Dear Penny: Is Using Retirement Money So My Daughter Can Graduate a Mistake?

Dear Penny,
A big advantage of Parent PLUS loans is that you can qualify for something called income-contingent repayment. Basically, your payment is capped at 20% of your disposable income. You’re planning to retire soon, so I’m assuming your income will drop soon as well. That means you could qualify for an extremely low payment once your daughter graduates.
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She is a good kid with some special problems that she overcomes daily. I want her to have this degree and a chance in life. She worked very hard to overcome all of the physical and mental challenges in her life, BUT expenses are starting to affect my retirement. Any advice?
Sometimes I get antsy when parents talk about spending retirement money on their child’s education. But we’re talking about one year of college, not four. I think you’d deeply regret not giving your daughter the financial support she needs to make it through this final year.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].
Contact the financial aid office for your daughter’s school if you haven’t already done so. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, bases financial aid on income from two years earlier. For example, aid for the 2022-23 school year will be based on 2020 income. But some schools offer a process called professional judgment where administrators can adjust FAFSA information based on major life changes, like a parent’s retirement, on a case-by-case basis.
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Your daughter has no doubt overcome her challenges thanks to her own grit, but also because of your love and support as a parent. You’re making a sacrifice to pay for her last year of school because you believe in her. Once she graduates, paying off any debt you’ve incurred will be another challenge you’ll need to conquer together.
-J.
Keep in mind, a Parent PLUS loan is only an option if your daughter is considered a dependent student. For example, if she’s 24 or older or she has dependent children of her own, unfortunately, you wouldn’t be eligible.
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Dear J.,
With private student loans — whether you take them out in your name or co-sign for your daughter — you’re at the mercy of your lender if you’re struggling with payments. So I’d vote in favor of a Parent PLUS loan, even if you find a private loan with a lower interest rate.
If you can’t get a Parent PLUS loan, I’d suggest splitting taking half from your retirement funds and a private loan for the other half. Neither is an ideal option, but sometimes life forces us to choose between less-than-perfect options.
What makes me nervous about using retirement money is that virtually everyone’s investments have taken a hit in recent months. You want to limit your withdrawals as much as possible right now so that your money can recover. But at least since you’re 67, you won’t pay an early withdrawal penalty.
Now let’s address your daughter’s role. I don’t know if she currently has a job. If she is able to work some to help defray costs without jeopardizing her studies, that should be on the table.
My daughter is in her last year of college. I don’t have any more money to pay for it. So for her last year, should I take from retirement monies or get a loan? 
If financial aid can’t make up the shortfall, a Parent PLUS loan is a good solution. A Parent PLUS loan is a federal student loan that you, as the parent, are responsible for repaying.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com

But I want her to focus on her studies so that she can actually complete her final year of coursework in a year. Stretching out the timeline further could pose a greater risk to your retirement. So I wouldn’t ask your daughter to get a job if she’s not already working or work more hours if she has a job.

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By taking half from your retirement and half as a loan, you can minimize the damage to your nest egg while taking less debt into retirement. If you’re able to work just a bit longer to pay some of these expenses in cash, even better.

Guide to Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS loans are federal student loans for graduate and professional students. Although Grad PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than some other types of federal student loans, they also have a major benefit — virtually no borrowing limits. You can borrow up to the full cost of attendance of your school, minus any other financial aid you’ve already received.

Read on for more on how Grad PLUS loans work, including their eligibility requirements, interest rates and repayment options.

What Are Grad PLUS Loans?

If you’re planning to attend a graduate or professional program, a Grad PLUS loan could help cover costs. Issued by the Department of Education, Grad PLUS loans are student loans designed for graduate and professional students.

PLUS loans are not the only federal loans available to you as a graduate student — you can also borrow Direct unsubsidized loans. Direct unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates and fees than PLUS loans, but they come with borrowing limits.

If you’ve hit your limit and need additional funding, a Grad PLUS loan could cover the gap. As mentioned above, you can borrow up to the full cost of attendance of your program, minus any other financial aid you’ve already gotten. This flexibility can be helpful for students who are attending pricey programs.

Recommended: How Do Student Loans Work? Guide to Student Loans

What Can Grad PLUS Loans Be Used for?

Grad PLUS loans can be used for tuition, fees and other education-related expenses. These expenses include,

•   Housing

•   Food

•   Textbooks

•   Computers and other supplies

•   Study abroad expenses

•   Transportation

•   Childcare costs

A Grad PLUS loan will first be disbursed to your financial aid office, which will apply the funds toward tuition, fees, room and board, and any other school charges. The financial aid office will then send any remaining funds to you.

Recommended: What Can You Use Student Loans For?

Who Is Eligible for Grad PLUS Loans?

To be eligible for a Grad PLUS loan, you must be a graduate or professional student enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. What’s more, your program must lead to a graduate or professional degree or certificate.

You’ll also need to meet the eligibility requirements for federal financial aid (more on this below), as well as submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Typical Grad PLUS Loan Requirements

Besides being enrolled in an eligible graduate or professional program, you need to meet a few other requirements to take out a Grad PLUS loan:

Meet the Requirements for Federal Student Aid

Since Grad PLUS loans are part of the federal student aid program, you must be eligible for federal aid to borrow one. Here are some of the criteria you need to meet:

•   Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen

•   Have a valid Social Security number (with some exceptions)

•   Have a high school diploma, General Educational Development (GED) certificate or other recognized equivalent

•   Maintain satisfactory academic progress while in school

•   Not already be in default on a federal student loan or owe money on a federal grant

If you’re a non-U.S. citizen or have an intellectual disability or criminal conviction, additional requirements might apply.

Submit the FAFSA

You’ll need to submit the FAFSA before you can borrow a Grad PLUS loan. After applying to grad school, you can submit this form, free of charge, on the Federal Student Aid website, with the myStudentAid mobile app or via the mail. Since the FAFSA only applies to a single academic year, you’ll need to submit it every year you’re in school and want to receive financial aid.

Complete the Grad PLUS Loan Application

Along with submitting the FAFSA, you’ll also need to fill out a separate application for the Grad PLUS loan. You can find and submit this application on the Federal Student Aid website, though some schools have separate processes. Your financial aid office can advise you on the steps you need to take.

If your application is approved, you’ll need to agree to the terms of the loan by signing a Master Promissory Note. If you haven’t borrowed a Grad PLUS loan before, you’ll also be required to complete student loan entrance counseling.

Not Have Adverse Credit History (or Apply With an Endorser)

While you don’t need outstanding credit to qualify for a Grad PLUS loan, you can’t have adverse credit. According to the Department of Education, you have adverse credit if one of the following applies to you:

•   You have accounts with a total balance greater than $2,085 that are 90 or more days delinquent

•   You’ve experienced a default, bankruptcy, repossession, foreclosure, wage garnishment or tax lien in the past five years

•   You’ve had a charge-off or write-off of a federal student loan in the past five years

If you have adverse credit, you have two options:

•   Appeal the decision due to extenuating circumstances. For example, you could provide documentation showing that you paid off a delinquent debt on your credit report.

•   Apply with an endorser who does not have adverse credit. Your endorser will be responsible for repaying the loan if you fall behind on payments.

Grad PLUS Loans Interest Rates

Grad PLUS loans come with fixed interest rates that will remain the same over the life of your loan. They also have a disbursement fee, which is a percentage of your loan amount that gets deducted from your loan.

Congress sets rates and fees on federal student loans periodically. These are the current Grad PLUS loan interest rates and fees:

Interest Rate (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2021 and before July 1, 2022) Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2021, and before Oct. 1, 2022)
6.28% 4.228%

Repaying Your Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS loans are eligible for a variety of federal repayment plans:

•   Standard repayment plan, which involves fixed monthly payments over 10 years.

•   Income-driven repayment, specifically Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment. These plans adjust your monthly student loan payments to a percentage of your discretionary income while extending your loan terms to 20 or 25 years. If you’ve made on-time payments but still have a balance at the end of your term, it may be forgiven. The amount forgiven may be considered taxable income by the IRS.

•   Extended repayment, which extends your repayment term to 25 years and lets you pay a fixed or graduated amount.

•   Graduated repayment, which lowers your student loan payments in the beginning and increases them every two years. You’ll pay off your loan over 10 years, and your final payments won’t be more than three times greater than your initial payments.

Grad PLUS loans are also eligible for certain federal forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Other Options to Pay for Grad School

Grad PLUS loans aren’t the only way to pay for graduate school. Here are some alternative options:

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

You can borrow up to $20,500 per year in Direct Unsubsidized loans as a graduate student with an aggregate loan limit of $138,500, including any loans you borrowed as an undergraduate.

Here are the interest rate and disbursement fee for graduate students:

Interest Rate (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2021 and before July 1, 2022) Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020, and before Oct. 1, 2022)
5.28% 1.057%

Grants and Scholarships

Besides student loans, you can also pursue grants and scholarships for graduate school. You can find grants and scholarships from a variety of sources, including the Department of Education, your state, your school or a private organization. By earning grants and scholarships, you might not need to borrow as much in student loans.

Private Student Loans

You can also explore your options for private graduate student loans from banks, online lenders or credit unions. Some lenders offer interest rates that start lower than Graduate PLUS loan interest rates and don’t charge an origination fee.

