If you are considering going into further education then one of the problems that you may be facing is how to afford it. Studying is not cheap and there is a good chance that you will need some kind of financial assistance. That is why student loans exist, to help you fund your education in a manageable way.
What Are Student Loans?
In short, a student loan is a sum of money that you borrow in order to pay for your education. They will often cover the university/college fees, as well as additional expenses such as housing, food, books, and so on.
Student loans must be paid back according to the policies set by the lender. Furthermore, as with most forms of borrowed money, the debt will accumulate interest so the total that you pay back will be larger than the amount you borrow. Repayment plans can last for ten years or more, so it is important to understand fully what you are signing when you take a loan.
While you may initially balk at the idea of making years of repayments, a student loan may be the only way that you are able to afford further education. One other advantage to consider is that making payments on your loans can help improve your credit score, and this can make it easier later in life when you are looking for housing, or trying to make major purchases such as a car or home.
That said, a student loan is a major commitment so you need to do proper research before you take one. There is a lot of variation to be found in the terms and conditions of different loans, and it is essential that you know the exact conditions that you are agreeing to. Here we will take you through the basics of the different types of loans and some of the factors that you need to look at when accepting one.
Federal Student Loans
These loans, also known as Direct Loans, come from the Federal Student Aid program that is administered by the U.S. Department of Education. These loans have certain advantages, they normally have fixed interest rates, and often the repayment process is more flexible. However, if you fail to pay your loan back on time then it can have some harsh consequences such as having your wages garnished or your tax refund withheld.
There are two types of federal student loan, subsidized and unsubsidized. They differ in how the interest works. With a subsidized loan, the Department of Education will pay off the interest that accumulates on your loan while you are studying. With an unsubsidized loan, the interest accumulates while you study and adds to the overall debt.
A few different factors determine if you are eligible for a federal loan including the cost of attending college and your financial need according to the FAFSA. There will also be limits as to how much you can borrow. Some state governments offer their own loan programs and these can be a great help in securing the funding that you need, but many will have to turn to private loans.
To apply for a federal student loan you first need to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine your financial need and whether you are eligible for subsidized loans.
Private Student Loans
These are loans taken from a privately owned source, such as a bank or credit union. Each place offering private loans will have their own application procedures and requirements, and it is very important to do careful research before taking a private loan.
Generally speaking, a private loan will have less flexibility in the repayment process than a federal loan, and they will also take into account your credit history. As most college-aged people do not have credit, the loans often require a cosigner, such as a parent, in order for the loan application to be accepted. The cosigner will have some legal responsibility for paying back the loan if you fail to do so, and it is important to keep that in mind.
Private loans may have variable rather than fixed interest rates, so the amount you pay back over time may be larger than you expect. However, often it is possible to take far larger private loans than federal loans and this makes them an invaluable tool for many.
You will see that many places also offer parent loans, loans that parents can take to help fund their children’s education. These loans are in the parents’ names, so the child will not have legal responsibility for paying them back. Just as with private loans these require careful research, but if your parents are able and willing to take one, they can be an excellent way to finance your education.
What To Look for When Taking a Loan
There is a huge amount to consider before taking a loan, but it is essential that you check the following carefully:
- The principal of the loan (the amount initially borrowed).
- The loan’s interest rate and whether it is fixed or variable.
- When repayments start and how much you have to pay each month.
- How much money you will be expected to pay in total including interest.
- Are educational deferments available if you choose to attend graduate school, and what are their conditions?
- What alternative payment plans, such as graduated or income-based, are available?
- Is a cosigner required and is there a way to release them from the loan.
For many taking student loans is the only way to continue their education. However, there are a number of things it is important to be aware of when making a decision about loans and they should not be entered into lightly. Most people have a number of different loan options available to them, and it is important to research them all. However, these days there are many different loans available and it is highly likely that you will find one that fits your needs.