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Guide to Grad PLUS Loans

By Rebecca Safier · May 06, 2022 · 6 minute read

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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, 2021 and before July 1, 2022)Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2021, and before Oct. 1, 2022)
6.28%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, 2021 and before July 1, 2022)Disbursement Fee (for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2020, and before Oct. 1, 2022)
5.28%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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