Many students ignore their loans until after graduation, but it’s wise to start paying them off while you’re in school. Get a part-time job while you’re in college and dedicate most or all of the earnings to your student loans. If you can pay off $800 a month while you’re in school, then you’ll have paid off $30,000 or more by the time you graduated. For some people, that’s their entire amount owed!
You can pay off the principal early by making pre-payments while studying. Call your loan servicer to make sure your payments are applied to the principal and not the interest. You can make payments on federal loans while in school, but some private loans will charge you a fee for doing so. Be sure to find out which loans you can pay off without fees.
Lastly, accept the financial aid package from your chosen school, if you choose to receive aid. Your financial aid award letter will have an itemized list of all available types of aid, including grants and federal student loans. Remember, even after you've accepted your award letter, you should check with your school's financial aid office to see what other forms or documents you will need to complete in order to secure your funding (for example, completing your Direct Loan Master Promissory Note, or MPN).
For undergraduate and graduate student loans, you can borrow up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance (including tuition, housing, books and more) minus other financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply. The minimum amount is $1,000 for each loan. We certify and disburse loan amounts through your school so you do not borrow more than you need.
If you or your recent grad has this type of loan—which makes up 15 percent of total U.S. education debt—this may seem like an odd move. After all, the interest rates on variable private loans (given by banks and credit unions) are currently lower than the fixed rates on federally backed and private loans. But historically this situation is unusual, and if the economy improves, interest hikes are probable in the near future. “Rates could climb 5 to 6 percent over the next four years, making your monthly burden unmanageable,” says Kantrowitz. That’s why it’s wise to unload these balances as soon as possible. If you can, pay twice the required amount until you have eliminated this debt and make only the minimum monthly contribution toward your fixed-rate federal loans, since those rates cannot increase.
If you have good credit, you can usually get a better interest rate. You can also choose a shorter repayment term so you can pay off your loans faster. The downside is that you give up protections like deferment of income-based repayment plans on federal loans, which puts you at risk if you lose your job and can’t afford student loan payments for a while.
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Private student loan volume grew much more rapidly than federal student loan volume through mid-2008, in part because aggregate loan limits on the Stafford loan remained unchanged from 1992 to 2008. (The introduction of the Grad PLUS loan on July 1, 2006 and the increases in the annual but not aggregate limits had only a modest impact on the growth of private student loan volume. The subprime mortgage credit crisis of 2007-2010, however, limited lender access to the capital needed to make new loans, reining in growth of the private student loan marketplace.) The annual increase in private student loan volume was about 25% to 35% per year, compared with 8% per year for federal loan volume.
Capitalized interest on student loans happens when your loan servicer adds unpaid interest to your total loan balance. This makes your balance increase and then accrue even more interest. To put it simply, you pay interest on your interest and it can cause you to owe more than the amount you originally borrowed. This happens when you defer or forbear your student loans.
You can compare private student loan options on our site. Keep in mind there are a number of popular private student loan names you may see and hear, and it is bound to be confusing. Sometimes the names will be generic, and other times the name will refer to a specific lender’s program or brand name. The name of the student loan program is not as critical as an understanding of how the particular loan terms work, or how they may impact you. To give you a quick primer on some of the most popular private student loan names you may encounter, see the list below.
Definition: A private student loan (also known as a private education loan) is a non-federal loan used for education related expenses. Private student loans may be an option once you have already exhausted other forms of free and federal financial aid. These loans are typically based on a strong credit history and verifiable proof of income or employment history.
Direct PLUS Loans are loans made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. Eligibility is not based on financial need, but a credit check is required. Borrowers who have an adverse credit history must meet additional requirements to qualify.