Although private student loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment plans or programs, some lenders offer flexible repayment options or deferment if you need to pause payments. But, because private student loans aren’t required to offer the same borrower benefits as federal student loans, they are generally borrowed as a last resort option after all other sources of financing have been exhausted.

The Takeaway

If you’re looking for ways to pay for graduate school, a Grad PLUS loan could help. You can use this flexible loan to cover your school’s cost of attendance, as well as choose from a variety of federal repayment plans when it comes time to pay it back.

A Grad PLUS loan, however, might not be your most affordable borrowing option. Depending on your credit and other factors, it may be possible to find a private student loan with an even lower interest rate than a Grad PLUS loan.

SoFi offers private student loans with competitive rates, no fees and flexible repayment terms. Learn more about SoFi’s no-fee private student loans.

FAQ

What kind of loan is Grad PLUS?

The Grad PLUS loan is a federal graduate student loan issued by the Department of Education. It is designed specifically for graduate and professional students.

Is there a max on Grad PLUS loans?

There is virtually no limit on the amount you can borrow with a Grad PLUS loan. You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, minus any other financial aid you’ve already received.

Can Grad PLUS loans be used for living expenses?

Yes, you can use Grad PLUS loans to cover your living expenses while at school. You must use your loan on education-related expenses, which can include housing, food, supplies, transportation and other costs related to attending school.


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SoFi Private Student Loans
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SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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Source: sofi.com

The Best Student Loans of May 2022

College costs are overwhelming for a lot of families. So students turn to student loans to cover them. Most students, following expert recommendations, start with federal student loans, but those aren’t always enough to cover costs.

When federal student loans don’t cut it, you can turn to private student loan lenders to fill in the gap.

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans offer a variety of options for interest rates, loan amounts and terms that could make picking one daunting. So we’ve pulled together a list of some of the best student loans available to make it easier for you to compare and vet your options.

Federal student loans have been in the news a lot lately as the U.S. Education Department has

Keep reading below the table for more details on every lender, plus all the information you need to find the college funding plan that’s right for you and your family.

Interest rates accurate as of late April 2022 and subject to change. Variable rates listed are margins added to a base rate such as LIBOR or SOFR, which could add around 0.30% to 1%.

Best Student Loans at a Glance

Lender Variable APR with Autopay Fixed APR with Autopay Loans for
Credible 0.94% – 11.98% 3.02% – 14.08% Undergrad and grad, refinancing
Earnest Starting at 0.94% Starting at 2.99% Undergrad and grad
College Ave 0.94% – 11.98% 3.24% – 12.99% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing
Sallie Mae 1.13% – 11.23% 3.50% – 12.60% Undergrad, grad and career training
SoFi 1.05% – 11.78% 3.47% –11.16% Undergrad and grad, refinancing
Ascent .47% – 11.31% 4.36% – 12.75% Undergrad, grad, career training and bootcamp
LendKey Starting at 1.57% Starting at 3.99% Undergrad and grad, refinancing
Citizens Bank n/a 3.48% – 10.78% Undergrad and grad, refinancing
PNC Bank Starting at 1.09% Starting at 2.99% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing
Purefy 1.74% – 7.24% 2.43% – 7.94% Refinancing
Sparrow 0.99% – 11.98% 2.99% – 12.99% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing
Student Loan Authority n/a 2.99% – 4.61% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing
Chicago Student Loans n/a 7.53% – 8.85% Undergrad (juniors and seniors)
Funding U n/a 7.49% – 12.99% Undergrad
Discover 1.79% – 11.09% 3.99% – 11.59% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing
Splash Financial 1.74 – 8.27% 1.99% – 8.27% Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Credible

Best for Comparing Loan Rates

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Compares rates from top lenders
  • See multiple offers without hard credit check
  • Variable APR as low as 0.94%

Through Credible’s loan marketplace, you can fill out an application to see pre-qualified rates for multiple lenders in one place. Select options that work for you, like deferred or interest-only payments while you’re in school, fixed or variable rates, and loan terms that fit your plan. Once you choose a loan offer, you can finish your application and sign your loan agreement with the lender directly.

Credible

Variable APR

0.94% – 11.98%

Fixed APR

3.02% – 14.08%

Loans for

Undergrad and grad, refinancing

Earnest

Best for Flexible Repayment Options

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • 9-month grace period
  • Skip one payment/year
  • Pay monthly or every two weeks

Earnest offers an easy-to-use, modern platform to find loans for undergrad, grad school and professional degrees with a nine-month grace period before beginning repayment after school. Loans come with an option to defer one payment every 12 months with no extra fees or interest. Apply online, and get an offer within 72 hours.

Earnest

Variable APR

Starting at 0.94%

Fixed APR

Starting at 2.99%

Loans for

Undergrad and grad, refinancing

College Ave

Best for Affordable In-School Repayment

3.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Variable APR as low as 0.94%
  • Parent and cosigned loans available
  • 4 repayment options

College Ave is a mainstay in student loans and refinancing. Apply for loans to cover undergrad, grad and professional degrees, and career training programs. The online application is quick and easy, and borrowers tout the company’s customer service, so you’ll be on top of your loan from application to repayment. Choose how you repay while you’re in school to save money and fit your budget.

College Ave

Variable APR

0.94% – 11.98%

Fixed APR

3.24% – 12.99%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Sallie Mae

Best for College Financial Planning

2 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Faster applications for returning borrower
  • Scholarships available
  • Credit cards and banking options

Sallie Mae is a private lender and platform for financial products for students. The business no longer originates or services federal loans, as it’s most known for. Apply for private student loans, credit cards and savings accounts designed for students. With Multi-Year Advantage, returning borrowers have fast applications and high approval rates to make it easier to get your money each year.

Sallie Mae

Variable APR

1.13% – 11.23%

Fixed APR

3.50% – 12.60%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training

SoFI

Best for SoFi Banking Clients

4 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • No fees
  • Unemployment protection
  • Earn rewards to repay loans faster Summary

SoFi is well known for student loan refinancing, and it offers other types of loans including in-school student loans with no hidden fees. As a SoFi member, you get access to perks, including subscriptions to products like Grammarly, Evernote and Coursera, to support your education. With unemployment protection, you get forbearance on loans for up to three-month increments if you lose your job.

SoFi

Variable APR

1.05% – 11.78%

Fixed APR

3.47% –11.16%

Loans for

Undergrad and grad, refinancing

Ascent

Best for Graduated Repayment

4 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Graduated repayment available
  • Hardship repayment options
  • Bootcamp loans available

Ascent offers student loans and scholarships for your full academic career. Apply online with no application fees to see your prequalified rates without a hard credit check. Use loans to pay for everything from a traditional undergrad or grad program to career training and even career-boosting bootcamps.

Ascent

Variable APR

1.47% – 11.31%

Fixed APR

4.36% – 12.75%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad, career training and bootcamp

LendKey

Best for Loan Reconnaissance

4 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Work with community banks and CUs
  • Student loans and refinancing options
  • Rates as low as 1.57%

LendKey is a student loan servicer and a platform for finding the best student loan and refinancing options from partner community banks and credit unions. LendKey’s platform streamlines the process, so you get the benefit of working with a community-oriented institution without the headache of multiple application processes.

LendKey

Variable APR

Starting at 1.57%

Fixed APR

Starting at 3.99%

Loans for

Undergrad and grad, refinancing

Citizens Bank

Best for Citizens Bank Customers

3 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Loyalty discounts
  • Cosigner release option
  • Multi-Year Approval

Citizens Bank is an established financial institution with more than 40 years of experience providing student loans and other financial services. With multi year approval, you can get approved for new loans year after year with a faster application and no hard credit check. Citizens Bank customers can get an interest rate discount up to 0.25 percentage points.

Citizens Banks

Variable APR

n/a

Fixed APR

3.48% – 10.78%

Loans for

Undergrad and grad, refinancing

PNC

Best for Undergraduate Loans

2.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Established traditional bank
  • Cosigner release option
  • Student loans and refinancing options

PNC Bank is one of the largest banks in the United States, with nearly 200 years of experience in financial services. Student loans and refinancing are among its vast services. The PNC Solution Loan is designed specifically for undergraduates, to bridge the gap when federal student loans don’t cover all your expenses. It also offers graduate and professional loans.

PNC Bank

Variable APR

Starting at 1.09%

Fixed APR

Starting at 2.99%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Purefy

Best for Refinancing Student Loans

3 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Student and parent loan refinancing
  • Compare multiple lenders
  • No hard credit check

Purefy is for anyone out of school, repaying student loans and looking for ways to save money. Use the platform to compare student loan refinancing options from multiple lenders side-by-side. The platform is free to use, and you can see prequalified rates in minutes. You can refinance private or federal loans through its partner lenders.

Purefy

Variable APR

1.74% – 7.24%

Fixed APR

2.43% – 7.94%

Loans for

Refinancing

Sparrow

Best for Easy Student Loan Repayment

4 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Compare offers from multiple lenders
  • App to automate loan repayment
  • Manage private and federal loans

Sparrow is a platform for student loans, refinancing and repayment in one place. You can fill out a single application to see prequalified offers from multiple partner lenders for private loans or refinancing. Then use the app to manage and automate repayment of your private and federal student loans in one place.

