Guide to Grad PLUS Loans

Guide to Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS loans are federal student loans for graduate and professional students. Although Grad PLUS loans have higher interest rates and fees than some other types of federal student loans, they also have a major benefit — virtually no borrowing limits. You can borrow up to the full cost of attendance of your school, minus any other financial aid you’ve already received.

Read on for more on how Grad PLUS loans work, including their eligibility requirements, interest rates and repayment options.

What Are Grad PLUS Loans?

If you’re planning to attend a graduate or professional program, a Grad PLUS loan could help cover costs. Issued by the Department of Education, Grad PLUS loans are student loans designed for graduate and professional students.

PLUS loans are not the only federal loans available to you as a graduate student — you can also borrow Direct unsubsidized loans. Direct unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates and fees than PLUS loans, but they come with borrowing limits.

If you’ve hit your limit and need additional funding, a Grad PLUS loan could cover the gap. As mentioned above, you can borrow up to the full cost of attendance of your program, minus any other financial aid you’ve already gotten. This flexibility can be helpful for students who are attending pricey programs.

Recommended: How Do Student Loans Work? Guide to Student Loans

What Can Grad PLUS Loans Be Used for?

Grad PLUS loans can be used for tuition, fees and other education-related expenses. These expenses include,

•   Housing

•   Food

•   Textbooks

•   Computers and other supplies

•   Study abroad expenses

•   Transportation

•   Childcare costs

A Grad PLUS loan will first be disbursed to your financial aid office, which will apply the funds toward tuition, fees, room and board, and any other school charges. The financial aid office will then send any remaining funds to you.

Recommended: What Can You Use Student Loans For?

Who Is Eligible for Grad PLUS Loans?

To be eligible for a Grad PLUS loan, you must be a graduate or professional student enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. What’s more, your program must lead to a graduate or professional degree or certificate.

You’ll also need to meet the eligibility requirements for federal financial aid (more on this below), as well as submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Typical Grad PLUS Loan Requirements

Besides being enrolled in an eligible graduate or professional program, you need to meet a few other requirements to take out a Grad PLUS loan:

Meet the Requirements for Federal Student Aid

Since Grad PLUS loans are part of the federal student aid program, you must be eligible for federal aid to borrow one. Here are some of the criteria you need to meet:

•   Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen

•   Have a valid Social Security number (with some exceptions)

•   Have a high school diploma, General Educational Development (GED) certificate or other recognized equivalent

•   Maintain satisfactory academic progress while in school

•   Not already be in default on a federal student loan or owe money on a federal grant

If you’re a non-U.S. citizen or have an intellectual disability or criminal conviction, additional requirements might apply.

Submit the FAFSA

You’ll need to submit the FAFSA before you can borrow a Grad PLUS loan. After applying to grad school, you can submit this form, free of charge, on the Federal Student Aid website, with the myStudentAid mobile app or via the mail. Since the FAFSA only applies to a single academic year, you’ll need to submit it every year you’re in school and want to receive financial aid.

Complete the Grad PLUS Loan Application

Along with submitting the FAFSA, you’ll also need to fill out a separate application for the Grad PLUS loan. You can find and submit this application on the Federal Student Aid website, though some schools have separate processes. Your financial aid office can advise you on the steps you need to take.

If your application is approved, you’ll need to agree to the terms of the loan by signing a Master Promissory Note. If you haven’t borrowed a Grad PLUS loan before, you’ll also be required to complete student loan entrance counseling.

Not Have Adverse Credit History (or Apply With an Endorser)

While you don’t need outstanding credit to qualify for a Grad PLUS loan, you can’t have adverse credit. According to the Department of Education, you have adverse credit if one of the following applies to you:

•   You have accounts with a total balance greater than $2,085 that are 90 or more days delinquent

•   You’ve experienced a default, bankruptcy, repossession, foreclosure, wage garnishment or tax lien in the past five years

•   You’ve had a charge-off or write-off of a federal student loan in the past five years

If you have adverse credit, you have two options:

•   Appeal the decision due to extenuating circumstances. For example, you could provide documentation showing that you paid off a delinquent debt on your credit report.

