MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Office of Higher Education has become more aggressive about taking student loan recipients to court when they fall behind on payments to keep its rates low.
The Student Education Loan Fund provides low-interest loans to Minnesota students to help bridge the gap between financial aid and the cost of education. The loan has helped more than 250,000 students pay for higher education since it began in 1984, lending out more than $2 billion, Minnesota Public Radio reported .
The SELF loan's current fixed interest rate is 6 percent, and the variable interest rate is 4.3 percent. But to keep those rates low, the state must keep defaults down.
The office hired in-house attorney Andrew Wold to file cases in state court. Wold has filed more than 1,000 cases since January 2016, dropping default rates on the loan in his first year.
"We have a relatively low default rate, about 2 percent and it's about 7 percent before collections" since hiring Wold, said Larry Pogemiller, who heads the office. "So we've just upped our game a little bit and have figured out a way to be flexible and get people to pay back their loans before they go into default."
Wold said he looks to work with people struggling financially, giving them options for reasonable repayment plans.
There's a tension between the office's mission of encouraging people to attend college and the responsibility of being a fiscally prudent lender, Pogemiller said.
"We don't want to empower people to do something that makes no sense for them," he said. "But we have this other tug — we're trying to close equity gaps."
Two rule change proposals this month could address some issues for students at risk of default. One would allow the commissioner to set credit score minimums for students to apply for SELF loans. The other rule would add flexibility into how many forbearances a student can take in paying back the loan.