Congrats! Your school is offering you a scholarship and grant. And, your parents are pitching in. You’ve even been awarded some federal grant aid. But it doesn’t cover the entire bill.
If this is you, loans are an option. Taking on debt is not your first choice — but a college education can be an investment in your future. You can earn potentially 55% more with a bachelor’s degree than with only a high school diploma, according to National Center for Educational Statistics data from 2021.
State student loan programs are an option to consider. They are loans provided and guaranteed by state government agencies. The loan programs are unique to each state and require specific eligibility requirements, such as state residency, to qualify. Though the institutions are non-profits or state-run, the loans are considered private.
State Student Loan Programs, Explained
State student loans are offered by state government agencies. They generally have similar requirements and benefits to federal loans: low, fixed interest rates and flexible repayment plans. Some even offer subsidized (interest-free) loans and a deferred repayment plan. Though some states may waive a credit check, other lenders do require it. Students without a solid credit history may need to consider applying with a cosigner.
State student loans agencies are also unique because they are run not-for-profit and benefit the local community. As a local entity, they tend to be more mission-minded and offer more personable customer service.
These programs may offer a strong alternative for students who have exhausted financial aid and federal student loans.
Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans
What Are State Student Loan Programs?
State student loan programs vary in scope by state and not all states offer this option. Typically, a state’s department of postsecondary education is responsible for managing the loan program.
Also, terms and eligibility requirements differ from state to state. For instance, Georgia state offers the “Student Access Loan” through the Georgia Student Finance Authority. It’s a 1% fixed rate loan offered exclusively to Georgia residents.
Eligibility is strict, however. Prospective or current students must be enrolled in an institution from one of three university systems in Georgia (University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia or Private postsecondary institutions). A maximum of $8,000 can be awarded per year: up to $36,000 in a college career.
Applying for State Student Loan Programs
Many state student loans’ first step is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). According to the U.S. Department of Education, some programs are first-come, first-serve — so it may help to apply early.
To get started, find your state’s department of postsecondary education. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a list of each state’s agency . These departments will be your direct sources of information on loan programs, eligibility, and how to apply. They can direct you to state student loan programs, if any are available.
It’s best to contact your department first for the latest programs. But the Education Finance Council has a comprehensive list of all participating state agencies. It may also be helpful to connect with your financial aid office, as they may have insight into state and college-specific aid opportunities.
If your state does not offer student loans — consider out-of-state agencies that accept out-of-state students like the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA). Massachusetts’ state legislature created MEFA in 1982 to provide low-cost finance alternatives for families and students. They offer undergraduate loans with fixed rates from 5.35% to 7.95% APR, as of July 2023.
Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA
What Can State Student Loan Programs Be Used For?
Borrowers use state student loans for college programs, whether professional, undergraduate, or graduate.
Your “cost of attendance” (COA) is a federal term that defines expenses from your higher ed programs. They can include tuition, room, food, books, and supplies.
State student loans should not be used for sorority and fraternity dues, vacation travel, or non-discretionary dining. Generally, it’s wise to use the minimum required to pay for educational needs in order to pay lower interest fees after graduation.
Tuition is the price of the actual education. It covers the cost of your classes and varies by the amount of credits required in your major. Charges will also vary depending on whether the school is public or private, or if students are in-state.
Room & Board
Room and board refers to housing and meals provided on a college campus. Types of housing include dorms or university-owned apartments.
Some students cut substantial costs by living at home and commuting to school. If living at home is not an option, off-campus rentals can also be covered by state student loans. This option may be cheaper, especially if roommates split the rent.
Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses and Housing
School Supplies & Equipment
Books, laptops, and other educational equipment are also part of COA. It can cover general school items such as pens and notebooks. And, equipment includes degree-specific equipment and gear, such as Adobe software for graphic design majors or cameras for photography students.
Consider buying second-hand books or renting e-books. E-books in general are cheaper than physical textbooks.
If your classes are not walking distance — COA covers all local transportation costs such as car, taxi, and public transit. Examples are monthly train passes or gas for your car. Loans cannot be used to purchase a vehicle.
These expenses cover daily needs such as toiletries, groceries, laundry, haircuts, and other personal matters while a college student. They can also cover your phone and internet bill.
Dependent Care Expenses
Childcare is included in COA. This includes daycare or babysitters. Determine your aid amount by the number and age of dependents, as well as hours of care needed.
Other Costs Associated with Schooling
Miscellaneous expenses are covered too. Examples might include study abroad programs and special needs equipment. COA also covers general campus fees such as orientation fees, student social activity fees, health insurance fees, and more.
Recommended: I Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid: Now What?
State Loan Programs vs Private Student Loans
State student loan programs have minor differences from private student loans.
Benefits to state student loans may include a more competitive interest rate or a deferred payment plan. Some programs offer one interest rate for everyone — regardless of credit score. This means everyone accepted into the program is charged the same interest rate regardless of credit history. Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education, for example, offers one 6.35% fixed rate or 2.2% variable rate for all borrowers. Furthermore, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education allows borrowers to defer paying off student loans six months after graduation. Private lenders typically have higher interest rates that are generally determined based on the applicant’s credit history and income, among other factors. Also, private loans may not have deferred repayment plans.
State loan programs usually have a maximum borrowing amount for students. For instance, Georgia’s program awards a maximum of $8,000 per year — while Minnesota’s program awards up to $20,000 per year. Private lenders generally have no cap.
State college loan programs have more strict eligibility requirements for borrowers. The above-mentioned state agencies in Georgia and Minnesota lend only to in-state residents. Georgia has even stricter policies: the schools must be in-state. Alaska’s program however, allows Alaskan residents to use funds for out of state tuition.
Lastly, state student loan programs are not available in every state — whereas there are several private lenders to choose from nationally.
Explore Private Student Loans with SoFi
If you’re short on college cash with financial aid and family contributions, a private student loan can cover the difference. Because they lack the borrower protections offer to federal loan borrowers, such as deferment options, they may be an alternative to consider when all other options have been exhausted.
SoFi’s private student loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, or their parents. Plus the loans have no fees. Borrowers are also able to choose from four flexible repayment plans.
Students can choose to defer payments up to six months after graduating school, make interest-only repayments, or pay immediately. And, we offer a unique feature that releases co-signers from loan obligations after 24 on-time payments.
What are state student loans?
State student loans are non-federal funds offered via U.S. state higher education offices. They generally offer lower interest rates and various benefits to residents. Some state agencies lend nationally.
Are state student loans offered through the government?
State student loans are offered through state-level government agencies — not national (federal) agencies.
Photo credit: iStock/Nelson_A_Ishikawa
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SoFi Private Student Loans
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