•   Apply with an endorser who does not have adverse credit. Your endorser will be responsible for repaying the loan if you fall behind on payments.

Grad PLUS Loans Interest Rates

Grad PLUS loans come with fixed interest rates that will remain the same over the life of your loan. They also have a disbursement fee, which is a percentage of your loan amount that gets deducted from your loan.

Congress sets rates and fees on federal student loans periodically. These are the current Grad PLUS loan interest rates and fees:

Interest Rate (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2023 and before July 1, 2024) Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020, and before Oct. 1, 2024)
8.05% 4.228%

Repaying Your Grad PLUS Loans

Grad PLUS loans are eligible for a variety of federal repayment plans:

•   Standard repayment plan, which involves fixed monthly payments over 10 years.

•   Income-driven repayment, specifically Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Income-Based Repayment or Income-Contingent Repayment. These plans adjust your monthly student loan payments to a percentage of your discretionary income while extending your loan terms to 20 or 25 years. If you’ve made on-time payments but still have a balance at the end of your term, it may be forgiven. The amount forgiven may be considered taxable income by the IRS.

•   Extended repayment, which extends your repayment term to 25 years and lets you pay a fixed or graduated amount.

•   Graduated repayment, which lowers your student loan payments in the beginning and increases them every two years. You’ll pay off your loan over 10 years, and your final payments won’t be more than three times greater than your initial payments.

Grad PLUS loans are also eligible for certain federal forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Other Options to Pay for Grad School

Grad PLUS loans aren’t the only way to pay for graduate school. Here are some alternative options:

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

You can borrow up to $20,500 per year in Direct Unsubsidized loans as a graduate student with an aggregate loan limit of $138,500, including any loans you borrowed as an undergraduate.

Here are the interest rate and disbursement fee for graduate students:

Interest Rate (for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2023 and before July 1, 2024) Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020, and before Oct. 1, 2024)
7.05% 1.057%

Grants and Scholarships

Besides student loans, you can also pursue grants and scholarships for graduate school. You can find grants and scholarships from a variety of sources, including the Department of Education, your state, your school or a private organization. By earning grants and scholarships, you might not need to borrow as much in student loans.

Private Student Loans

You can also explore your options for private graduate student loans from banks, online lenders or credit unions. Some lenders offer interest rates that start lower than Graduate PLUS loan interest rates and don’t charge an origination fee.

Although private student loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment plans or programs, some lenders offer flexible repayment options or deferment if you need to pause payments. But, because private student loans aren’t required to offer the same borrower benefits as federal student loans, they are generally borrowed as a last resort option after all other sources of financing have been exhausted.

The Takeaway

If you’re looking for ways to pay for graduate school, a Grad PLUS loan could help. You can use this flexible loan to cover your school’s cost of attendance, as well as choose from a variety of federal repayment plans when it comes time to pay it back.

A Grad PLUS loan, however, might not be your most affordable borrowing option. Depending on your credit and other factors, it may be possible to find a private student loan with an even lower interest rate than a Grad PLUS loan.

SoFi offers private student loans with competitive rates, no fees and flexible repayment terms. Learn more about SoFi’s no-fee private student loans.

FAQ

What kind of loan is Grad PLUS?

The Grad PLUS loan is a federal graduate student loan issued by the Department of Education. It is designed specifically for graduate and professional students.

Is there a max on Grad PLUS loans?

There is virtually no limit on the amount you can borrow with a Grad PLUS loan. You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, minus any other financial aid you’ve already received.

Can Grad PLUS loans be used for living expenses?

Yes, you can use Grad PLUS loans to cover your living expenses while at school. You must use your loan on education-related expenses, which can include housing, food, supplies, transportation and other costs related to attending school.


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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.

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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What Kind of Emergency Funding Is Available for College Students?

What Kind of Emergency Funding Is Available for College Students?

