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Financial Aid 101

California Student Loan & Scholarship Information

When people think of California, visions of Hollywood, endless beaches, and sleek convertibles heading down the 101 can easily come to mind. Pretty dreamy, right? Here’s another thing that’s pretty dreamy: Attending school in the Golden State, whether up north at Humboldt State, down south at UC San Diego, or somewhere in between.

California is home to plenty of fantastic colleges, but if you’re planning on earning your degree there, you may wonder how you can make your education more affordable. We’re here to help, with a deep dive into the kinds of student loans, grants and scholarships a student can access in California. We’ll also fill you in on loan repayment options and more. California, here we come!

Average Student Loan Debt in California

If you have your heart set on attending school in Cali, you’re possibly wondering what the average student loan debt in the state is. Well, in 2020, 46% of California college attendees had student loan debt, and on average owed $21,125.

46%

of California college
attendees had student
loan debt.

SoFi offers simple student loans that work for you.

California Student Loans

If your goal is to attend school in California and you’re looking at ways to finance your education, you have options. And both federal and private student loans may be worth considering when researching how to pay for your college degree.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are all provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. If you take out a federal loan, the U.S. Department of Education is your lender.

To see which type of loan you may qualify for, you’ll need to fill out the (FAFSA®) form to apply for financial aid for college or grad school. You can review your state’s deadline and the federal FAFSA deadline.

You should also review the deadlines for each college to which you are applying, as one college may define their deadline as the date you submit your FAFSA form, while another considers it to be the date on which your FAFSA is actually processed. FAFSA will then offer you a financial aid package, dependent on your college, that may include grants, work-study opportunities, and federal student loan options. It is important to note that not every student will qualify to receive federal aid.


Recommended: FAFSA Guide

strong>Direct Subsidized Loans: These are for eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need, and they help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school. The federal government pays the interest on Direct Subsidized Loans while a student is in school at least half-time. Interest starts accruing on these loans after a six-month grace period once students graduate or if they drop below half-time enrollment.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students may qualify for these loans. Eligibility is not based on financial need. The interest on these loans begins accruing immediately after funds are disbursed (meaning paid out).

Direct PLUS Loans: These loans are for graduate or professional students, as well as for parents of dependent undergraduate students who need help paying for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. Eligibility for this loan is not based on financial need, but it does require a credit check.

Direct Consolidation Loans: As the name implies, this type of federal loan combines all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan, with one loan payment. Students generally use this loan if they have taken out multiple federal loans and want to combine them for simplified repayment. The interest rate on these loans are the weighted average of the interest rates on all of the loans that a student is consolidating, rounded to the nearest one-eighth of 1%.

NOTE: All federal student loans have fixed interest rates, and they generally have lower interest rates than private loans.


Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Private Student Loans

Private loans are funded by private organizations such as banks, online lenders, credit unions, some schools, and state-based or state-affiliated organizations. Federal student loans have interest rates that are regulated by Congress. A key point to note: Private lenders follow a different set of regulations than federal loans, so their interest rates can vary widely.

What’s more, private loans have variable or fixed interest rates that may be higher than federal loan interest rates, which are always fixed. Private lenders may (but don’t always) require you to make payments on your loans while you are still in school. On the other hand, you don’t have to start paying back federal student loans until after you graduate, leave school, or change your enrollment status to less than half-time.

Unlike federal loans which can only be applied for within certain deadlines (once a year, and states have their own deadlines), private loans can be applied for on an as-needed basis. Even if you suspect you may need to take out a private loan, it’s still a smart move to submit your FAFSA before applying. That way, you can see what federal aid you may qualify for first.

If you’ve missed the FAFSA deadline and you’re struggling to pay for school throughout the year, private loans can potentially help you make your education payments. Just keep in mind that you will need enough lead time for your loan to process and for your lender to send money to your school.


