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Gift Aid vs Self Help Aid For College

College tuition can be costly whether you are seeking an undergraduate and graduate degree, attending an out-of-state public university, or taking classes at a private university.

If you do not have adequate savings to pay for classes, room and board, food, travel and other necessities, then you may be considering how to pay for college.

The costs of attending college continue to rise each year for both public and private colleges and universities. In 2023, average annual tuition and fees came to $9,377 at public in-state colleges, and $38,768 at private universities. Obtaining financial aid is one way students can afford to attend college.

One common type of financial aid is called gift aid and typically comes in the form of federal and state grants and a wide range of scholarships that are given by private donors, foundations, non-profit organizations and even the universities themselves.

These grants and scholarships do not have to be paid back, which is helpful for students who are on a tight budget or are considering obtaining a graduate degree.

Another type of aid is called self help aid and usually comes in a form of work study programs and student loans. Some work study programs are sponsored by the federal government and they provide part-time jobs for students who need help paying their tuition. These jobs can be either on the campus of the college or university or off campus nearby.

Self help aid also includes federal student loans which have to be paid back after a student graduates.

There are advantages and disadvantages of both gift aid and self help aid. Undergraduate and graduate students may only qualify for one type of aid, depending on their financial circumstances, where they are obtaining their college degree or other factors.

What Are The Pros and Cons of Gift Aid?

Grants and scholarships are considered gift aid. One common form of grants are called Pell grants. These are grants provided by the federal government and Pell grants are given to undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need.

The maximum federal Pell grant award is $7,395 for the 2023-24 academic year with amounts changing annually.

The main drawback of gift aid is that you may not know what amount you will receive and you may need to supplement paying for college by seeking more scholarships and grants or getting a part-time job.

If you received a Pell grant the previous academic year, there is no guarantee that you will receive it again for the next academic year.

There are thousands of scholarships that are available to students who are obtaining various degrees. There are a variety of scholarship databases where students can search to find scholarships.

The amount of money that you can receive from scholarships can range a couple thousand dollars to larger amounts that will cover the majority of your tuition and other costs.

Scholarships may require that you reapply annually and there is no guarantee that you will receive a scholarship again the following academic year.

What Are The Pros and Cons of Self Help Aid?

Self help aid includes both work study programs and federal and private student loans.

Work Study Program

Federal work study programs are available for both undergraduate and graduate students to help them pay for tuition and other educational costs. The program’s jobs are related to the student’s course of study and also include community service work.

Both full-time or part-time students may qualify for part-time employment while they are enrolled at their university or college and it is available to undergraduate and graduate and professional students who demonstrate financial aid.

The work study programs are operated by a college and university financial aid office and you will receive at least the federal minimum wage. These jobs are available both on-campus and off-campus which can be beneficial for students who do not have other means of transportation.

Students who work off campus typically work for a nonprofit organization or a public agency and the goal of the job is geared to be in the public interest. The number of jobs is limited, so students should apply early to ensure that they have a position for the following academic year.

Federal and Private Student Loans

Another type of self-help aid are federal and private student loans. Federal student loans are based upon the financial need of a student and their family. They are either subsidized or unsubsidized direct loans and may offer lower interest rates than private loans. One drawback is that the federal government will limit how much money you can borrow.

Undergraduate students may qualify for subsidized loans that are given based on their financial need. One benefit is that the federal government will pay the interest on these loans while you are attending school or at least taking classes half-time, during your grace period or when you have deferred the loan.

Both undergraduate and graduate students may qualify for unsubsidized loans and they are not based on financial need. These loans accrue interest while students are taking classes, during the loan’s grace period, or when you have deferred the loan.

Private student loans can be used to help make up the gap in what is needed to pay the remainder of tuition or living expenses. While both federal and private student loans may help students pay for their tuition; they must be repaid once a student graduates.

If you do not complete your course study and do not receive a degree, the student loans still have to be repaid.

Federal student loans have protections that private student loans do not offer. Students who have received federal student loans can seek several options after graduation to repay their loans including income-driven repayment programs.