Sparrow

Variable APR

0.99% – 11.98%

Fixed APR

2.99% – 12.99%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Rhode Island Student Loan Authority

Best for Income-Driven Repayment

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Income-based repayment available
  • Fixed interest rates
  • Less-than-halftime students eligible

RISLA is a nonprofit organization offering student loans and refinancing for borrowers all over the U.S. Its loans have more borrower protections than most private student loans: You have income-driven repayment options, a fixed interest rate and two repayment terms to choose from (10 or 15 years). Limited loan forgiveness is even available for students who complete internships.

Rhode Island Student Loan Authority

Variable APR

n/a

Fixed APR

2.99% – 4.61%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Chicago Student Loans

Best for Equitable Lending

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Merit-based approval and interest rates
  • No cosigner needed
  • Income-based repayment options

Chicago Student Loans by A.M. Money works with limited schools around the Midwest, but if your school is eligible, this is a great option for equitable lending. Approval and interest rates are determined based on your academic achievement, not your credit or income. And income-based repayment plans are available if you can’t afford your monthly payment.

Chicago Student Loans

Variable APR

n/a

Fix APR

7.53% – 8.85%

Loans for

Undergrad (juniors and seniors)

Funding U

Best for Merit-Based Lending

5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Approval by GPA and non-credit factors
  • No cosigner needed
  • More than 1,000 eligible schools

Funding U makes undergraduate loans based on a student’s GPA, not their family’s credit history. It uses a credit check to set interest rates, but also factors in your GPA and year in school — the rate goes down as you progress nearer to graduation! Funding U works with more than 1,460 nonprofit colleges and universities.

Funding U

Variable APR

n/a

Fixed APR

7.49% – 12.99%

Loans for

Undergrad

Discover

Best for Rewards for Good Grades

3.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • No origination or late fees
  • Cash reward for good grades
  • Variable APR as low as 1.79%

In addition to its full suite of financial services, Discover offers student loans for undergrads, grad students and professional degrees with no origination or late fees. You’ll get rewarded for good grades: Get a 1% cash reward for each new loan if you have a GPA of at least 3.0 for the term(s) the loan covers.

Discover

Variable APR

1.79% – 11.09%

Fixed APR

3.99% – 11.59%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Splash Financial

Best for Refinancing Undergrad and Med School Loans

4.5 out of 5 Overall

Key Features

  • Compare offers from multiple lenders
  • No origination fees or prepayment penalties
  • Exclusive interest rates from partner lenders

Splash Financial lets you compare in-school student loans and student loan refinancing (and personal loans) from multiple lenders with a simple and quick online application. In addition to its search function, Splash partners with its lenders to offer exclusive interest rates — with fixed rates as low as 1.99% — to help you get the best deal possible.

Splash Financial

Variable APR

1.74 – 8.27%

Fixed APR

1.99% – 8.27%

Loans for

Undergrad, grad and career training, refinancing

Types of Student Loans

The first thing you need to know before applying for any student loans is the difference between federal and private student loans. These two types of loans are treated differently and offer significantly different options for repayment and forgiveness down the line, so know what you’re signing up for before you borrow.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are backed by the U.S. government and make up the vast majority of student loans borrowed every year in the country.

Application: You apply for federal loans along with other types of federal student aid for college through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form you fill out every year to demonstrate your family’s financial situation. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) approves basic undergraduate loans and grants based on financial need, not creditworthiness, so students can apply for federal financial aid without a cosigner.

Types of loans: The government makes four types of student loans: Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, Direct PLUS for parents or graduate students, and Federal Perkins Loans for students with exceptional financial need. It also awards grants and work study awards based on financial need. PLUS loans are granted based on creditworthiness, but might still be easier to get than some private loans.

Interest rates: Federal student loan interest rates are standard and not based on a borrower’s credit history. Congress sets them each year for loans disbursed that year, and you keep that rate for the life of your loan. For example, the interest rate for 2021 was 3.73% for Direct undergraduate loans, 5.28% for graduate student loans and 6.28% for PLUS loans.

Repayment plans: The required repayment for federal student loans starts six months after leaving school (or going less than half time), and the standard repayment plan splits monthly payments evenly over 10 years. Subsidized loans don’t accrue interest while you’re in school, while unsubsidized loans do.

Federal student loans are originated and serviced by private institutions, but they’re backed by a guarantee from the federal government, so ED sets repayment terms. You can opt into a graduated payment plan or income-driven repayment, both which would extend your time to repay and could give you a more affordable monthly payment (as little as $0).

Only federal loans are eligible for forgiveness under programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and for national forbearance periods like we’ve seen during the pandemic. The pause on loan payback has been extended six times since the start of the pandemic.

Refinancing options: Even though you receive one lump payment (if you get a refund) each semester, you might have multiple student loans to your name. You can combine them with a Direct Consolidation Loan, a student loan consolidation option creates one balance and one monthly payment, and sets the interest rate at the average of all the loans. This isn’t a money-saving step, but could make repayment simpler.

You can also refinance federal student loans using a private refinancing option, which could save you money if you have strong credit and can keep up with payments. This would pay off your federal loan balances and replace them with a private loan. It removes the repayment and forgiveness options that come with federal loans.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are consumer loans made by private banks, credit unions and financial institutions. They’re treated differently from other types of private loans, but don’t come with as much flexibility as federal loans.

Application: You apply for private student loans directly with the lender or servicer providing the loan. Lenders approve loans based on creditworthiness, just like other credit products, so you have to have a strong credit history or apply with a creditworthy cosigner to be approved. Most (but not all) lenders include an option to release the cosigner after a few years of steady payments.

Types of loans: Private student loan lenders typically offer student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students and professional degrees. Some also offer loans for career training or alternative education like bootcamps. The loans all offer the same basic terms, but interest rates and loan amounts usually vary based on the degree covered.

Interest rates: Private student loan interest rates are set based on creditworthiness and can range from less than 1% to 12% or more depending on the prime rate. Fixed rates are set when you take out a loan and stay the same for the life of the loan, while variable interest rates fluctuate up and down when the Fed adjusts the prime rate.

Repayment plans: Private lenders don’t offer the same amount of protection in repayment as the federal government, but they usually offer a variety of repayment options so you can choose a plan that helps you save money without being overwhelmed by payments. You usually get to choose whether to pay off interest and/or principal while in school, or defer all payments until six months or more after school.

Many private lenders offer forbearance options of a few months at a time, so you can pause payments due to financial hardship without defaulting on your loan. They don’t, however, offer income-driven repayment, so your monthly payment is unaffected by your ability to pay it.

Private student loans aren’t eligible for forgiveness under federal plans, but you might be able to discharge them in bankruptcy under limited circumstances.

Refinancing options: If your financial situation improves, you can apply to refinance your student loans with the same or a different private lender. This pays off your existing loans and replaces them with a new loan with better terms, like a lower interest rate or lower monthly payments.

Should You Take out a Federal or Private Student Loan?

Nearly every expert will tell you to use private student loans as your last resort to pay for school. First exhaust free funding, like grants, scholarships and work study. Then take on federal student loans. Then, if your costs aren’t covered, take out private student loans to fill the gap.

That’s because private loans are the riskiest of all those options.

Federal student loans may be subsidized to save on interest, and they come with flexible repayment plans that offer relief when your income is low. And they’re eligible for forgiveness for student loan borrowers who qualify. Most private loans don’t have those options.

However, private student loans could come with significantly lower interest rates than federal student loans if you have good credit. Federal loans come with standard rates between 3% and 7% and don’t reward good credit (or punish bad credit).

After exhausting free funding, the most ideal route is to borrow a subsidized federal loan — which won’t accrue interest while you’re in school — then consider refinancing once the repayment period starts, you’ve built a strong credit history and feel confident in your ability to make monthly payments for the term of the new loan.

Even most private student loan lenders encourage borrowers to look into federal funding before taking out a private loan while you’re in school. They’re generally designed to fill gaps for students who aren’t eligible for enough in federal student loans to cover their costs to attend college.

Student Loan Costs to Consider

When you evaluate private student loan offers, you’ll probably focus on the interest rate, because that has a significant impact on the long-term cost of the loan. But there are other costs to consider.

Before accepting any loan offer or signing the agreement, make sure you know how much you’ll pay (if anything) in these common costs:

  • APR: Annual percentage rate is commonly called the interest rate (though they’re a little different). It’s usually the most prominently advertised feature of student loans. Student loan interest rates tend to fall between 3% and 11% and can be fixed or variable — the latter means they’ll change with the prime rate. A higher credit score can get you a lower interest rate and vice versa.
  • Origination fee: Some lenders charge a fee to receive your loan, though that’s less common with student loans than other types of loans. Origination fees are usually around 2% or 3% of the loan amount. They come out of the amount disbursed to the school, so you likely won’t notice them unless you’re very particular about math.
  • Late fee: Most loan agreements come with a fee for late payments, usually a percentage of the payment due. Many student loan lenders are doing away with late fees and building in options for flexible repayment, so shop around to compare your options!

What Is a Cosigner?

A cosigner is someone who shares the responsibility of a loan with the borrower. If you — the borrower — can’t qualify for a loan on your own because of bad credit or no credit, you could apply with a cosigner with good credit to qualify.

