One of the toughest parts of borrowing money for education is paying off the loans, especially if high interest rates are in the picture. That’s where credit unions can come in and offer relief with student loan refinance programs, several experts say.
The National Institutes of Health Federal Credit Union just launched a refinancing program geared toward health care professionals, a demographic that tends to be highly burdened with student debt, the credit union said. The $562 million, Washington, D.C.-based credit union, which serves the health care and biomedical industries, built the “CareerBuilder Education Refinancing Program” in response to requests from its members who are especially strapped due to high costs of living in the Mid-Atlantic region, explained Juli Anne Callis, president/CEO for NIHFCU.
“It’s a solution we developed to meet the needs of our constituency,” Callis said. “We kept hearing about this heavy indebtedness among health care professionals, such as nurses. That middle tier is facing an ongoing challenge.”
NIHFCU’s student loan refinance product features low fixed and variable rates, as well as the option to extend loan terms to 15 or 20 years to reduce monthly payments, the credit union said.
Callis said the credit union plans to promote the loans, which she anticipates to average $20,000 each, during on-site visits to local health care associations and employers.
The new program is also a win for the credit union from a business perspective. It’s an opportunity for NIHFCU to see returns from a niche, unsecured loan product, Callis explained. NIHFCU does not offer its own private student loan program, but it does participate in Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan referral program.
For any credit union, providing a student loan consolidation program is a great way to assist borrowers who face high interest rates from existing private student loans as well as continue the credit union tradition of offering support in any way they can, said Jim Holt, vice president of sales operations for student lending CUSO Credit Union Student Choice.
“Relief for the cost of education can come in several forms,” Holt said. “First, students need to understand how to afford school and know that government programs should be exhausted first. Second, if students need additional help, they should look to their local credit union for a private student loan. And third, credit unions can help those unfortunate students who have been saddled with high interest rates through consolidation programs.”