A Complete Guide to Private Student Loans

The average cost of college in the U.S. is $36,436 per year, including books, supplies, and daily living expenses, according to the Education Data Initiative. While grants and scholarships can significantly lower your out-of-pocket expenses, they typically don’t cover the full cost of your college education.

Student loans, both federal and private, can help bridge this gap in financial aid to allow you to attend the college of your choice. Federal student loans are funded by the government. They tend to offer the best rates and terms but come with borrowing limits. If you still have gaps in funding, you can turn to private student loans.

Private student loans are funded by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Private lenders set their own eligibility criteria, and interest rates generally depend on a borrower’s creditworthiness. While private student loans don’t offer all the same borrower protections as federal loans, they can still be a smart choice to help you pay for educational expenses, as long as you do your research.

This guide offers private student loan basics, including what they are, how they work, their pros and cons, and how to apply for one.

What are Private Student Loans?

Often when people talk about student loans, they’re referring to federal student loans, which are provided by the federal government. Private student loans, by contrast, are given out by individual banks and lenders. Students typically turn to private student loans when federal loans won’t cover all of their costs.

You can use the money from a private school loan to pay for expenses like tuition, fees, housing, books, and supplies. Interest rates for private student loans may be variable or fixed and are set by the lender. Repayment terms can be anywhere from five to 20 years.

Unlike federal student loans, borrowers must pass a credit check to qualify for private student loans. Since most college students don’t have enough credit history to take out a large loan, a cosigner is often required.


💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

How Do Private Student Loans Work?

How Private Student Loans Work

Loan amounts, interest rates, repayment terms, and eligibility requirements for undergraduate private student loans vary by individual lenders. If you’re in the market for a private student loan, it’s key to shop around and compare your options to find the best fit.

To get a private student loan, you need to file an application directly with your lender of choice. Based on the information you submit, the lender will determine whether or not you are approved and, if so, what rates and terms you qualify for.

If you’re approved, the loan proceeds will typically be disbursed directly to your university. Your school will apply that money to tuition, fees, room and board and any other necessary expenses. If there are funds left over, the money will be given for you to use toward other education-related expenses, such as textbooks and supplies.

Repayment policies vary by lender but typically you aren’t required to make payments while you’re attending school. Some lenders will allow you to defer payments until six months after you graduate. However, interest typically begins accruing as soon as the loan is dispersed. Similar to unsubsidized federal student loans, the interest that accrues while you’re in school is added to your loan balance.

The Pros and Cons of Private Student Loans

Pros of Private Student Loans

Cons of Private Student Loans

Apply any time of the year May require a cosigner
Higher loan amounts Less flexible repayment options
Choice of fixed or variable rates No loan forgiveness programs
Quick application process Can lead to over-borrowing
Statute of limitations on collection Not always discharged in death or disability
Options for international students No federal subsidy

If federal financial aid — including grants, work-study, and federal student loans — isn’t enough to cover the full cost of college, private student loans can fill in any gaps. Just keep in mind that private student loans don’t offer the same borrower protections that come with federal student loans. Before taking out a private student loan, it’s a good idea to fully understand their pros and cons.

The Benefits of Private Student Loans

Here’s a look at some of the advantages that come with private student loans.

Apply Any Time of the Year

Unlike federal student loans, which have application deadlines, you can apply for private student loans any time of the year. As a result, they can be helpful if you’re facing a mid-year funding shortfall or if your college expenses go up unexpectedly.

Higher Loan Amounts

Federal loans have annual maximums. For example, a first year undergraduate can borrow up to $5,500. The aggregate max you can borrow from the government for your entire undergraduate education is $31,000. Private student loan limits vary with each lender, but you can typically borrow up to the full cost of attendance minus any financial aid received.

Choice of Fixed or Variable Interest Rates

Federal loans only offer fixed-rate loans, while private lenders usually give you a choice between fixed or variable interest rates. Fixed rates remain the same over the life of the loans, whereas variable rates can change throughout the loan term, depending on benchmark rates.

Variable-rate loans usually have lower starting interest rates than fixed-rate loans. If you can afford to pay off your student loans quickly, you might pay less interest with a variable-rate loan from a private lender than a fixed-rate federal loan.

Quick Application Process

While federal student loans require borrowers to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, private student loans do not. You can apply for most private student loans online in just a few minutes without providing nearly as much information. In some cases, you can get a lending decision within 72 hours. By comparison, it typically takes three to five days for the government to process the FAFSA if you submit electronically, and seven to 10 days if you mail in the form.

Statute of Limitations

While you never want to default on your student loans (since it can cause significant damage to your credit), it can be nice to know that private student loans come with a statute of limitations. This is a set period of time that lenders have to take you to court to recoup the debt after you default. The time frame varies by state, but it can range anywhere from three to 10 years. After that period ends, lenders have limited options to collect from you.

However, that’s not the case with federal student loans. You must eventually repay your loans, and the government can even garnish your wages and tax refunds until you do.

Options for International Students

International students typically don’t qualify for federal financial aid, including federal student loans. Some private lenders, however, will provide student loans to non-U.S. citizens who meet specific criteria, such as attending an eligible college on at least a half-time basis, having a valid student visa, and/or adding a U.S. citizen as a cosigner.

When we say no fees we mean it.
No origination fees and late fees
when you take out a student loan with SoFi.


The Disadvantages of Private Student Loans

Private student loans also have some downsides. Here are some to keep in mind.

Requires a Cosigner

Most high school and college students don’t make enough income or have a strong credit history to qualify for private student loans on their own. Though some lenders will take grades and income potential into consideration, most students need a cosigner to qualify for a private student loan. Your cosigner is legally responsible for your student debt, and any missed payments can negatively affect their credit. If you can’t repay your loans, your cosigner is responsible for the entire amount.