You receive the funds, but you both bear responsibility for repaying the loan, and repayment or default impacts both credit scores.

Cosigners are common for private student loans, because many people entering college are young and have almost no credit history. You can cosign with a parent, guardian or other creditworthy person, who basically guarantees the loan in case you don’t repay.

Student loans often come with an option for cosigner release, so the cosigner doesn’t have to stay tied to the loan for years after the student’s left school and gone off on their own. Cosigners can usually be released after around 12 to 36 months of on-time payments, with proof of the borrower’s income.

Who Can Take out a Private Student Loan?

Any student can usually apply for a student loan from a private lender, but creditworthiness determines whether you’ll be approved.

Lenders generally have basic requirements for student loans, as well, including:

  • You must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting institution.
  • You must be the age of majority in your state (usually 18 or 19).
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or resident.

Some lenders make exceptions for these, though. For example, Ascent offers a Bootcamp Loan, which wouldn’t come with the enrollment requirement. Some lenders also make loans for international students who aren’t U.S. residents.

How to Get a Private Student Loan

Follow these steps to apply for a private student loan.

  • Weigh your options. Before turning to private loans, fill out a FAFSA to see your options for federal financial aid. This doesn’t commit you to taking out a federal loan, and it has no affect on your credit score; it just gives you all the information you need to make a decision. If federal aid won’t cover your costs, look into private loans.
  • Find a cosigner. If you don’t have strong credit, get a cosigner on board before you apply. Use a site like Credit Sesame or Credit Karma to check your credit score and history for free to see where you stand.
  • Get pre-qualified. Lenders let you fill out a little information about yourself — usually all online — and run a soft credit check to give you an idea of the interest rate and loan terms you could qualify for. That lets you compare offers before submitting to a hard credit inquiry that impacts your score. Marketplaces like Credible and LendKey let you see and compare several pre-qualified offers with one application.
  • Choose a lender. Choose the loan offer that looks like the best fit for you, and finish your application with the lender. You can usually do this part all online, too. The lender will run a hard credit check and might need more information from you, like proof of income. You could get a decision as soon as the same day or after a few days, depending on the lender’s process.
  • Accept your loan. Once approved, you can review and sign your loan agreement — remember to note any fees! — and accept your funds. Lenders send student loan funds directly to your school to pay for tuition and fees, and the school will send you a refund for any extra amount.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Student Loans

We’ve rounded up the answers to some of the most common questions about where to get the best private student loans.

What Type of Loan is the Best Value to Students?

Which student loan options are best for you depends on your family’s financial situation. Private student loans can be an optimal option financially, because of potentially low interest rates and short repayment terms. But they’re only available to students with good credit or creditworthy cosigners. Federal student loans are available based on financial need and come with a host of repayment and forgiveness options that could protect low-income borrowers in the long run.

What Type of Student Loan Has the Lowest Interest Rate?

Private student loans can have interest rates as low as 1% but might be as high as 12% or more, depending on your credit. Federal loan rates are set by Congress for all borrowers and fall around 3% to 5% for undergraduate loans. If you (or your cosigner) have good credit, a private student loan could get you the lowest interest rate.

What is the Biggest Student Loan You Can Get?

The size of your student loan depends on what kind of loan you take out. For private student loans, it’s determined by your credit and the term of the loan you want. Some private lenders set caps on student loan amounts, and some will lend up to your full cost of attendance. For federal loans, your loan amount is determined based on your cost of attendance and expected family contribution. If you demonstrate financial need, your federal loan might go beyond tuition, and you could receive a refund to help cover living expenses. Undergrads can borrow a max of between $5,500 and $12,500 each academic year, and grad students can borrow up to $20,500. 

Contributor Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance® who has written about work and money for publications including Forbes, The New York Times, CNBC, Insider, NextAdvisor and Inc. Magazine.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Similarities and Differences Between Financial Aid vs Student Loans

Figuring out how to pay for school can be stressful, so it’s important to compare financial aid vs student loans so that you can reduce your financial burden as much as possible and find out what’s right for you.

When college financial aid isn’t enough, people use federal or private student loans to help cover costs. Private student loans can also close gaps between what you qualify for and how much you need. We’ll compare student loans vs financial aid and explore some features that can help you determine what makes the most sense for your financial situation.

What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is funding that is available to students to help make college or career school more affordable. College financial aid comes in several forms and helps students pay for higher education expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies and transportation.

Here are several types of financial aid available to students:

•   Scholarships: A scholarship is a form of financial aid that’s awarded to students to help pay for school. Scholarships are typically awarded based on academic or athletic achievement, community involvement, job experience, field of study, financial need and more.

•   Grants: A grant is a form of financial aid that doesn’t have to be repaid and is generally based on financial need.

•   Federal work-study programs: The federal work-study program offers funds for part-time employment to help eligible college students in financial need.

•   Federal student loans: Student loans are borrowed money from the federal government or private lenders to help pay for college.

Financial aid can come from federal, state, school, and private sources. Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is the largest provider of student financial aid in the U.S. Federal aid is distributed to 13 million students each year, totaling $120 billion.

Recommended: Am I Eligible for Work-Study?

What Are Student Loans?

A student loan is money borrowed from the government or a private lender to help pay for school with the expectation that you will pay it back. Like most other types of loans, the amount borrowed will accrue interest over time. Student loans can be used on school-related expenses including tuition, room and board, and other school supplies.

Loans are different from grants or scholarships and it’s essential that you understand the differences between financial aid vs student loans. If you receive a grant or a scholarship, you typically don’t have to pay that money back. Student loans are also different from work-study programs, where students in financial need to work part-time jobs to earn money to help pay for school.

It’s common for college students to take out student loans to finance their education, but you should first compare federal vs private student loans. Federal student loans offer some borrower benefits that make them preferable to private student loans.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are loans that are backed by the U.S. government. Terms and conditions of the loan are set by the federal government and include several benefits, such as fixed interest rates and income-driven repayment plans. To qualify, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) every year that they want to receive federal student loans. The FAFSA also allows students to apply for federal aid including scholarships, grants, and work-study. Colleges may also use the information provided on the FAFSA to determine school-specific aid awards.

There are four types of federal student loans available:

•  Direct Subsidized Loans are student loans for undergrads in financial need to help pay for expenses related to higher education. The government covers the accruing interest on this type of loan while the borrower is enrolled in school at least half-time and during the loan’s six month grace period after graduation.

•  Direct Unsubsidized Loans are made to eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Eligibility is not based on financial need. Borrowers are responsible for all accrued interest on this type of loan.

•  Direct PLUS Loans are made to graduate or professional students, known as the Grad PLUS loan, or parents of dependent undergraduate students, known as the Parent PLUS loan. These loans are meant to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid.

•  Direct Consolidation Loans allow students to combine all eligible federal student loans into a single loan.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans can also be used to help pay for college. Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Understanding how private student loans work is essential before borrowing. While federal student loans are generally the first option potential student borrowers pursue, private student loans may be an option to consider for borrowers who are trying to pay for college without financial aid. Unlike federal student loans, which have terms and interest rates set by the federal government, private lenders set their own and conditions that vary from lender to lender.

Private student loans are also credit-based. The lender will review an applicant’s credit history, income and debt, and whether they’re enrolled in a qualified educational program. Applicants who may lack credit history, or have a less than glowing credit score may consider applying with a cosigner to improve their chances of approval.

Unlike federal student loans, interest rates can be fixed or variable. A fixed interest rate stays the same for the life of the loan but a variable interest rate may change. The interest rate a borrower qualifies for will also depend on the lender as well as the borrower’s creditworthiness.

Not all private student loans are the same. Because of this, it’s important that you understand the annual percentage rates (APRs) and repayment terms before taking on the loan.

Financial Aid vs Student Loans Compared

When comparing financial aid vs student loans, you need to be aware of the similarities and differences between financial aid vs student loans. Here are some key comparisons.

Similarities Differences
They can both be used to help fund education-related expenses. Financial aid doesn’t typically need to be repaid. Student loans must be repaid within a given loan term, plus interest.
FAFSA® must be filled out for financial aid and federal student loans. Financial aid and student loans may be paid out differently.
Financial aid and student loans have certain eligibility requirements. Some financial aid, like scholarships, may be awarded based on merit. Federal student loans can be both need and non-need based. Lending criteria on private student loans is determined by the lender.

Similarities

Financial aid and student loans are both used to help fund education-related expenses, like tuition, room and board, books and classroom supplies, and transportation. Financial aid and student loans backed by the federal government also require students to fill out FAFSA® for each year that they want to receive federal student loans or federal financial aid. Financial aid and student loans also have some sort of eligibility requirements, whether that be based on financial need, merit or creditworthiness.

Differences

The biggest difference between financial aid vs student loans is whether or not you need to pay back the money you are given to help pay for college. Financial aid is either money that doesn’t need to be paid back, known as gift aid, or earned through a federal work-study program.

Student loans must be repaid within a given loan term. Not only are students expected to pay back student loans, but there’s typically interest that accrues over the life of the loan.

There may also be differences in how financial aid and student loans are paid out to the student. Private student loans are usually paid in one lump sum at the start of each school year or semester; however, you may not receive the full amount of a scholarship award upfront. Government grants and loans are generally split into at least two disbursements and If you have a work-study job, you’ll be paid at least once a month.

