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How to Pick a Student Loan for College

The thrill of opening college acceptance letters and sitting down to decide where to spend the next four years is undeniably special. After making such an exciting decision, making logistical ones may not seem as appealing, especially when it comes time to choose a student loan to help pay for college.

The expense of attending college can be intimidating, but fortunately student loans can help make financing college more manageable. Broadly, students can borrow federal student loans or private student loans to help pay for their education. For the most part, students will rely on a combination of funding, including loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study to pay their way through college. There are a lot of student loan options that may be accessible to students, and it’s worth considering all viable options before making a decision.

Are You Eligible for Federal Student Loans?

Federal student loans are available for students who meet the general eligibility criteria as outlined by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to demonstrating financial need (for most programs), students must be a citizen of the U.S. or an eligible non-citizen in order to apply. Additionally, students need to be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible degree granting institution.

Types of Federal Loans You Can Get

The U.S. Department of Education issues loans through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program, and each loan has unique benefits and eligibility requirements. They offer four types of direct loans.

1. Direct Subsidized Loans: For eligible undergraduates who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of receiving a higher education at a college or career school.

2. Direct Unsubsidized Loans: For eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Need is not a determining factor.

3. Direct PLUS Loans: For graduate or professional students and the parents of dependent undergraduate students. These loans help pay for education expenses that other forms of financial aid did not cover. This is not a loan based on financial need, but requires a credit check, and certain credit history standards must be met to qualify.

4. Direct Consolidation Loans: These loans allow students to combine all of their eligible federal student loans into just one loan serviced by a single loan servicer.

Students may not be eligible for each of these loan types, but the information provided on the SAR is used by college financial aid offices to determine what financial aid to offer to a student. Researching each option carefully before deciding which loan to choose can be a helpful and responsible step to take.

Recommended: Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans: What is the Difference?

How to Apply for a Federal Loan

In order to qualify for federal student loans, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form. The process is relatively easy and straightforward.

Filling out the FAFSA® form will require personal information about the student and their financial circumstances. The following information or documents may be necessary to help fill out the application.

•   Student’s Social Security number.

•   Parents’ Social Security numbers, for dependent students.

•   Student’s driver’s license number, if applicable.

•   An Alien Registration number for non-US citizens.

•   Information regarding federal taxes and tax returns for the student or, for dependent students, their parents.

•   Records of untaxed income for students or, for dependent students, their parents.

•   Information regarding liquid assets, investments, and business or farm assets of the student or, for dependent students, their parents.

FAFSA® forms completed online take three to five days to process, while paper applications require seven to 10 days. Post-processing, the student will receive their Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information provided on the FAFSA®, so it’s important to review this report to ensure its accuracy. If a mistake is found, students should correct their FAFSA® as soon as they can.

The SAR includes the student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which helps colleges determine eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant and other federal and nonfederal student aid such as gift aid and federal student loans.

The Pell Grant is a federal grant awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

The colleges the student submitted the FAFSA® to are responsible for creating their award package and distributing their financial aid. Contacting the financial aid office at each college a student is considering is advisable, as each college may have a unique process for applying for aid.

Each year, the student can renew their FAFSA® form using their FSA ID which will allow them to skip some of the more basic questions on the form.

How to Accept a Federal Loan

When the student aid office at your school sends an aid offer, it will include an option for you to select which types of aid you would like to accept or reject. To do this, follow the instructions provided by your financial aid office. If you have any questions, contact the financial aid office at your school.

Generally speaking, aid that does not need to be repaid, such as scholarships or grants, should be prioritized over loans, which will need to be repaid.

What if Your Federal Loans Aren’t Enough?

If your student loans aren’t enough to pay for college, you have a couple of options. One is to explore scholarships and grants from your school or local community. This guide to unclaimed scholarships has information on finding additional free money to help you pay for college.

Another option is to look into borrowing a private student loan. Federal and private student loans have a few important distinctions. Federal student loans are provided by the United States government, whereas private loans come from private lenders.

More specifically, federal student loans have terms and conditions that are pre-determined by law. Federal student loans have benefits that private lenders are not guaranteed to offer, such as having fixed interest rates and offering income-driven repayment plans. For this reason, federal student loans are generally prioritized over private student loans when students are creating a plan to finance their education.

Understanding Private Student Loans

Private student loans can be found through private organizations like a bank or credit union, as well as certain state-based or state-affiliated organizations. The lender will set the terms and conditions, and these types of loans are typically more expensive than federal ones.

Interested students will apply for private student loans directly with the lender of their choice. When applying for private loans, it’s important to understand any credit requirements. Most federal student loans don’t require a credit check, but private lenders often require a minimum credit score and income, and typically want to see a history of on-time loan repayments.

Using a co-signer with a more established credit history — which most students don’t have — can make qualifying for a private undergraduate loan easier. The co-signer will have to assume responsibility for the loan if the student misses payments. This private student loan guide has even more detailed information.