The good news is that some private student loans allow for a cosigner release.That means that after you make a certain number of on-time payments, you can apply to have the cosigner removed from the loan.

Less Flexible Repayment Options

Federal student loans offer several different types of repayment plans, including Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) Plans, which calculate your monthly payment as a percentage of your income. With the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan, for example, your monthly payments are generally equal to 5% of your discretionary income (which is the extra income you have after paying for basic necessities).

With private student loans, on the other hand, usually the only way to reduce your monthly payment is to refinance the loan to a lower interest rate, a longer repayment term, or both.

No Loan Forgiveness Programs

Federal student loans come with a few different forgiveness programs, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), IDR forgiveness. and Teacher Loan Forgiveness. While these programs have strict eligibility requirements, they can help many low-income borrowers. Private lenders, however, generally don’t offer programs that forgive your debt after meeting certain requirements.

If you’re experiencing financial hardship, however. the lender may agree to temporarily lower your payments, waive a payment, or shift to interest-only payments.

Can Lead to Over-Borrowing

Private loans typically allow you to borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance, minus other aid you’ve already received. Just because you can borrow that much, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Borrowing the maximum incurs more interest over the duration of your loans and increases your payments, which can make repayment more difficult.

Not Always Discharged in Death or Disability

Federal loans are discharged if the borrower passes away, which means that the debt will be cleared and won’t count against the borrower’s estate. With private student loans, however, lenders can try to collect any outstanding loan amounts against a borrower’s estate in the event of death. They can’t, however, try to collect from a relative who did not cosign the debt.

Also keep in mind that your private loan could go into automatic default if your cosigner passes away, even if you’ve been making your payments on time.

No Federal Subsidy

Subsidized federal student loans, awarded based on financial need, come with an interest subsidy, meaning the government pays your interest while you’re in school and for six months after you graduate. This can add up to a significant savings.

Subsidies don’t exist with private student loans. Interest accrues from day one; in some cases, you might need to make interest payments while still in school. If you don’t pay the interest as you go, it’s added to your debt as capitalized interest when you finish school. (This is also the case with federal unsubsidized loans.)

Federal vs Private Student Loans

Here’s a look at the key differences between federal vs. private student loans.

Federal Student Loans vs. Private Student Loans

The Application Process

Federal student loans are awarded as a part of a student’s financial aid package. In order to apply for federal student loans, students must fill out the FAFSA each year. No credit check is needed to qualify.

To apply for private student loans, students need to fill out an application directly with their preferred lender. Application requirements may vary depending on the lender. A credit check is typically required.

Recommended: Financial Aid vs Student Loans

Interest Rates

The interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and are set annually by Congress. Once you’ve taken out a federal loan, your interest rate is locked for the life of the loan.

For the 2023-2024 school year, the interest rate on Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans for undergraduates is 5.50%, the rate on Direct Unsubsidized loans for graduate and professional students is 7.05%, and the rate on Direct PLUS loans for graduate students, professional students, and parents is 8.05%. The interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and are set annually by Congress.

Private lenders, on the other hand, are free to set interest rates. Rates may be fixed or variable and depend on several factors, including your (or your cosigner’s) credit score, loan amount, and chosen repayment term. Private student loan rates range anywhere from 2.99% to 14.96% APR for fixed-rate loans and 2.99% to 14.86% APR for variable-rate loans.

Repayment Plans

Borrowers with federal student loans can select from several different federal repayment plans , including income-driven repayment plans. You can defer payments while enrolled at least half-time and immediately after graduation

Repayment plans for private loans are set by the individual lender. Many private student loan lenders allow you to defer payments during school and for six months after graduation. They also have a variety of repayment terms, often ranging from five to 20 years.

Options for Deferment or Forbearance

Federal student loan borrowers can apply for deferment or forbearance if they encounter financial difficulties while they are repaying their loans. These options allow borrowers to pause their loan payments (interest, however, will typically continue to accrue).

Some private lenders may offer options for borrowers who are facing financial difficulties, including short periods of deferment or forbearance. Some also offer unemployment protection, which allows qualifying borrowers who have lost their job through no fault of their own to modify payments on their student loans.

Loan Forgiveness

Borrowers with federal student loans might be able to pursue loan forgiveness through federal programs such as PSLF or Teacher Loan Forgiveness, or after paying down their balances on an IDR plan for a certain period of time.

Since private student loans aren’t controlled by the government, they are not eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs. Though private lenders will often work with borrowers to avoid default, private student loans are rarely forgiven. Generally, it only happens if the borrower becomes permanently disabled or dies.

Should You Consider Private Student Loans?

There are many different types of student loans. It’s generally a good idea to maximize federal student loans before turning to private student loans. That way, you’ll have access to income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness programs, and extended deferment and forbearance periods.

If you still need money to cover tuition or other expenses, and you (or your cosigner) has strong credit, a private student loan can make sense.

Private student loans can also be useful if your expenses suddenly go up and you’ve already maxed out federal student loans, since they allow you to access additional funding relatively quickly. You might also consider a private student loan if you don’t qualify for federal loans. If you’re an international student, for example, a private loan may be your only college funding option.

Another scenario where private student loans can make sense is if you only plan to take out the loan short-term. If you’ll be able to repay the loan over a few years, private student loans could end up costing less overall.

Recommended: When to Apply for Student Loans

How to Get a Private Student Loan

Here’s a look at the steps involved in getting a private student loan.