Recommended: Private Students Loans vs Federal Student Loans

For more information on private loans, you can check out our article:

Private Student Loans 101


Scholarships & Grants

Who doesn’t love a gift? You may sometimes hear grants and scholarships referred to as gift aid. That’s because while grants or scholarships may have certain academic or other requirements to keep them, you usually don’t have to pay them back as you would with a loan. Whether you call that a gift, a windfall, or free money, it’s a huge help when it comes time to pay for higher education.

There are a few instances where you may have to pay back grant money, but typically only if certain requirements aren’t met. Generally, grants are need-based (meaning they are distributed due to your financial need), while scholarships are awarded based on merit (such as academic, athletic, or artistic achievement).

There is no one-size-fits-all grant or scholarship amount or requirements, and both scholarships and grants can come from a variety of entities (including private organizations and federal or state governments).

Some scholarships or grants can be for a small amount that may help you pay for your books or research supplies, but others can cover the entire cost of your education. That means tuition, room and board, and the extras. Which is a very good thing. Who knew parking passes could be so expensive?

California Scholarships & Grants

It may be your lucky day! There are dedicated California college grants and California college scholarships available for students in the Golden State. Here are just a few of the many options available.

Cal Grant

Cal Grants for eligible students provide aid to undergraduates, vocational training students, and teacher certification students. To complete a Cal Grant application, submit your FAFSA® or CA Dream Act Application and then register your certified GPA here.

Learn more

Middle Class Scholarship

The Middle Class Scholarship is for eligible undergraduates, vocational training students, and teacher certification students with family assets up to $191,000 and income up to $191,000. The scholarship amount can be between 10% and 40% of the mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at a UC or CSU.

Learn more

California Military Department GI Bill Award Program

Previously known as the California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program, this state grant can pay for up to 100% of the tuition and fees at a University of California, California State University, or a California Community College. Active members in the California National Guard, State Military Reserve, or Naval Militia may be eligible.

Learn more

Critical Care Scholarship Program

The Critical Care Scholarship Program is for eligible California residents pursuing a degree in healthcare or nursing and offers an opportunity to apply for financial assistance of $1,000 through an online essay contest.

Learn more

Good Tidings Community Service Scholarship

High school seniors and residents of select California counties who have shown a commitment to extraordinary community service projects may apply for this $10,000 scholarship.

Learn more

Joel Garcia Memorial Scholarship

These scholarships, which range from $500 to $2,000 per student, are awarded annually to qualified Latino students who are planning to pursue a career in journalism.

Learn more

Get low-rate in-school loans that work for you.

What Percentage of Students Have Scholarship Aid in California?

California ranks 1st in total financial aid dollars and spends a whopping $2.23 billion on aid. Let’s take a closer look at how that aid is distributed.

Need-Based Grants Total Student Aid State Average Spending Per Undergraduate Student
$2.22B $2.23B $1,751

California Student Loan Repayment & Forgiveness Programs

If you’ve taken out student loans to attend a school in California, it is never too early to start thinking about your repayment plan. And guess what? You have quite a few repayment options at your disposal.

Take a deep breath—you’ll have time to pay off your loans once you leave school. The standard student loan repayment term is 10 years, but allowances are made for eligible loan borrowers who need more time to pay off their loans (up to 25 years).

Federal student loan interest rates vary based on what year you receive the loan. For the 2022-2023 school year, the interest rate on Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans for undergraduates is 4.99%, the rate on Direct Unsubsidized loans for graduate and professional students is 6.54%, and the rate on Direct PLUS loans for graduate students, professional students, and parents is 7.54%. The interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and are set annually by Congress.

For private loans, terms and conditions such as interest rates are set by the lender and vary due to many factors. Federal student loans typically offer the lowest interest rates and more flexible repayment options as compared to private student loans.

10

Years


Standard federal student
loan repayment term.


Allowances can be
made for borrowers.

Up to 25 years.