Some private student loans may also come with greater flexibility and offer more money than financial aid.

Recommended: Gift Aid vs Self Help Aid For College

Pros and Cons of Financial Aid

Pros of Financial Aid

•  Money received through financial aid does not typically have to be repaid.

•  Potential to decrease future debt by minimizing the amount you have to borrow.

•  Opens up new opportunities for many students to attend a better school than they could without financial assistance.

•  Allows students to focus on their education instead of worrying about paying tuition.

Cons of Financial Aid

•  Most financial aid does not cover all school-related costs.

•  Scholarships, grants, and work-study programs can be highly competitive.

•  You may have to maintain certain standards to meet eligibility requirements during each semester.

•  There’s less flexibility on how you can spend funds.

Pros and Cons of Student Loans

Pros of Student Loans

•  Student loans offer financial support for those who would otherwise be unable to attend college.

•  You don’t need any credit history for federal student loans and you can use a creditworthy cosigner for private student loans.

•  Student loans can be used for things beyond tuition, room and board, and books.

•  Paying off student loans may help you build credit.

Cons of Student Loans

•  You start off with debt after graduating from college.

•  Student loans can be expensive.

•  Defaulting on student loans can negatively impact your credit score.

•  If you borrowed a private student loan, the interest rate may be variable.

Private Student Loans from SoFi

Financial aid and student loans financially support students by relieving some of the financial burden that’s often associated with higher education. When financial aid isn’t enough, students may seek private student loans to help cover their college costs. Although private student loans don’t come with as many perks as federal student loans, and are generally borrowers only as a last resort option as a result, they can help fill in the gaps between what you qualify for and how much you need.

Private student loans from SoFi can help serve as a supplement to federal aid. SoFi student loans offer plenty of benefits, such as no origination fees, no application fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. You can find out if you pre-qualify within minutes.

Learn more about private student loan options available with SoFi.

FAQ

Does FAFSA loan or grant money?

FAFSA is an application that you fill out in order to determine your eligibility for receiving a federal loan or federal student aid such as grants and scholarships. While a federal student loan is borrowed money that must be repaid after graduation, funds received through grants, scholarships, and work-study programs do not need to be repaid.

Can you get financial aid and student loans at the same time?

Yes. If you apply for financial aid at your school, you may be offered loans as part of your school’s financial aid offer to help cover the remaining costs.

Do scholarships count as financial aid?

Yes, scholarships are a type of financial aid that is considered gift aid and typically do not have to be repaid.


Photo credit: iStock/Altayb

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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
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Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’swebsite .
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

What is a Pell Grant – And How Do You Apply?

Students unable to finish studies due to the closing of their school or who received the Borrower Defense Loan Discharge may also be eligible.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. 
As of the 2021-22 school year, the minimum Pell Grant award a student can receive is 0 per year (July 1 to June 30) and the maximum is ,495. Your EFC number will determine where you fall in that range.

What Is a Pell Grant?

The takeaway: Always fill out a FAFSA! You never know what you could be eligible for.
Students with a parent who died in the line of duty – as a military veteran or public service officer – may also be eligible if they are under 24 and enrolled at least part-time in a college or career school.
To qualify for a Pell Grant, you need to have a minimum GPA (2.0)  and demonstrate exceptional financial need.
A Pell Grant is a form of federal student financial aid that, unlike a loan, doesn’t need to be repaid. The U.S. Department of Education awards federal Pell Grants to low-income students who qualify. The grants cover tuition, room and board, and other educational fees and expenses.

Who Is Eligible for a Pell Grant?

College students who struggle to afford tuition and other expenses have an avenue to help pay for their education that doesn’t involve federal loans: the federal Pell Grant.

  • Demonstrate “exceptional financial need” on the FAFSA application.
  • Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen.
  • Have yet to receive a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree.
  • Maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0. Note: Individual institutions may have different GPA requirements.

Pell Grant funds are available at 6,000 educational institutions in the country. To be eligible, you must:
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
The numbers say that more than 2 million students would have been eligible for the Pell Grant in the 2015-2016 school year, but they didn’t fill out a FAFSA. Further, 1.2 million would’ve qualified for the maximum Pell Grant amount.
Privacy Policy
The Pell Grant is a need-based program that, unlike federal student loans, never has to be repaid. With total student loan debt in the U.S. reaching nearly .75 trillion in 2022 affecting more than 43 million borrowers, this federal grant is an attractive alternative for students who qualify.

How Much Money Can I Receive From a Pell Grant?

Is the Pell Grant the same as the FAFSA?
A federal Pell Grants is just that – a grant. It’s not a loan so you don’t need to pay it back – with a few caveats.  If you withdraw from courses, change your enrollment status, or fail to meet GPA requirements after having received your award, you may have to pay it back. That could also have tax implications, so it’s not a good idea all around.  Federal student aid administrators also factor in your school’s cost of attendance and your enrollment status.
How many times can I receive a Pell Grant?
If you fit in those categories, here’s what you need to know.

Incarcerated individuals may be eligible for aid through the Second Chance Pell experiment – created in 2015 by the Obama administration to provide “education opportunities for thousands of justice-involved individuals who have previously been unable to access federal need-based financial aid.” The program expanded in the 2022-23 school year to include 200 colleges and universities now offering their prison education programs with support from the Pell Grant program.

How Do I Apply for a Pell Grant?

Individual grant amounts depend on a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an index number that determines eligibility for federal student aid. The number originates from the financial information provided when you complete the FAFSA.
Graduate students aren’t eligible for the Pell Grant, though some students working on a post-baccalaureate teacher certification may qualify.
You can also apply for the “year-round Pell Grant” if you attend summer school. In this situation, you would be eligible for the same award amount you received in the fall and spring. So if your annual award amount is ,000, and you’ll receive ,000 in the fall, ,000 in the spring – then you would be eligible for an additional ,000 if you attend summer school.

Other FAQs About Pell Grants

The application process is simple enough. To apply for a Pell Grant, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form (FAFSA). From there, financial aid administrators will determine whether the student is eligible and, if so, set the Pell Grant award amount.
Also, you’ll need to reapply for the grant using the FAFSA every academic year, meaning your Pell Grant aid can change annually based on your current financial situation.
Created in 1972, it is named after U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island and is the largest education grant program offered by the federal government.
Grant recipients risk losing eligibility if they withdraw from courses, change enrollment status, or fail to meet their college or university’s GPA requirements.
Like other federal student aid options, to apply for a Pell Grant students need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Colleges and universities disburse the award funds into the student’s account balance and are reimbursed by the federal government. The timing of the disbursement varies by institution – some may make monthly payments while others might distribute all of the funds before classes begin.

Do you have to pay back a Pell Grant? <!–

–>


No. The FAFSA is simply a form you fill out when applying for federal student aid programs – everything from federal student loans, work-study and grants, including the Pell Grant. 

7 Financial Aid Secrets You Should Know

As a student (or parent) it can be easy to focus solely on the college application process, and completely forget about financial aid. You spend so much time studying for the SATs (or ACTs) and tweaking your college essay so it perfectly represents you, that after you’ve been accepted and the reality of tuition payments set in, you might feel momentary panic.

It’s no secret that college tuition is expensive. Students and parents save for years to pay for higher education, but sometimes that’s just not enough. According to a Sallie Mae® study, “How America Pays for College 2021 ,” parent income and savings covered 45% of college costs while student income and savings covered 8% of the costs.

Many of us rely on financial aid to bridge the payment gap. Financial aid may come from multiple sources, including scholarships, grants, work-study, federal student loans, and private student loans.

Scholarships and grants are extremely useful forms of financial aid, since students are not typically required to pay back the money they receive. An online survey of students and parents found 72% of college families in 2021 relied on scholarships and grants to cover a portion of college expenses, according to Sallie Mae’s study.

Scholarships, grants, and savings often aren’t enough to cover the cost of attending college. Sallie Mae says 47% of college families borrowed money to help pay for college in 2021. Some families used home equity loans and credit cards, but federal student loans represented the most frequently used source of borrowed money followed by private student loans.

To top it all off, the financial aid application process can be confusing. Between federal aid and other scholarships, it can be difficult to keep everything straight.

Most often, the first step in applying for financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). You can begin filling out the FAFSA on October 1 for the following academic year. The federal FAFSA deadline for the 2022–23 academic year is June 30, 2023, while colleges and states may have their own FAFSA deadlines.

Some schools use an additional form to determine scholarship aid — the College Scholarship Service Profile .

Taking the effort to apply for financial aid early can have a positive impact on your tuition bill. Below we highlight seven financial aid secrets you should know.

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1. Decision Day vs Summer Melt

May 1 is usually decision day, the deadline when prospective college students must decide which college they plan to attend in the fall. But even after this deadline, students can change their minds. This phenomenon is known to industry professionals as “summer melt,” and sometimes it’s triggered by FAFSA verification setbacks.

Students who receive insufficient need-based financial aid, for example, might be compelled to reconsider their college enrollment decisions. Summer melt can give you an opportunity to select a more affordable school for you if you’ve encountered a FAFSA verification roadblock.

Summer melt is a common problem that causes schools to lose students during the summer. Because of this, schools may have a bit of secret wiggle room in their acceptance policy to admit new students over the summer for the fall semester.