1.    Shop around. Your school may have a list of preferred lenders, but you’re not restricted to this list. You can also do your own research to find top lenders. As you evaluate lenders, consider factors like interest rates, how much you can borrow, the loan term, when you must start repayment, any fees, and if the lender offers any hardship programs.

2.    See if you can prequalify. Some lenders allow borrowers to get a quote by filling out a prequalification application. This generally involves a soft credit inquiry (which won’t impact your credit score) and tells you what interest rates and terms you may qualify for. Completing this step can help you decide if you need a cosigner.

3.    Gather your information. To officially apply for a private student loan, you typically need to provide your Social Security number, birthdate, and home address, as well as proof of employment and income. You may also need to provide other financial information, such as your assets, rent or mortgage, and tax returns. If you have a cosigner, you’ll have to provide their personal and financial details as well.

4.    Submit your application. Once you’ve completed your application, the lender will typically contact your school to verify your information and eligibility. They will then process the student loan and notify you about your approval and disbursement of your money.


💡 Quick Tip: Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.

Does Everyone Get Approved for Private Student Loans?

No. Requirements for private student loans will vary depending on the lender, but generally to qualify you need to:

•   Attend an accredited school (this typically includes four-year colleges and, sometimes, two-year community colleges and trade schools).

•   Have a strong credit score (usually in the mid-600s or higher).

•   Have a steady income that can cover your expenses.

If you don’t meet these qualifications you can apply with a cosigner who does.

Apply for a Private Student Loan with SoFi

Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders to help college students cover their educational expenses. They are not part of the federal student loan program, and generally do not feature the flexible repayment terms or borrower protections offered by federal student loans. However, private student loans come with higher loan limits, and the borrowing costs are sometimes lower compared to their federal counterparts. If you’re thinking about a private student loan for college, it pays to shop around to find the best rates and terms.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.


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

Why would someone get a private student loan?

Students typically turn to private student loans when federal loans won’t cover all of their costs. Private student loans come with higher borrowing limits than their federal counterparts. The aggregate max you can borrow from the government for your entire undergraduate education is $31,000. With private loans, on the other hand, you can typically borrow up to the total cost of attendance, minus any financial aid received, every year. This gives you more flexibility to get the financing you need.

Will private student loans be forgiven?

Private student loans aren’t funded by the government, so they don’t offer the same forgiveness programs. In fact, private student loan forgiveness is rare.

If you experience financial hardship, however, many lenders will work with you to stay out of default. They may agree to temporarily lower your payments, waive a payment, or switch to interest-only payments. Or, you might qualify for deferment or forbearance, which temporarily postpones your payments (though interest continues to accrue).

Are private student loans paid to you or the school?

Typically, lenders will send your private student loan money to your school, which will apply the loan to your current charges. The school will then transfer any balance to you to use towards other costs, such as school supplies and other living expenses.


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.


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.


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.

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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Strategies for Lowering Your Student Loan Interest Rate

When you’re in college, you don’t have a lot of control over the interest rates on your student loans. With federal loans, the U.S. Department of Education sets the rate each year for all borrowers. And if you get private student loans, a limited credit history can make it hard for young people to score favorable terms.

But once you graduate, there are a few things you can try to save money on interest. Here are a few tips that may lower your interest rate on student loans.

Refinancing Your Student Loans

Scoring discounts with your current servicer can help you get a lower student loan interest rate, but there is another option to consider. Depending on your financial profile, you may qualify for a lower student loan interest rate than what you’re currently paying with student loan refinancing.

There are multiple advantages to refinancing student loans. You can potentially lower your interest rate by bundling several loans (federal and private) into one new loan. And if you shorten your loan term, you may be able to pay off your student loans much faster and pay less in interest over the life of your loan.

Student Loan RefinancingStudent Loan Refinancing

Student loan refinancing is ideal for borrowers with high-interest student loans who have good credit scores and know they won’t use any of the federal loan benefits, like student loan forgiveness. (All federal loan benefits, including income-based repayment, will be lost if you refinance.)

Here are a few things that can help you improve your chances of getting a lower student loan interest rate with refinancing:

•   A high credit score: Lenders typically have a minimum credit score requirement, so the higher your score, the better your chances of getting a low rate usually are.

•   A low debt-to-income (DTI) ratio: Your income is also an important factor that lenders consider, especially as it relates to your overall debt burden. If a smaller portion of your monthly income goes toward debt payments, it shows you may have more income to dedicate to your new loan’s payments.

•   A co-signer: Even if your credit and income situation is in good shape, having a co-signer with great credit and a solid income might help your case.

•   A variable rate: Some student loan refinance lenders offer both variable and fixed interest rates. Variable interest rates may start out lower but increase over time with market fluctuations. Fixed rates, stay the same over the life of the loan. If you’re planning on paying off your student loans quickly, a variable rate might save you money.

•   The right lender: Each lender has its own criteria for setting interest rates, so it’s important to shop around to find the best lender for your needs. Some lenders, including SoFi, even allow you to view rate offers before you officially apply.


💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

Consolidate Your Student Loans

Have multiple student loans floating around that you’d love to combine into one? Consider loan consolidation, where you’ll merge all your student loans into one easy monthly payment with a single interest rate. Here’s the rub, though: Consolidation alone does not necessarily get you a lower student loan interest rate. It just offers you one payment instead of multiple.

When consolidating federal student loans, you can use a Direct Consolidation Loan. Your new interest rate is simply the weighted average of all your current student loan interest rates. The weighted average might be a smidge higher than the interest rates you were paying previously. Often folks utilize consolidation to stretch out the life of their student loan, which lowers your payments but may increase the amount you owe over time.