Federal student loans also offer borrowers’ the ability to put loans in forbearance or deferment, allowing them to temporarily pause payments in certain situations.

Some borrowers will choose to refinance student loans into new private student loans. But this option means that you lose the protection of the federal repayment plans. Private student loans have both fixed and variable interest rates.

Fixed interest rates are beneficial for people who want to know the exact amount of their loans each month helping them to budget more easily. The interest rate on variable student loans are sometimes lower than fixed rates but that means your payment amounts can fluctuate from month to month.

Shopping around can help you find the best private student loan that fits your financial needs and the amount that you can repay each month.

Qualifying For Gift Aid or Self Help Aid?

Qualifying for either gift aid or self help aid might depend on your financial circumstances. Students may want to apply early for grants, scholarships, work-study programs and student loans.

The first step in applying for federal aid, such as the Pell Grant, work study, and federal student loans is completing a FAFSA®, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This application must be completed every year.

Some states and colleges may have their own FAFSA deadlines , so double check to avoid missing any. Missing a deadline can mean forgoing some financial aid.

While some gift aid such as scholarships are given to students based on merit, grades or other accomplishments, grants, work study programs and student loans are typically based on your financial needs and the cost of tuition at your university.

Some universities use data from the FAFSA to determine gift aid like scholarships too. Students can also apply for scholarships and grants that aren’t associated with the FAFSA®.

Private Student Loans with SoFi

In some cases gift aid and federal aid aren’t enough to help students pay for their tuition. In that case, some students may consider private student loans.

SoFi offers private student loans with no late fees or origination fees with flexible repayment options. There are also interest rate discounts for eligible SoFi members.

Interested applicants can find out what rate and terms they could pre-qualify for in just a few minutes.



SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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-criteria 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.


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.

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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All You Need to Know About Subsidized Loans for Graduate School

All You Need to Know About Subsidized Loans for Graduate School

Subsidized loans, a type of loan offered by the federal government, used to be available to graduate students. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The program that allowed graduate students to receive subsidized loans was ended in 2011 by the Budget Control Act. For now, these loans are only available for undergraduate students. However, there are other loans available to help pay for grad school. Continue reading for more information on subsidized loans and the other options available to graduate students.

What Are Subsidized Loans?

Federal student loans are offered through the U.S. Department of Education to help students cover the cost of higher education. The government helps students pay for degrees or certificates from colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, career, or technical schools.

Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduate students able to demonstrate financial need. The amount of the loan is determined by the school you are applying to.

The Department of Education pays all interest on the loans while you are in school at least half-time, during the six-month grace period after you leave school, and during periods of deferment. Outside of these periods, the borrower is responsible for making all principal and interest payments.

Subsidized vs Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, on the other hand, are one of the student loans available to undergrads and graduate students. Students do not have to demonstrate financial need to qualify for these loans.

The loan amount is still determined by your school, and you are entirely responsible for making interest payments during all periods.

When considering subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans, it’s important to understand both are subject to loan limits. In aggregate, dependent students, except those whose parents are unable to take out PLUS loans, may borrow no more than $31,000, at a given time, of which only $23,000 may be in subsidized loans.

For undergraduates whose parents are unable to access PLUS loans, the loans limit is $57,500, with no more than $23,000 in subsidized loans.

And for graduate students, the loan limit is $138,500, of which no more than $65,500 may be in subsidized loans. What’s more, the aggregate limit also includes whatever student loans you may have from your time as an undergraduate.

When you reach the aggregate loan limit, you will not be allowed to borrow any more money in federal student loans. However, if you are able to pay off some of your loans you may be able to borrow again up to the aggregate loan limit.

Interest rates for both types of loans are set by the federal government each year. For the 2023-2024 academic year, the interest rate for undergraduate borrowers is 5.50% for Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The interest rate for graduate borrowers for Direct Unsubsidized loans is 7.05%. The interest rate is fixed over the life of the loan.

Alternatives to Subsidized Loans

In addition to unsubsidized loans, there are other loans available from the government and private sources that can help you pay for grad school.

