How to Get an Education Loan – This extensive guide provides a comprehensive overview of the student loan process, including the different types of federal and private loans available, eligibility criteria, how to apply, factors that determine loan amounts and terms, repayment plans, maintaining good standing, improving chances of approval, and expert tips for borrowing responsibly. Key topics covered include:
- The main types of federal direct loans (subsidized, unsubsidized, PLUS, consolidation) and private student loans, and their respective terms, conditions, and limits
- Eligibility factors like credit scores, income, and enrollment status
- Submitting loan applications through the FAFSA, college financial aid offices, and private lenders
- How the degree type, college costs, and annual/aggregate limits impact how much you can borrow
- Repayment options like income-driven plans, grace periods, deferment, forbearance, consolidation, and loan forgiveness
- Staying in good standing by making monthly payments on time, updating contact information, and requesting deferments if needed
- Boosting chances of approval through credit-building, cosigners, and debt-to-income ratio reductions
- Expert tips for minimizing loans, reading contracts closely, making interest payments during grace periods, and consolidating early
Table Of Contents
- 1 How to Get an Education Loan
- 1.1 Types of Education Loans
- 1.2 Eligibility Criteria for Education Loans
- 1.3 How to Apply for Education Loans
- 1.4 Factors Affecting Loan Terms
- 1.5 Repayment of Education Loans
- 1.6 Maintaining Good Standing on Loans
- 1.7 Improving Chances of Loan Approval
- 1.8 Final Tips for Education Loan Success
- 1.9 How to Get an Education Loan Conclusion
- 1.10 How to Get an Education Loan FAQ
How to Get an Education Loan
How to Get an Education Loan – Higher education is an essential investment in your future career opportunities and earning potential. However, rising costs at colleges and universities can make affording a degree feel out of reach. According to the College Board, the average annual tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year colleges reached $37,650 for the 2021-2022 school year. Meanwhile, in-state students at public four-year colleges faced average costs of $10,740 per year.
Given these high and climbing sticker prices, most students have no choice but to rely on financial aid, including student loans, to cover their educational expenses. More than 44 million Americans collectively owe over $1.75 trillion in student loan debt. While borrowing for college is commonplace, students should educate themselves on the nuanced particulars of education loans to ensure they make smart choices.
Navigating the student loan process involves understanding the different types of loans available, meeting eligibility criteria, submitting applications, weighing factors that determine loan amounts and terms, considering repayment plans, maintaining good standing, and employing strategies to boost approval odds. With the right information and careful planning, you can secure the necessary funding to earn your degree without taking on excessive debt.
This comprehensive guide provides an in-depth overview of the key steps and considerations around obtaining education loans. We’ll explore the pros and cons of federal versus private student loans, how interest rates and fees are determined, repayment options, maintaining good standing, loan forgiveness programs, and expert strategies for borrowing only what you need. Let’s get started!
Types of Education Loans
Several varieties of education loans are available, each with their own nuances around origination source, eligibility factors, interest rates, fees, and repayment terms. Being aware of the main types of loans can help inform your borrowing decisions. The primary categories are:
Federal Student Loans
Federal student loans represent financial aid funded by the US Department of Education that undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can use to pay for college or career school. They offer competitive interest rates, flexible repayment plans tied to income, opportunities for temporary payment postponement, and certain forgiveness options.
Within federal student aid, there are a few main types of loans with varying terms and conditions:
- Direct Subsidized Loans – Available to undergraduate students with financial need. The government pays interest on these loans during certain periods such as while enrolled in school at least half-time, during the 6-month grace period after graduation, and during deferment periods.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans – Offered to students regardless of financial need. The borrower is responsible for all interest charges over the life of the loan.
- Direct PLUS Loans – An option for graduate students as well as parents of dependent undergraduates. Applicants must not have adverse credit history. Higher interest rates and origination fees apply.
- Direct Consolidation Loans – Allow borrowers to combine multiple federal education loans into one new loan with a fixed interest rate based on the weighted average rate of the consolidated loans. Simplifies repayment.
In general, federal student loans offer more flexible repayment plans, possibilities for loan forgiveness, and lower interest rates than private loans, making them the best option for most borrowers. However, students may also turn to private lenders to fill any financial gaps once federal loan limits are reached.
