Equity firms eye Sallie Mae

Alisa Roth Apr 13, 2007

ALISA ROTH: Earlier this week, the United States’ largest student loan company, Sallie Mae, agreed to pay $2 million in fines and adopt a new code of conduct after the New York attorney general uncovered improper connections between lenders and financial aid departments at universities.

Officials in California and Connecticut are looking into similar allegations at schools in their states, and some in Congress are calling for federal investigations.

On Friday, The New York Times reported an interesting twist to the story — there’s a move to take Sallie Mae private.

Congress created Sallie Mae more than 30 years ago to act as a secondary market for companies that give student loans. In 2004, it became completely independent and is now a publicly traded company. Now The Times says a private equity firm or firms would reportedly buy Sallie Mae for more than $20 billion. The company has a market value of nearly $17 billion.

Private equity firms have been on a buying spree recently, and they’ve started widening their views of possible targets. Generally, financial services companies such as Sallie Mae haven’t held much interest, in part because of complicated financial issues related to debt.

But purchasing entities like Sallie Mae isn’t unheard of. Last year, a group of private equity investors bought a majority stake in GMAC, the finance arm of General Motors.

I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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