How to Pick a Private Student Loan Lender


Most private lenders will allow you to find out if you prequalify for a loan and at what terms and interest rates. This can allow you to effectively compare interest rate types (fixed vs variable), the interest rate amounts, repayment options, loan terms, hardship options, and any perks or discounts the lender may offer before making a final decision.

Once you have selected a preferred lender, you can fill out a formal application. At this point, the lender will conduct a hard credit inquiry (which may impact your credit score).

Determining How Much to Borrow

Determining what to look for when picking a student loan will vary greatly by the student’s financial and educational needs, including how much to borrow. When it comes time to choose how much money to borrow through student loans, the amount will depend on what types of loans the student chooses. For example, federal student loan amounts vary greatly.

•   Undergraduate student loans borrowed through Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans range from $5,500 to $12,500 per year, varying by what year of school the student is in and their dependency status.

•   Graduate and professional students can borrow up to $20,500 annually in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. These funds can also help cover the remainder of college costs not covered by other financial aid.

•   Parents of undergraduate students can utilize a Direct PLUS Loan to cover the remainder of their child’s education costs that financial aid didn’t cover.

Which of these options a student and their family pursues will vary based on how much financial aid they receive and how much of their education costs they want to cover out of pocket.

Typically, students and their families turn to private student loans if their federal financial aid and loan options don’t cover all of their academic expenses. To determine how much in private loans to take out, students should aim to cover the following expenses for the entire school year: tuition, fees, housing, food, textbooks, school supplies, and travel.

To find the final amount required in private student loan funding, students can subtract any money they’ve received from gift aid such as scholarships and grants, financing they will receive from work-study programs, any college savings they or their families have, and whatever federal loans they received.

Private Student Loans With SoFi

In addition to banks and credit unions, students can turn to online lenders for private student loans. SoFi offers private student loans that students can apply for from the comfort of their own homes in a quick and easy online application. Students can choose what type of interest rate they prefer and can add a cosigner, if necessary.

They never have to worry about fees — that means zero origination, late, and insufficient fund fees. SoFi student loans can cover the entire cost of attendance, so students can take a deep breath and focus on hitting the books instead of worrying about paying for school.

Learn more about SoFi’s easy application process and flexible repayment plans.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Tips for Paying Childcare as a Student

Guide to Paying for Child Care While in School

Pursuing a college degree can put you on a path to the career of your dreams. But the price tag of tuition, housing, and textbooks can be pretty steep. And if you’re a parent or caregiver, you’re faced with an added obstacle: “How can I afford child care while I’m in school?”

Fortunately, there are a bevy of options out there for adult students with children. On-campus daycares, grants, scholarships, and refinancing student loans can all help alleviate the cost of child care. You don’t have to let the challenge of going to college with kids stop you from reaching your goals.

Paying for Daycare as a Student

One of the biggest financial struggles working parents face is paying for daycare. In 2020, American households spent more than $10,000 annually for child care costs, according to Child Care Aware of America . If you’re a parent returning to college, you may have the extra burden of tuition, housing, and textbooks. You may have to scale back your job hours to accommodate your schedule. Paying for child care while tackling college costs and a possible income reduction could feel like too much.

But child care is essential for adult students. Someone has to look after your little one while you attend class. Even if your school is 100% online, you’ll need uninterrupted time to study and crank out those papers.

Let’s take a look at some avenues of financial support, so you can focus on getting your degree while caring for your family.

Tips to Help Pay for Child Care as a Student

The decision to return to college may not have been in the budget when you financially planned for a family. And with the cost of child care being more than some tuition, the prospect of going back to college with kids can be daunting. Take solace in the fact that you are not alone.

Fortunately, there are resources to help you. Many higher education institutions provide child care grants and subsidies. You can also turn to federal student aid, private student loans, and scholarships to help get you that degree and daycare for your children.

Financial Aid

Student financial aid provides funding used to cover the costs of higher education. It can come in the form of student loans, either from federal or state governments. Scholarships and grants are another fantastic way to help ease your financial anxiety.

To apply for federal financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and federal student loans, students will need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) annually. This form will determine how much financial aid you qualify for. It’s also prudent to contact your school financial aid office directly. Talk to them about how they can help you factor child care into the cost of your attendance.

Private Scholarships

Because a private college scholarship doesn’t generally need to be repaid, it can be thought of as free money awarded to pay for school. Scholarships are available from numerous organizations. They are typically based on financial need or merit — grades, test scores, or talent — and (good news!) there are also scholarships available specifically for students with dependent children .

Scholarship money does not have to be paid back, so you may be better able to focus on career and family post-graduation instead of student debt.

You can find more information on scholarships and how to use them toward child care from government resources, a college financial aid office, or a high school counselor. Be sure and pay attention to scholarship submission deadlines so you don’t miss out on funds.

