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Amazon is acting like a bank

The online marketplace partners with Wells Fargo to sell student loans.

Amazon Prime
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Wall Street may not have taken seriously some of the tech start-ups that are trying to chip away at their business, but now they've got a much bigger player in the online finance game: Amazon.

The online merchant on Thursday announced a partnership with Wells Fargo to provide discounted loans to Amazon Prime Student shoppers, younger consumers who have taken up the retailer on a bundle including free shipping, streaming video, cloud storage and other web products.

"We are focused on innovation and meeting our customers where they are — and increasingly that is in the digital space," John Rasmussen, head of Wells Fargo's personal lending group, said in a statement. "This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together two great brands. At Amazon and Wells Fargo, delivering exceptional customer service and helping customers are at the center of everything we do."

Amazon is cutting up to 0.50 percentage point from the interest rate being offered to Prime Student borrowers who also establish an automatic monthly repayment plan with Wells Fargo.

In its earnings report last week, Wells Fargo executives cited student loans as a growing revenue generator for the bank.

At a time when lending is bringing near-record-low yields, Wall Street banks and other lenders have increasingly channeled cash to borrowers who are taking on more loans for cars, but also for student borrowers. As a result, both auto debt and student debt have each grown to more than $1 trillion in outstanding debt which must be repaid by consumers.

The rise in the total amount that graduates owe has made it difficult for some to dig out from underneath six-figure debt, however.