LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - For many students returning to school in the fall, college just got more expensive. The interest rates on government loans will increase by nearly a percentage point for the next school year.
Student debt has doubled over the past eight years in the United States, from roughly $550 billion to more than $1.2 trillion. That's more than Americans owe on auto loans or credit cards.
One student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse said she is nervous about the amount of money she will have to pay back after she graduates, but it's worth it for a college degree and a bright future.
"I don't really have help from parents or grandparents," said Kelly Reneke, a junior at UW-La Crosse.
Reneke has been paying for college all on her own with the help of government loans.
"I've been using it freshman year, sophomore year, all this year, and I am going to need to use it next year, too," said Reneke.
For the past year, Reneke's interest rates on her loans have been at 3.8 percent, but that's all about to change.
"So the new rates are in; they are going up 0.8 percent," said Terry Micks, the loans program coordinator at UW-La Crosse.
"I actually didn't know that until you said that," said Reneke.
The interest rate on subsidized loans for undergraduates will go from 3.8 percent to 4.6 percent. For graduate loans, the rates will go from 5.4 percent to 6.2 percent.
"It's a little bit of a shock, and it's definitely adding to the stress that I have on top of finals this year," said Reneke.
Reneke isn't the only student whose affected by the increase.
"At any given point in time, I would say about 70 percent of our students use subsidized or unsubsidized loans," said Micks.
However, it could have been much worse. Last year, interest rates were supposed to double, but Congress stepped in.
"Even though it's increasing 0.8 percent, it's still well below the 6.8 percent it would have been if they hadn't put this legislation into place," said Micks.
To help students cope with the increase, Micks said students should only borrow what they need.
"Plan, if you have a summer job, to save as much of it as you can," said Micks. "Also be cognizant that this is not going to go away. This is money that you have to pay back."
That is exactly what Reneke plans to do this summer.
"This year I did get an internship, so that will help me, but unfortunately I think I am going to get some type of weekend job on top of it," said Reneke.
Although Reneke has a large sum of loans to pay back after she graduates, she knows it's worth it.
"You have to do what you have to do to get your college degree, and unfortunately you have to take those debts on with you," said Reneke.
The new interest rates on subsidized student loans only affect those issued after July 1 of this year. Once a loan is taken out, it stays the rate that it is set at for the life of the loan. It doesn't change even if the rates of new loans change every year.
The average college graduate in 2012 owed about $29,000 in loans.
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