Private Student Loans
Private student loans are non-federal loans issued by banks, credit unions, online lenders, state agencies, schools, and other financial institutions. Interest rates vary based on market rates and the applicant’s creditworthiness, including credit score and income. Private loans generally require a cosigner for approval if the borrower lacks sufficient credit history.
Private lenders offer student loans to bridge the gap between the cost of education and available financial aid. However, private loans lack some of the favorable terms and protections associated with federal loans, like income-driven repayment and forgiveness options. Students should explore federal borrowing to the maximum extent before turning to private lenders.
That said, private student loans play an important role in funding educational dreams that exceed federal aid. Taking the time to shop and compare private loan options can help borrowers secure lower interest rates and reasonable terms.
State and College Loans
Along with private lenders, some state governments and individual colleges and universities offer their own student loan programs. These loans help supplement federal borrowing options.
State education loan programs provide low-cost student loans funded by state agencies. The terms, loan limits, eligibility criteria, and application process vary widely by state. Many states require applicants to exhaust federal loan options first.
Meanwhile, hundreds of individual colleges and universities offer institutional loans directly to their students. The specific policies and procedures are set by each institution. College loans may be need-based, non-need-based, or tied to academic performance. Interest rates and origination fees differ between schools.
State and college loans provide further resources students can tap into for education financing, either in place of or in addition to federal and private student loans.
Eligibility Criteria for Education Loans
To qualify for federal student loans, private loans, and other education loan programs, you must meet certain eligibility standards. The main criteria considered include:
Most education loan providers will check your credit history, score, and debt-to-income ratios to assess your creditworthiness and ability to handle repayment.
Students who lack sufficient credit history can still gain eligibility by applying with a creditworthy cosigner, like a parent or guardian. Using a cosigner also helps borrowers qualify for lower interest rates.
For federal student loans, having little or no credit history won’t disqualify you, but it can necessitate taking out smaller unsubsidized loans before becoming eligible for higher subsidized loan limits.
Private student loans almost always depend on credit score, with minimum requirements typically between 650 and 690 FICO. The higher your score and income, the more likely you are to qualify for favorable loan terms from private lenders.
Building your credit early on by keeping credit card balances low, paying all bills on time each month, and limiting new credit inquiries can pay off when seeking student loans with Prime rates and terms.
Most lenders want to see that your current income and future earning potential will provide reasonable ability to repay student loan debt after graduating.
Federal student loans administered by the Department of Education essentially view enrollment in an eligible degree program as a proxy for future earnings that will make repayment feasible. So there are no set income requirements to receive federal aid.
On the other hand, private lenders establishing income thresholds for loan eligibility, especially when approving unsecured loans without a cosigner. Expect to provide W-2s, pay stubs, tax returns or sworn statements showing your income sources and amounts.
Limited income during your academic program doesn’t preclude private loan qualification, but it requires a cosigner who can cover payments if needed until your post-graduation salary kicks in.
To receive education loans, you must enroll at least half-time in an eligible degree or certificate program at a participating Title IV postsecondary institution.
Most education loans mandate that you attend your college or university on at least a half-time basis, which equates to:
- At least 6 credit hours per term in a traditional semester system
- At least 12 credit hours per quarter in a quarter system
- At least 18 clock hours per week in a clock hour curriculum
Meeting the half-time enrollment requirement confirms that you are actively working toward completing your degree in a reasonable timeframe while borrowing student aid funds.
Some lenders require full-time enrollment to receive a loan. Also, your maximum annual and total loan limits increase if you maintain full-time enrollment.
You must promptly notify your loan servicer if you graduate, withdraw, transfer schools, or drop below half-time so they can transition you from in-school deferment to repayment status unless you document plans to continue your education.
How to Apply for Education Loans
Once you select your preferred lenders and loan types based on your needs, eligibility, and loan limits, you’ll submit applications through one or more of these main channels:
All students seeking federal financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA. This online form collects financial information from you and your parents and determines eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans.
The FAFSA opens access to Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans based on maximum annual and aggregate limits, financial need, and dependency status. Graduate students seeking more borrowing power can also qualify for up to $20,500 in Direct PLUS Loans through the FAFSA and an additional PLUS application.
Given federal loans have fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options, you should aim to maximize free aid and federal borrowing before turning to private lenders. The FAFSA is the gateway to these preferable federal education loans.