Federal Student Loan Repayment Options

Just like there are several types of loans to explore, there are also different kinds of repayment plans. You can learn more about your repayment options for federal student loans here, but the following high-level summaries can give you an idea of which repayment plan may work for you.

Standard Repayment Plan

Most borrowers are eligible for this plan and may often pay less over time than with other plans because the loan term is shorter. (Typically, less interest accrues over shorter loan terms than longer ones if payments are made in full and on-time.) There is a 10-year repayment period with this plan.

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Graduated Repayment Plan

Most borrowers are eligible for this plan, which allows them to pay their loans off over a longer period than the Standard Repayment Plan. Payments start relatively low, then increase over time (usually every two years).

Learn more

Extended Repayment Plan

To qualify for this plan, there are income thresholds for certain loan types to qualify, and you won’t qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) if you choose this loan. Monthly payments are typically lower than under the 10-year Standard Plan or the Graduated Repayment Plan. Borrowers may also have a longer period to pay them off (and therefore make more interest payments).

Learn more

Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)

Direct Loan borrowers (and all Consolidation Loan borrowers) with eligible loan types may be able to choose this plan. Monthly payments are 10% of discretionary income, and any remaining loan balance will be forgiven after 20 years (for undergraduate studies) or 25 years (for graduate or professional studies).

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Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

To qualify for this plan, borrowers must have a higher debt relative to their discretionary income. Payments for this plan are capped at 10% of discretionary income (and never more than what would be paid on the Standard Repayment Plan. In addition, any remaining balance will be forgiven after 20 years.

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Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

IBR is designed for borrowers who have a high debt relative to their income in order to qualify. Monthly payments will not usually be higher than the 10-year Standard Plan amount. Generally, however, borrowers may pay more over time than under the Standard Plan.

Learn more

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

Direct Loan borrowers with an eligible loan type may want to consider ICR. This plan is different from IBR because there is no financial hardship requirement. But, it may cost more over time when compared to the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, and any remaining balance will be forgiven after 25 years.

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Income-Sensitive Repayment

Borrowers can expect to pay more over time than under the 10-year Standard Plan. Monthly payments are based on annual income, but loans will be paid in full within 15 years. This repayment plan is only available for FFEL Program loans, which are not eligible for PSLF.

Learn more


Still not sure which payment plan is right for you?

For more information on repayment plans, check out our Student Loan Repayment Options article to help add some clarity.

Granted, it’s not always easy to pay loans back on time. When it comes to student loan default, 10% to 20% of student loans are typically in default. (Of course, this was not the case during the pandemic-related federal student loan payment pause that began in March 2020.) You can go to the US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid page to find the default rate for your specific education institution. To help you avoid being among those who default on your student loans, let’s take a look at refinancing options.


Student Loan Refinancing

Another option to potentially help accelerate student loan repayment is to refinance your student loans with a private lender. Some private lenders, like SoFi, will let you consolidate and refinance both your federal and private student loans into one loan and a single interest rate. It’s a great way to streamline your bill paying and financial life in general.

Consolidating your loans (aka combining them) under one lender gives you the opportunity to refinance your loan and get a new term and interest rate. If you have an improved financial profile compared to when you took out your original loan, you may be able to lower your interest rate when you refinance, or even shorten your term to pay off your loan more quickly!

But, it is important to remember that if you refinance federal student loans with a private lender, you will lose access to federal programs such as the income-driven repayment plans mentioned above, as well as student loan forgiveness and forbearance options.

Student Loan Forgiveness

At first glance, student loan forgiveness looks appealing, but it may not be as easily attainable as one might think. For example, 98% of those who applied to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program were denied due to issues such as not meeting the program requirements or mistakes made on their forms.

That being said, there are state-specific and federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs that certain student loan borrowers may be eligible for.

Before you review your options, it’s important to know that the terms forgiveness, cancellation, and discharge essentially mean the same thing when it comes to federal student loans, but are applied in different scenarios. For example, if you are no longer required to make loan payments due to your job, that could fall under forgiveness or cancellation.

