Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Student loans turn into crushing burden for students

Natalie Hickey picked up $140k in student debt, some of it at interest rates as high as 18%. Her monthly payments are roughly $1,700, more than her rent and car payment combined. Caught in an increasingly common trap in the nation's $85-billion student loan market, Hickey borrowed heavily, presuming that all her debt was part of the federal loans

Hickey knew she would need loans to complete her degree, so she went to the campus financial aid office as a freshman. After she filled out paperwork, Brooks Institute set her up in a loan program administered by Sallie Mae, the nation's biggest student lender.

Sallie Mae was chartered by the federal government in 1972, and most of its business is in issuing federally insured student loans. But while it may appear to be a quasi-government agency, it is in fact a for-profit company whose stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

Hickey ended up with $20,000 in low-interest federally guaranteed loans issued by Sallie Mae, and $120,000 in higher-interest private loans issued by Sallie Mae.

Hickey said no one explained the difference to her.

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