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Education

Most students need to borrow money to cover the cost of their college education. It’s important to understand the borrowing options available. If you completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and received an award letter from your college financial aid office, you’ll likely have the option to borrow through the federal loan program called the Direct Loan Program, or simply known as Direct Loans. In the Direct Loan Program, you can borrow through the Direct Subsidized Loan or the Direct Unsubsidized Loan programs. Graduate students and parents of dependent students can also borrow in the Direct PLUS Loan program. These are all federal loan programs as opposed to private, and are generally your first option.

Direct Loans

If you’re an undergraduate student, you’ll want to explore Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans first. A subsidized loan simply means that you do not incur any interest charges while you’re in school. You can receive a Direct Subsidized Loan if you have financial need as determined by the results of your FAFSA. A Direct Unsubsidized Loan may also be available to you. As you might guess, the unsubsidized loan means that you are responsible for interest that accrues on the loan while you are in school.

Private Loans

After you’ve exhausted your federal loan options, you may still have outstanding expenses at your college. That’s when you might seek additional funding options in the form of a private loan. While your college financial aid office will instruct you on how to apply for federal loans, you’ll need to determine which private loan lender you want to use. Some schools may provide you with a list of private loan providers for you to evaluate and select. Other schools may simply direct you to find a private loan provider on your own.

Federal vs. Private

A few years ago, there were significant differences in federal loans and private loans. Now, the programs have many similarities and offer unique benefits. The chart below outlines some key factors in the federal and private loan programs.

Ufi-Loan-Type-Comparison

As you can see from the chart, there are a lot of similarities in both programs. Trying to decide between the two? Here are some important factors to consider:

  • If you’re an undergraduate student, in most cases you will have a more favorable interest rate and loan terms with a federal loan. If you think you’ll be entering any type of career that might qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you will want to stay with federal loans when possible. Private loans do not typically offer any type of forgiveness for public service.
  • Federal loans typically provide a greater array of repayment options, including income-driven repayment plans. Most private loan providers do not offer repayment plans tied to your income.
  • If you can afford to make a higher monthly payment over a shorter repayment period, you may find a lower interest rate with a private loan.
  • Many borrowers, especially undergraduate students, find it necessary to use a cosigner for their private student loans. Learn more about the benefits of having a cosigners here.

Complete the FAFSA

Regardless of what type of funding you’re considering, you will generally still want to complete the FAFSA to take advantage of all the financial aid opportunities available to you before borrowing any type of loan. Check out your federal loan options first and then turn to private loans only when necessary to cover additional school costs. Do your research to get a full understanding to know your options and be an informed consumer. If you do consider private loan options, not all private loans or lenders are the same. You may find significant differences between private loan providers, so find one that best fits your needs and circumstances.

Undergraduate students graduate with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt. This amount can feel overwhelming. However, there are several tips for saving money on student loans. You can do it while you are in school and after you graduate.

Saving Money on Student Loans Step 1: Only Borrow What You Need

The first step is to only borrow what you need to cover your college costs. Many students over-borrow and end up with more student loan debt than they are able to pay back after graduation. Grants and scholarships usually don’t have to be paid back as long as you continue to meet their requirements. However, these forms of financial aid generally won’t cover all of your college costs. Looking at your federal loan options is your next step. Federal loans will have to be paid back with interest. However, they usually offer borrowers lower interest rates and more flexible terms. Make sure you take advantage of these options before considering a private student loan. Private student loans are a great option when you’ve exhausted all federal aid options and still have college expenses. As with any loan, make sure you understand the terms and conditions.

Saving Money on Student Loans Step 2: Make In-School Payments

The second way to save money on your student loans is to make payments while in school. Most loans will give you a deferred payment option. This means you don’t have to make any payments on your student loans while you’re in school or during your grace period. While it sounds like a good option, interest accrues on your loans during this time. That could mean a larger bill at repayment. If you budget to make full principal and interest payments while still in school, you’ll save the most money over the life of the loan, but that isn’t always feasible for everyone. Another great way to save money is to make interest-only payments while in school. This monthly payment will be much less than a full principal and interest payment, but will set you up for success when you get to repayment.