Regardless of your age and life stage, unexpected bills can derail someone’s finances. Unforeseen events can be particularly challenging for college students who don’t have a lot of wiggle room in their budgets.

If you’re a student who’s experiencing financial hardship — or you’re just worried about how to prepare for a rainy day — be assured that help is available to students in need. Emergency financial aid grants are designed to keep students in college through financial setbacks.

We’ll review your options, and the pros and cons of each, so you can feel ready to take on any situation.

Key Points

•   Emergency grants for college students provide financial relief for unexpected expenses like medical treatments, job loss, or technology replacement.

•   The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) offers grants for students affected financially by COVID-19.

•   HEERF grants do not affect a student’s Expected Family Contribution and are not considered part of their financial aid package.

•   Colleges may offer additional emergency support such as tuition assistance, food pantries, and temporary housing.

•   Private student loans are available if federal aid and emergency grants are insufficient to cover all educational expenses.

Why You Might Urgently Need More Money as a Student

Students are pretty familiar with seeking financial aid to help pay for tuition, school supplies, and other educational costs. However, some expenses aren’t covered by scholarships and student loans.

Emergency financial aid for college students can help cover the cost of:

•   Medical treatments

•   Job loss

•   Rent increases

•   Financial hardship due to COVID-19

•   Replacement technology, such as a laptop or phone

•   Car repairs

•   Loss of athletic scholarship due to injury

•   Loss of child care services

Some of these costs are fairly common, while others affect only a small percentage of students. The common thread: They’re all unpredictable and financially challenging. (By the way, we have a great guide to money management for college students.)

Recommended: What Is a TEACH Grant?

HEERF Emergency Grants

Students around the world experienced a sudden shift during the pandemic. Some students also felt a direct financial impact from COVID-19. If your schooling was disrupted by the pandemic, you might be able to receive a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) grant. The program was created in March 2020 under the CARES Act and continues through the American Rescue Plan of 2021.

What Are They?

A HEERF grant is a type of emergency grant for students whose lives were upended by the pandemic. In July 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration released the final funds: $198 million.

How Do They Work?

The Department of Education disbursed the emergency financial aid grants for HEERF directly to 244 participating schools. The institutions that received funding are required to allocate a certain percentage as emergency grants for college students. Schools are tasked with identifying students in need, especially those who demonstrate financial hardship. Students who have received a Pell Grant likely meet this requirement.

HEERF emergency financial aid grants can be awarded to online students, DACA recipients, asylum seekers, and other eligible student groups.

Students can use the funds for any expense resulting from the pandemic. That includes the cost of attendance, housing, food, healthcare, or child care.

Pros and Cons of HEERF Emergency Grants

Although emergency college grants can offer financial relief, there are limitations. Below are the pros and cons of HEERF emergency grants for college students.

Pros

Cons

Awards don’t count toward your Expected Family Contribution School has discretion about who receives funds and how much
Don’t count toward your annual gross income (AGI) for taxes Each school has their own application process
Don’t count as part of your financial aid package.
Can be used toward your cost of attendance or any expense that came up due to COVID-19.

Financial Support From Your College

Other emergency college grants and support programs can be discovered through your school:

Emergency Tuition Assistance

Emergency tuition assistance is designed to help students stay enrolled in school when they’re suddenly unable to cover the cost of attendance. Assistance might be in the form of a grant, scholarship, voucher, or other relief.

If you’re at risk of dropping out of school because an emergency is making it hard to pay your school bills, ask your financial aid office about emergency tuition assistance.

Emergency Food Options

Inflation is making it harder for everyone to pay for groceries. If you’re experiencing food insecurity, ask your Student Affairs office about campus food pantries.

This resource can offer non-perishable goods, like dry pasta, legumes, and canned foods, as well as fresh produce and even basic toiletries (don’t get us started on the “pink tax” for period supplies).

Emergency Housing

Although not many schools have dedicated emergency housing options for their students, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Reach out to your school’s Student Affairs department to inquire about short-term emergency housing programs that might be available.