College Financial Aid Office
Schedule a one-on-one appointment with the dedicated financial aid office at your chosen college or university. The financial aid officers can answer questions about available financial aid options and walk you through the application process.
The school’s financial aid office determines your total cost of attendance, including tuition, room and board, books, supplies, transportation, and other expenses. They use this figure along with your Expected Family Contribution from the
FAFSA to calculate eligibility for need-based financial aid, including subsidized federal loans:
Cost of Attendance
- Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
The aid office will put together a personalized financial aid package that attempts to meet your demonstrated financial need through grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and federal student loans. They can counsel you on how much to accept in subsidized loans before utilizing unsubsidized loan options that accrue interest while enrolled.
Colleges also administer their own institutional loan programs. The financial aid office explains eligibility terms, interest rates, fees, and application steps to receive college-sponsored loans.
After maximizing federal education loans, many students turn to private student loans to cover any remaining gap between financial aid and the cost of attendance. Compare offers from online lenders like College Ave, Sallie Mae, and Credible. Banks and credit unions also provide private student loans.
Choose lenders that offer competitive variable and fixed interest rates and cosigner release options. Submit loan applications directly to the lenders and comply with credit check requirements. Compare loan offers side-by-side to select the best terms.
Some state governments and advocacy groups also offer low-cost private education loans, like SELF loans in Minnesota. Contact these specialized lenders directly to learn eligibility rules and how to apply.
With numerous federal, state, college, and private lender options, comparing the full menu of prospective loans helps identify your optimal education financing package. Submit applications to activate the loans.
Factors Affecting Loan Terms
As you assess the array of federal and private loans available, keep in mind these key factors that determine the types and amounts of loans you can qualify for along with their accompanying terms and conditions:
Type of Degree
In general, undergraduate students are eligible for more favorable loan terms, interest rates, and borrowing limits than graduate students, given the lower costs of community colleges and bachelor’s degree programs compared to professional degrees. Government policy aims to promote broader access to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
That’s why Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduates demonstrating financial need. Independent undergrads can borrow up to $12,500 annually in subsidized and unsubsidized loans combined, while dependent students’ parents can also take out PLUS Loans on their behalf.
Graduate students rely primarily on unsubsidized loans and PLUS Loans which carry higher interest rates. Total PLUS Loans are capped at cost of attendance minus other aid received.
Specialized undergraduate degrees like medical, pharmacy, and architecture programs also qualify for higher annual and aggregate limits to accommodate their greater expenses.
The type of degree definitely impacts the volume and terms of education loans for which you’ll qualify.
College Tuition Costs
Base tuition and fees vary widely between community colleges, public universities, and private colleges. Plus room and board, books, and other cost of attendance elements differ by school.
This means the total price tag of earning your degree depends heavily on which institution you attend. State residents pay less at public in-state schools. Private universities cost an average of $27,400 more per year than public options.
Annual and aggregate federal loan limits are fixed, but most lenders will issue loans up to the total cost of attendance at your particular school minus grants, scholarships, and other financial aid received.
So if you choose a high cost-of-attendance college, you can borrow larger total amounts in student loans, but you’ll also graduate with more debt. Attending community college for two years before transferring to a university helps reduce costs and required borrowing.
Annual and Aggregate Limits
The total amount you can borrow in federal Direct Loans is restricted by annual and lifetime aggregate limits defined in the Higher Education Act. Additional private loans can supplement federal borrowing if needed.
For undergraduate students, aggregate limits equate to:
- $31,000 for dependent students (only $23,000 can be subsidized)
- $57,500 for independent students (only $23,000 can be subsidized)
The annual limits tier up year-by-year based on successful academic progression:
- $5,500 freshman year (only $3,500 can be subsidized)
- $6,500 sophomore year (only $4,500 can be subsidized)
- $7,500 junior and senior years (only $5,500 can be subsidized)
Knowing these annual and total caps allow you to plan out your total borrowing for four years based on which loans offer you the best interest rates and terms.
Some loans also limit amounts you can access at certain times, like at the beginning vs end of a term, so budget accordingly.
Repayment of Education Loans
With most education loans, you become responsible for making regular monthly payments toward the principal balance and accrued interest after graduating or leaving school. Loan repayment generally lasts 10-25 years depending on total balances, loan types, and extended repayment plans.