2. Writing a Letter

You might be able to take advantage of summer melt with this secret: write a letter. After you get your financial aid offer, you could write a letter to your school’s financial aid office to open the lines of communication.

Let them know how excited you are to attend school in the fall. That’s where you could include a thoughtfully worded inquiry for any additional aid that you might qualify for as a result of summer melt.

When students decide to switch schools or not attend at the last minute, it means that they also won’t be using their financial aid award — which could now be available to other students.

3. Calling the Financial Aid Office

Another way to potentially take advantage of summer melt is to call your school’s financial aid office. Instead of calling immediately after you receive your financial aid award, think about calling in June or July. This allows financial aid offices time to account for students who have declined their financial aid packages.

An appropriately timed call to the financial aid office at your school could mean additional financial aid is allocated to your package — no guarantees, of course, but it never hurts to ask.

4. Submitting Paperwork and Applications On Time

Every school’s financial aid office has to follow a budget. Some financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so it helps to submit forms, like the FAFSA, and other applications, on time or even ahead of schedule.

You may be out of luck if you apply for assistance after your university’s financial aid office has met their budget for the year. Some states have early winter deadlines for awarding scholarships and grants. Tennessee residents, for example, must complete their FAFSA by February 1 to be considered for a state-funded Tennessee Student Assistance Award grant.

You can check the deadlines for financial aid in your state through the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website .

Repay your way. Find the monthly student loan
payment and rate that fits your budget.

5. Being Prepared

Have the basics ready to go before you sit down to fill out the FAFSA. If you have all of the information you need before you begin filling out the FAFSA, you’ll likely have an easier time filling out the information.

Usually, each parent and the student will need to create a username and password, which is called the Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). You’ll also need:

•   Social Security numbers (for you and your parents)

•   Bank statements and records of untaxed income (possibly)

•   You and your parents’ tax returns (aid awards are based on income from two years ago)

•   Any W2 forms

•   Net worth calculations of your investments (for students and parents)

6. Being Wary of Services that Charge You for Help

If you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, avoid any services that charge you. The first F of FAFSA stands for “Free,” so there is no need to pay for a service to fill the form out for you.

If you need assistance filling out the FAFSA, there are plentiful online resources through the U.S. Department of Education .

7. Filing the FAFSA Every Year

For every year you are a student and want to receive federal aid, you’ll have to file the FAFSA. Get in the habit of filing it every fall, so you’re closer to the top of the financial aid pile.

The Takeaway

Scholarships and grants can be super-helpful additions to a federal financial aid package. The money can reduce your tuition bill and doesn’t usually need to be repaid. Work-study can also be beneficial in helping college students make ends meet.

If you need additional help financing your college experience, SoFi offers private student loans with an entirely digital application process and no fees whatsoever. Potential borrowers can choose between a variable or fixed interest rate and have the option to add a cosigner to the loan.

Learn more about SoFi’s flexible repayment plans and application process for private student loans.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

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Source: sofi.com

Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner? – A Guide

Having a cosigner on a student loan is a bit like a letter of recommendation to get into college. A cosigner can reassure the bank or lender that the applicant is capable of repaying the loan. Their financial history serves as an endorsement for the primary applicant’s financial inexperience.

But a cosigner is not always required for student loans, such as with most federal student loans. Depending on a student’s financial history, employment, and what type of loans they’re applying for, the likelihood of requiring a cosigner will vary. Read on to learn more about what a cosigner is and when it may make sense to add one to your student loan application. This article will also discuss some of the risks involved with being a cosigner, and some tips on how to ask someone to be a cosigner on a student loan.

What Is a Student Loan Cosigner?

A cosigner is a person who agrees to repay the loan if a borrower defaults or is otherwise unable to pay their debt. Adding a cosigner to a student loan application could help the primary borrower secure a lower interest rate, depending on the cosigner’s financial and credit history.

When a cosigner takes on a student loan with the borrower, they’re assuming equal responsibility to repay the loan.

Any negative actions on the loan, such as a late payment or defaulting, could harm the borrower’s credit, and if the cosigner becomes the primary after a default and then also defaults, it could harm their credit as well.

Factors That Determine Whether a Cosigner Is Needed on a Private Student Loan

Before deciding whether a student might need a cosigner on a private student loan, the first step is generally to fill out the Free Application Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This will determine how much aid the student will receive, and help the student and their family determine how much of a gap they’ll need to fill with other sources of funding.

Once all other options are exhausted, students could look into private student loans and consider a cosigner. When considering a cosigner, there are a lot of factors to evaluate such as the type of loan you’ll be applying for and factors including your credit history, credit score, income and any history of missed payments. Continue reading for a more in-depth discussion on factors that may influence whether a student borrower might need to add a cosigner to their loan application.

1. What Type of Student Loans Are Being Considered?

The type of loans a person is applying for may affect their need for a cosigner.

Federal Student Loans

For the most part, federal loans do not require a credit check or a cosigner. The federal loan types that do not require a cosigner include:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans

•   Direct Consolidation Loans

The exception is a Direct PLUS Loan, which does require a credit check. Borrowers interested in a Direct PLUS Loan may need an endorser for the same reasons they may need a cosigner for a private student loan: if their credit history and other financial factors are lacking.

A Direct PLUS Loan can help graduate students and parents of undergraduate students pay for the entire cost of school attendance, minus any other financial aid. Direct PLUS Loans are the only federal student loans that look at an applicant’s credit history, thus the potential need for an endorser.

An endorser is the equivalent of a cosigner — they agree to repay the Direct PLUS Loan if the borrower defaults or is delinquent on payments.

Private Student Loans

If an applicant doesn’t meet the lending requirements on their own, they might need a cosigner to obtain any private student loan. To qualify for a private student loan, applicants typically have to check more boxes regarding financial history than they would for a federal student loan.

According to a report by MeasureOne , 92% of private undergraduate student loans and nearly 66% of private graduate student loans originated in the 2021-2022 school year had a cosigner. Based on this, it is more likely than not that a student will add a cosigner on their private student loan application.

Both Federal and Private Student Loans

Once a student has a full understanding of the financial aid they qualify for after submitting their FAFSA, they can determine if federal student loans and other federal aid like scholarships and grants will cover the cost of their education or if they need to supplement the amount with a private student loan. While the borrower might not need a cosigner for federal loans, they might require one for private student loans they might take out.

2. Is the Student an Undergraduate or Graduate Student?

The necessity of a cosigner may vary depending on whether a person is applying for graduate or undergraduate private student loans.

Undergraduate Student

Undergraduates are generally more likely to need a cosigner on their private student loans. That’s because undergraduates typically haven’t established a lengthy credit history. Without an established credit history, there is no track record for lenders to evaluate. In addition, undergrads might not have a steady income, which can also affect whether they are approved for a loan without a cosigner.

Graduate Student

The type of schooling a person is pursuing won’t have an impact on the need for a cosigner. However, a person’s credit history and income will still factor into the decision.

3. How Does a Borrower’s Credit Score Factor into the Decision?

Most private lenders will look at an applicant’s credit score (among other factors) to determine eligibility. Having a lower credit score may make it more challenging to get a loan without a cosigner.

FICO® Scores (the most common credit scores used by lenders and financial institutions) range between 300 and 850. If a person wants to check their score, many websites offer free credit scores or credit score monitoring (just be sure to read terms and conditions carefully).

It’s possible to get a free credit report annually from AnnualCreditReport.com. It is important to note that this is not the only site where someone can request a free credit report. For example, they can get their credit report directly through the credit bureaus or on other online sites.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual lender to consider the credit score and other financial factors before approving a loan, and every lender has different criteria.

4. How Long Is the Student’s Credit History?

A person’s credit history gives lenders a sense of their ability to pay on time, or ability to pay off debt in full. The length of a person’s credit history makes up about 15% of their FICO® Score.

Length of credit history is determined by Average Age of Accounts (AAoA). Lenders take the lifespan of a person’s accounts and divide by the number of accounts that person holds. A potential borrower can determine this number by figuring out how long they’ve had each account in their credit history, then dividing by the number of accounts.

The real sweet spot for credit history comes at the seven-year mark. From that point, early negative marks on account might’ve faded away. It shows lenders that a borrower can pay loans and maintain accounts over time.

There are a number of factors at play in lending decisions, but a short credit history could mean that adding a cosigner is beneficial.

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5. What Is the Student’s Employment Status?

Lenders want to be sure that you can repay your debts, so they’ll generally also evaluate an applicant’s income.

Employed Full-Time

Generally, if a person is employed full time at a salaried job, it shows lenders they have the capability to repay the loan they’re borrowing. Lending requirements vary based on the lender, but having an established income history may help an applicant avoid needing a cosigner.

Employed Part-Time

While part-time employment can still be beneficial for a loan application, it’s possible that a cosigner might help boost the application. The applicant’s debt-to-income ratio will come into play — that is, how much debt a person owes (credit cards, rent, other bills) divided by the income they earn before taxes and other deductions.

Of course, all lender requirements vary, but significant, consistent income can factor into whether the applicant will still need a cosigner.

Only a Student (Not Employed)

If an applicant is not employed, lenders may be more inclined to approve a loan if there’s a cosigner who is able to show stable income.