Federal Student Loans and Grants

Many students seek financial aid for college through federal student loans. Federal loans typically have low, fixed interest rates and don’t require a cosigner or a credit check. You don’t have to worry about repayment until after college. These student loan funds are used for tuition, housing, computers, and textbooks, but it’s also possible to put them toward child care. Reach out to your school to ask if they can factor in child care costs to the price of attendance.

A Federal Pell Grant is awarded by the government to students from low-income households, based solely on financial need. While a Pell Grant won’t guarantee you free child care, the expense of having a child reflects directly on your income, which can consequently raise the amount of funds you may be eligible to receive. That money could help pay for daycare. Like scholarships, grants also do not usually have to be repaid.

Private Student Loans

When scholarships, federal loans, and a Pell Grant, aren’t enough, you can turn to private student loans to help cover the cost of daycare. These loans are issued by online lenders, banks, and credit unions. The lender will check your financial history and credit score to calculate the amount you qualify for. If you have limited job experience or your credit score isn’t the greatest, a cosigner can pledge responsibility for your loan.

With private student loans, you can typically borrow up to the cost of tuition and other qualified educational expenses. Unlike federal loans with strict deadlines, you can apply for a private student loan at any time during the year. Private loans could also be an option for parent student loan refinancing.

Unfortunately, private loans tend to have higher interest rates, and some may require payment while you’re still attending college. Additionally, private student loans aren’t required to offer the same benefits or protections that are available to federal student loan borrowers, things like deferment options in the event of financial issues. For this reason, they are generally borrowed only after all other financing options have been thoroughly considered. Be sure to do your homework on the pros and cons of federal vs. private student loans before committing.

Seek Out Lower Cost Daycares

Once you’ve secured some financial wiggle-room via scholarships and student federal and private loans, another step is to find affordable daycare, so you can stretch your monetary aid to the fullest.

In 2018, Congress tripled what’s called CCAMPIS — Child Care Access Means Parents in School. CCAMPIS awards funds to educational institutions to help make child care affordable for low-income students, either at accredited daycares off campus, or on-campus centers. Contact your school to see if they’ve received such funds and have child care services available.

You can also investigate not-for-profit organizations such as Child Care Aware of America, who provides tools to search for lower-cost child care care facilities near your school.

Schools with Child Care Resources

Many schools, including community colleges, have low-cost child care facilities on campus for undergrad and graduate students. These supportive centers not only offer developmental programs for your child, but are tailored to the needs of student parents, with extended hours in the evening and weekends. Spots can go fast though, so be sure and inquire about program availability as soon as possible.

Some colleges offer child care subsidies to adult students in the form of daycare grants, a taxable subsidy. Whether you have a newborn or a high schooler, you may meet the criteria for these funds, and many have no requirement for the money to be used solely for daycare. Daycare grants are purely to support student-parents to achieve their dreams of higher education.

And don’t forget to ask about work-study programs through your college—jobs offering flexible hours to earn money toward your tuition and child care expenses. You can even come up with creative ideas for a passive income stream, so you can spend more time with your kid and with your studies.

Remember, it takes a village to raise a child, and a college is a community. Most institutions have online student-parent support groups, where you can search for daycare services, nanny shares, and babysitting services. Valuable information can often be found on the school’s website or through student services.

The Takeaway

Being a parent can be stressful. Being in college and a parent? At first thought, the idea may seem overwhelming. But between federal and private student loans, grants, and scholarships, you don’t have to wait until your baby’s all grown up to get that college degree. There are loads of resources to support you, from parent groups on campus, to outside sources on how to refinance a student loan once out of college.

Go for it! A college degree can bolster your self-esteem and create new career opportunities. With a higher paying, post-college job, you can start saving for your kid’s college tuition.

SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no hidden fees.


3 Student Loan Tips

1.   Can’t cover your school bills? If you’ve exhausted all federal aid options, private student loans can fill gaps in need, up to the school’s cost of attendance, which includes tuition, books, housing, meals, transportation, and personal expenses.

2.   Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too. You can submit it as early as Oct. 1.

3.   Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans peppering the landscape: private student loans, federal Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

FAQ

Can I use student loans to pay for child care?

Student loans can be used to cover tuition and other qualified education expenses like books, room and board, and other supplies. In some cases, child care costs may also be paid for with a student loan. However, it’s generally best to prioritize a grant or scholarship first to cover the costs of child care.

What can I spend my maintenance loan on?

Student maintenance loans are issued by the United Kingdom for students attending a U.K. university. It can be used for everyday expenses, including child care, food, rent, restaurants, and clothes.

Can I get a student loan to take care of my child?

It is possible to use private student loans toward child care. It may be an option to use federal loans too. Talk to your school about factoring child care into the cost of attendance.