If your school doesn’t offer emergency housing, they might point you to external resources, such as local nonprofits and community groups.

Recommended: What Is the Cost of Electrician School?

Private Student Loans

If you’ve already maximized the federal undergraduate loans or graduate loans you’re eligible for, a private student loan is an alternative financing option. Private student loans are offered by private lenders, like banks, credit unions, and online financial institutions.

This type of student loan can cover an amount up to the certified cost of attendance, minus the financial aid you’ve already received. Private loans can have fixed or variable interest rates, with rates and terms varying by lender. Additionally, private student loans don’t have the same borrower benefits as federal student loans, like loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment, so tread carefully.

Learn more in our private student loans guide.

The Takeaway

If you’re a student who’s struggling financially due to an unexpected expense or event, help is available. Reach out to your School Affairs or Financial Aid office, explain your situation, and learn about emergency financial aid grants. The federal HEERF program can cover any expense related to Covid-19, from tuition to hospital bills. Other emergency programs can help you cover housing, food, and other basic needs. If you’re ineligible or have exhausted your grant options, private student loans are an alternative to consider.

With SoFi private student loans, you can borrow up to your school’s certified cost of attendance with zero fees. And getting prequalified online takes only minutes, so you can get financing for school fast during an emergency.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

FAQ

What did the CARES Act do for college students?

The CARES Act, which was passed in March 2020 as a response to COVID-19, offered student loan repayment relief and emergency grants for college students. Federal student loan borrowers were provided automatic administrative loan forbearance and a pause on interest. Eligible students can also receive emergency aid through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

Will there be another CARES Act for college students?

In July 2022, the Department of Education announced that it allotted the final funds toward the HEERF. The amount of $198 million was provided to 244 colleges to help their students recover from the pandemic.

Are there grants for students due to Covid-19?

Yes, the federal government created a college emergency grant, called the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The program was created under the CARES Act in March 2022 and continues under the American Rescue Plan.


Photo credit: iStock/photo

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.


Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

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Is Tuition Insurance Worth It?

College is one of the biggest expenses parents will have for their children. Over the past 20 years, tuition and fees at public institutions have increased 179%, with an average increase of 9% each year.

To add to the concerns: What happens if your student gets sick or injured and is unable to attend classes for a semester or longer? Will the college reimburse you? Not necessarily. There is, however, a product that can mitigate the risk of your student being unable to attend college courses: tuition insurance.

What Is Tuition Insurance?

Just as you have health insurance to cover costs associated with unexpected health issues, you can get tuition insurance to cover college tuition costs in the event of unexpected health issues that prevent your student from attending.

Also called tuition refund insurance, it can recoup some or all of what you’ve paid in tuition if your student experiences a serious injury or illness that prevents college attendance.

What Does Tuition Insurance Cover?

Generally, tuition insurance covers:

•   Serious sickness

•   Injury

•   Mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression

•   Death of the student or person paying tuition

You’ll need to read the fine print to find out what qualifying medical events are, as some policies will list specific illnesses, such as mononucleosis.

Imagine a pandemic sweeping the land (wild thought, huh?). Tuition insurance will not cover tuition if a college or university has to close or if your student simply isn’t comfortable attending class in person. However, if your student contracts the disease and is unable to attend classes as a result, you may be eligible for a partial refund of tuition for that semester.

To file a claim, the student must withdraw from school and a medical professional must document that withdrawal was necessary. The process can vary by policy, though.

What Does Tuition Insurance Not Cover?

It’s important to know what tuition insurance does not cover, as well. If your student leaves college for academic reasons or is on disciplinary probation, you will not be reimbursed for tuition.

Some pre-existing conditions may not be covered, so if your student has a medical condition, make sure it is covered before buying the policy.

Tuition insurance may also not cover participating in professional sports or extreme sports (like bungee jumping), participating in a riot, drug abuse, suicide, or self-inflicted injury.