Grad PLUS Student Loans

Grad PLUS Student loans are another federal loan available through the Department of Education. They are also known as Direct PLUS loans. Grad PLUS Loan requirements include that you must be a graduate student enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Your program must lead to a graduate degree, a professional degree, or a certificate. You meet the basic eligibility requirements for federal student aid and must not have an adverse credit history.

Under the Grad PLUS program you are allowed to borrow the cost of attendance less any other financial aid. And you don’t have to repay the loan until six months after you leave school or drop below half-time enrollment.

Interest rates on the loan are fixed. Any loans disbursed after July 1, 2023, carry an interest rate of 8.05%.

To apply for federal student loans, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student
Aid (FAFSA®)
. Your school will use the information on this form to determine how much aid you are eligible to receive and present it to you in an offer letter. The offer letter will also give you information about grants and work-study programs you may be eligible for.

Recommended: Grad PLUS Loans, Explained

Private Loans

Private student loans are available through banks and credit unions and other private institutions. The individual lender will determine the amount you can borrow, terms of the loan, and interest rate based in large part on financial factors such as your income and your credit score. Many undergraduates will need a cosigner to qualify for a private student loan. Cosigners are responsible for making loan payments if you fail to do so.

Private loans may allow you to borrow beyond the federal limits imposed on federal loans, or help you pick up the slack if you didn’t qualify for enough federal funding. Though they may lack protections afforded to federal student loans, and as a result, are generally thought of as a last-resort option when paying for grad school.

Personal Loans

Personal loans are also available through private lenders. Borrowed funds can be used for practically any purpose, which means they could potentially be used to cover expenses beyond tuition, fees, room and board, such as transportation. As with private loans, the amount you can borrow will depend on your financial history or that of a cosigner.

How Much Can You Borrow for Graduate School?

The amount you can borrow for graduate school will depend on the types of loans that you use.

Grad PLUS student loans potentially allow you to borrow up to the full cost of attending your program less any other financial aid.

However, unsubsidized loans limit your aggregate borrowing to $138,500, and that’s including any federal loans that you took out as an undergraduate.

Borrowers who are enrolled in certain health profession programs may be subject to a higher aggregate limit for Direct Subsidized Loans, and should talk to their school’s financial aid office.

Private student loans may limit borrowers to the cost of attendance. Policies will likely vary by lender.

Personal loans may allow you to borrow as much as $100,000 with no limitations on how the money must be spent. Again, specific policies may vary by lender.

Recommended: What is the Maximum Amount of Student Loans for Graduate School?

The Takeaway

Federal subsidized loans are no longer available to graduate students. Though organizations like the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators are pushing for legislation that would reintroduce the loans. In the meantime, graduate students have other options, and may rely on federal unsubsidized loans, Grad PLUS Loans, loans from private lenders, or a combination of the above to help pay for school.

Visit SoFi, to learn more about options for private student loans.

FAQ

Does the US Department of Education offer subsidized loans for graduate students as part of financial aid packages?

Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are no longer available to graduate students.

Are Grad PLUS Loans subsidized loans?

Grad PLUS Loans are not subsidized, which means that interest accrues while the student is in school.

Can you pay off subsidized loans before graduating?

You can pay off federal subsidized loans before you graduate without paying any penalty. Note that federal subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are in school.


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-criteria 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.


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.

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.

Photo credit: iStock/Kseniia Ivanova
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Breaking Down the Parent PLUS Loan Application Process

Breaking Down the Parent PLUS Loan Application Process

Parents and grad students have options when it comes to paying for college. Federal aid, institutional scholarships and grants…prepaid tuition plans. But sometimes there’s a leftover cost.

Federal PLUS Loans are an accessible option for graduate students and parents of college students.

Parent PLUS Loans are federal loans for parents of full time students. They offer flexible repayment options, fixed interest rates, and higher borrowing limits.

Direct PLUS Loans are available to graduate or professional degree students. They are also known as “grad PLUS Loans.” Both Parent and Grad loans fall under the Direct Loan Program operated by the federal government.

What Is a Parent PLUS Loan?

As mentioned, Parent PLUS Loans can be borrowed by parents of undergraduate students, in order to help their child pay for college. These loans are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and are part of the Direct Loan Program.