Photo credit: iStock/Moyo Studio

SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.
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How To Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Disappointed by your financial aid package? Sometimes students don’t get as much aid as they hoped for. Occasionally, they’re denied any aid at all. Before you toss your entire Life Plan, know that the decision isn’t necessarily final.

A financial aid appeal letter allows you to plead your case and share any new information. However, it’s essential to know how to write a letter compelling enough to change minds.

Here we’ll offer proven tips for building a persuasive argument, and a sample template to get you started.

When To Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

At what point in time after you receive your financial aid offer should you send an appeal letter? As soon as possible. That’s because some financial aid is handed out on a first come, first served basis. The sooner you appeal the decision, the more funds there will be to draw on.

Why Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

There are two main reasons why students appeal their financial aid offer: not getting the amount of aid they need and getting denied outright.

The Financial Aid Offer Fell Short

A student’s financial aid offer is based on the school’s certified cost of attendance (COA) and the student’s expected family contribution (EFC). The latter is calculated based on information provided in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form.

But just because your parents have a certain income and assets on paper doesn’t mean that money is available to you. Even if your family originally planned to help out, circumstances may have changed since you submitted your FAFSA form. Some common life changes that will affect your financial aid calculation include:

•   Parent’s job loss or switch to a lower-paying position.

•   Medical emergency or other financial commitment that ate up the cash your family had set aside to help you.

•   Parents’ divorce.

•   New member joined the family, through birth, adoption, or guardianship.

•   Death of a parent.

Recommended: Independent vs Dependent Student: Which One Are You?

Not Meeting Eligibility Requirements

In order to qualify for federal financial aid, students need to meet a handful of eligibility requirements. The criteria include being enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an eligible degree program, and maintaining “satisfactory academic progress,” including a 2.0 GPA. The full list of eligibility requirements is available on the Federal Student Aid website at StudentAid.gov.

If you don’t meet one of the requirements before the financial aid office makes its decision or you lose eligibility after receiving an offer, you may not get the help you need.

What To Say in a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Before you begin writing your letter, verify if your school has an official appeals application or form. In addition, you can check your school’s financial aid office for details on the financial aid appeal process. Some schools offer appeal forms online or have walk-in hours to address appeal questions.

If your school doesn’t offer a form, here are some of the things you should specifically include in your appeals letter:

Address a Specific Person

Avoid generic greetings like “To Whom It May Concern.” Instead, you’ll want to identify a specific individual at the financial aid office. If you are unsure whom to address, reach out to the financial aid office to ask.

Highlight Examples

Provide details about your situation and why you are unable to pay for college. Consider writing a bulleted list so you can provide straightforward facts of your family’s financial situation. A bulleted list will also make it easier to connect details with support documentation.

Provide Documentation

If you have any relevant documents that can help support your case, you will want to include them with the letter. For example, a death certificate, doctor’s note, or unemployment benefits letter can give the financial aid office the evidence that it needs.

State a Dollar Amount

If you’re asking for a specific amount, consider including a budget breakdown of how you’d spend that money, including tuition, room and board, supplies, books, and transportation costs. (SoFi’s Ca$h Course: A Student’s Guide to Money may help with this.)

Add a “Thank You”

End your letter by thanking the person you’re sending it to. You may also want to express your excitement about attending this school.

Recommended: 11 Strategies for Paying for College

Sample Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Date

Financial Aid Appeal Committee
Name of School
Office of Financial Aid

Dear Name Here,

I am writing to appeal the financial aid offer I received. My proposed package included $00,000 in scholarships and grants, and $00,000 in federal student loans, for a total award of $00,000. However, the amount I will need to cover my cost of attendance and living expenses this year is $00,000. I am requesting an increase in student loans or gift aid to cover the remaining $00,000.

Since completing and submitting the FAFSA, my family has experienced a change in circumstances. My father was laid off from his job in February and is still looking for work. As a result, we won’t be able to cover the expected family contribution needed for me to attend Name of College.

My family and I would be grateful if you would approve an increased aid amount of $00,000 to help me afford the cost of school this year. I’m thrilled to have been accepted at my school of choice and am eagerly looking forward to starting in the fall.

I appreciate your taking the time to consider my appeal. Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Your name

3 Tips for Writing a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

A good financial aid appeal letter can potentially shift your financial aid office’s decision in your favor. Here are some things to keep in mind while you’re writing it.

1. Be Polite

Not getting the financial aid you feel you need can be a frustrating experience. When it comes time to direct your request to someone specific, look for a contact in your school’s financial aid office and address the letter to them directly. If you’ve received some aid, you could thank them for the amount and perhaps explain how much you appreciate them considering your appeal.

It can be difficult to leave emotion out of the equation, but a respectful tone can have a positive influence.

2. Keep It Concise

Be clear with your request and how much aid you need. Then give a straightforward explanation of why it’s needed. If you were denied aid for an issue with eligibility, you might want to explain the reason why it happened. For example, maybe your grades dipped because you were diagnosed with a severe illness, lost an immediate family member, or became homeless.

