The coronavirus may be upending the way colleges operate, but at least students and their families will get a break if they borrow money from the government for an education.
The interest rate on new federal student loans for undergraduates will fall to a record low this summer. Those students will pay a rate of 2.75% on loans for the coming academic year, down from 4.53% last year. It has been 15 years since rates near that low were available, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Savingforcollege.com.
Over a 10-year repayment period, the new rate will save borrowers about $1,000 for each $10,000 borrowed, Kantrowitz calculated.
Rates for other types of loans fell, too, although not to record lows. The rate for graduate students will fall to 4.3%, from 6.08%, for instance. The rates take effect July 1 for new loans borrowed for the 2020-21 academic year and remain fixed for the life of the loan.
The federal government hasn’t formally announced the rates, but Kantrowitz calculated them using the formula adopted by Congress. Since 2013, rates on student loans have been set each spring.
Students, however, may be wondering whether it is worth borrowing to attend college if classes this fall are all or mostly online. Some colleges are considering switching primarily to remote learning for the semester because of the coronavirus.
While acknowledging the uncertainty, Jessica Thompson, at the nonprofit research group Institute for College Access and Success, urged students to take a long-term view when considering their college education. If borrowing for college was part of their plan to begin with, she said, “it’s very worth thinking about staying with their plan.”
Quality four-year institutions are going to do their best, she said, to provide a good experience for students in the year ahead despite the pandemic.
It may be better to stay on track, Thompson said, than to delay starting college, especially since jobs and structured gap-year programs may be difficult to come by for students who defer admission. “What is there to do?” she said.
If a parent — or both — has lost a job, “that changes the decisionmaking process,” said Jayne Caflin Fonash, at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. With a tighter financial outlook, families may have to consider borrowing more money. “That’s a big decision to make,” Fonash said.
She urged students to obtain loan details from the financial aid office and to make sure they understood the cost of borrowing. Alternatively, some students may be considering attending a less expensive four-year college.