Even though consolidation itself is not a direct way to get a better rate on your student loans, it can be helpful if you’re having trouble keeping track of your monthly payments. Consolidation may also be useful if you want to merge non-direct federal loans (like Perkins loans) with direct loans, in order to qualify for income-driven repayment and/or loan forgiveness programs.

By the way, the term “consolidating” is often used interchangeably with “refinancing,” but they technically mean different things. When refinancing student loans, you also happen to be consolidating, but it is done with the goal of achieving a more favorable interest rate on your student loans.

Recommended: The Basics of the Student Loans

Set Up Automatic Payments

Many student loan servicers — both federal and private — offer an interest rate discount if you set up autopay on your account. Depending on the servicer, you can lower your student loan interest rate. SoFi, for example, offers a 0.25% autopay discount.

The reason servicers offer this discount is that by setting up automatic payments, you’re less likely to miss payments and default on the loan.

In addition to getting a lower student loan interest rate, you’ll also (hopefully!) have peace of mind knowing that you won’t accidentally miss a payment. If you feel you’re putting a little too much money toward student loans, check with your loan servicer to see whether they offer an autopay discount.


💡 Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

Get a Loyalty Discount

In addition to an autopay discount, some private student loan companies also offer a loyalty discount when you have another eligible account with them.

If you’re already a member with SoFi, for instance, you receive an interest rate discount of 0.125% on all new loans.

Other lenders may require that you have an eligible checking or savings account with them to qualify for the bonus, and you may even get a bigger discount if you make your monthly payments from that account.

To get an idea of how a change in interest rate would impact your loan, take advantage of a student loan refinance calculator to see what your new payments could be.

Choose the Right Repayment Plan

If you don’t choose a specific repayment path, you’re typically opted into the Standard Repayment Plan. In this plan, your payments are generally based on a 10-year timeline. But this one-size-fits-all plan is not the best option for everyone.

The federal government also offers four income-driven repayment (IDR) plans — Pay As You Earn (PAYE), Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE), Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) — where the monthly payments are based on your income and family size. While choosing one of these plans may lower your monthly payments, it will likely not alleviate how much interest you pay over time. In fact, you might even pay significantly more.

After 20 or 25 years, depending on the IDR plan, any remaining balance is forgiven. However, the amount forgiven may be considered taxable income by the IRS. So even though your student loan debt goes away, prepare yourself for a big tax bill that year.

Another money-saving repayment option for federal student loans is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. If you work in a qualifying public service job — for the government or a nonprofit organization — you might be eligible to have your student loans forgiven after 10 years of service.

You can confirm whether your work qualifies here. You’ll want to submit an Employment Certification as soon as possible to be sure that you’re on track to qualify.

Recommended: 4 Student Loan Repayment Options, and How to Choose

Lower Your Student Loan Interest Rate

There are several ways to get a lower student loan interest rate. It can be as easy as calling your servicer to find out what discounts are available. You can also choose a new repayment plan, consolidate your federal loans, or refinance federal and private loans. With refinancing, you may secure a lower interest rate if you have a high credit score, low debt-to-income ratio, a cosigner, or a variable interest rate. Just know that when refinancing federal student loans, borrowers lose federal protections and forgiveness.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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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FAFSA for Grad School and How It Differs from Undergrad

Guide to FAFSA for Graduate Students

Graduate school can help you pursue your academic and professional interests, expand your connections, improve your marketability, and increase your earnings. But it often comes with a high price tag.

If you’re thinking about investing in your future by attending graduate school, you may be wondering, does FAFSA cover graduate school?

In short, yes. Just like undergrads, graduate students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year in order to qualify for federal grants, work-study, and federal student loans.

Read on to learn more about getting financial aid — and other types of funding — to help pay for graduate school.

Do You Have to Fill Out FAFSA for Graduate School?

While filling out the FAFSA is not required to attend graduate school, students who are interested in receiving federal student aid as graduate students will need to fill out and submit the form.

You may be familiar with the FAFSA from your years as an undergraduate student. The process of getting financial aid for graduate school is basically the same, with eligibility largely determined by financial need.

However, there is one notable difference: Graduate students are considered independent students for FAFSA purposes, so you aren’t required to provide any information about your parents’ finances. Another difference: For the 2024–25 FAFSA form, if you’re married, you’ll need to provide your spouse’s information.


💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Grad School Financial Aid Eligibility

To be eligible for financial aid in graduate school you must meet basic FAFSA requirements. These include being a U.S. citizen (or qualifying noncitizen) enrolled or accepted in an eligible degree or certificate program. If you have any criminal convictions, have previously defaulted on a student loan, or owe a Pell Grant overpayment, that could affect your eligibility for federal aid.

FAFSA doesn’t have a maximum income cutoff, so it’s worth applying even if you have a steady income. There is also no age cutoff for financial aid, so you can complete and submit the form whether you graduated college recently or many years ago.

Some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it’s generally a good idea to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after its release. Due to an overhaul (and simplification) of the form, the FAFSA for the 2024-25 academic year will be available in December 2023 —- a delay from the usual October 1. Be sure to submit your FAFSA form by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, which is typically early February.

Here’s a look at what type of financial aid you may be eligible for as a graduate student.

Grants

Your financial aid package for graduate school may include federal and state grants based on your field of study, interest, or type of school.

For example, if you’re studying education, you might be eligible for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH Grant. The TEACH grant provides up to $4,000 a year to education students who will teach in a low-income school or high-needs field after graduation.

Graduate students can also qualify for federal Fulbright Grants and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. However, grad students are generally not eligible for the Pell Grant or Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Grant, which are largely reserved for undergraduates.