Who Should Consider Tuition Insurance?

Some students or parents paying for tuition might be better candidates for college tuition insurance than others.

For students with pre-existing conditions that can be covered by a policy, it can be a good idea to purchase coverage, especially if it’s a condition that is known to keep the student bedridden or otherwise unable to function for weeks or months at a time. The reimbursed tuition money could be put toward medical bills or a future semester in college.

If you have more than one child in college, a tuition insurance policy could help you recoup costs for a student experiencing an issue that you could then put toward other college expenses.

And if the school your student is attending is very expensive, an insurance policy may allow you to relax a bit more in the event that something happens.

Let’s Talk Costs

Part of determining whether college tuition insurance is worthwhile is understanding the policy cost vs. possible reimbursement, as well as tuition costs.

While a select few schools offer free tuition, most have significant price tags. As of 2023, the average costs of tuition for:

•   In-state tuition for a four-year public university: $9,377

•   Out-of-state tuition for four-year public university: $27,279

•   Private nonprofit four-year institution: $37,641

These numbers add up over four (or more!) years, so it’s understandable that paying for an insurance policy might make sense. But, how much is tuition insurance?

Plans vary in pricing and features, but generally, you can expect to pay about 1% of the cost of tuition. Some cover other expenses like room and board, while others do not.

Buying a Tuition Insurance Policy

Currently, there are two primary providers of tuition insurance: GradGuard and A.W.G. Dewar. Some schools may work with a private insurance company, so start by asking the registrar’s office if the college has a partner for tuition insurance.

Of course, the most affordable and comprehensive coverage can be obtained by going directly through the school, if your school offers it. Make sure to ask your school about tuition insurance prior to seeking an outside provider.

To enroll in a policy, you’ll be asked about your student’s school and costs for a semester of tuition. You’ll then be given a quote, and if you want the coverage, you can purchase from there by adding a few more personal details and inputting your payment information. You’ll pay your monthly premium, just as you do with auto or health insurance.

Reading the Fine Print

Before purchasing the policy, it’s best to read the fine print. The last thing you want is to purchase a policy and file a claim, expecting to be fully reimbursed, only to find out the condition you’re filing for isn’t covered.

For example, GradGuard’s fine print discusses a pre-existing medical condition exclusion waiver. It states that pre-existing medical conditions are covered when the insured student does not have symptoms of the condition on the policy purchase date and was medically able to attend school, or if the student was covered by a similar policy by the same company within four months of the effective date of the current policy.

Other fine print items to note are whether a doctor or licensed mental health professional needs to diagnose the student with the medical condition to qualify for reimbursement, the effective date of the policy, and how to prove your loss. Not all policies will fully reimburse your tuition or other costs, so find out how much you may be eligible to be refunded before purchasing a policy.

How to File a Claim

Each insurance company has its own process for filing a claim. Be sure to read through the process, as one incorrect step could cause your claim to be denied.

You’ll need documentation for the expenses you want to claim from the college or university. You may need the registrar’s office to verify on paper that your student has withdrawn for the semester, as well as documents showing what you have paid in tuition and expenses.

You may also need a written order from your student’s doctor or mental health professional stating that your child is unable to attend school due to medical reasons. For mental health issues, hospitalization of 24 to 48 hours may be required.

Alternatives to Tuition Insurance

While tuition insurance can come in handy if medical conditions or injury force a student to withdraw, the college might offer full or partial reimbursement without insurance.

Policies vary from one school to another, so inquire with the college or university before assuming you can get expenses refunded.

Some schools will refund tuition, but only during the first five weeks of a semester. Others won’t reimburse tuition but will refund some or all of room and board expenses if students withdraw.

Prior to making a decision on whether or not tuition insurance is right for you, speak with your child’s college directly so review your options.

Is Tuition Insurance Right for You?

The bottom line: If you don’t like taking risks with your money and are concerned that your student might have a situation that results in withdrawal from school for one or more semesters, tuition insurance could be a worthwhile investment. It’s a low expense compared to tuition, so it could be well worth it should you end up filing a claim.

