Elizabeth Warren: Why is the Government Backing Expensive Private Student Loans?

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On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), demanded that Ed DeMarco, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), justify why his government agency is supporting the super-high-interest rate private students loans that are drowning many Americans in debt.

For the past few years, one of the Federal Home Loan Banks that DeMarco’s agency oversees has been funding Sallie Mae, the largest provider of private student loans in the country. Warren wants DeMarco to explain why.

The Federal Home Loan Banks were “intended to bolster the banks’ support for the housing market—not to be a backdoor way to subsidize highly-profitable private student lenders,” Warren wrote in a letter to DeMarco sent Monday. “It is deeply worrisome that the Federal Home Loan Banks may be undermining their mission by extending billions of dollars in cheap credit to private student lenders.”

Sallie Mae has an $8.5 billion credit line from one of the FHL Banks at an interest rate between 0.23 and 0.34 percent. But Sallie Mae charges students taking out loans a rate that is 25 to 40 times higher. Sallie Mae “was able to borrow at less than one-quarter of one percent interest because the government’s sponsorship of the Federal Home Loan Banks allows them extraordinarily cheap access to capital,” and yet took in about $2.5 billion in student loan interest last year, Warren noted.

In the letter, Warren asked for documentation detailing FHL banks’ funding of Sallie Mae and other private student lenders, and any analysis the FHFA has on the impact of student debt on homeownership. (A Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report found that student loan debt is a huge barrier for Americans trying to buy their first homes.)

Total student loan debt in this country currently stands at close to $1 trillion. Most of that is federal student loan debt, not private, which means those loans have lower interest rates. But that may change soon; student loan interest rates are scheduled to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. Members of Congress—including Warren—and the president have come up with a bunch of different schemes to avoid that interest-rate jump; Warren’s year-long fix would give students the same close-to-zero rate that banks pay to the Federal Reserve for short term loans. But no deal is nigh.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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