Entering Repayment

Once you graduate your loans will go into repayment following your grace period. That means you will start making payments toward your full principal and interest payments until the loans are paid off. Federal loans have several repayment options to fit your budget, but keep in mind the lower your payment and the longer your loan term the more interest you will pay over the life of the loan. Make sure you are aware of and take advantage of any borrower benefits your loan servicer offers, such as a lowered interest rate for auto-debit payments.

Refinancing or consolidating your student loans may also be a good option for you.

These are a few of the main ways to save yourself money on your student loans while you’re in school and after you graduate. Knowing your options and paying what you can along the way will set you up for a successful future, free from student loans.

Have you decided to go to graduate school? You may be researching how to pay for tuition and other expenses. You have another decision to make as well – what to do about any undergraduate student loan debt you may have.

If you attend graduate school at least half-time, your loans can be deferred. That means you don’t have to make payments. Although that will provide immediate relief, there are other long-term financial implications to consider. It’s important to look at the kind of undergraduate loans you have before determining how to proceed.

What are the different types of education loans and their in-school interest rate charges?

Federal Subsidized Loans – With these loans, the federal government pays the interest while you are in school at least half-time. An in-school deferment on subsidized loans means you won’t move into repayment until you leave school.

Federal Unsubsidized Loans – Some or all of your federal undergraduate student loan may be unsubsidized, which basically means that you are responsible for the interest, even while in school. You can still defer your payments if you attend at least half-time. But, the interest continues to build, and is capitalized at repayment. Capitalization is unpaid interest that your lender adds to the principal balance of a loan. Future interest then accrues on the larger balance. That can add up.

Private Loans – These loans are taken out from banks, credit bureaus, and other lending organizations. You can generally defer private loan payments while in school at least half-time. However, interest accrues and capitalizes at repayment as well. More information about private loans is located in U-fi From Nelnet’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Tip: Paying any of the interest on private loans or unsubsidized loans each month while in graduate school can help. It can amount to significant savings in the long run.

How do I find out about my undergraduate student loan and my in-school options?

You can go to the National Student Loan Database (NSLDS) to obtain information about your federal undergraduate student loan. There, you will see the types of loans you have and the terms of each. You can also see the federal loan servicer(s) to whom your loans have been assigned. To find out about your private loans and servicers, check with your lender. Federal and private loan servicers work with you during school. They are also responsible for billing, collection, and information services provided throughout your undergraduate student loan repayment period.

You may wonder how servicers will know that you are in school and eligible for deferment. Your federal servicer(s) receive notification of your in-school status. This happens when your school reports enrollment information as part of their regular administrative procedures. Federal servicers automatically place you in deferment status and notify you. Make sure your private loan servicers know you are in school. Contact them and submit any required information, if needed.

Tip: Your servicers can advise you about the best in-school payment options. For example, working at a non-profit organization or at certain income levels may put you on a different repayment track for federal loans. It’s wise to take advantage of your servicers’ individualized counseling before making any decisions about how to handle your loans before, during, or after graduate school.

Do I have other loan management options for my private loans?

If you took out private loans as an undergraduate, you may want to explore whether refinancing your loans into one new private loan is a viable option before entering graduate school. If your undergraduate private loans have higher interest rates than those currently available, or if you would like to combine multiple loans into one loan, refinancing may be a good choice for you. Private refinance loans are based on credit and you may need a cosigner to get the best rate. Refinance loans usually offer in-school deferment options if you attend school at least half-time. Interest accrues and will be capitalized at repayment.

Be cautious about including federal loans in a refinance loan. Even if the rate is lower, you will lose loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment options, and some other features available only in federal programs.

What about the loans I’ll take out while in grad school?