If your student has a pre-existing condition that would be covered, insurance could mitigate your risk of losing money should that medical condition cause a need to leave school. On the other hand, not much is covered in terms of pre-existing conditions or activities your child might be involved in, such as professional sports. In these cases, the policy would be moot if the condition isn’t covered when you file a claim.

If a student withdraws and not all costs are covered or if no policy is in place, a private student loan could be a solution to fill the financial gap. SoFi offers private student loans with flexible terms and no fees. The money can typically be used for tuition, books, room and board, transportation, and other college-related expenses.

Check your rate for a private student loan from SoFi in just two minutes.


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.


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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Where to Get a Student Loan for College

With the rising price of tuition, fees, and room and board at four-year public colleges and private nonprofit institutions, more students in all income brackets have been taking out loans.

If you’re wondering where to get a student loan for college, you have two options. The first is getting a federal student loan through the government. Federal student loans account for more than 93% of all student loan debt. The second option is a private student loan, which is given by a bank, credit union, or online lender. Private student loans are not based on need, but rather your college’s cost of attendance, your credit profile, and your income (or your cosigner’s income).

Prioritizing a Plan

When creating a plan to fund college education, it can make good sense to first explore any avenues for free money in the form of grants and scholarships.

By taking a look at the remaining balance after any free money has been found, exploring federal loans can be a smart next step. They come with income-based repayment options and the ability to request loan forgiveness under some circumstances. There are also work-study programs that can help students earn money while attending college.

If all needs are not covered, then there are private student loans to consider, along with Direct PLUS Loans that parents can apply for to get funds for their children.

After that, some people may seek out personal loans to cover living expenses while in school and/or emergency loans from the college.

Here are more specifics about these options.

Where to Get a Federal Student Loan

When the funding for college comes from the federal government, then—as the name indicates—that’s considered a federal student loan. To obtain any kind of federal student loan, a student must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly called the FAFSA®. Here are tips on how to fill out the FAFSA®.

After filling out this form, a student will have insights into what federal funding is available for them, along with work-study options. More specifically, each school that a student applies to can send a financial aid offer letter, which includes information about how to apply for student loans that they qualify for.

Two broad types of federal loans are:

•   Direct subsidized loans: These are for undergraduates with financial need.

•   Direct unsubsidized loans: These are available for undergraduate students, as well as graduate and professional ones, that do not demonstrate financial need.

A key difference between the two types involves the interest on the loan. With a subsidized loan, the U.S. Department of Education pays the interest when a qualifying student is attending school at least half time, as well as during a six-month grace period when the student graduates, withdraws, or reduces to less than part-time. This can also apply if the loan goes into deferment, meaning when loan payments are postponed. With an unsubsidized loan, the student is responsible for paying the interest.

Where to Get a Private Student Loan

A variety of financial institutions offer private student loans and have their own criteria for qualification. Some allow students to apply online and can give quick responses, while others go a more traditional route with in-person applications.

Private lenders will typically review a student’s income, plus that of any cosigner, along with credit histories and more to make lending decisions. A lender might grant a private student loan to someone whose credit isn’t stellar, but charge a higher interest rate.

When applying for a private student loan, it’s important to understand the loan terms before signing the note. This includes the interest rate and whether the rate is fixed (staying the same over the life of the loan, with the principal and interest payments also staying the same) or variable. If a loan is variable, how much can the rate change? How often? What is the term of the loan?

Recommended: Fixed vs. Variable Rate Loans

Benefits of private student loans can include the following:

•   They can bridge the gap between what is owed after federal student loans are applied to the balance and what is needed to attend college.

•   Students can apply for them any time of the year, without the strict deadlines associated with federal loans.

•   Borrowers may have more choices in interest rates and terms.

•   The loans may not include origination fees or prepayment fees, although that isn’t universally true.

Potential cons can include these:

•   It isn’t unusual for a private lender to require a cosigner because college students often don’t have enough income to qualify or have established a good enough credit profile to get the loan on their own.