Try to keep your letter to one page. This is not the time for a manifesto. The financial aid office will likely be reviewing multiple letters, and brief messages can be surprisingly powerful.

3. Proofread the Letter

After writing and thoroughly proofreading the letter yourself, consider having a trusted friend or family member give the letter another read. It’s not always easy to catch errors on your own, and the easier your letter is to read, the better the impression you’ll make.

What To Do If Your Appeal Is Unsuccessful

If your appeal is denied, you may still have other options for covering college costs.

For example, you may be able to qualify for scholarships through your school or a private organization. Check your school’s website for opportunities, as well as websites like Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and the College Board. SoFi also offers a helpful Scholarship Search Tool.

If your parents are willing to help, they can apply for a Parent PLUS Loan through the Department of Education. These loans are not needs-based, and the maximum amount they can borrow is your school’s cost of attendance minus any financial aid you’ve already received.

Finally, you may also be able to apply for a private student loan. These loans require a credit check, so if you’re still relatively new to credit, you may need a parent to cosign the loan. As you consider these options, take the time to research their costs and terms to make sure you get the best deal for you. You should exhaust all federal aid options first before applying for a private student loan.

Don’t miss our related story, I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?

If you do decide that a private student loan is the right fit for your educational needs, we’re happy to help. SoFi offers flexible payment options and terms, and there are no hidden fees.

The Takeaway

Writing a financial aid appeal letter can help students qualify for additional financial aid. Appealing an aid offer won’t always result in an increased award, but writing an effective letter can potentially improve a student’s chances of getting more aid. A few suggestions to strengthen your letter include being concise, providing supporting documentation, being specific in how you’ll use the funds, and keeping the letter polite in tone.

If you have exhausted all other options for paying for college, you may consider borrowing a private student loan. SoFi offers private student loans for undergraduates, graduate students, and parents, and there are no fees. For details, check out our Guide to Private Student Loans.

Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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How Do Student Loans Work? Guide to Student Loans

With the cost of higher education at an all-time high, many students need financial assistance to pay for tuition, room and board, books, and more. In fact, in the U.S. alone, 43 million borrowers are carrying over $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.

Taking out student loans may be the first major financial commitment you make. And it’s a decision that has the potential to affect your financial situation for years to come. So it’s crucial to understand the terms you’re signing up for, and all the options available.

To help you get started, here’s a quick guide to student loans. We’ll break down the basics of how loans work, how to apply for both federal and private student loans, and what to expect after you graduate.

What Is a Student Loan?

Student loans let young people borrow the money they need to pay for their education. Like other types of loans, this money must be repaid in the future, with interest.

Student loans can be borrowed by the student or, in some cases, by their parents. When a student loan is borrowed by a parent to pay for their child’s education, it may be called a parent loan.

The way student loans work is similar to other loans, but the application process is different, especially when it comes to federal student loans (more on that below). Federal student loans are funded by the federal government.

With private student loans, the application process is similar to other types of loans. Potential borrowers will file an application directly with the bank of their choice.

What Can Student Loans Be Used For?

Student loans can be used to pay for a student’s qualified educational expenses. These include things like tuition, books and supplies for classes, and fees charged by the school.

They can also be used to pay for room and board, living expenses, commuting to school, and a laptop or computer used for school.

Graduate students are also eligible for federal aid and are encouraged to complete a grad school FAFSA.

The Two Main Student Loan Categories

Student loans fall into two main categories, federal and private. Federal loans, which are funded by the federal government, offer some advantages and protections for borrowers. These special features, which are not common with regular loans, include:

•   Lower, fixed interest rates (what you pay the lender for loaning you the money) that offer a better deal than private student loans.

•   Income-driven repayment plans, which base your monthly payment after graduation on your salary.

•   Temporary relief programs for graduates who are facing unemployment or other hardship.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are provided by the government. However, your payments and loan management are usually handled through an independent company called a student loan servicer.

To see if you qualify for a federal loan and other federal student aid, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as FAFSA®. The application must be filled out every year you want to apply for federal student aid.

There are a few different types of federal student loans. The main federal student loans are:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans, available to eligible undergraduates with financial need. The interest that accrues while students are enrolled in school and during the grace period is covered by the U.S. Department of Education.

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans, available to eligible undergraduates and graduate students regardless of financial need.

•   Direct PLUS Loans, available to parents of undergraduate students and to graduate or professional students for expenses not covered by financial aid.

Check out our breakdown of the different types of federal student loans for details on how these loans work and the distinctions between them.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are issued by non-government lenders, such as banks, credit unions, or other financial service companies. A potential borrower’s eligibility and terms will depend on their credit history (their financial track record) and other factors.

