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Students join Dick Durbin in push for low interest rate on loans

Posted: 06/07/2013

Two Roosevelt University undergraduates who receive federal loans joined U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Friday at the University in urging Congress to keep interest rates on student loans in check.

Victoria Pena, a finance major and resident of Glendale Heights, and John Contreras, an English major who grew up on Chicago’s southwest side, predicted during a press conference with Durbin that their plans and the plans of many other college students across the nation would be hindered if interest rates on federal subsidized loans double on July 1.

“Students are not going to want to go to college because they will be up to their eyeballs in debt,” predicted Pena, who wants to be able to pay off her own federal loans so that her parents can help a younger sister with some college costs.

“I’m struggling right now without the interest rate increase and I don’t want my father to have to pay off any more of my college costs,” added Contreras.

Both students, who will be the first in their families to graduate from college, hoped to send a message to Congress that time is running out for a solution to the dispute between Democrats and Republicans on future student loan interest rates.

Durbin said he is hopeful that interest rates on Stafford and other federal loans could be frozen for at least one more year at 3.4 percent, while at least one  GOP plan is calling for the rates to increase by more than 8 percent.

“We have three weeks to work out our differences,” said Durbin, who pointed out that the rates on federal subsidized loans would automatically double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does nothing at all.

“My belief is that we have to keep these rates as low as possible,” the senator said. “I’m standing here today because I was able to take and pay back student loans,” he added. “These students deserve to have the same opportunity, which is only possible if we keep their interest rates low.”

Pena, who will graduate in 2015, said mounting debt load made her rethink her desire to take two minors with her finance major because it would mean she’d have to be in school longer, increasing her debt.

In addition, she predicted her plans to travel abroad after graduating could be thwarted if student loan interest rates go up because she’ll have to focus all her attention on paying down added debt.

“I worry every day about working to pay off school,” she said. “Increasing the interest rates will only make it harder for me and my sister to get through school.”

Contreras, who will graduate in December with more than $20,000 in debt, said he never really wanted to take loans, but knew that he had to in order to take the pressure off his father who also is helping another son with college costs.

“We do have a chance of being able to pursue our goals for an education but if these interest rates on our loans increase it’s going to make it that much more difficult,” Contreras said.