Unlike other types of federal student loans, Parent PLUS Loans do require a credit check. If an applicant has an adverse credit history, they may not be approved to borrow a Parent PLUS Loan.

Recommended: What Is a Parent PLUS Loan?

How Do Parent PLUS Loans Work?

As noted previously, Parent PLUS loans are available to all qualifying parents of undergraduate students. Borrowers with poor credit history can ask an “endorser” to cosign the loan or borrowers can send a report clarifying their credit history to be considered.

The loan amount is limited to your child’s Cost of Attendance (COA), less any other aid awarded to the student. The interest rate is fixed for both loan types and interest accrues the moment it’s released, even during deferment. Also, PLUS loans have an origination fee of 4.228% for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Like other loans in the Direct Loan program, a third party company called a “loan servicer” manages customer service around general billing requests such as repayment and deferment.

Parent PLUS Loan Application Process

The first step in borrowing a Parent PLUS Loan is to have your child fill out the FAFSA® or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is required before a parent can request a PLUS Loan. After the FAFSA is taken care of, parents can submit an online application for a PLUS Loan.

Note that while most schools offer an online application, some schools may have a different process. If you have any questions, check in with the financial aid office at the school your child attends.

Before applying, remove any security freezes on your credit bureau files. Any active credit freezes will prevent an application from being processed.

It may take upwards of 20 minutes to complete the application. And you’ll generally need the following information:

•   Verified FSA ID

•   School Name

•   Student Information

•   Personal Information

•   Employer’s Information (such as the employer’s name, address, and phone)

A verified FSA ID is a unique ID that acts as a legal electronic signature. It should only be used by that applicant.

After being approved for the PLUS Loan, borrowers will be required to fill out the Master Promissory Note (MPN). This indicates that you agree to the terms of the loan.

Recommended: Do You Have to Apply for a Parent Plus Loan Every Year?

Filling Out the FAFSA

The FAFSA is required for all forms of federal student aid, including grants, work-studies, and federal loans. Some state and school-specific aid may also be awarded based on information included on a student’s FAFSA form.

Applicants who submit a FAFSA get a Student Aid Report (SAR) that summarizes the form’s information. It will include your Student Aid Index number (SAI) and your eligibility for federal grants and loans among other details. Schools listed on your FAFSA get a copy of this report to determine aid.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Determining Your Eligibility

Borrowers must fulfill the following basic requirements:

•   Be the legal guardian of an undergraduate enrolled in a higher ed program part-time or full-time

•   Fulfill general Federal Student Aid requirements, such as citizenship

•   Not have an adverse credit history

How Much Can You Borrow?

Parent PLUS Loan borrowers can take out the total cost of attendance of the program their child is enrolled in, less the amount of scholarships or other forms of aid.

How Much Do You Want to Borrow?

It can be tempting to borrow to make paying for college easier, but be cautious of overborrowing. Parent PLUS loans have costlier fees and rates, with the latest interest rate at 8.05% combined with a 4.228% origination fee.

For income-earning parents, it may be easier to measure the amount of student debt you should take on. As a general rule of thumb, all debt, including student loans, should not exceed more than 20% of your annual or projected annual take home pay.

Filling Out Your Parent PLUS Loan Application

Prospective students and parents of prospective undergraduates fill out a parent plus loan application online. Grad PLUS loan applications are separate online forms.

Enrollees will have the option to sign up for deferment and get a credit check on the spot — so be prepared to know which decision works best for you to apply for student loan. Finally, borrowers can view a demo to tailor the prep-work.

Recommended: Grad PLUS Loans, Explained

Signing a Promissory Note

Once you complete the plus loan application, you’ll be directed to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN). An MPN spells out a borrower’s rights and responsibilities in the loan agreement.

Loans will not be awarded until an MPN is completed.

You’ll be asked to fill out personal information and provide two references as future contacts in case you’re unreachable.

What to Expect After Applying

Approved loans will be disbursed to the school you’re enrolled in and they’ll apply the loan to outstanding fees, tuition, and/or room and board. If there are funds leftover, you can cancel the remainder or choose to keep it for discretionary expenses related to higher ed day-to-day living.

