As a general rule, students should only consider obtaining a private education loan if they have maxed out the Federal Stafford Loan. They should also file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which may qualify them for grants, work-study and other forms of student aid. Undergraduate students should also compare costs with the Federal PLUS Loan, as the PLUS loan is usually much less expensive and has better repayment terms.

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.
Whether it’s completing the FAFSA to get federal student loans or submitting an application to a bank for a private student loan, applying for student loans can seem like a complicated process. There are a lot of steps and information needed from students and their families, so this guide can help you prepare for and navigate through any student loan application process.
After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.
Key information to understand student loans includes being aware of the annual and cumulative loan limits, interest rates, fees, and loan term for the most popular private student loan programs. Often the interest rates, fees and loan limits depend on the credit history of the borrower and co-signer, if any, and on loan options chosen by the borrower such as in-school deferment and repayment schedule. Loan term often depends on the total amount of debt.
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:

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