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July 18, 2013

Senators ready to restore lower college loan rates

WASHINGTON — Senators are ready to offer students a better deal on their college loans this fall, but future classes could see higher interest rates.

The Senate could vote as early as Thursday on a bipartisan compromise that heads off a costly increase for returning students.

"We should get it done as quickly as possible. We can do it today," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

The compromise could be a good deal for students through the 2015 academic year, but then interest rates are expected to climb above where they were when students left campus in the spring.

Under the deal, all undergraduates this fall could borrow at 3.85 percent interest rates. Graduate students would have access to loans at 5.4 percent, and parents would be able to borrow at 6.4 percent. Those rates would climb as the economy improves and it becomes more expensive for the government to borrow money.

The deal was described by Republican and Democratic aides who insisted on anonymity because they were not allowed to be publicly identified discussing the ongoing negotiations.

Undergraduates last year borrowed at 3.4 percent or 6.8 percent, depending on their financial need. Graduate students had access to federal loans at 6.8 percent and parents borrowed at 7.9 percent.

The interest rates would be linked to financial markets, but Democrats won a protection for students that rates would never climb higher than 8.25 percent for undergraduates. Graduate students would not pay rates higher than 9.5 percent, and parents' rates would top out at 10.5 percent.

The bipartisan agreement is expected to be the final in a string of efforts that have emerged from near-constant work to undo a rate hike that took hold for subsidized Stafford loans on July 1. Rates for new subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, adding roughly $2,600 to students' education costs.

Lawmakers from both parties called the increase senseless but differed on how they thought the lower rates should be restored.

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