What If You Are Denied?

If you are denied a loan, you may be able to add an endorser to your application. An endorser is someone who agrees to pay your loan if you are unable. If you were denied for having an adverse credit history, you will likely need to complete an online PLUS Credit Counseling course.

How Long Until the Loan Is Disbursed?

Each school pays out loans on a different schedule. Once the federal government has processed your paperwork and released funds, schools handle the process afterwards. If you have questions about when your loan will be disbursed, contact the financial aid office at your child’s school.

When Do You Need to Begin Repayment?

Repayment for Parent PLUS Loans may begin immediately upon disbursement or after deferment, depending on the repayment plan you select.

If you request a deferment, you are able to pause payments until six-months after your child graduates from college. If you are interested in this option, you can make this selection on the PLUS Loan application or request it directly with the loan servicer. Interest will accrue even while the loan is in deferment.

Applicants who do not choose deferment must begin repayment as soon as the loan is disbursed.

Income-Driven Repayment Options for Parent PLUS Loans

Parent PLUS Loan borrowers are able to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan if they first consolidate the loan through the Direct Consolidation Loan Program. Income-driven repayment plans tie the monthly payments to your income and repayment takes place over a period of 20 to 25 years.

On these plans, your loan payment may fluctuate each year, depending on your income and family size. At the end of your repayment period, any outstanding balance is forgiven, but under certain circumstances, this forgiven amount may be considered taxable income by the IRS.

The Takeaway

Parent PLUS loans are federally funded loans available to parents of undergraduate students. PLUS loans and private student loans meet different needs. Parents might like the idea of their children learning independence, and getting a loan in their name — even as a cosigner — might be a more attractive option.

Also, a key difference between PLUS loans and private student loans is credit score impact on borrowing limit and interest rates. Parents who have lower, but not adverse credit scores, might get higher interest rates and lower borrowing limits for a private loan versus a PLUS loan.

SoFi offers the same benefits as most federal parent loans, including deferment and flexible repayment plans. Our interest rates for private student loans are competitively low — and we have a no-fee policy.

Check out our private loans for undergrads today and find out your rate in minutes.

FAQ

How long does it take for approval for a parent PLUS loan for college?

Loan applications are approved or denied on submission and schools are notified within 24 hours. Applicants must pass eligibility requirements after completing the application. An MPN and FAFSA also must be completed prior to loan awards. Disbursement processing times differ with each school.

Can you be denied a parent PLUS student loan?

Yes, if you have an adverse credit history. You can get a PLUS loan with an endorser or documentation proving extenuating circumstances around your history. Examples include foreclosure or bankruptcy.

What is the maximum borrowable amount for a parent PLUS loan?

The maximum amount allowed is your child or your Cost of Attendance (COA). COAs are determined by schools.


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-criteria 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.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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 .

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.

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.

Photo credit: iStock/solidcolours
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Which Student Loans to Accept or Turn Down

Which Student Loans to Accept or Turn Down

If you need financial aid to help pay for college, you’ll fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which allows you to apply for federal unsubsidized student loans, subsidized student loans, work-study, and grants.

When your FAFSA has been processed, you’ll receive an aid offer that explains the types and amount of aid that a college is offering to you. If you’ve applied to multiple schools, you’ll receive an aid offer from each. You’ll be asked to tell them which forms of financial aid you would like to accept before they apply it to the amount you owe your school.

But you don’t have to accept all the aid on offer, including student loans, so consider your options carefully.

What Are Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans?

There are two basic types of federal student loans: Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. They help eligible students cover the cost of four-years colleges, community colleges, and trade, career, and technical schooling. Here are the major differences between unsubsidized versus subsidized student loans.

Direct Subsidized Loans are student loans for undergraduates with financial need. Your school will determine how much you can borrow, and that amount cannot be more than your financial need.

The government pays all interest on Direct Subsidized loans while you’re in school at least half-time, during the six month grace period after you leave school, and during periods of deferment.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduates and graduate students. They are not awarded based on financial need.