Since subsidized federal loans are not available to graduate students, interest accrues on both federal and private loans while you’re in school. If you are unable to make interest payments on all of your loans while in graduate school, consider paying interest on the highest rate loan(s) first. Any progress you can make on paying interest will put you in a better position when you move into loan repayment.

Talking with your federal and private loans servicers can help you determine the best options in your specific situation. Education loan management can seem complicated. Your servicers can look at your accounts and provide information about the best choices for you.

Ever taken out or refinanced your student loans? You probably know the interest rate of your loan, and may have seen the letters APR on your statement. (APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate.) Understanding the difference between the interest rate and the APR is important. While they both measure the cost of borrowing money, they are not the same. Knowing the difference could save you thousands of dollars on your student loans.

What is the difference between the student loan interest rate and the APR?

The interest rate on a student loan is the cost to borrow money. It is shown as a percentage. Your interest rate does not reflect any fees or other charges you may pay for the loan. The APR goes a step further. It takes the interest rate on a student loan and adds in any upfront costs, such as an origination fee. The APR is also a percentage, but it measures the total cost of borrowing money on an annual basis.

By law, private student loan issuers must show customers the APR. The law requires this to facilitate a clear understanding of the actual interest rates and fees applicable to their agreements. In the U.S., the calculation and disclosure of APR is governed by the Truth in Lending Act.

Tip: While U-fi From Nelnet and many private student loan lenders do not charge an origination fee, some lenders do. Be sure to carefully read the loan terms before applying for and accepting a loan.

Why is it important to know the APR if I know the student loan interest rate?

As mentioned above, the APR gives a more complete picture of the cost of borrowing. For student loans and student loan refinancing, if the lender doesn’t charge an origination fee and you immediately begin making full principal and interest payments, the interest rate and the APR will likely be the same. However, if the lender charges an origination fee or you defer making principal and/or interest payments while you are in school, your APR will not likely be the same as your interest rate. By looking at both the interest rate and the APR, you will be able to get a clearer picture of your expected monthly payment and the total cost of the loan.

Does the interest rate and APR tell the complete story?

Interest rates and the APRs are useful tools to help understand the cost of borrowing and to compare different loans. But, they don’t always tell the complete story. For instance, federal Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans come with an origination fee, but the fee is deducted from the loan disbursements, so the origination fee is not included in the APR. Thus, if you took out a $10,000 federal Direct PLUS Loan with its 4.272% origination fee, you would only receive $9,572.80, but you would have to pay back the entire $10,000, plus any accrued interest on the loan.

Also, the stated APR may or may not include any borrower benefits associated with the loan, such as an interest rate reduction for auto debit payments or cash back rewards for good grades. Some federal student loans also come with loan forgiveness programs, so be sure to take all these into account when comparing loan offers.

Tip: The interest rate and the APR for a variable rate student loan reflects the interest rate and costs at the time you take out the loan. If interest rates change, the APR changes as well.

Knowing the difference between APR and interest rate helps you make an informed decision when taking out student loans.

You’ve probably heard the term cosigner. But, do you know what it means, how it can help you, or what qualities make a good one? If you find your federal funds aren’t enough to cover the cost of college, consider applying for private student loans. Applying with a cosigner can help you qualify for a private student loan. It can be difficult for student borrowers to meet the criteria and income requirements by themselves. Learn if a cosigner is right for you.

What is a cosigner?

A cosigner is a person who signs for a loan with a borrower. If the borrower misses payments or defaults on the loan, the cosigner takes responsibility for payments and the remaining balance. Since both the borrower and cosigner have equal obligations, missed payments and default affect both their credit.

How does having a cosigner help me?

Including a cosigner on a loan decreases the risk for the lender. That’s because the lender has another person obligated to repay the loan if the borrower defaults. Cosigners allow the lender to take on less risk. Less risk increases the borrower’s chances of getting approved for the loan. It may also lead to better loan terms. These include lower interest rate or shorter repayment length. Both could save considerable money over the life of the loan.

