Student Loan Interest Rates: History, Subsidies, and Cost

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling later this year. This is the culmination of decades of legislative changes to the federal student loan program. Few people are aware of the policies that led to the pending student loan interest rate increase and many question whether the 6.8 percent fixed interest rate charged on the most widely-available loans provides a real benefit to students.

This issue brief details the history of federal student loan interest rates, including the decisions that led to today’s fixed rates and the pending rate increase. It also examines the popular argument that current rates are unfavorable for borrowers and disputes the claim that student loans earn revenue for the government.

The timeline below shows the interest rates on federal student loans taken out in each year, as well as the Congressional action that led to these interest rates. Roll over the points in the graph for more information.




Jason Delisle is the former director of the Federal Education Budget Project, which is part of the Education Policy program at New America.