You did it. All those countless hours devoted to classes, late-night study sessions, and college entrance exams have paid off. That’s right, you’re going to college!
Chances are you’ve been working toward this goal for most of your life, so you deserve a major pat on the back. Bask in this moment, because once that post-acceptance glow wears off, you may be faced with some big decisions that you aren’t all that eager to make. Namely, how to be a great student loan borrower.
No matter how much you plan or how many pennies you and your family pinch, these days it’s pretty difficult to save enough to pay for school without the assistance of loans. If it provides any comfort, know you aren’t alone when it comes to facing large amounts of student loan debt once you graduate.
The average student borrower has about $37,000 in loans and as of August 2018, there were 44 million student loan borrowers in the United States. Luckily, there are ways you can prepare to manage your future student loan debt and receive some help along the way.
Understand the Cost of Your Education
When choosing where to study, you’ll have to make a lot of important decisions. Do you want to attend a liberal arts school or one that focuses on S.T.E.M. subjects? Would going to a university in a big city help you find that dream internship or would you better thrive by staying closer to home?
In an ideal world, you would make your education decisions based off many factors, but cost wouldn’t be one of them. Unfortunately, most soon-to-be college students need to consider the cost of their degree and living expenses before choosing which school to attend.
It’s not a factor to consider lightly. Before you make a final decision, you need to sit down and map out what each of your education options (including living arrangements) could cost you.
That calculation should include interest as well as costs like textbooks, meal plans, parking, sundries, and more. Most universities will map out estimates of school supplies, dorm fees, and other expenses students should anticipate while enrolled. If you’re planning on traveling for a semester abroad or pledging a fraternity or sorority, you’ll need to account for those expenses as well.
There are also ways you can plan to shorten your time at a costly university in order to keep your loan total lower. One less expensive option to consider is starting at a community college for your lower division coursework. If a community college isn’t the right fit full-time, you can always pick up elective credits at one during the summer for a fraction of the cost a typical private university would charge.
Know Your Student Loan Options
Fortunately, this step isn’t too difficult, as there are really only two overarching types of student loans: federal and private. All federal loans are backed by the federal government. Loans that are considered private are often backed by banks, credit unions, or other private lenders.
You can typically expect private student loans to have higher interest rates than federal loans. Federal student loans have fixed interest rates, meaning the interest rates don’t fluctuate post-graduation, whereas private loan interest rates can sometimes be variable, which means the interest rate can increase (or decrease) in accordance with the market if you choose a variable rate loan.
Federal loans require you to be enrolled in school at least half-time in order to be eligible and don’t require you to pay the loan until after you leave school. In fact, a post-graduation grace period of six months is usually provided to allow time for you to find work and get settled.
Private loans are an avenue that can be utilized if federal loan options have been exhausted. If you do find you don’t receive enough in federal loans in order to cover your tuition and other expenses during school, private loans could be a viable option.
Apply for Aid
Once you’ve decided on a school, your next step will likely be applying for financial aid and scholarships. Begin your financial aid and scholarship search by rounding up all the programs you might be eligible for, and keep track of each application deadline in a spreadsheet, your calendar, or both, so you don’t miss any.
You can also contact the financial aid department of the school you are enrolling in, since their office will likely know the best student loan resources available to you. They’ll most likely be happy to help you in any way that they can through the application processes.
The Department of Education has a great online resource to begin your financial aid search, starting with completing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form, which is required for federal student aid like grants, work-study programs, and federal student loans.
Understand Your Post-Grad Repayment Options
Right now, repaying your student loans is a ways off. But before you sign on to borrow student loans, it helps to know how you’ll pay them back after you graduate.
If you have federal loans, you’ll likely be put on the standard 10-year repayment plan after graduating. If you’d prefer a lower monthly payment, federal loans also offer income-based repayment plans that private student loans don’t. And don’t forget, federal loans also typically come with a six-month grace period.
If you’re in a good financial place after graduation (or after you’ve worked for a few years post-college), student loan refinancing could also be a smart way to repay your loans. Whether you have federal or private loans, refinancing can help consolidate your loans at a potentially lower interest rate.
This new interest rate will be based off of your financial picture when you apply. The lower your interest rate is, the less you’ll spend on your loans. SoFi can refinance both federal and private loans, as well as offer fixed and variable interest rates.
Student loans can get complicated—SoFi is here to help. From helping you finance your education to helping you get out of your college debt, we’ve got you covered.
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Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.
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