Even if you qualify for a loan without a cosigner, the loan terms are generally not as favorable. However, wanting a cosigner to improve your loan terms and needing one for approval are two different circumstances. You may need a cosigner if you have no income or too little income, have no established credit or poor credit, your debt-to-income ratio is too high, or if you are either unemployed or recently changed jobs and don’t have an employment history. If any of these scenarios apply to you, you should consider applying with a cosigner to qualify for the loan. Applying with a cosigner gives you time to fix any of the above issues. It can also mean you can take out future loans on your own.

Who should I ask to cosign?

The most difficult part of choosing a cosigner is finding someone who is willing to sign on a loan with you and also has strong credit. Typically borrowers will turn to spouses, parents, or close friends to cosign. No matter who you choose, be sure your cosigner is financially stable. Other traits to look for in a credit-worthy cosigner include having a good job with a solid employment history and/or owning a home or other assets.

Asking someone to cosign on a loan with you is a big commitment, so make sure you are prepared. Tell your potential cosigner the reason you are asking them to cosign, your intentions to pay the loan back, and communicate to them that you can afford the payments. You can also ask your lender if there is a cosigner release option. Some loans will allow you to request that your cosigner be removed from the loan after a period of time if you meet certain requirements. Being prepared to answer any questions your potential cosigner has will show that you are serious about taking on the financial responsibilities of a loan.

Cosigning is a big commitment for both the borrower and the cosigner and should not be taken lightly. Make sure both you and your cosigner understand all terms and are clear on the responsibilities of the loan prior to signing.

Financial aid is awarded in many forms, and as a student, it is important to know all of your options before deciding which awards to accept. You’ll want to compare the aid and calculate the remaining costs of all the schools you are considering. Eligible students may receive an award letter or a financial aid package.

The Financial Aid Process

Submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is an important first step to ensure your financial aid eligibility is considered. Your program must first accept you for admission, you must complete your FAFSA, and submit any other information your school requires. To be in the best position, complete all steps on or before each school’s published deadlines. When schools receive your FAFSA information, they calculate your family’s Estimated Financial Contribution (EFC). Your family’s actual financial contribution and the composition of your award letter may differ among schools. Your EFC is deducted from the total Cost of Attendance (COA) to determine your financial need. If you are eligible for financial aid, your award letter will contain all of the aid programs you are eligible to receive, the steps you need to take, and the deadlines for responding to the award letter.

Note: Although you will see your EFC on the Student Aid Report you received after filing the FAFSA, it is probably not the amount you and your family will actually pay for college. For more information, review the article I Submitted My FAFSA – Is the Expected Family Contribution What I Have to Pay for College? When you review your award letter, read all information, understand each program, and know your obligations to ensure you receive the funds. You will need to select the awards you would like to accept and respond to your award letter by the date indicated.

Types of Financial Aid

There are several different types of financial aid including grants, scholarships, federal work-study, and loans. The terms of each type of aid vary, so it is important to understand the differences.

Grants are typically based on financial need and do not need to be repaid. They may include funds from federal, state, and institutional sources. Programs apply grants to your college bill.

Scholarships are based on academics or other performance criteria, financial need, or a combination of both and do not have to be repaid. Scholarships usually come from institutional or private sources who apply funds to your college bill.

Federal work-study may be listed on your award letter, but in order to receive the funds, you must obtain a qualifying job and work to earn this type of financial aid from federal and institutional sources. Your financial aid office will post eligible jobs that are open to qualifying students. Once you secure a job, you’ll receive paychecks throughout the year for your hours worked. Work study does not apply funds to your college bill.

Loans are funds you borrow now and pay back with interest after you finish or leave school. They may come from federal, institutional, or private sources. For most loans, you will be required to take additional steps to secure the funds. If you receive a loan, it is applied to your bill. Many loans also charge fees, which are deducted from your loan amount. Be sure to read all of the loan terms before you borrow.