6. Has the Student Declared Bankruptcy?

Lenders can and do consider all aspects of a person’s financial history before granting a loan, bankruptcy included. Declaring bankruptcy negatively affects a person’s credit score, which private lenders pay close attention to with a loan application. A bankruptcy filing can stay on a person’s credit history for a decade.

Bankruptcy filings can affect a credit score in a number of ways, and depending on how long ago it took place, the effects on a person’s score will vary.

7. Has the Student Defaulted on a Loan?

The terms of each loan are different, but after a period of nonpayment, the loan enters default. Defaulting on a loan stays with a person’s credit history for at least seven years and typically negatively affects their credit score.

If a person has defaulted on a previous loan, they’ll likely need a cosigner on their student loan to potentially bolster their lendability.

8. Has the Student Ever Missed a Payment?

On-time payments each month can help show lenders that a person is a responsible borrower. Missing payments or consistently making late payments can have a negative impact on a person’s credit score. Payment history accounts for approximately 35% of an individual’s FICO® Score.

Consistently missing payments that have affected a person’s FICO® Score might cause a potential lender to require a cosigner. It could also cause concern for a potential cosigner, so students might want to keep that in mind.

A solid history of on-time payments shows a lender that a person is a responsible candidate for a loan and might not need a cosigner.

Choosing a Cosigner

As stated near the beginning of this post, the majority of private student loan borrowers have a cosigner. But not all cosigners are built the same, and choosing the right person to cosign a loan could be as important as the terms of the loan itself.

A cosigner should not only have a strong financial history, but also a strong relationship with the applicant. A cosigner might be a parent or blood relation, but it doesn’t have to be. A cosigner ideally has a stable financial history and a relationship to the applicant where they feel comfortable discussing money.

Asking Someone to Be a Cosigner

There’s a common misconception that cosigning on a loan is as easy as signing a contract, but it actually means more than that. When a person asks someone to be their cosigner, they shouldn’t shy away from discussing the challenging topic.

It may make sense to talk about worst-case scenarios with a cosigner, let them know it would be their responsibility to take on the payments if the borrower defaults. Discuss how the borrower could repay the cosigner in the event that the borrower can’t make payments.

Risks of Cosigning

Beyond the worst-case-scenario discussion, cosigners should know the additional risks they take on when cosigning a student loan:

•   Credit score. Cosigning a loan will affect a person’s credit score, since they’re taking on the debt as well. Even if the borrower makes on-time payments and doesn’t default, the cosigner will see a change in their credit score by taking on the additional debt. It could potentially benefit their score.

•   Liability. If the borrower defaults on the loan, it becomes the cosigner’s responsibility to pay for it. A lender can come to collect from the cosigner, seizing assets and garnishing paychecks to cover missed payments.

However, the cosigner doesn’t need to stay tied to the loan forever. Private student loans may have a cosigner release policy in place. After a duration of on-time payments and additional paperwork, a lender may release the cosigner from the loan, leaving the borrower on their own.

It might sound easy, but a cosigner release isn’t a guarantee and not all private loans will offer this option. Read the terms of your loan carefully to understand the requirements for cosigner release.

The Takeaway

Like every college application, each loan application is a little different. Certain aspects of a person’s credit history or employment might make them more compelling to a lender. Other elements, like late payments or a limited credit history, might make a person less compelling to lend to.

Adding a cosigner to a private student loan is common and can improve a person’s chance of approval, sometimes even with a lower interest rate than if they applied on their own.

If a student has exhausted all of their federal student loan options, private student loans could be an option worth considering.

SoFi offers private student loans with no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. Plus, SoFi offers flexible repayment options to help students find the loan that fits their budget.

Learn more about private student loans with SoFi.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs.
SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC), and by SoFi Lending Corp. NMLS #1121636 , a lender licensed by the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation under the California Financing Law (License # 6054612) and by other states. For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’swebsite .
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Source: sofi.com

What Are Financial Wellness Programs?

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Among the many reasons Americans can lose sleep at night, money stress is a major concern. But many employers are alleviating financial worries with the creation of financial wellness programs, which both attract and retain quality candidates. Financial wellness programs aim to help employees manage finances and reduce financial anxiety. Let’s break down of the most common benefits and resources.

A financial advisor can help you create a financial plan for your needs and goals.

What Are Financial Wellness Programs?

Employers may offer financial wellness programs to help their employees improve their finances. Additionally, it’s an employment incentive that can help employees minimize the financial stress in their lives and improve their real financial success. Financial wellness programs can provide training, tools, resources and perks that aid employees throughout their financial journey.

Offering financial wellness programs helps companies stay competitive, especially in a staffing market. In addition, because employer compensation packages are one of the many incentives that attract quality candidates, many companies see the value in creating these programs. In 2019, Gartner, a technological research and consulting firm, predicted that employers offering financial wellness programs would increase 20% by the year 2023.

Examples of Financial Wellness Programs

Your employer could offer a wide range of financial wellness benefits, from resources to help improve your financial literacy to insurance offerings to boosting your retirement savings. Here are a few examples to explain how these plans work.

Employer matching programs

Using an employer’s matching program is a great way to improve your future financial security. Some of the common matching offerings include:

  • 401(k) matching programs: If your employer has a retirement savings plan, they may also offer a matching program. With this type of program, your employer will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. For example, some employers may match your contributions up to 6%. This means if you contribute 6% of your salary, they will also put in 6%. Therefore, you are now contributing 12% of your salary.
  • 529 match programs: 529 plans help you save for your child’s education. To boost your contributions, employers may match your 529 contributions up to a certain amount. So, you and your children get to benefit from this perk.
  • Student loan matching: Roughly 2 million Americans have federal student loan debt, according to the Department of Education. For this reason, some employers help their employees repay their debt by matching their contributions. Some employers, however, may take a different approach by matching this amount with retirement contributions instead of directly repaying the loan. Using this strategy can help you save for retirement while repaying your debt.

Education programs

There are programs available for employees to learn essential information to prepare for financial emergencies with the available employer benefits. There are many variations of programs available that can include some if not all of the following components:

  • Credit counseling sessions: Credit counseling sessions help consumers manage debt. For example, some counselors can assist employees with student loan deferments, handling forbearances, and getting approved for an income-driven repayment plan.
  • Workshops: The focal point of financial education workshops is to educate employees about credit scores, savings accounts, retirement savings and more. Usually, these sessions are held over lunch with financial advisors from local credit unions and other similar organizations there to run them.
  • Financial aid guidance: Employers may provide remote, interactive financial aid guidance to help working parents understand college aid options available such as FAFSA.

Insurance plans

While many companies offer health insurance as an employment incentive, others may provide different insurance offerings to strengthen your asset protection. Some insurance policies can include:

Financial assistance programs

Outside of providing insurance, retirement benefits and educating employees, employers may contemplate incorporating programs for financial assistance within the economic well-being strategy for their employees. These are to acknowledge other elements employees might not have thought of that could factor into their finances.

Types of offerings include:

Other Benefits of Financial Wellness Programs

Your employer may also offer assistance achieving long-term security by connecting you with a financial advisor. These financial professionals can help you create a comprehensive financial plan that touches on wealth management, investments and estate planning.

Other benefits include:

  • Will preparation
  • Tax preparation
  • Gym memberships
  • Credit monitoring
  • Identity theft protection
  • Company car and gas card
  • Child assistance

Bottom Line

When it comes to improving your financial well-being, knowledge is power. So, whether your employer offers a financial wellness program or is planning on offering one, you’ll want to become familiar with all of the tools, resources and perks at your disposal. In addition, understanding the best practices for leveraging these programs can better your financial security. Therefore, make sure you’re well-versed to take full advantage of your company’s financial wellness program. And, if you’re looking for a new employment opportunity, make sure to ask any potential employer what benefits are available so you can make the most informed career choice.

Tips on Saving for Retirement

  • A financial advisor can help guide your retirement planning. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Even if your employer does offer a 401(k), you may want to diversify your retirement savings vehicles and open an IRA. An IRA, or individual retirement account, isn’t sponsored by your employer. You have to open and fund it entirely yourself, but the upside is that you have more investment options.

Photo credit: ©iStock/dima_sidelnikov, ©iStock/kohei_hara, ©iStock/fizkes

Ashley Kilroy Ashley Chorpenning is an experienced financial writer currently serving as an investment and insurance expert at SmartAsset. In addition to being a contributing writer at SmartAsset, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.

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Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans — Differences Between Them

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Dig Deeper

Additional Resources

Most students need to take out loans to pay for college. But with several different student loan types available, deciphering financial aid award letters can be confusing — especially if you’re a first-time borrower. 

But which type of loan you take out can affect how much you owe after graduation — and even how interest accrues with certain government repayment programs. And that can have a lasting effect on the overall cost of your loan and how long you’re stuck repaying the debt. 

So when you’re choosing which type of federal student loan to use for college, it pays to know which offers the most benefits. 

Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans: Key Differences

Most student borrowers fund their education with low-interest loans called direct loans because you borrow them directly from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).


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Those loans are either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are for students with financial need, whereas financial need doesn’t factor into unsubsidized loans. 

But that’s not the only difference. And a closer examination of those differences reveals why you should always max out your subsidized loans before taking on unsubsidized ones.

