Juggling parenting, late-night studying, and possibly a job can wear on anyone, but time and money constraints can especially affect single parents. As a single parent, you may quickly realize that obtaining student loans will be an important factor in successfully completing your college journey.
So, how do you get that “single mom loan” or “single dad loan” to help you out? In this piece, we’ll spend some time comparing private and federal student loans and walk through options for student loans for single mothers and fathers. We’ll also cover the process that single parents can take toward getting private student loans and federal student loans.
What Are Student Loans?
Put simply, student loans allow you to borrow money from either the federal government or a private lender to help you pay for college costs. Student loans can help you cover tuition, fees, supplies, books, rent, living expenses, and other necessary school-related expenses.
Private vs. Federal Student Loans
Single parents can obtain both private and federal student loans. But before you get on the student loan bandwagon, it’s important to understand the whole picture — the amount you can get in private and federal loans as well as how much you can get in scholarships and grants, which are money you don’t have to repay. You may also want to pay for school by reserving a cache of funds from a current job or pulling from some funds you have in savings.
In the next two sections, we’ll walk through the definitions of both private and federal student loans.
Federal Student Loans
The U.S. Department of Education, through the William D. Ford Direct Loan Program (also called the Direct Loan program), offers federal student loans for borrowers who need to finance college or career school.
In order to get a federal student loan, you must file the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid every year. The FAFSA lets colleges and universities know about your financial situation by asking you to input information about your savings and checking account balances, investments, and more. The FAFSA will also help you qualify for more than just loans — you could also qualify for scholarships through your institution, grants, and also for a work-study program. The federal work-study program allows you to work for your college or career school and earn up to a certain amount of money.
When you file the FAFSA, you receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) which also reports your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), an index number that colleges use to determine how much financial aid you can receive.
You can qualify for Direct Subsidized or Direct Unsubsidized Loans or Direct PLUS Loans — you can only get a Direct PLUS loan as long as you are an independent student (that is, nobody can claim you on their taxes) or if you are a graduate student.
Most types of federal student loans don’t require a credit check. Independent students may qualify for the following amounts and limits:
• First-year undergraduate students: $9,500 (no more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans)
• Second-year undergraduate students: $10,500 (no more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans)
• Third-year and beyond undergraduate students: $12,500 (no more than $5,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans)
• Graduate or professional students: $20,500 (unsubsidized only)
The current interest rates for Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are 3.73% (for undergraduate students) and 5.28% (for graduate or professional students). The interest rates are fixed for the life of the loan.
Private Student Loans
The main difference between a private student loan and a federal loan is that you don’t get a private student loan from the federal government like you do a private student loan. You can get a private student loan from a bank, credit union, or another financial institution to finance college or career school.
In general, it’s a wise idea to exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider private loans because interest rates are usually higher for private student loans compared to federal student loans. The amount you can borrow depends on the costs of your degree, but also depends on personal financial factors (such as your credit score and income). Additionally, private student loans don’t have to offer the same borrower protections and benefits available to federal borrowers, such as income-driven repayment plans.
Student Loans for Single Parents
Single parents can get both private and federal student loans. We’ll also go over some specific financial aid ideas for single parents.
Private Student Loans for Single Parents
As a single parent, you may have a limited amount of time to research your private student loan options, but it’s to your advantage to do so because you can ensure that you choose the right type (and the right interest rate). Take a look at three to five different private student loan lenders and compare everything apples to apples — interest rates, fees, repayment terms, deferment, forbearance and discharge options, as well as in-school repayment options.
Then, walk through the next steps:
1. Give yourself plenty of time to apply for private loans. The application and approval process can take longer than you might think. Remember that you’ll need to monitor your financial situation each semester to make sure you have enough loan money to carry you through the academic year.
2. Gather your personal information. Before you apply, you’ll likely need to have the following handy: Social Security number, employment information (including a recent paycheck stub), gross annual income, assets, rent or mortgage information, as well as tax returns. Specific application requirements may vary by lender.
3. Apply for a private student loan. You can apply on a private student loan lender’s website. The lender will ask for the personal information listed above and possibly more than that — it’s a good idea to be open to that possibility. You’ll submit information about your school, graduation date, and loan amount needed. You must also agree to the lender’s terms and conditions, which you’ll want to read carefully, and proceed with the application.
Your search for financial aid doesn’t have to end with filing the FAFSA or applying for private student loans. You may also want to look for single-parent grants or scholarships through organizations that include your school, state government, federal agencies, charitable foundations and professional associations.
Jumping on Google and searching for “single parent college scholarships” turns up a lot of scholarships, such as the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Scholarships and the Patsy Takemoto Mink Education Foundation Scholarships . However, it’s important to verify the validity of the scholarship and steer clear of scholarship scams.
One of the most important things you can do is to contact your school’s financial aid office and explain your situation as a single mother or father. Many colleges and universities offer endowed scholarships for students and may be able to offer you financial aid specifically for single-parent families.
Learn more: Private Student Loans Guide
Federal Student Loans for Single Parents
To obtain a federal student loan, you must demonstrate financial need, be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, have a valid Social Security number, enroll in an eligible degree or certificate program, show successful completion of a high school degree or GED, maintain satisfactory progress in school, and sign the certification on the FAFSA.
Undergraduate students who show evidence of financial need can qualify for a Direct Subsidized Loan. Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, but eligibility is not based on financial need. The government pays the interest for Direct Subsidized student loans while you’re in school but does not pay the interest on Direct Unsubsidized loans during that time.
Graduate or professional students may qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan. Eligibility is not based on financial need, but you will undergo a credit check. Borrowers who have an adverse credit history must meet additional qualifications.
Direct Consolidation Loans allow you to combine all of your eligible federal loans.
You must go through entrance counseling to make sure you understand your loan repayment obligations and you must sign a Master Promissory Note, which shows that you agree to the terms of the loan.
Above all else, in addition to learning more about single parents’ loans at your school, it’s also important to contact the financial aid office at the school you want to attend to fully understand the financial aid process at your college or career school.
Private Student Loans with SoFi
You may have mastered budgeting as a single parent but acknowledge that federal and private loans for single moms and dads will be key for your degree completion. It’s important to remember that loans for single parents aren’t out of your reach.
Why not choose a private student loan with low fixed or variable rates from SoFi? SoFi offers low fixed rates or variable interest rates on school loans for single moms and dads. SoFi can help you get a private student loan that fits your current and future financial budget.
Affording higher education as a single parent can be a challenge, but there are student loans, grants, and scholarships available to help ease the burden. Single parents can apply for federal student loans by filling out the FAFSA each year. If this aid isn’t enough, some students may consider applying for private student loans.
Do you get more financial aid if you are a single parent?
Schools award need-based financial aid based on demonstrated need. If you demonstrate financial need, you’ll more than likely receive some type of financial aid from the college or university that you plan to attend. It’s very important to file the FAFSA to qualify for federal student aid and also talk to the financial aid office of your college or university for more information about the financial aid opportunities available to you.
How can a single parent afford college?
There are a number of ways that a single parent can afford college, and it starts with open communication between you and your school’s financial aid office. A few excellent steps you can take include: filing the FAFSA, looking for scholarships and grants in your community and comparing private loan lenders for private loans that fit your needs.
Photo credit: iStock/Geber86
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