You can learn about state-based grant opportunities by contacting the department of education for your state, as well as the state where the graduate school is located.

Many graduate schools also offer grants based on financial need or academic excellence. These grants generally don’t need to be repaid, although there may be specific stipulations, such as maintaining a certain GPA.

Recommended: Grants For College – Find Free Money for Students

Work-Study

You may be familiar with work-study programs from your time as an undergraduate student. Graduate students are also eligible for the Federal Work-Study Program, which provides part-time jobs to students who demonstrate financial need.

Work-study is available to both full- and part-time students, though your graduate school must participate in the Federal Work-Study Program. Your school’s financial aid office can give you more details about the work-study program and the types of jobs available to you. Your program may also offer assistantships or teaching roles to help you pay for school (more on that below).

Federal Student Loans

The federal student loans you can access in graduate school are slightly different from those you can take out in undergraduate school. For example, you cannot take advantage of Direct Subsidized Loans, which are loans in which the government pays the interest while you are in college and during the six month grace period after you graduate. Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students with demonstrated need.

Here’s a look at the two types of federal loans available to grad students.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but eligibility is not based on financial need. And, unlike a Direct Subsidized Loan (which is need-based), the government does not pay the interest while you’re in school or for six months after graduation. Interest will accrue while you are attending grad school and get added to your loan balance.

The interest rate is higher on Direct Unsubsidized student loans for graduate students than it is for undergraduate students.

If you are a graduate or professional student, you can borrow up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The interest rate is fixed at 7.05% for loans first disbursed between July 1, 2023, and July 1, 2024.

Grad PLUS Loans

If you need to borrow more than the annual limit for Direct Unsubsidized Loans to pay for grad school, you can also access a Federal Grad PLUS loan, which is also called a Direct PLUS Loan.

These federal loans are exclusively for graduate/professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate/professional students. Eligibility is not based on financial need, but a credit check is required. Borrowers who have an adverse credit history must meet additional requirements to qualify.

Grad Plus Loans are the most costly type of federal loan. For loans disbursed between July 1, 2023, and July 1, 2024, the interest rate is a fixed 8.05%. You’ll also pay a one-time disbursement fee of 1.057%.

Grad Plus Loans come with higher borrowing limits than other types of federal loans. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance of your graduate school program minus other financial assistance you get.

To apply for a Grad PLUS Loan, you need to fill out the Direct PLUS Loan Application.

Tips on Filling Out FAFSA as a Grad Student

Filling out the FAFSA as a graduate student is similar to filling out the form as an undergrad. However, your dependency status will differ because you’re no longer considered a dependent student. As a result, you typically do not need to input your parents’ information onto the FAFSA. You’ll only need to supply information about your (and if, you’re married, your spouse’s) income and assets, the graduate schools you want to receive your FAFSA information, and then sign and submit your form.

When Will You Hear Back?

It typically takes the education department three to five days to process the FAFSA if you submitted electronically; seven to 10 days if you mailed in a paper form.

If you provided a valid email address, you’ll receive an email notification that includes a link to your electronic Student Aid Report (SAR) at fafsa.gov. You’ll get a paper SAR through postal mail if you didn’t provide a valid email address. You’ll want to review your SAR carefully to make sure it’s complete and accurate and correct/update information if necessary.

The graduate schools you apply to will then review your FAFSA information and other documents and send you a financial aid award letter that details the scholarships, grants, and federal student loans you are eligible to receive. You may receive your financial aid award not long after you receive your acceptance letter to the graduate school. However, every school is different, so it’s a good idea to ask the admission or financial aid office of your school for more information.

Average Disbursed Amount

The average graduate student loan debt balance (from graduate school alone) is $78,118, according to the Education Data Initiative.

The maximum amount you can borrow under the Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan program for graduate school is $20,500 a year, with a maximum lifetime limit of $138,500 (including undergraduate loans).

In comparison, a Grad PLUS Loan allows you to borrow up to the cost of attendance, minus any other financial aid received.

FAFSA for Grad School vs Undergrad

Graduate school financial aid is similar to undergraduate financial aid, but there are a few key differences. Here’s a look at how the two compare.

Graduate Student Financial Aid

Undergraduate Student Financial

FAFSA Status Independant Dependant (typically)
Use financial information for Student (and, if applicable, spouse) Student and parents
Federal loans eligible for Unsubsidized Direct Loans and Grad Plus Loans Unsubsidized and Subsidized Direct Loans
Interest rate for Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans 7.05% 5.50%
Eligible for work-study? Yes Yes
Pell and FSEOG grant eligible? No Yes

Alternatives to Federal Aid

Federal aid isn’t the only way to pay for graduate school. Here’s a look at some other sources of funding.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Unike federal student loans for graduate students (which come with fixed interest rates), private student loans may have fixed or variable rates.

Interest rates are set by the lender, so it can pay to shop around to find the best deal on a private student loan for grad school. Generally borrowers with excellent credit qualify for the lowest rates.

Similar to Grad Plus loans, you can usually borrow up to the full cost of attendance from a private lender. However, Grad Plus Loans come with a disbursement fee, while private lenders generally don’t charge this fee. If you have excellent credit (or can recruit a cosigner who does), you could potentially pay less with a private graduate student loan than a Grad Plus Loan. Keep in mind, though, that private student loans don’t offer the same protections (like access to forgiveness programs and income-based repayment plans) that come with federal student loans.


💡 Quick Tip: Master’s degree or graduate certificate? Private or federal student loans can smooth the path to either goal.

Grants and Scholarships

You’ll be eligible for federal, state, and institutional grants by filling out the FAFSA. However, there are also funding opportunities available outside this system. Many private organizations have created grants and scholarships to help graduates pursue an education in the fields they support.