Parents or even family friends can cosign with a student who may not be able to qualify for a private student loan on their own. Unlike federal loans, repayment on private student loans may start while the borrower is still enrolled in school.

Unlike their federal counterpart, private student loan lenders may not offer the same safety-net protections in cases of financial hardship or unemployment. So be sure to understand the terms before taking a private student loan. Private loans tend to be the last option for paying for college after all other methods of financial aid have been exhausted.

Recommended: Guide to Private Student Loans

Understanding How Student Loans Work

Understanding the difference between federal and private student loans is the first step in navigating how college loans work. Here is other essential information:

Student Loan Application Process

Applying for federal student loans requires students to complete the FAFSA every year they attend college. Some people assume they won’t meet the requirements for FAFSA federal aid because of their parents’ income or a low GPA, but that’s usually not the case.

Everyone who might need help paying for college should fill out the FAFSA. Aside from federal student loans, there are state and school-based scholarships, grants, and work-study programs that you may qualify for. The FAFSA form is generally available on October 1 for the following school year and can be completed online.

If you’re opting for private student loans, find a reputable lender and make sure your school and program are eligible for their offerings. The application process may or may not have a fee, depending on the lender.

Private lenders typically want applicants to provide basic personal and financial details, and may also consider credit history.

As mentioned above, lenders may allow potential borrowers to apply for a private student loan with a cosigner, such as a parent. Because college students tend not to have much of a credit history yet, adding a cosigner can potentially improve an applicant’s chance of getting approved with a competitive interest rate.

Recommended: High-Income Financial Aid

Student Loan Interest Rates and Fees

Interest is a percentage of the unpaid principal loan amount that is paid to the lender in exchange for borrowing money. Federal student loans have fixed interest rates, and interest is accrued on a daily basis.

The interest rate on federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduates for the 2022-2023 school year is 4.99%. Interest rates on federal student loans are set annually by Congress.

Fixed-rate student loans have an interest rate that stays the same over the life of the loan. Although the rate might start off higher than on variable-rate loans, it won’t change as general interest rates fluctuate.

The way interest on private student loans works is different. Private student loans may have either fixed or variable interest rates. Variable-rate loans, also called floating-rate loans, have an interest rate that can vary every month, quarter, or year. Rates usually start off lower than a fixed-rate loan, but can fluctuate dramatically over the life of the loan.

If you expect to pay off your student loans quickly, you may consider a variable-rate loan. But if you’re not sure how much you’ll be making after you graduate, or you don’t think you’ll be able to pay your student loans off fast, or you’re just not a risk taker, a fixed-rate loan might be a better choice.

Private student loans will have different interest rates depending on the lender and the borrower’s credit history.

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Repaying Your Loan

As long as you’re still in school at least part-time, students aren’t required to make payments on federal loans. The exception for federal student loans is PLUS Loans, which require borrowers to start making payments as soon as they receive the entire loan amount. By the way, if you have an unsubsidized loan, interest starts accruing while you’re enrolled in school.

Your federal loan servicer should give you a student loan repayment schedule that tells you when your first payment is due and how much you owe. There are a few different repayment plans available for federal student loans. Borrowers can change their repayment plan at any time without incurring fees.

Most federal student loans have a six-month grace period, which gives you a break after you leave school before you have to start paying your loans back. Some private lenders also offer grace periods, but it’s not a guarantee. Unless the loan is a federal unsubsidized loan, it will likely accrue interest during the grace period.

PLUS Loans work a little differently. While PLUS Loans for undergraduate studies do not have a grace period, graduate and professional students who receive PLUS Loans receive an automatic six-month deferment that is activated when the student graduates, leaves school, or their enrollment drops below half-time. Also, parent borrowers who’ve received PLUS Loans can request a six-month deferment after their child graduates, leaves school, or enrolls less than half-time.

Private lenders determine when repayment begins on a private student loan, so review your student loan agreement closely before signing.

Many lenders offer interest rate reductions if you have your student loan payments automatically deducted from your checking account.

The Takeaway

Student loans can make it possible for young people to attend college, but just like other types of loans, student-borrowers are charged interest. Federal loans have fixed interest rates and generally have a six-month grace period following a student’s departure from school. They also come with borrower protections and benefits like income-driven repayment plans. Private student loans can be helpful if a student did not receive enough federal aid in the form of federal student loans, scholarships, grants, and work-study, to pay for college. Lenders determine the interest rate and terms partly based on the borrower’s credit history. Interest rates may be either fixed or variable. Private student loans do not carry the same federal borrower benefits.

Students interested in borrowing private student loans should shop around to find the best interest rate and terms they qualify for. SoFi’s private student loans have absolutely no fees, and the application process is entirely online.

SoFi was named Best Loan Company for Private Student Loans in 2022 by U.S. News


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FAQ

How are student loans paid out?