Again, your school will determine how much you are able to borrow, and you are responsible for paying all interest on the loan amount at all times. If you choose not to pay interest while you’re in school, during the grace period, or if your loan is in deferment or forbearance, the interest will still accrue. At the end of the deferment period, the interest will be added to the principal of the loan.

Interest rates for each type of loan are fixed. For example, for the 2023-2024 academic year, the interest rate for Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans is 5.50% for undergraduate borrowers. The interest rate for Direct Unsubsidized Loans is 7.05% for graduate or professional borrowers.

There are also limits to the amount of money that you can borrow, and the loan amount that you receive may be less than this limit. For dependent students, except those whose parents can’t receive PLUS loans, the aggregate loan limit is $31,000, of which no more than $23,000 can be in subsidized loans.

For dependent undergraduates whose parents can’t obtain PLUS loans, the limit is $57,500, of which no more than $23,000 can be in subsidized loans. For independent graduate students or professionals, the limit is $138,500, of which no more than $65,500 can be in subsidized loans.

When Might You Be Offered More Loans Than You Need?

You don’t have to accept all of the federal loans that are offered to you. To figure out if you’ve been offered more loans than you actually need, you’ll need to do a bit of budgeting.

Federal loans can only be applied to tuition, fees, housing and meal plans. These won’t be the only expenses you’ll need to cover, however. Consider other costs like transportation, travel, eating outside the dining hall, etc. Add up the costs to which your federal loan would apply and any extra expenses to get a sense of the total cost of going to school.

Now figure out your total funding sources, excluding the sources in your offer letter. This might include money from your parents, scholarships, grants, and any money you may have saved on your own. If your total expenses exceed your sources of funding, you may need to accept the federal loans on offer. However, if they don’t, you might not need to accept all the funding.

Which Loans Should You Accept?

If you don’t anticipate needing the amount of money offered to you through loans, you do not need to accept them. Schools will allow you to decline a loan, accept it, or even accept a portion of it.

That said, if you do decide to take on federal loans, it’s generally wise to accept subsidized loans first because they offer more benefits in the form of government interest payments.

Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, put you on the hook for all of the interest that accrues on the loan. These loans however are still eligible for other federal benefits and borrower protections.

Can Your Return Unused Student Loans?

If you accept a loan and realize that you don’t need it, the good news is you can cancel the loan, or a portion of it, within 120 days of disbursement. By canceling the loan, you’ll return the money you received, and you won’t owe any interest or be charged any fees.

Alternatives to Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans aren’t the only way to help pay for schooling. Here’s a look at three alternatives:

Private Loans

Students can apply for private student loans which are offered by private institutions, such as banks and credit unions. These lenders will determine the amount you can borrow, interest rates, and terms largely based on financial factors such as your income and your credit score, or that of a cosigner if you need to have one.

Private student loans are not subject to the same loan limits imposed on federal loans, so students can potentially borrow more to cover costs. Though, this also means that private loans aren’t afforded the same borrower protections (like income-driven repayment plans) as federal student loans. For this reason, they are generally considered only after a student has thoroughly reviewed all of their other options.

Personal Loans

Personal loans are also provided by private lenders who, again, set the loan amount, interest rates and terms, based on a person’s financial history. The terms of the loan do not dictate how the money must be used, so they may be a way to cover expenses outside of tuition, fees, room, and board.

Financial Aid

There are a variety of types of financial aid available from public and private sources that can help you pay for school.

Grants and scholarships are money given to you that you don’t need to repay. Scholarships are often given based on academic merit or talent, or they’re given to students wishing to pursue a particular area of study.

The Federal Work-Study Program allows students to work part-time to earn money to pay for schooling.

The Takeaway

When you’re offered a student aid package by the federal government, it may include federal subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. You can accept or decline these loans, or even accept a small portion of them. Consider declining if your sources of funding exceed your expenses. Doing so may be cheaper in the long run, as it allows you to avoid making interest payments.

Private student loans are another potential source of funds to help you pay for school. To learn more about the options available to you to meet your student loan needs, visit SoFi.

FAQ

Is it better to accept subsidized or unsubsidized loans?