Look for scholarships and grants from professional associations in your field. Your graduate school department or career department can often help you find scholarships based on your qualifications. There are also several scholarship websites to help you find money for graduate school, including Fastweb and Scholarships.com.

Fellowships and Assistantships

Graduate fellowships and assistantships can both help you pay for graduate school but they work in different ways.

A fellowship is like a scholarship that you can use for any costs you incur as a student. These programs are often available from professional organizations relating to your major. With a fellowship, you may perform research activities on campus or outside of your school.

An assistantship, on the other hand, is typically school-based and more likely to directly provide full or partial tuition waivers. Some assistantships also come with living stipends. An assistantship typically involves doing work on campus, usually related to your major. You might get a research job, which often entails assisting a tenured professor on an upcoming study, or you could secure a teaching job, which gives you the chance to serve as an assistant or professor at the school.

Employer Tuition Assistance

If you work for an employer that offers tuition assistance, your company may cover some or all of the costs of your graduate or professional education as long as you meet the program’s eligibility requirements.

You may even be able to access tuition assistance through a part-time job. Your human resources office will have details about tuition assistance, qualifications, and reimbursement procedures.

The Takeaway

Just like undergrads, grad students can qualify for financial aid to pay for school. Your grad school aid package might include grants, work-study, and federal loans.

As a grad student, you can take out more in federal loans than you could as an undergrad, which may make it easier to attend a more expensive school. It’s generally a good idea to tap lower-cost Direct Unsubsidized Loans before considering PLUS Loans.

Other sources of funding for grad school include: private grants, scholarships, fellowships, assistantships, and private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.


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

How much can FAFSA disburse for graduate school?

As a graduate student, you can borrow up to $20,500 in unsubsidized federal loans each year. Grad PLUS Loans are also an option, and allow students to borrow up to the cost of attendance for graduate school.

Graduate students may also qualify for grants (which don’t need to be repaid) and work-study by filling out the FAFSA.

Is it harder to qualify for financial aid as a graduate student?

Not necessarily. While there are fewer need-based aid options for graduate students, your university or graduate program might provide merit- or research-based assistance. In addition, many private and nonprofit organizations offer scholarships and grants for graduate students.

Do you need to make a new FAFSA account for graduate school?

No, you do not need to make a new FAFSA account for graduate school. If you created an FSA ID as an undergraduate, you can use the same ID to apply for financial aid for graduate school.


Photo credit: iStock/sturti

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.


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.


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.

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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A Look into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program_780x440

A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

If you are employed by a government or a nonprofit, you might be able to get forgiveness for the remaining balance on your federal student loan through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).

Created by the Department of Education in 2007, PSLF is intended to help public-service professionals who may not earn large salaries and must struggle to repay their federal student loans. In this context, many teachers, firefighters, and social workers qualify.

The program has drawn frequent criticism for being hard to navigate and difficult to qualify for, charges that the Department of Education says it is addressing to make sure as many people as possible can access PSLF. In October 2023, the White House announced $5.2 billion in additional debt relief had been given to 53,000 borrowers under PSLF programs due to “reducing red tape and addressing past administrative failures.”

Many professionals are stressed out about their student loan debt and wondering if they qualify for forgiveness. Here’s the latest information on PSLF eligibility and student debt forgiveness.

What is Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

The PSLF program provides professionals a way out of their federal student loan debt by working full-time in public service. The remaining balance on your Direct Loans will be forgiven—meaning you will not have to pay it back–after you’ve made the equivalent of 120 qualifying monthly payments under an accepted repayment plan and while working full-time for an eligible employer.

What Are Public Service Loan Forgiveness Jobs?

The question for many people is who qualifies for PSLF? The jobs include teachers, firefighters, first-responders, nurses, military members, and doctors. But with this program, it is not only the type of job you have that determines if you can get forgiveness but also the type of employer. That is crucial. Qualifying employers include federal, state, local, tribal government and non-profit organizations.

To find out if your employer qualifies for PSLF, you can search through the Federal Student Aid search tool.


💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

Who Is Eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?

How does PSLF work? To qualify, borrowers must meet certain eligibility criteria. They include:

Work for a Qualified Employer

Part of PSLF eligibility requires working for a qualified government organization (municipal, state, federal, military, or tribal) or a qualified 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Full-time AmeriCorps or Peace Corps volunteers are also eligible for PSLF. (Learn more about military student loan forgiveness.)

Some other types of non-profits also qualify, but not labor unions, political organizations, and most other non-profits that don’t qualify for 501(c)(3) status. Working for a government contractor doesn’t count; you have to work directly for the qualifying organization.

Only full-time workers are eligible — that is, workers who meet their employer’s definition of full-time or work a minimum of 30 hours per week. People employed at multiple qualifying organizations in a part-time capacity can be considered full-time as long as they’re working a combined 30 hours per week.

Note that time spent working in religious instruction or worship does not count toward meeting the full-time requirement.

Recommended: How To Get Out of Student Loan Debt

Having Eligible Loans

Eligible loans include Direct loans such as Stafford loans, PLUS loans (but not Parent PLUS loans), and Federal Direct Consolidation loans.

If you want to have your Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) or Perkins loans forgiven, you’ll have to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan first. Any payments you made on the FFEL Program loans or Perkins Loans before you consolidated won’t count toward the necessary payments.

Private student loans are not eligible for Federal forgiveness programs.