According to the Federal Student Aid website (StudentAid.gov), your school will give out your loan and grant money in at least two payments, called disbursements. Usually, you’ll receive a payment once per term (semester, quarter, etc.). If you accept a work-study job, you’ll be paid at least once a month.

How much money do student loans give you?

Undergraduates may receive between $5,500 and $12,500 per academic year in direct subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. The amount is determined by your year in school and your dependency status. Your total financial aid is calculated as the difference between the cost of attendance for your school and your family’s expected contribution.

How much is a student loan monthly?

The average monthly student loan payment is $461. Your monthly payment will depend on how much you borrow, your interest rate, and the length of your repayment term.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Student Loans: Refinance vs. Income Driven Repayment

Refinancing Student Loans vs Income Driven Repayment Plans

Editors Note: Since the writing of this article, the federal Student Loan Debt Relief program has been blocked and the Department of Justice has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. While the case is being reviewed, the Biden administration is extending the federal student loan payment pause into 2023. The US Department of Education announced loan repayments may resume as late as 60 days after June 30, 2023.

If you’re having trouble making your student loan payments or just want to know if you can make a change to your payments, it’s worth looking into the options, such as refinancing student loans or an income-driven repayment plan.

Student loan refinancing is available for both private and federal student loans, while income-driven repayment plans are only an option only for federal student loans. Proposed changes to income-driven repayment would lower monthly payments and curtail interest accrual, making the plans a better deal for borrowers. Here’s what to know about both options as well as the pros and cons of each.

What Is Student Loan Refinancing?

When you refinance a student loan, a private lender pays off your student loans and gives you a new loan with new terms. For example, the interest rate and/or the loan term may change. You can’t refinance loans through the federal government, however. You can only refinance federal student loans (or private student loans) through a private lender.

If you’re a graduate with high-interest Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans, a refinance can change how quickly you pay off your loans and/or the amount you pay each month.

Pros of Student Loan Refinancing

When considering refinancing your student loans, there are several benefits. You can:

•   Lower your monthly payments: Lowering your monthly payment means you can save money or spend more in other areas of your life instead of putting that cash toward paying student loans. (Depending on the length of the loan term, however, you may end up paying more in total interest.)

•   Get a lower interest rate than your federal student loan interest rates: This can result in paying less interest over the life of the loan (as long as you don’t extend your loan to a longer term). A student loan refinance calculator can show you the interest rate you qualify for.

•   Decrease your debt-to-income ratio (DTI): Your DTI compares your debt payments to your income. So if you lower your monthly payments, you could be lowering your DTI ratio — and a lower DTI can help when applying for a mortgage or other type of loan.

•   Remove a cosigner. Many borrowers who took out undergraduate loans did so with a parent or other cosigner. Refinancing without a cosigner allows you to regain some financial independence and privacy, provided you have a strong credit history.

Recommended: What’s the Average Student Loan Interest Rate?

Cons of Student Loan Refinancing

That said, refinancing federal loans can have some drawbacks as well. They include:

•   No longer being able to take advantage of federal forbearance: When you refinance your student loans through a private lender, you no longer qualify for federal forbearance, such as the Covid-19-related payment holiday. However, it’s worth noting that some private lenders offer their own benefits and protections after you refinance.

•   No longer being able to tap into income-driven repayment plans, forgiveness programs, or other federal benefits: Refinancing federal student loans means replacing them with private loans — and forfeiting the protections and programs that come with them.

•   Possibly seeing your credit score get dinged: Your lender may do a hard credit history inquiry (or pull), which can affect your credit score.

For a deeper dive into the topic, check out our Student Loan Refinancing Guide.

What Are Income Driven Repayment Plans?

Put simply, income-driven repayment plans are plans that base your monthly payment amount on what you can afford to pay. Under the Standard Repayment Plan, you’ll pay fixed monthly payments of at least $50 per month for up to 10 years. On the other hand, an income-driven repayment plan considers your income and family size and allows you to pay accordingly based on those factors — for longer than 10 years and with smaller loan payments. Income-driven repayment plans are based on a percentage of your discretionary income.

You can only use an income-driven repayment plan for federal student loans. If you qualify, you could take advantage of four types of income-driven repayment plans:

•   Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan): You typically pay 10% of your discretionary income over the course of 20 years (for loans for undergraduate study) or 25 years (for loans for graduate or professional school).

•   Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan): You typically pay 10% of your discretionary income but not more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 20 years.

•   Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR Plan): As a new borrower, you typically pay 10% of your discretionary but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 20 years. If you’re not a new borrower, you’ll pay 15% of your discretionary income but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan amount over the course of 25 years.

•   Income-Contingent Repayment Plan (ICR Plan): As a new borrower, you typically pay the lesser of the two: 20% of your discretionary income or a fixed payment over the course of 12 years, adjusted according to your income over the course of 25 years.