When choosing between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, consider accepting subsidized loans first, since the federal government will pay your interest while you are in school at least half-time, during the six month grace period after you leave school, and during periods of loan deferment.

Can you accept student loans and not use them?

You can accept student loans and not use them, but you’ll still be responsible for paying them back with interest. If you find you don’t need the loans, you can cancel them within 120 days of loan disbursement.

How are subsidized and unsubsidized loans different?

Subsidized and unsubsidized loans differ mainly in who they are available to and who must make interest payments. Subsidized loans are available to undergraduate students, and the government makes interest payments while you are in school at least half-time, during the six month grace period after you leave school, and during periods of loan deferment. Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, who are responsible for all loan payments.


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-criteria 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.


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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Comparing FAFSA and the Pell Grant

Comparing FAFSA and the Pell Grant

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is the first step in the process of obtaining government-provided student aid while a Pell Grant is a type of federal aid.

Although the Pell Grant vs. FAFSA serve different functions, they both have a role under the broader federal student aid program. A FAFSA provides students access to the Pell Grant, and Pell Grant eligibility is determined by the FAFSA.

What Is FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is an all-in-one formal application to see if you’re eligible for federal financial aid. Through the FAFSA, students are able to apply for federal grants for college, like the Pell Grant, as well as scholarships, work-study opportunities, and federal student loans from the Department of Education.

As the name indicates, there is no cost to submit a FAFSA. Students will need to complete and submit a new FAFSA for every academic year they are requesting federal aid.

The FAFSA is generally available as early as October 1 for the upcoming academic year. The federal deadline to file the FAFSA is June 30 following the academic year. (Note that the form for the 2024-2025 academic year is delayed until December; find out more about the FAFSA delay here.) However, schools and states might have their own FAFSA deadlines to qualify for non-federal aid. Ask your school about its FAFSA deadline and be aware of your state’s deadline on StudentAid.gov.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

How FAFSA Works

Each FAFSA is applicable to the upcoming academic year. To receive federal financial aid for multiple years of college, as mentioned, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA each year by the deadline.

A Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID is required to manage your federal student aid account, which includes signing your FAFSA digitally. You can create your FSA ID on StudentAid.gov.

Shortly after submitting the FAFSA, either digitally or a paper application, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report. This report is an overview of all the information you’ve provided on your FAFSA (e.g. your and your parents’ personal and financial information), and includes your Student Aid Index number (SAI; formerly called your Expected Family Contribution). At this stage, you’ll need to make any necessary corrections to your FAFSA by the deadline, which is for the 2022-23 academic year is September 10, 2023.

Your selected schools will then process your FAFSA and provide you with its financial aid offer. This notice will outline the types of aid you’re eligible for and the amount. It will also provide instructions on how to accept the aid offers you want. The accepted aid will then be sent automatically to your school.

What Is the Pell Grant?

A Pell Grant is a federal grant program that offers aid to students who show financial need on their FAFSA. Students are typically not required to repay money awarded in the form of the Pell Grant.

It’s generally available to undergraduate students who have not yet earned a bachelors, graduate, or professional degree. This grant program is not available to students who have been incarcerated in a federal or state institution.

When used for qualified educational expenses, Pell Grants are generally not considered taxable income.

How Pell Grants Work

The maximum Pell Grant award a student can receive may vary from year to year, and the amount you qualify to receive depends on your SAI. For the 2023-24 academic year, the maximum award is $7,395 and the SAI limit is $6,656 for Pell Grant eligibility.

Pell Grant awards are also limited to 12 semesters (or the equivalent of six years) per student. For example, if you received a Pell Grant award for four years of your undergraduate degree, and return to school to complete a graduate program, you’ll only have two years of lifetime eligibility left to receive Pell Grant funding.

In certain situations, students may be required to repay all or a portion of their Pell Grant. Some circumstances that may require repayment include a change in enrollment that may impact your eligibility such as withdrawing from school. If you are required to repay all or a portion of your Pell Grant, you will be notified by your school.

Pell Grant vs FAFSA

When comparing the differences and similarities between the federal pell grant vs. FAFSA, you’ll find they share some broad attributes, but have significant differences.