Eligibility

To qualify for federal financial aid, you must fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year. You submit the form through your school’s financial aid office rather than submitting it directly to the government. 

The form asks about your income and assets. If you’re a dependent undergraduate student, your parents must also provide that information.

Then your school sends you a financial aid award letter, which tells you what you qualify for, including how much you can borrow in subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. The income and assets reported on your FAFSA determine your financial aid eligibility.

To qualify for a direct loan, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You’re a U.S. citizen.
  • You’ve graduated high school or have a GED.
  • You’re enrolled at least half-time in a school that participates in the federal student loan program.
  • You’re making satisfactory academic progress.
  • You’re not in default on a federal student loan.

Additionally, there are requirements specific to each loan type.

Subsidized Loans Eligibility

Federal direct subsidized loans are only available to undergraduate borrowers who meet financial need qualifications. 

According to the ED, “financial need” is the difference between the cost of attendance and the student’s expected family contribution. And you can borrow more in subsidized loans than you need. 

You may get different approved amounts from different schools based on their cost of attendance.

Graduate and professional students are ineligible for subsidized student loans.

Unsubsidized Loans Eligibility

Unsubsidized loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. There’s no financial need qualification for borrowing federal direct unsubsidized loans. But there are annual and cumulative limits to how much you can borrow, and they vary by year of enrollment.

However, ultimately, your school determines how much you can borrow in unsubsidized loans because you can’t borrow more than what you need to cover your total cost of attendance. 

In other words, you can only borrow as much as is required to fill any gap between the school’s established total cost and any other financial aid you receive — including subsidized student loans, scholarships, and grants.   


Interest 

Whether you borrow subsidized or unsubsidized federal direct loans, the interest rates are generally lower than what you’ll get on a private student loan, though PLUS loan rates are higher than other federal loans. 

That’s because federal law sets the interest rates, not your credit score. And though the rates vary from year to year, the law caps them at no more than 8.25% (10.5% for grad and parent PLUS loans). Private student loan interest rates can top 14%. 

The primary difference between subsidized and unsubsidized student loans is how interest accrues (builds up) on the loans. And it’s this difference that makes subsidized loans the No. 1 choice for financing your education.

Subsidized Loans Interest 

A subsidized student loan is not an interest-free loan. All student loans begin to accrue interest the moment the school gets the money. However, borrowers don’t have to pay the interest during certain times. 

Instead, the federal government steps in and covers it for them. That’s why it’s called a subsidized student loan. The ED is giving borrowers an interest subsidy during these times.   

These include:

  • While you’re enrolled in school at least half-time 
  • During the six-month grace period immediately following graduation 
  • During deferment periods (but not forbearance)
  • During the first few years you’re enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan (how much they cover and for how long depends on the plan)

Because the government covers your interest while you’re in school, when you graduate and for the first six months thereafter, the balance is exactly what you borrowed, assuming you didn’t make payments while in school.

So if you borrowed $40,000, that’s what you owe through the first six months after you graduate.

Unsubsidized Loans Interest 

The ED doesn’t cover the interest on unsubsidized loans, with the single exception of covering a portion of the interest if you qualify for and enroll in the REPAYE income-driven repayment plan. 

That means that even though borrowers don’t need to start repaying until six months after they leave school or drop below half-time, interest begins accumulating from the moment your school receives the loan money. 

Worse, after you graduate, that interest capitalizes. That means it gets added to your original balance. And since interest calculates according to your balance, you start racking up interest on top of interest.

For example, if you borrow $27,000, the maximum amount allowed in unsubsidized student loans, during your four years in college at 3.73%, when you graduate, you’ll owe a balance of $28,257. And that’s a low interest rate. It can go as high as 8.25%.


Loan Limits

The federal direct loan program has annual and aggregate (total) limits for how much you can borrow in subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Annual and total limits vary by enrollment year, whether you’re a dependent, and whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate or professional student.

Most first-time college students are dependent undergraduates. And all graduate and professional students are considered independent. For the purposes of qualifying for federal student aid, an independent undergraduate is:

  • At least 24 years old
  • Married
  • A veteran
  • An armed forces member
  • An orphan
  • A ward of the court
  • Someone with legal dependents other than a spouse
  • An emancipated minor
  • Someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless  

The ED also allows dependent undergraduates whose parents don’t qualify to borrow federal direct PLUS loans to borrow up to the higher limits of independent students even though they don’t technically meet the definition.

Regardless of the government limits, you still can’t borrow more than the total cost of attendance minus any other financial aid you receive. 

If the federal loan caps on subsidized and unsubsidized direct loans aren’t high enough to meet the difference between your total cost of attendance and your other financial aid, PLUS loans or private loans can help cover any remaining gaps.

Limits also vary based on whether you’re borrowing a subsidized or unsubsidized loan.

Subsidized Loans Limits

For subsidized student loans, the limits are the same for all undergraduates. 

Undergraduate Borrower Limit
(Dependent & Independent)
First YearAnnual Loan Limit $3,500
Second Year Annual Loan Limit $4,500
Third Year and BeyondAnnual Loan Limit $5,500
Aggregate Loan Limit $23,000

Unsubsidized Loans Limits

The caps on unsubsidized direct loans vary by borrower type.

Dependent Undergraduate Borrowers Independent Undergraduate Borrowers  Graduate & Professional Students
First YearAnnual Loan Limit $5,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $9,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $20,500
Second Year Annual Loan Limit $6,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $10,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $20,500
Third Year and BeyondAnnual Loan Limit $7,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $12,500 (minus any subsidized student loans) $20,500
Aggregate Loan Limit $31,000 (No more than $23,000 can be in subsidized student loans.) $57,000 (No more than $23,000 of this amount can be in subsidized student loans.) $138,500 (No more than $65,000 can be in subsidized student loans, and the aggregate limit includes all federal loans for undergraduate study.)

However, the limit on unsubsidized loans includes any subsidized student loans, meaning you must subtract the amount of any subsidized loans you take out to get your personal borrowing limit. It’s essentially a total cap on all direct loan borrowing.

For example, if you’re a dependent undergraduate and borrow the full amount of subsidized loans your first year ($3,500), you can only borrow another $2,000 in unsubsidized student loans. But if you didn’t qualify for any subsidized student loans, then you can borrow up to the full $5,500 in unsubsidized federal direct loans. 


The Verdict: Should You Choose Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans?

You Should Take Out Subsidized Loans If…

You should max out your subsidized student loan amounts before resorting to unsubsidized loans. But they have added benefits for those who: 

  • Can’t Afford to Make Interest-Only Payments While in School. Interest starts to accrue on all unsubsidized loans while you’re in school. So if you can’t afford to make interest-only payments, subsidized loans are the solution. 
  • Plan to Continue Immediately to Grad School. Even though grad students don’t qualify for subsidized student loans, you can defer your undergrad loans interest-free as long as you’re in school. 
  • Plan to Enter the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If you qualify for public service loan forgiveness, your loan balance can be canceled in as few as 10 years, and your subsidized student loans get additional subsidies on some of the income-driven repayment plans.

You Should Take Out Unsubsidized Loans If…

After you’ve maxed out available subsidized student loans (or if you don’t qualify), turn to unsubsidized loans if you:

  • Need to Borrow Above the Subsidized Loan Cap. If you can’t meet the total cost of attendance with your savings and financial aid — including scholarships, grants, and subsidized student loans — turn to unsubsidized federal direct loans before higher-interest PLUS loans or private student loans.  
  • Can’t Demonstrate Financial Need. Subsidized student loans are for borrowers with financial need. If you can’t demonstrate it on your FAFSA, you won’t qualify for subsidized loans. 
  • Are Borrowing for Graduate or Professional School. Subsidized federal student loans are unavailable to graduate and professional students, no matter your financial situation.

Both Are Great If…

Although grad students can’t borrow subsidized student loans, both loan options have benefits for undergrad students.

  • Your Only Other Option Is a Private Loan. Always borrow federal loans before resorting to private loans. Even in years when the interest rates are higher, most borrowers will find lower interest rates with federal student loans than private ones.
  • Can Afford to Make Small Payments While in School. If you can afford to make small payments on subsidized loans, you’ll lower your principal before interest begins accruing. On unsubsidized loans, you’ll prevent the interest they charge while in school from capitalizing. Both mean you pay less over the life of the loan.
  • You’re an Independent Undergrad. You may need a little extra if you’re on your own. Fortunately, the ED recognizes that and grants higher limits for independent students. You can use any surplus above your tuition balance to help pay living expenses, which is included in a college’s total cost of attendance.
  • You Want Access to All the Federal Student Loan Borrower Benefits. Private student loans don’t come with borrower benefits like flexible repayment options, generous deferment and forbearance terms, and loan forgiveness programs. So even if you can get a better rate, private loans may not be worth it.

Final Word

The ED offers both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans as part of the federal student loan program. However, if you qualify, you’ll pay less in the long run with subsidized student loans than unsubsidized ones. Thus, you should always max out the full amount of subsidized loans offered in your financial aid package before turning to unsubsidized loans. 

And max out both before opting for private loans. Paying less interest reduces the overall cost of your loan. And that means you may be able to pay off your loans faster after you graduate — especially if your new degree helps land you a well-paying new job.

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Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She’s also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

Source: moneycrashers.com