•   Students who are considered a higher credit risk may pay more in interest.

•   Private student loans don’t come with many of the benefits associated with federal loans, such as forgiveness programs and income-based repayment plans.

•   Students may borrow more than they can ultimately afford, and these loans are typically not dischargeable in bankruptcy proceedings.

Check out this Guide to Private Student Loans for more information on funding your education through a financial lender.

Parent PLUS Loans and More

Parent PLUS Loans

When asking “Where is the best place to get a student loan?” also consider the Parent PLUS Loan, in which parents can apply for federal funding to help their children attend college.

Eligibility for a Parent PLUS Loan isn’t based on financial need, but credit is checked. If applicants have a credit history that’s considered “adverse,” they “must meet additional requirements to qualify.”

So, what does “adverse” mean? According to the Federal Student Aid office, this can include:

•   Having accounts that, in total, have an outstanding balance of more than $2,085 and are at least 90 days delinquent.

•   A default or a bankruptcy discharge during the previous five years.

•   Involvement in a foreclosure, repossession, or tax lien situation in the previous five years.

•   Write-off of federal student loan debt or wage garnishment during the past five years.

Qualifying parents of a dependent undergraduate student can receive funding through this loan program to cover education-related costs that are not covered by other financial aid.

Personal Loans

It’s also possible to apply for personal loans from financial institutions to cover living expenses during college or to address an emergency. There are downsides to this, though, including:

•   Interest rates will likely be higher than student loans, along with shorter payoff periods (which means principal and interest payments can be higher).

•   There isn’t typically a grace period, which means repayment starts right away.

•   These loans don’t come with deferments or forbearance, as can be available through federal student loans.

Emergency Loans

In an emergency, a student might want to reach out to the college financial aid center to see if the school offers emergency loans for those in need. These loans would not typically be large, perhaps $1,000 to $1,500, but might be enough to address a dire situation.

Each college has its own guidelines, so check them out carefully. Some charge interest; others may not. Some may charge a service fee; others may not. As with personal loans, repayment may start immediately, so factor that into budget planning.

Private Student Loans at SoFi

To help students who decide that private student loans should play a role in their funding mix for college, SoFi offers private student loans.

Students should take advantage of federal student aid opportunities first. Then, when private loans make sense, SoFi offers them with no fees and flexible repayment options to fit a range of budgets.

See if you prequalify with SoFi in just three minutes.


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.


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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.


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 .

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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Pros & Cons of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

In a perfect world, all parents would have a 529 plan—or another education savings account—full of funds to cover their children’s college years. But there are many reasons why that may not be the case for you. If so, you’re likely looking into other options to pay for college.

One possibility you may be considering is dipping into your retirement funds. Depending on the type of retirement account you have, you might be able to take an early withdrawal or a loan from your retirement account, which you could use to fund your child’s education.

But using your retirement funds to pay for college isn’t always the best move. Before you decide to do it, you may want to consider both the benefits and the drawbacks, as well as some potentially less costly alternatives.

Before we jump in, it’s important that you’re aware that this article is a basic, high-level overview of some potential options when it comes to using retirement funds to pay for college. Further, because these topics (taxes and investments) are complicated, none of what’s written here should be taken as tax advice or investment guidance. Always talk to qualified tax and investment professionals with questions about your retirement accounts, and never rely on blog posts (like this one) to make important financial decisions.

A Few Pros of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

If you already have the money saved up, there can be some upsides to taking money out of your retirement funds so that your child won’t need to take out student loans.

You May Be Able to Avoid an Early Withdrawal Penalty

If you have an individual retirement account (IRA), taking an early withdrawal typically results in income taxes on the withdrawal amount plus a 10% penalty. However, if you withdraw funds for qualified higher education expenses, the 10% penalty is waived .

That said, the withdrawn funds will still be considered taxable as income. Also, this tax break does not apply to 401(k) accounts. But if you roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, then you would be able to withdraw the funds from the IRA and avoid the penalty.