Recommended: Student Loan Forgiveness Guide

Applying for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

There are a few hoops to jump through in order to pursue PSLF. To apply for the program, you’ll need to take the following steps:

1. Consolidate FFEL Program and Perkins Loans

Borrowers with FFEL Program and Perkins Loans must consolidate them with a Direct Consolidation Loan. This is necessary because if you consolidate your loans afterward, you won’t get credit for any qualifying payments you made on those loans. Already consolidated your Direct loans? Consider consolidating your Perkins Loans separately and start making new qualifying payments.

2. Sign Up for an Income-Driven Repayment Plan

There are several income-driven repayment plans to choose from.They are designed to make your student loan debt more manageable by giving you a monthly payment based on your income and family size.

The latest IDR program is called the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. It lowers payments for almost all people compared to other IDR plans because your payments are based on a smaller portion of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Also, if you make your full monthly payment, but it is not enough to cover the accrued monthly interest, the government covers the rest of the interest that accrued that month.

Note: As a result of the CARES Act, months that you were in repayment while the requirement to make a payment was paused still count as qualifying payments if you also certify your employment for the same period of time.

3. Certify Your Employment

To do this, print out an Employment Certification form and get your employer to fill it out and send it in for approval. The Federal Student Aid website suggests filling this form out annually or at least every time you switch jobs.

You can also use the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Help Tool at StudentAid.gov/pslf/ to find qualifying employers and get the forms that you need.

4. Make 120 Qualifying Monthly Payments

You must make these payments while you’re employed by a qualified public service employer. Switching employers isn’t a problem, so long as you are still working for a qualifying organization.

5. Apply for Forgiveness

After you make the final payment, submit your application for forgiveness.

Current State of the Program

Because the program was created in 2007, the first borrowers to qualify for loan forgiveness applied in 2017. However, early estimates by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported the denial rate as more than 99%. At the same time, many borrowers weren’t even aware that the forgiveness program exists.

In 2022, the Biden Administration addressed these issues by introducing a “limited PSLF waiver,” which allowed student loan holders to receive credit for payments that previously didn’t qualify for PSLF. The waiver deadline expired on Oct. 31, 2022.

However, post-deadline, the effort to make it easier to qualify for PSLF is continuing. The DOE extended elements of the waiver through the IDR account adjustment program, which goes until the end of 2023.

President Biden announced in October 2023 that during his administration the DOE had secured relief for “almost $51 billion for 715,000 public servants through Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) programs, including the limited PSLF waiver and Temporary Expanded PSLF (TEPSLF).”

Beware of false communications from scammers posing as the DOE or your loan servicer. Read up on the latest student loan forgiveness scams.

Pros and Cons of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The advantages of the program are pretty straightforward. The disadvantages have more to do with how the program is executed in the real world.

Pros of PSLF

1.    The balance of your student loans is forgiven after a set time. This works as a kind of bonus to make up for the low pay earned by people working in the public sector.

2.    The amount forgiven usually isn’t considered income, so you aren’t taxed on it (and you don’t have to save additional money to account for the IRS bill). With other loan forgiveness programs, you might see a big tax bill.

3.    Professionals in qualifying jobs are making a difference, and your government appreciates it enough to give you a break on your federal student loans.

4.    You may pay less monthly because you’re on an income-driven plan. This means paying out less of your hard-earned cash every month.

Cons of PSLF

1.    The program is only open to those with certain types of employers. And it’s contingent on staying with a qualifying public service employer for 10 years. With the SAVE program, qualifying loan holders may be able to pay off their federal student loans no matter who their employer is.

2.    Some borrowers aren’t aware of the program, partly due to a lack of education by employers, loan servicers, and schools.

3.    There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get your loans forgiven. Plus, if you don’t jump through a hoop properly, you can jeopardize your forgiveness.

4.    The extra money that can potentially be earned from working for a corporate employer may help you pay off your loans sooner than through PSLF.

5.    You might end up paying more in interest by making 120 payments than if you budgeted to aggressively repay your loans in less than 10 years.

Alternatives to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

Another program available to some individuals is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. This program is available to full-time teachers who have completed five consecutive years of teaching in a low-income school. This program has strict eligibility requirements that must be met in order to receive forgiveness.

If you receive Teacher Loan Forgiveness, the five-year period of service that supported your eligibility will NOT count toward PSLF. However, the limited PSLF waiver discussed above temporarily waived this restriction for individuals who previously received Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

These federal forgiveness programs do not apply to private student loans. If you are looking for ways to reduce your interest rate or monthly payments on private student loans, refinancing with a private lender can be an option. (Note: You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.)

It is important to mention that refinancing your federal student loans with a private lender may make you ineligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, should you choose that route.

The Takeaway

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is one way for eligible borrowers to have their federal student loans forgiven. Recent changes to the program by the Biden Administration promises to make qualifying for PSLF easier. However, if you have student loans that aren’t eligible for PSLF, consider taking advantage of either refinancing or income-driven repayment.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.


With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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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Guide to Extending Student Loan Repayment Terms

Guide to Extending Student Loan Repayment Terms

Did you know that you may be able to draw out student loan repayment for 20 or 30 years? That means lower monthly payments, but you’ll pay more total interest over the loan term.

But if your payments are a strain, consolidating or refinancing your student loans may allow you to stretch out repayment terms and tame those monthly bills. If you have federal loans, you may also consider an Extended Repayment Plan that increases the term of your loan from 10 to 25 years. While it may make your monthly payments lower in the short term, in the long term, you’ll pay more interest with any of these options.

Ahead, we look at how student loan repayment terms work, the pros and cons of extending your loan term, and other options that might help you make your monthly payments more affordable.

How Long Are Student Loan Repayment Terms Usually?

