Congress voted on and passed Feb. 1 the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 that included massive cuts to federal student loan programs. The $11.9 billion in student loan cuts, including changes in laws regarding student loan consolidation, will negatively impact those students seeking a college education and others seeking to consolidate their higher interest loans. The industry expects a rush of students seeking to consolidate at the current low rates that are set to increase on July 1.The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, S. 1932, was narrowly approved Feb. 1 by the House of Representatives. Passing by a two-vote margin of 216-214, S. 1932 was signed into public law Feb. 8 by President Bush, thereby approving the $11.9 billion in student loan cuts over the next five years.Students and graduates now are in jeopardy. With college costs increasing every year and the forthcoming higher interest rates on student loan consolidation, college students are rushing to consolidate before the July 1 rate increase.Student Loans Take the Hardest HitThe cuts to federal student loans are the worst among cuts to other federal programs including Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.A majority of the legislation’s provisions to student loans will take effect on July 1 and others will be implemented over time. Some provisions include an increase to 6.8 percent for federal Stafford Loans, from rates as low as 4.7 percent. PLUS fixed interest rates will jump to 8.5 percent, from 7.9 percent. The legislation leaves consolidation loans current fixed rate in place.Consolidate Student Loans Before July 1 Rate IncreaseWith student loan consolidation rates set to skyrocket on July 1, now is the time for students and graduates to consolidate, according to NextStudent, the Phoenix-based education funding company. Students and graduates now are urged to consolidate as current consolidation rates can be as low as 2.75 percent with benefits applied. Other incentives to consolidate include a longer payment term, one monthly payment and no prepayment penalties.The following are other provisions affecting student loan consolidation that take effect July 1, 2006. Students and graduates should be aware of the new regulations so that they now can take action:Consolidation Loan Changes- Single holder rule is not changed.- Eliminates in-school and spousal consolidation options.- A subsequent consolidation loan may be made in the DL Program only if the FFELP borrower wishes to obtain an income contingent repayment plan and, the borrower is trying to avoid default, but that is conditioned by the requirement that such a loan has been submitted to a guaranty agency for what used to be called “preclaims assistance” but is now labeled as “default aversion.”- Also, in the Conf. Rpt. is a provision providing that only if a FFELP borrower has an application for a consolidation loan rejected by a lender or the application is rejected because the borrower wanted income-sensitive repayment terms, then the borrower can receive a direct consolidation loan.- A borrower with a defaulted loan can receive a DL consolidation loan to resolve the default.- Unless otherwise specified the terms of DL consolidation loans are the same as FFELP consolidation loans.Approval of the Deficit Reduction Act brings major cuts to student loans and a change in regulations regarding student loan consolidation. Although the legislation has changed to the detriment of those seeking a higher education, students and graduates still have the option to consolidate before the interest rate is set to increase on July 1.