Receiving federal student loans like the Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans starts with completing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can perform the entire process online at the FAFSA website. Some loans are awarded based on your family’s financial need, so you’ll want to gather the following pieces of personal and financial information when applying:
Each lender will have its own requirements for taking out a loan. With most loans, credit score and income are taken into account. Higher scores and incomes tend to get the best rates or higher borrowing amounts. However, since undergraduate borrowers are less likely to have established credit or an income, lenders will usually require students to apply with a co-signer. Some lenders who have loans for borrowers without a co-signer will consider career and income potential.
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For example, you may see variable rates advertised as low as 2.5% APR and fixed rates starting around 3.9% APR. But this is a sunny day scenario. You and/or your cosigner would need to have the right qualifying credit score or credit factors to achieve the lowest rate, and the lender may impose requirements such as signing up for auto-debit from a checking or savings account to lock in these low rates. When comparing lenders, look for the asterisks and footnotes along with the fine print to understand what it takes to achieve or put you in the running for the advertised rates.
The other thing to consider with repayment is what your repayment term will be after you leave school. Most often, lenders will offer multiple term lengths ranging from 5 to 15 years, though some do offer longer terms. The longer your term, the lower your monthly payment will be, but the more your loan will cost over time, and vice-versa for shorter terms.
“If you refinance a federal loan into a private loan, you walk away from important federal benefits and consumer protections, such as income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness programs, default resolution options, flexibility during times of hardship and discharges based on disability or death of the borrower,” said student loan lawyer Adam S. Minsky.
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You can also work for the Peace Corps to get a deferment of Stafford, Perkins, or Consolidation loans. If you work for Americorps for a year, you’ll receive $4,725 for your loans. Volunteering with Volunteers in Service to America for 1,700 hours will give you $4,725 for your loans, too. Thinking of joining the military? You can see the student loan benefit eligibility here.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The Annual Percentage Rates (APR) shown reflect the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.14% effective August 25, 2019.
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.
Fixed interest rates will stay the same for the life of the loan but usually start our higher. Variable interest rates, on the other hand, fluctuate over time according to the market rate, but typically start our lower. There is no right answer to which is the best private student loan rate type; it really depends if you think interest rates will generally increase or decrease in the future.
Keep in touch with your loan servicer. Notify your loan servicer when you graduate; withdraw from school; drop below half-time status; transfer to another school; or change your name, address, or Social Security number. You also should contact your servicer if you’re having trouble making your scheduled loan payments. Your servicer has several options available to help you keep your loan in good standing.