Or, if the school you received your loans at closed before you graduated, this situation would generally be called a discharge.

Even if you don’t complete your education, can’t find a job, or are unhappy with the quality of your education, you must repay your loans. But there are circumstances that may lead to federal student loans being forgiven, canceled, or discharged. Here are some of those options:

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The PSLF Program may forgive the remaining balance on eligible Direct Loans, after 120 qualified monthly payments are made under a repayment plan (and working with a qualifying employer).

Learn more

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Those who teach full-time for five complete and consecutive academic years in a low-income school or educational service agency (amongst other qualifications) may be eligible for forgiveness of up to $17,500 on select federal loans.

Learn more

Perkins Loan Cancellation

Cancellation for this specific loan is based on eligible employment or eligible volunteer service and the length of time applicants were in such a position, among other factors.

Learn more

Total and Permanent Disability Discharge

Qualification may relieve eligible borrowers from repaying a qualifying Direct Loan, a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loan, and/or a Federal Perkins Loan or to complete a TEACH Grant service obligation.

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Death Discharge

Due to the death of the borrower or of the student on whose behalf a PLUS loan was taken out, federal student loans may be discharged.

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Bankruptcy Discharge

Certain eligible borrowers may have federal student loans discharged if they file a separate action during bankruptcy, known as an “adversary proceeding.”

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Closed School Discharge

Borrowers who were unable to complete an academic program because their school closed might be eligible for a discharge of Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, or Federal Perkins Loans.

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False Certification of Student Eligibility or Unauthorized Signature/Unauthorized Payment Discharge

Due to a variety of circumstances, borrowers may be eligible to discharge Direct Loans or FFEL Program loans due to issues such as identity theft or mistakes made by a school.

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Unpaid Refund Discharge

Certain borrowers may be eligible for partial discharge of Direct Loans or FFEL Program loans if they withdrew from school, but the portion of a loan that the school was required to return to the borrower wasn’t returned.

Learn more

California Specific Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Federal loan forgiveness programs are a logical place to start, but it can be smart to also consider other student loan forgiveness programs, too. There are forgiveness programs tailored to loan borrowers who live in certain locations, or have an in-demand and service-based vocation. Let’s look at some of the possibilities in California.

Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment (BSNLRP)

Recipients of the California Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment program may receive up to $10,000, contingent on a one-year service obligation practicing direct patient care at a qualified facility in California.

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California Dental Association (CDA) Foundation Student Loan Repayment Grant

To help offset some of the financial burden of dental school, the CDA Foundation awards grants to select recent dental school/specialty graduates. The grant may repay an awardee’s educational loan of up to $50,000 per year for a maximum of $250,000 over five years in exchange for a commitment to care for the underserved.

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California Mental Health Loan Assumption Program (MHLAP)

This loan forgiveness program was designed to retain qualified professionals working within the Public Mental Health System. A recipient may receive up to $10,000 to repay loans in exchange for a 12-month service obligation in a hard-to-fill or retain position.

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California State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)

The California State Loan Repayment Program assists with the repayment of qualified educational loans for eligible primary health care professionals. A two-year full-time or four-year half-time initial service commitment is required to be eligible.

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Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program (STLRP)

Recently licensed physicians and surgeons practicing in health professional shortage areas in California may qualify to be granted up to $105,000 in educational loans in exchange for full-time service for a minimum of three years.

Learn more

SoFi Private Student Loans

In the spirit of complete transparency, we want you to know that we believe you should exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider a SoFi private student loan.

We believe that it is in each student’s best interest to look at federal financing options first in order to find the right financial aid package for them.

If you do decide a private student loan is the right fit for your educational needs, we’re happy to help! SoFi’s private student loan application process is easy and fast. We offer flexible payment options and terms and, don’t worry, there are absolutely zero fees.

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