Federal student loan borrowers are automatically placed on the standard repayment plan of 10 years unless they choose a different plan. They enjoy a six-month grace period after graduating, leaving school, or dropping below half-time enrollment before repayment begins.

There isn’t a standard repayment plan for private student loans, but the general repayment term is also ​10 years.

In the case of both private and federal student loans, you may be able to extend your student loan payments.

For example, if you have federal student loans, you can explore the following options:

•   Graduated repayment plan: You start with lower payments, and payments increase every two years for up to 10 years, or up to 30 years for Direct Consolidation Loans. Consolidation combines all of your federal student loans into one, with a weighted average of the loan interest rates, and often extends your repayment time frame.

•   Extended repayment plan: With this plan, you can extend your loan term to 25 years, though you must have $30,000 or more in Direct or Federal Family Education Loan Program loans.

•   Income-driven repayment plan: The four income-driven repayment plans – including the newest plan, SAVE – allow you to make payments based on your income. This is a good option if you’re struggling to pay your monthly bill because your income is low compared with your loan payments. You may be eligible for forgiveness of any remaining loan balance after 20 or 25 years of qualifying payments or as few as 10 years if you work in public service or use the SAVE Plan.

If you have private student loans, you may be able to refinance your loans for a longer term. You can also refinance federal loans, but you’ll lose access to many of the benefits including the chance to consolidate and receive a longer loan term.


💡 Quick Tip: Enjoy no hidden fees and special member benefits when you refinance student loans with SoFi.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Extending Repayment Terms?

Let’s take a look at three pros and three cons of extending your student loan repayment terms:

Pros

Cons

Allows for lower monthly payments You’ll pay more total interest
Gives you more flexibility Takes more time to pay off loans
Frees up cash for other things May have to pay a higher interest rate

Lower monthly payments can give you more flexibility and free up your money to go toward other things. However, you may pay considerably more interest over time. You’ll also spend more time paying off your loans.

Here’s an example of what extending student loan repayment can look like, using a student loan calculator:

Let’s say you have $50,000 of student loan debt at 6.28% on a standard repayment plan. Your estimated monthly payments are $562.16, the total amount you’ll pay in interest will be $17,459, and your total repayment amount will be $67,459.

•   Term: 10 years

•   Monthly payments: $562

•   Total interest amount: $17,459

•   Total repayment amount: $67,459

Now let’s say you choose to refinance. Refinancing means a private lender pays off your student loans with a new loan, and you receive a new interest rate and/or term. In this case, let’s say you opt to refinance to a 20-year term and qualify for a 5% rate. Your estimated monthly payments would be $329.98. You’d pay $29,195 in total interest, and the total repayment would be $79,195 over the course of 20 years.

•   Term: 20 years

•   Monthly payments: $330

•   Total interest amount: $29,195

•   Total repayment amount: $79,195

In this example, doubling the term but reducing the interest rate results in lower monthly payments — a relief for many borrowers — but a higher total repayment sum. You’ll pay nearly double in interest charges over the life of the loan.

How Long Can You Extend Your Student Loans For?

You can extend your federal student loan repayment to 30 years on a graduated repayment plan if you consolidate your loans.

Most private lenders limit refinancing to a 20-year loan term, but borrowers who are serial refinancers may go beyond that. With consecutive refinances you can stretch a private loan term to 25 to 30 years.

Consecutive Refinances

You can refinance private or federal student loans as often as you’d like, as long as you qualify. Refinancing can benefit you when you find a lower interest rate on your student loans, but be aware of the total picture:

Pros

Cons

May save money every time you refinance Will lose access to federal programs like loan forgiveness, income-driven repayment, and generous forbearance and deferment if federal student loans are refinanced
May allow for a lower interest rate and lower monthly payments If you choose a longer loan term, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan
Most student loan providers don’t charge fees for refinancing such as origination fees or prepayment penalties) You may not qualify for the best rates if you have a poor credit score

How do you know when to refinance student debt? If you find a lower interest rate, you could save money over the life of the new loan.

You can use a student loan refinancing calculator to estimate monthly savings and total savings over the life of the loan.

Refinancing Your Student Loans to a 30-Year Term

You cannot directly refinance your student loans into a 30-year term because almost all refinance lenders offer a maximum of 15- or 20-year terms. But you could take advantage of consecutive refinances to draw out payments for 30 years.

Or you could opt for consolidation of federal student loans for up to 30 years.

Consecutive Refinance Approach

Since there’s no limit on the number of times you can refinance your federal and private student loans, as long as you qualify or have a cosigner, you can refinance as many times as you need to in order to lengthen your loan term.

Direct Consolidation Approach

If you have multiple federal student loans, you can consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan with a term up to 30 years. Because the loan remains a government loan, you would keep federal student loan benefits and may even qualify for loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years.

While extending your loan term may reduce your monthly payments in the short-term, it’s likely it will cost you more in interest in the long term. If you are struggling to make your federal loan payments, you might be better off choosing an income-driven repayment plan instead of extending your loan term.

Other Ways to Reduce Your Monthly Student Loan Payments

One of the best ways to reduce your monthly student loan payments is to talk with your loan servicer to determine your options.

Some student loan servicers shave a little off your interest rate if you make automatic payments.

More employers are considering offering help with student loan payments as an employee perk.

And through 2025, employers can contribute up to $5,250 per worker annually in student loan help without raising the employee’s gross taxable income.

Ready to Refinance Your Student Loans?

Is a 30-year student loan refinance a thing? It can be, for serial refinancers. Then there’s the 30-year federal student loan consolidation option. The point of a longer term is to shrink monthly payments. To reiterate, though, you may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.


Photo credit: iStock/blackCAT

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.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


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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