Typical repayment terms and options include:
Federal student loans and some private loans include an optional initial grace period, typically six months, after leaving school or dropping below half-time enrollment before regular loan payments are due. However, interest still accrues during grace periods for unsubsidized loans.
Grace periods allow recent graduates transition time to find a job and start earning income before beginning repayment. Make interest-only payments during grace periods to save money long-term.
Deferment and Forbearance
Deferments and forbearance offer ways to temporarily postpone federal student loan payments for specific circumstances like re-enrollment in school, unemployment, military service, or financial hardship.
Deferments are preferable since no interest accrues on subsidized loans. Forbearance allows you to pause or reduce payments for up to 12 months at a time, but with interest accumulation.
These provide relief options if you can’t afford payments, but too many deferments and forbearances extend the loan term and total interest costs.
Income-Driven Repayment Plans
Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) tie your monthly federal student loan payment amount to your discretionary income and family size.
These plans base payments on 10-20% of your income exceeding 150% of the federal poverty level guidelines. The payment recalculates each year based on your updated earnings.
Any loan balance remaining after 20-25 years of payments is forgiven. However, you pay income tax on the discharged amount.
Income-driven plans help struggling borrowers avoid delinquency and stay on track toward eventual loan forgiveness. They extend the repayment term but reduce monthly payments.
Federal student loan consolidation allows you to combine multiple federal loans into one new Direct Consolidation Loan with a fixed interest rate equaling the weighted average of your consolidated loans rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.
This simplifies managing multiple loans by combining them into one monthly payment. Consolidation can also allow you to switch from variable interest rates to a fixed rate. It does not reduce principal or interest.
You can consolidate once you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time. Both current and delinquent federal loans are eligible for consolidation.
Loan Forgiveness Programs
The government offers federal student loan forgiveness programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), Teacher Loan Forgiveness, and Perkins Loan Cancellation to eliminate remaining debt after 10 years of qualifying payments for borrowers working in public service, teaching, law, medicine, and other fields.
School- and state-sponsored loan forgiveness initiatives are also available tied to working in underserved areas or high-demand occupations upon graduation.
These programs provide paths to cancel remaining federal student loan balances in return for entering lower-paying but critical public interest careers. Submit required employer certifications and consolidate into Direct Loans to qualify.
With numerous repayment plans and forgiveness options, federal borrowers can reduce and eliminate student debt through prudent financial management and career planning.
Maintaining Good Standing on Loans
Once you begin repayment, actively monitoring your student loans and compliance with terms is essential to avoid delinquency or default. Follow these steps to stay in good standing:
Make Payments on Time Each Month
Mark your monthly due date on your calendar and budget to ensure you make the minimum payment by that date each month. Setup automatic payments through your servicer. Late fees quickly add up, as do interest charges on deferred interest loans.
If unforeseen circumstances threaten your ability to make a payment, request a deferment or forbearance rather than missing payments and damaging your credit.
Keep Contact Information Current
Promptly notify your loan servicers if you move or change phone numbers or email addresses. This ensures you receive important account statements, notices, and reminders. Failing to receive a notice because of an outdated address does not excuse late payments.
Updating contact details online takes just a few minutes but protects your standing and credit health.
Apply for Deferments Before Defaulting
If you return to school, face unemployment, military deployment, or other financial hardship that prevents keeping up with your monthly payments, apply for a deferment to temporarily suspend repayment rather than going into delinquency or default.
Deferments are granted for specific circumstances and help keep loans in good standing until you can restart payments. Let your servicer know within 2-3 months if you anticipate difficulty making upcoming payments.
Understand Repayment Plan Options
Research income-driven and graduated repayment plans through the federal student aid office or loan servicer. These plans tie payments to earnings and family size or offer lower initial payments with gradual increases. Switch plans if your circumstances change.
Plans like REPAYE and PAYE help tailor payments to your budget and avoid delinquency during leaner years just after college. Make sure any employment certifications are up-to-date.
Active, proactive communication and planning helps circumvent falling behind on education loan obligations. Commit to making steady progress toward repayment.
Improving Chances of Loan Approval
Most students qualify for at least modest federal student loan amounts by completing the FAFSA. However, those with little credit history or low income may struggle to secure private loans or qualify for larger Direct PLUS Loans at Prime rates.
