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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jun-04-07 10:57 AM
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Skimming The Student Loan Cream (
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Skimming The Student Loan Cream
Luke Swarthout
June 04, 2007

Luke Swarthout is a U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) higher education advocate in Washington, DC. He is the author of Paying Back, Not Giving Back: Student Debts Negative Impact on Public Service Career Opportunities.

For the last two months American higher education has been embroiled in a scandal over the way colleges recommend banks to their incoming students. The story has the stench of personal corruption and for that it has earned front-page headlines. At the root of these improper relationships are billions of dollars in excessive subsidies that the federal government pays lenders that are now on the chopping block as Congress looks to reform the student aid programs.

Congressional leaders and the Bush administration have proposed pruning excessive payments to lenders like Sallie Mae (once the Student Loan Marketing Association), and the industry has launched on all out defense of their corporate welfare.

At the heart of Sallie Maes campaign is the simple claim that they earn only half a penny per year on every dollar they lend. Lets pretend for a minute that they are actually representing their profit, and ignore the fact that they were the second most profitable Fortune 500 Company in 2005. What does half a penny really mean in the world of student loan finance?

In 2006 Sallie Mae held approximately 100 billion dollars in federal student loans. These loans are virtually risk-free and earn a guaranteed rate of return through federal subsidies. Taking the companys claim about profit at face value, they earn approximately half a billion dollars a year just in interest from their federal loan business. While few people would bend down to pick up half a penny, most Americans, and most American companies, would drop to the ground for half a billion dollars a year in risk-free profit.

Of course, the half a penny that Sallie Mae advertises only applies to their margins in their federal student loan origination business, a mere fraction of their lending empire. Sallie Mae has leveraged its profitable lending business, developed while operating as a government sponsored enterprise (GSE), to buy up other major players in the loan business. This includes, in no particular order, a debt collection company, loan insurance agency, loan processing business, enrollment management firm. They are also major players in the growing and highly lucrative private student loan business. .....(more)

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