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Understanding Loans Before You Borrow

Posted by Manuel Fabriquer on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 @ 3:39 PM

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While a college education can be expensive, it is an invaluable resource, helping you excel in your chosen career field and contributing to your all-around personal development. Fortunately, students these days have options for financing their higher education plans. Alongside scholarships, grants, and family contributions, students can choose to take out federal and private loans to help pay for their educational costs. Taking out a loan is a serious consideration, and it is important that you fully understand the facts and obligations associated with loans before borrowing.

Borrowing from the Government

If you plan to take out loans for your college education, federal loans are the way to go. Your university will determine your possible loans in line with information gathered from your FAFSA. With a fixed interest rate on federal loans, you’ll better know how much interest you’ll be paying over the life of the loan. Conversely, private loans have variable interest rates, which can present a financial challenge should the rates rise. As well, federal loans offer repayment options and programs for those who are experiencing financial hardship.

The most common type of federal loan is the Stafford Loan. These loans have yearly and overall borrowing limits, which differ based on what year you are in college, and whether or not you are financially dependent on your parents. Stafford Loans are divided into two types: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans, contingent on financial need, do not accrue interest while you are still enrolled in school part-time or greater. Unsubsidized loans do accumulate interest, beginning when the loan is distributed. Unsubsidized loans also have a higher interest rate.

Other federal loans include Perkins Loans and PLUS Loans. Perkins Loans, with an interest rate of 5%, can assist students with up to $5,500 each year. If you’re a dependent student, your parents may qualify to take out a PLUS Loan. This loan is repaid by your parents and also has a fixed interest rate, making it a better alternative to a private loan. While you are enrolled in school, your parents do not need to make payments. A PLUS loan amount cannot exceed the total cost of educational expenses minus a student’s existing financial aid.

Things to Know

While private loans are an option, their variable interest rates and lack of structured repayment should make them your last resort. No matter the loan, it’s important to know that loans taken out in a student’s name are the responsibility of the student. Once you’ve graduated, you will be responsible for repaying your accumulated educational debt.

Fortunately, most federal loans have a grace period. Immediately following graduation, this grace period typically lasts 6 months. During this time, you won’t need to begin making repayments, but on unsubsidized Stafford loans, interest will still accrue. Many students take advantage of this grace period to commit to the job search in earnest. If you don’t find suitable employment or are experiencing financial hardship, there are options for repayment that can take into account your current income. This can temporarily lower your payments so that you can still continue to make them on time. In some circumstances, there are also options for forbearance and deferment, subject to the discretion of your loan servicer. Depending on your career interests, it may be worth investigating loan forgiveness programs, which can result in some reduction in your overall loan amounts.

 For further information on student loans, check out the following resources:

 https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/index.action

 https://studentaid.ed.gov/types/loans

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