If you previously defaulted on loans or accumulated substantial other debts, that can also impede approval or require a cosigner. Here are some tips to improve your odds:
Have a Cosigner With Good Credit
Asking a creditworthy relative or mentor with stable income to cosign your education loans significantly boosts the chances of approval from private lenders and qualification for the lowest interest rates.
They become equally responsible for making payments if you fail to pay. But it can really expand accessible funding when needed.
Build Your Credit History
As an undergraduate student, actively build your personal credit by becoming an authorized user on a parent’s account, taking out and repaying a small personal loan, keeping credit card balances low, paying all bills on time, and limiting credit inquiries.
Good credit opens doors to better loan terms. Aim for a score over 720 before applying.
Reduce Your Debt-to-Income Ratio
Lenders assess your total monthly debts versus gross monthly income. Limit auto and personal loans, credit card balances, and other debts to keep your ratio below 40% before seeking student loans to demonstrate repayment capacity.
Pay down debts aggressively or transfer balances before you apply. Lower ratios help qualify and save on interest.
With prudent planning, you can overcome limited finances and become eligible for the student loan funding essential to achieving your academic goals and dreams.
Final Tips for Education Loan Success
Follow this expert advice for securing optimal student loans and employing savvy repayment strategies:
Minimize Total Borrowing
Only borrow what you absolutely need for direct educational expenses at the lowest cost school. Limit excess loans for living costs through part-time work, cutting costs, and generous family support if possible.
Set a realistic post-graduation repayment goal like 10-15% of starting monthly income and don’t exceed it in total loans. Small changes reduce debt.
Read and Understand the Loan Contracts
Scrutinize loan documents to know interest rates (variable vs fixed), all fees, repayment timeline, deferment and discharge eligibility, cosigner release terms, and consequences of default like collection costs and credit impacts.
Never take a loan you don’t fully grasp. Ask questions until obligations are clear.
Explore Loan Forgiveness Programs
Research federal and state student loan forgiveness programs tied to public service and teaching careers. These provide a light at the end of the tunnel for budget-conscious borrowers.
Align your studies and job search toward eventual loan forgiveness to make debt more manageable.
Pay Some Interest During Grace Periods
Make interest payments during initial 6-month grace periods on unsubsidized loans, even if you defer principal. This prevents interest capitalization and saves substantially over the life of the loan.
Automatic debit for a small amount of interest keeps loans active with theservicer.
Consolidate Federal Loans Before Standard Repayment
Consolidating multiple federal loans simplifies management with one servicer and can lock in current lower interest rates if you have variable rate loans.
Consolidate early in the grace period rather than waiting until the standard repayment period when rates may have risen.
How to Get an Education Loan Conclusion
How to Get an Education Loan – Funding a college education requires strategic planning, smart borrowing, and diligent repayment practices. With both federal and private student loan options surpassing $100 billion per year, access to financing exists to turn academic dreams into realities.
The key is weighing the pros and cons of available loans. Maximize fixed rate federal Direct Loans first before turning to variable rate private loans. Compare multiple lenders. Determine the lowest total borrowing possible through cost-saving measures.
Set yourself up for success by understanding factors affecting loan eligibility, terms, and payments. Develop financial discipline early on. With the right education loans and consistent follow through, you can invest in your future and emerge career-ready with manageable student loan debt.
How to Get an Education Loan FAQ
Q : Will student loans hurt my credit score?
Ans : Federal student loans don’t impact your credit score. Private loans appear on credit reports and must be repaid on time like other credit products. Responsibly managing repayments avoids damage.
Q : Are student loans tax deductible?
Ans : Unfortunately student loan interest is no longer tax deductible for new borrowers starting in 2022. The deduction phased out for high earners and was eliminated for new loans.
Q : When do I need a cosigner for a student loan?
Ans : If you have little/no credit history and limited income, a cosigner with good credit and stable earnings can help you qualify and get better rates on private student loans. Federal loans don’t require cosigners.
Q : Can student loans be forgiven in bankruptcy?
Ans : Federal and private student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy. You must prove extreme undue hardship from your debt load. Certain federal repayment and forgiveness programs offer alternatives.
Q : How long do I have to pay back student loans?
Ans : Standard repayment terms range from 10 years (undergraduates) to 25 years (graduate and professional students). Income-driven and extended plans can stretch the term to 20-25 years for all borrowers before discharge.
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