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Proposed Financial Reforms Affect Student-Loan Industry

Late last week, congressional negotiators reached final agreement on a financial-reform measure that includes changes affecting the student-loan industry.

In a win for students, there will be greater oversight for private loans, if Congress adopts the measure. The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would have authority for all kinds of student loans, including the growing sector of private, nonfederal loans that students who attend for-profit college often use.

Also, the legislation would create a separate student-loan ombudsman to give borrowers a central place to turn for help with problems or concerns.

One shortcoming: The proposed law does not require a lender providing a student loan to certify with the borrower's college that the student is eligible for the loan. Proponents hoped that provision would have given more information to potential borrowers about the various loan options that might be more affordable or lower risk.

The potential reforms are welcomed by the higher ed community, which complained about the lack of oversight of private students loans, according to a news release from the Institute for College Access and Success.

"Private student loans have been woefully under-regulated, leaving students and families vulnerable to unscrupulous lenders and deceptive practices. These loans typically have variable rates with no cap and lack the important deferment options, affordable repayment plans, loan-forgiveness programs, and cancellation rights in cases of death or severe disability that federal student loans provide," said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access & Success, in a statement released Friday. "In addition, unlike credit-card debt and other consumer loans, private student loans are virtually impossible for borrowers to discharge in bankruptcy."

Congress is expected to vote on the proposed financial-reform legislation this week.

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