What Is a Federally Guaranteed Student Loan?

The federally guaranteed student loan program ended June 30, 2010. But many people are still paying on guaranteed loans issued before then.

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Many former students have federally guaranteed student loans. These are different from private student loans that are not guaranteed by the government, and from loans issued directly to the student by the federal government (direct loans). As of June 30, 2010, Congress stopped the guaranteed student loan program for newly issued loans. But many people are still paying on their federally guaranteed student loans that were issued prior to June 30, 2010 -- so they'll be kicking around for many years to come.

Read on to learn what a federally guaranteed student loan is, how to determine if your loan is a federally guaranteed student loan, and key differences between federal guaranteed and federal direct loans.

The Guaranteed Student Loan Program (FFEL)

Under the guaranteed student loan program, private lenders (including Sallie Mae and commercial banks) issued student loans that were guaranteed by the federal government. Guaranteed loans are also called Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL). Here's how the "guarantee" works:

If a borrower defaults on a guaranteed loan, the federal government pays the bank and takes over the loan. The federal government pays approximately 97% of the principal balance to the lender. At that point the federal government owns the loan and the right to collect payments on the loan.

Types of Guaranteed Loans

Types of FFEL loans include Stafford, PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students), and Consolidation loans.

Guaranty Agencies

When the federal government takes over a defaulted FFEL loan, it uses a “guarantee agency” to do the work of servicing the loan. Guaranty agencies are non-profit groups that contract with the federal government. They are essentially middlemen between the private lender and the federal government. The guarantee agency will pay the bank for the defaulted loan, and the federal government then reimburses the guarantee agency. The guarantee agency then attempts to collect on the loan.

There are 35 existing guarantee agencies, all assigned to different states. You can find a list of the guarantee agencies and their state assignments at www.finaid.org.

The End of the Federally Guaranteed Student Loan Program

Responding to arguments that the FFEL program was more costly to the government than direct loans, Congress ended the FFEL program effective June 30, 2010.

Although schools no longer offer guaranteed student loans, the guaranteed student loan system will be in place for many years to come. That is because millions of borrowers still owe money on FFEL guaranteed loans. The guarantee agencies will continue to pay banks for defaulted FFEL loans and pursue collection on those loans until the last FFEL loan is paid off.

The Direct Student Loan Program

Prior to June 30, 2010, lenders issued federal student loans either as guaranteed student loans or as “direct” student loans. Direct loans are issued directly by the federal government. Whether you received guaranteed or direct loans depended on which loan program your school signed up for.

After June 30, 2010, you can only get a federal student loan under the direct student loan program. A direct loan is made directly from the federal government to students. The federal government contracts with loan servicers to handle day-to-day loan management.

Like federally guaranteed loans, direct loans can be Stafford, PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students), or Consolidation loans.

Differences in Repayment Options for Guaranteed and Direct Loans

The most important difference between guaranteed and direct loans is the availability of repayment programs. The federal government offers several repayment plans for low-income borrowers -- the Income Based Repayment Plan (IBR), Income Sensitive Repayment Plan, and Pay As You Earn (PAYE). (Get details of these repayment plans in our Student Loan Debt area, or on the Department of Education’s website at studentaid.ed.gov.)

The Income Based Repayment Plan and the Income Sensitive Repayment Plan are available to some FFEL borrowers. Direct loan borrowers can use the Income Based Repayment Plan, the Income Contingent Repayment Plan, or the new Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan. Generally the repayment plan options are more generous for direct loans than for FFEL loans.

To determine whether you have FFEL guaranteed or direct loans, access the National Student Loan Data System at www.nslds.ed.gov.

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