Determining the Amount You Owe After Financial Aid

Remember, colleges bill you for some costs prior to the start of each semester. The bill typically includes tuition and fees plus room and board charges if you live on campus. You will also have additional expenses such as books, transportation, and personal expenses that will not be included in your bill. Schools factor in all of this criteria when determining your overall cost of education. Your award letter outlines the total for each type of expense.

To determine the amount you will pay at each school, first deduct your grants and scholarships, then loans (minus fees) from your estimated college bill. Your school evenly divides and credits most aid to each semester’s bill.

You will also need to consider the cost of books and supplies at the beginning each semester, and any personal and transportation expenses you may have throughout each semester. If you have financial aid left after your school applies funds to your bill, you can use it to help with these expenses. Obtaining a work-study job can also help with personal expenses. As a general rule, it’s best to have additional funds set aside to help with personal expenses as well.

To continue to receive aid, you will need to make satisfactory academic progress toward your degree. Scholarships may require that you achieve a certain grade point average or meet other performance criteria. Programs also include renewal information with your award letter.

Additional Funds to Help Cover College Costs

In addition to the financial aid listed above, there are alternate sources that can help cover the cost of college.

Private Scholarships

There are a number of private scholarships available, which you can search for with Peterson’s College Scholarship Search. Your guidance counselor can also be a great resource for private scholarship information. Private scholarships can help offset the amount you need to borrow.

Direct PLUS Loans

These are federal loans that some schools may include in an award letter. Direct PLUS Loans are subject to certain eligibility requirements. Typically graduate or professional degree students or parents of a dependent undergraduate student are eligible to receive these loans.

Private Loans

As an alternative, private loans can also assist with covering college expenses. Private student loans, sometimes known as alternative loans, are made by private lenders such as banks, credit unions, and financial institutions. Private student loans are based on credit and are most often used to fill the gap between the cost of attending college and family savings, grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.

Paying for school can feel like an overwhelming process. It’s crucial to meet all of your deadlines to be considered for eligibility. Mapping out your deadlines on a calendar can help keep these details organized. Make sure you consult the available resources and fully understand each step of the process to get the most out of financial aid.

While preparing for college, one of the most important considerations is how to pay for it. All students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because it is used to determine students’ potential eligibility for various financial aid programs, as well as various state and institutional-based aid programs. All of this is based on a variety of factors, including your Expected Family Contribution.

Expected Family Contribution

When completing the FAFSA, you’ll need to provide certain information. You need to detail your (and possibly your parents’) income, family size, and number of family members attending college. The FAFSA uses all of the information you provide to determine a figure known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Don’t be alarmed if your calculated EFC is high. Colleges use your EFC college financial aid offices to determine the amount of financial aid you are eligible to receive.

Cost of Attendance

Each college sets a figure known as the Cost of Attendance. Direct costs such as tuition, fees, books, as well as room and board make up the Cost of Attendance. It also includes other indirect costs such as transportation and other personal expenses. Colleges and universities have varying Costs of Attendance, but your EFC remains the same, regardless of where you go.

Determining Eligibility

Financial aid offices use the formula below to establish your financial need. This determines if you qualify for grants and other financial aid programs.

Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need

The lower your EFC, the greater the likelihood that you’ll qualify for need-based financial aid.

Remember that your EFC stays the same no matter what school you attend. The name Expected Family Contribution might sound like you have to directly contribute or pay that amount. But, it’s just a part of the formula that determines your financial aid eligibility. There are other financial aid sources that can be used to fully fund your college education such as unsubsidized Direct LoansPLUS loans, private loans, and other aid programs not based on financial need. It’s best to exhaust all sources of grants and scholarships before borrowing for college. You can use a free search at Peterson’s to find available scholarship opportunities. You can also visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website to learn more about the EFC, FAFSA, and other financial aid programs.