What is a federal student loan?
Federal loans are borrowed funds that you must repay with interest. A federal student loan allows students and their parents to borrow money to help pay for college through loan programs supported by the federal government.They have low interest rates and offer flexible repayment terms, benefits, and options.
What is a private student loan?
A private student loan is a nonfederal loan issued by a lender such as a bank or credit union. If you’re not sure whether you’re being offered a private loan or a federal loan, check with the financial aid office at your school.
Why are federal student loans a better option for paying for college?
Federal student loans offer borrowers many benefits not typically found in private loans. These include low fixed interest rates, income-based repayment plans, cancellations for certain employment, and deferment (postponement) options, including deferment of loan payments when a student returns to school. Also, private loans usually require a credit check. For these reasons, students and parents should always exhaust federal student loan options before considering a private loan.
What types of federal student loans are available?
The U.S. Department of Education has two federal student loan programs:
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program is the largest federal student loan program. Under this program, the U.S. Department of Education is your lender. There are four types of Direct Loans available:
- Direct Subsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but in this case, the student does not have to demonstrate financial need to be eligible for the loan.
- Direct PLUS Loans are loans made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.
- Direct Consolidation Loans allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer.
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program is a school-based loan program for undergraduates and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Under this program, the school is lender.
How much money can I borrow in federal student loans?
- If you are an undergraduate student:
- Up to $5,500 per year in Perkins Loans depending on your financial need, the amount of other aid you receive, and the availability of funds at your college or career school.
- $5,500 to $12,500 per year in Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans depending on certain factors, including your year in college.
- If you are a graduate student:
- Up to $8,000 each year in Perkins Loans depending on your financial need, the amount of other aid you receive, and the availability of funds at your college or career school.
- Up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
- The remainder of your college costs not covered by other financial aid in Direct PLUS Loans. Note: A credit check is required for a PLUS loan.
- If you are a parent of a dependent undergraduate student:
- The remainder of your child’s college costs that are not covered by other financial aid. Note: A credit check is required for a parent loan (called a PLUS loan).
Why should I take out federal student loans?
Federal student loans are an investment in your future. You should not be afraid to take out federal student loans, but you should be smart about it.
Federal student loans offer many benefits compared to other options you may consider when paying for college:
- The interest rate on federal student loans is almost always lower than that on private loans—and much lower than that on a credit card!
- You don’t need a credit check or a cosigner to get most federal student loans.
- You don’t have to begin repaying your federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time.
- If you demonstrate financial need, you can qualify to have the government pay your interest while you are in school.
- Federal student loans offer flexible repayment plans and options to postpone your loan payments if you’re having trouble making payments.
- If you work in certain jobs, you may be eligible to have a portion of your federal student loans forgiven if you meet certain conditions.
What should I consider when taking out federal student loans?
Before you take out a loan, it’s important to understand that a loan is a legal obligation that you will be responsible for repaying with interest. You may not have to begin repaying your federal student loans right away, but you don’t have to wait to understand your responsibilities as a borrower.
Be a responsible borrower.
- Keep track of how much you’re borrowing. Think about how the amount of your loans will affect your future finances, and how much you can afford to repay. Your student loan payments should be only a small percentage of your salary after you graduate, so it’s important not to borrow more than you need for your school-related expenses.
- Research starting salaries in your field. Ask your school for starting salaries of recent graduates in your field of study to get an idea of how much you are likely to earn after you graduate. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook to estimate salaries for different careers or research employment opportunities advertised in the area where you plan to live to get an idea of a local starting salary. You also can use the Department of Labor’s career search tool to research careers and view the average annual salary for each career.
- Understand the terms of your loan and keep copies of your loan documents. When you sign your promissory note, you are agreeing to repay the loan according to the terms of the note even if you don’t complete your education, can’t get a job after you complete the program, or you didn’t like the education you received.
- Make payments on time. You are required to make payments on time even if you don’t receive a bill, repayment notice, or a reminder. You must pay the full amount required by your repayment plan, as partial payments do not fulfill your obligation to repay your student loan on time.
- Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Notify your loan servicer when you graduate; withdraw from school; drop below half-time status; transfer to another school; or change your name, address, or Social Security number. You also should contact your servicer if you’re having trouble making your scheduled loan payments. Your servicer has several options available to help you keep your loan in good standing.
How do I get a federal student loan?
To apply for a federal student loan, you must complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM). Based on the results of your FAFSA, your college or career school will send you a financial aid offer, which may include federal student loans. Your school will tell you how to accept all or a part of the loan.
Before you receive your loan funds, you will be required to
- complete entrance counseling, a tool to ensure you understand your obligation to repay the loan; and
- sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN), agreeing to the terms of the loan.
Contact the financial aid office at the school you are planning to attend for details regarding the process at your school.