You May Be Able to Avoid Taxes Altogether

If you have a Roth IRA, you can withdraw up to the amount you’ve contributed to the account over the years without any tax consequences at all.

You’re Paying Interest to Yourself With a 401(k) Loan

In addition to allowing you to take early withdrawals, some 401(k) plans also let you borrow from the amount you’ve already saved and earned over the years.

If you borrow from a 401(k) account, that money won’t be subject to taxes the way an early withdrawal would. Also, when you’re paying that loan back, the money you pay in interest goes back into your 401(k) account rather than to a lender.

A Few Drawbacks of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Before you raid your retirement to pay for your child’s college tuition, here are some potentially negative aspects to consider.

There May Be Negative Tax Consequences

Even if you manage to avoid being charged a 10% early withdrawal penalty on your retirement account, some or all of the money you withdraw from a retirement account may be considered taxable income. Depending on how much it is, you could face a larger-than-usual tax bill when you file your tax return for the year.

401(k) Loan Repayment Can Be Affected by Your Job Status

If you take out a large loan from your 401(k), then leave your job, you may be required to pay the loan in full right then, regardless of your original repayment term. If you can’t repay it, it’ll likely be considered an early withdrawal and be subject to income tax and the 10% penalty.

You May Have to Work Longer

Taking money out of a retirement account lowers your balance. But it also means that the money you’ve withdrawn is no longer working for you.

Due to compounding interest, the longer you have money invested, the more time it has to grow. But even if you replace the money you’ve taken out over time, the total growth may not be as much as if you’d left the money where it was all along.

Alternatives to Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Can you use retirement funds to pay for college? If you have the funds, it’s generally an option. But before you go ahead, consider these alternatives.

Scholarships and Grants

One of the best ways to pay for a college education is with scholarships and grants, since you typically don’t have to pay them back.

Check first with the school that your child is planning to attend (or is already attending) to see what types of scholarships and grants are available.

Then make sure your child fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The information provided in the FAFSA will help determine his or her federal aid package, which typically includes grants, federal student loans, and/or work-study.

Finally, you and your child can search millions of scholarships from private organizations on websites like Scholarships.com and Fast Web . While your child may not qualify for all of them, there may be enough relevant options to help reduce that tuition bill.

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Federal Student Loans

As mentioned above, filling out the FAFSA will give your child an opportunity to qualify for federal student loans from the U.S. Department of Education.

These loans have low fixed interest rates, plus access to some special benefits, including loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans.

With most federal student loans, there’s no credit check requirement, so you don’t have to worry about needing to cosign a loan with your child.

Parent PLUS Loans

If you’re concerned about the effect of student loan debt on your child, you can opt to apply for a federal Parent PLUS loan to help cover the costs of college.

Keep in mind that the terms aren’t usually as favorable for Parent PLUS loans as they are for federal loans for undergraduate students. The interest rates are currently higher, and you may be denied if you have certain negative items on your credit history.

Private Student Loans

If your child can’t get federal student loans, is maxed out on loans, or has pursued all other options to no avail, private student loans may be worth considering to make up the difference.

To qualify for private student loans, however, you and/or your child may need to undergo a credit check. If your child is new to credit, you may need to cosign to help them get approved by being a cosigner—or you can apply on your own.

Private student loans don’t typically offer income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs, but if your credit and finances are strong, it may be possible to get a competitive interest rate.

Balance Your Child’s Needs and Your Own

Using retirement funds to pay for college is one way to help your child. But you probably don’t want to risk your future financial security. Take the time to help your child consider all of the options to get the money to pay for school.

If you do decide a private student loan is the right fit, SoFi is happy to help. In the spirit of complete transparency, we want you to know that we believe you should exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider SoFi as your private loan lender. That said, we do offer flexible payment options and terms, and don’t worry, there are no hidden fees.

If you’re considering a private student loan, you can find your SoFi rate today.


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.

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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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.

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