In August 2022, President Biden proposed changes to some income-driven repayment programs as part of his forgiveness plan. Payments for undergraduate borrowers would be reduced to 5% of discretionary income, and the loan term would be extended to 20 years (10 years for original loan balances less than $12,000). For more details, check out our Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness.

How do you know which option fits your needs? Your loan servicer can give you a rundown of the program that may fit your circumstances. You must apply for an income-driven repayment plan through a free application from the U.S. Department of Education.

Note: Every income-driven plan payment counts toward the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you qualify for this program, you may want to choose the plan that offers you the smallest payment.

Recommended: How Is Income-Based Repayment Calculated?

Pros of Income Driven Repayment Plans

The benefits of income-driven repayment plans include the following:

•   Affordable student loan payments: If you can’t make your loan payments under the Standard Repayment Plan, an income-driven repayment plan allows you to make a lower monthly loan payment.

•   Potential for forgiveness: Making payments through an income-driven repayment plan and working through loan forgiveness under the PSLF program means you may qualify for forgiveness of your remaining loan balance after you’ve made 10 years of qualifying payments instead of 20 or 25 years.

•   Won’t affect your credit score: This may be one question you’re wondering, whether income-based repayment affects your credit score? The answer is: no. Since you’re not changing your total loan balance or opening another credit account, lenders have no reason to check your credit score.

Cons of Income Driven Repayment Plans

Now, let’s take a look at the potential downsides to income-driven repayment plans:

•   Payment could change later: The Department of Education asks you to recertify your annual income and family size for payment, which is recalculated every 12 months. If your income changes, your payments would also change.

•   Balance may increase: If your monthly payment ends up being lower than the interest accrued, the remaining interest could be added to your overall loan balance. However, new regulations would suspend excess interest accrual when monthly payments do not cover all accruing interest.

•   There are many eligibility factors: Your eligibility could be affected by several things, including when your loans were disbursed, your marital status, year-to-year changing income, and more.

Refinancing vs Income Driven Repayment Plans

Here are the factors related to refinancing and income-driven repayment plans in a side-by-side comparison.

Refinancing

Income-Driven Repayment Plan

Lowers your monthly payments Possibly Possibly
Changes your loan term Possibly Yes
Increases your balance Possibly Possibly
Is eventually forgiven if you still haven’t paid off your loan after the repayment term No Yes
Requires an application Yes Yes
Requires yearly repayment calculations No Yes

Choosing What Is Right for You

When you’re considering whether to refinance or choose an income-driven repayment plan, it’s important to take into account the interest you’ll be paying over time. It could be that you will pay more interest because you lengthened your loan term. If that’s the case, just make sure you are comfortable with this before making any changes. Many people who refinance their student loans do so because they want to decrease the amount of interest they pay over time — and many want to pay off their loans sooner.

That said, if you’re wondering whether you should refinance your student loans, you’ll also want to make sure you are comfortable forfeiting your access to federal student loan benefits and protections.

Refinancing Student Loans With SoFi

Refinancing your student loans with SoFi means getting a competitive interest rate. You can choose between a fixed or variable rate — and you won’t pay origination fees or prepayment penalties.

Find out if you pre-qualify to refinance your student loans with SoFi in just a few minutes.

FAQ

Is income-contingent repayment a good idea?

Right now, the federal government has put a hold on federal student loan repayment. However, once the payment pause expires, it might be a good idea for the right situation, particularly if you have a low income or are unemployed. Having trouble making your student loan payments and already “using up” options for unemployment deferment or economic hardship could make income-contingent repayment worth it.

You may defer payments if you receive public assistance, serve in the Peace Corps, make less than minimum wage or fit into the poverty guidelines. If you can’t find employment at all, you may defer payments for up to three years.

What are the disadvantages of income based repayment?

The biggest disadvantage of income-based repayment is that you stretch out your loan term from the standard repayment plan of 10 years to longer — up to 25 years. This means that more interest will accrue on your loans and you could end up paying more on your loan before your loan term ends.

Does income based repayment get forgiven?

Yes! Making payments through an income-driven repayment plan as well as working toward forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program means that after 10 years of qualifying payments, you could get any remaining loan balance forgiven, instead of after 20 or 25 years.


Photo credit: iStock/m-imagephotography

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are looking to refinance federal student loans, please be aware that the White House has announced up to $20,000 of student loan forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 for qualifying borrowers whose student loans are federally held. Additionally, the federal student loan payment pause and interest holiday has been extended beyond December 31, 2022. Please carefully consider these changes before refinancing federally held loans with SoFi, since the amount or portion of your federal student debt that you refinance will no longer qualify for the federal loan payment suspension, interest waiver, or any other current or future benefits applicable to federal loans. If you qualify for federal student loan forgiveness and still wish to refinance, leave unrefinanced the amount you expect to be forgiven to receive your federal benefit.

CLICK HERE for more information.


Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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