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
The bipartisan panel, which recently forwarded its final report to Congress, recommended that the federal government reduce federal education grants based on a student’s pre-college family income in favor of more government-issued college loans, which would need to be paid back, replenishing the government’s coffers, and that would be more attuned to a borrower’s post-graduation earning potential.
However, spending appropriations for an expanded federal loan program may face stiff opposition in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
As Congress wrestles with the funding needs and long-term future of both federal grant and federal student loan programs, private loan companies are positioning themselves to fill in any emerging federal financial aid funding gaps.