The first notable difference is that the FAFSA isn’t a type of financial aid; instead, it’s a general application for multiple federal aid programs. A Pell Grant, on the other hand, is a type of federal aid program that uses the FAFSA to determine if a student is eligible.

Neither the Pell Grant or FAFSA have defined income limits for eligibility. Anyone can submit a FAFSA, regardless of their household income. However, only students who demonstrate financial need are eligible for certain federal aid programs, like the Pell Grant.

The government uses students’ SAI — which is calculated based on a number of factors — to decide Pell Grant eligibility. For the 2023-24 academic year, the maximum SAI for Pell Grant eligibility is $6,656.

Also, both undergraduate- and graduate-level students can submit a FAFSA, but Pell Grants are typically restricted to undergraduate students only.

FAFSA

Pell Grant

Application for various types of federal aid programs. One grant option among a handful of federal grant programs.
No income limits for eligibility. Eligibility is determined based on a student’s SAI.
Financial need isn’t required to apply. Must demonstrate exceptional financial need.
Undergraduate and graduate students can apply. Generally offered to undergraduate students.

Which Forms of Financial Aid Should You Prioritize?

If your financial aid award includes a Pell Grant and other types of aid offers, carefully decide which aid you want to accept, and how much.

To avoid graduating school with excessive student debt, consider prioritizing financial aid as follows:

•   Scholarships and grants, like the Pell Grant, which don’t need to be repaid after you graduate.

•   Earned financial aid, like participating in work-study opportunities. You can also consider taking on a part-time job while you’re enrolled in school.

•   Borrowed financial aid, like federal student loans. Federal student loans offer low, fixed rates and protections, like income-driven repayment plans and extended deferment and forbearance. Prioritize federal loans before borrowing private student loans which don’t guarantee the same benefits.

Recommended: FAFSA Grants & Other Types of Financial Aid

What If You Don’t Qualify for Financial Aid?

Students who don’t qualify for federal financial aid still have options to help finance their college education.

Scholarships

Scholarships are a type of financial aid that doesn’t need to be repaid. They can be need- or merit-based, and are sponsored by nonprofit and private organizations, businesses, professional associations, and more.

Other Grants

Like scholarships, non-federal grants are provided to students, based on need or merit. They don’t have to be repaid after graduation making them a good financial aid choice.

Recommended: The Differences Between Grants, Scholarships, and Loans

Private Student Loans

Students can also apply for private student loans. This form of aid must be repaid in full, plus interest. You can find them from private financial institutions, like online lenders, banks, and credit unions. Your school or state might also offer private student loan options. One thing to know about private student loans, as mentioned is that they lack borrower benefits afforded to federal student loans, and are therefore generally only considered as a last resort option.

Recommended: Guide To Private Student Loans 

The Takeaway

As previously mentioned, the FAFSA is an application that students must fill out if they are interested in applying for any federal student aid including scholarships, work-study, grants, and federal student loans. A Pell grant is a type of aid, awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.

If you find that you’re not eligible for a Pell Grant, or qualify for financial aid, but not enough, SoFi’s private student loan could help. The online application process is fast and easy, and you can check your rate in just a few minutes. Plus, SoFi student loans have no fees and qualifying borrowers can secure competitive interest rates.

Find out if you pre-qualify and at what rates.

FAQ

Can you get a Pell Grant without FAFSA?

No. Completing and submitting a FAFSA is a requirement to apply for a federal Pell Grant. The FAFSA is used by your school to determine your eligibility for Pell Grant aid, and the amount you can receive under this grant program.

Can you get a Pell Grant and other forms of financial aid?

Students who are eligible for a Pell Grant might also be offered other types of financial aid. If you’re eligible, you’ll receive the full Pell Grant amount you’re eligible for, regardless of other existing financial aid.

Do you have to repay a Pell Grant if you don’t graduate?

You might have to repay a portion of your “unearned” Pell Grant, if you withdraw from school during the same academic year. Your school will calculate how much of your Pell Grant award you’ve earned based on your scheduled attendance, and tell you the amount you owe.


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-criteria 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.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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.

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.

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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