NEW YORK( TheStreet) -- Sallie Mae ( SLM) beat analyst estimates and could once again start paying out dividends to shareholders in the second half of the year.

During an earnings conference call Wednesday CEO Albert Lord hinted that a dividend -- which has not been paid since 2007-- could once again make a come back.

"I've commented over a period of time, we are considering paying a dividend," Lord said. "We're considering the repurchase of common shares, and we will very definitely be buying in more debt. That's how the $2 billion the company intends to raise will be used. We will be discussing this with our board very shortly and as I said you'll be hearing from me soon."

Sallie Mae reported net earnings of $447 million, or 84 cents per diluted share for the fourth-quarter 2010, compared to $309 million, or 52 cents per diluted share for the same quarter in 2009. Analysts were estimated a profit of 71 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Earnings for the year rose to $530 million or 94 cents per diluted share compared to $324 million or 38 cents per diluted share in 2009.

--Written by Maria Woehr in New York.

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