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Meeks calls on Congress to keep interest rates from doubling

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (r.) and a panel of higher-education experts talk about student loans at York College.
TimesLedger Newspapers

With interest rates on federal subsidized student loans set to double at the end of the month if Congress does not act, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) convened a panel of experts at York College last week to inform borrowers of their options.

In 2007, Meeks voted for the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which, among other things, reduced rates on federal loans over several years to the current rate of 3.4 percent. Meeks said House Republicans are willing to extend the bill, but they are trying to pay for it by cutting health care services to women.

Wills also voted for the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Rohit Chopra said one of the things the bureau has done is create oversight of the private student loan market. Prior to the act, when borrowers with federal loans had difficulty repaying or disputes over billing errors, they could go to the Department of Education for help.

But if a borrower had a dispute with a private lender, he or she would have to research the lending institution’s charter to see which federal or state agency regulated it.

The bureau is also looking to roll out a financial aid shopping sheet, which would be a one-stop shop to find out how much debt one would incur to attend a particular higher-education institution and how much it would eventually cost to repay.

“It’s so that there’s no sticker shock when the bills start to come,” he said.

York College junior Ronald Appleberry, 24, said he already has about $7,000 in federal student loans, and he is planning to take out more to finish his education. The broadcasting major said he was looking for information on how to start paying his loans back while in school and was willing to share tips of his own.

“The first time I bought a Macbook, I paid about $1,300 for it. I didn’t know there was this program where students can buy Macbooks and get like 40 percent off,” he said.

Appleberry said he only learned of the program when he took in his Macbook to be repaired.

“Why is it that the guy at the computer repair shop is telling me this and not someone in a budgeting program at college?” he asked.

Rockaways resident Denise Hill said she attended the meeting to find out information about funding higher education for her daughter, who will graduate from the Bronx High School of Science this year.

James Copeland, from the U.S. Department of Education, reminded her that loans are for students and that it was her daughter’s responsibility to fund her own education.

Hill said she thought otherwise.

“I feel it’s my responsibility. With the economy the way it is now, I think it’s unfair for kids to bear that type of burden, especially when there are no jobs,” she said. “There’s no way she can afford college and then law school. She’ll graduate with $300,000 in loans.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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