Student loans can be used to cover more than tuition and fees. They can pay for lodging, food, commuting, a computer, and study abroad (but not spring break!).
The upshot is that most qualified education loans can be used to cover the entire cost of attendance — an estimate of total costs for an academic year at a college, as determined by each campus financial aid office — minus any aid you receive.
It might be interesting to look at different schools’ total costs per year, broken down by College Navigator , a tool from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Books, Yes. New Car, No.
As long as a student is enrolled at least half-time, student loans can cover a range of expenses at a qualified institution of higher education or at a hospital or health care facility that provides postgraduate internship and residency training programs.
What Student Loans Can Cover
• Tuition and mandatory fees.
• Room and board. Whether it’s a dorm or an apartment off-campus, the expense can be covered. Board means a campus meal plan or groceries in general.
• Transportation. Loan money can pay for maintaining, insuring, and fueling your car or for public transportation fares.
• Personal expenses. These include cellphone bills, laundry costs, bed linens, towels, a microwave oven, and anything else you normally spend money on.
• Books and supplies. New, used or rented textbooks are covered, as are supplies ranging from software to notebooks.
• A personal computer. You can buy or rent a computer with student loan money.
• Dependent care. Child care expenses are covered.
• Loan fees. This includes any origination fee.
• Study-abroad costs. The Federal Student Aid office lists international schools that participate in the federal student loan program and describes the process.
Other qualified expenses may include utilities and furnishings.
What Student Loans Should Not Cover
• Travel or vacations
• Purchase of a car
• Down payment on a house
• Frequent dining out or expensive meals
• New wardrobe
• Small-business expenses
• Other debt
• Someone else’s tuition
What If I Use Student Loan Money for Nonessentials?
The use of student loans for nonqualified expenses could be reported to the Office of Inspector General as fraud, or a lender could call the loan balance due immediately, but in general, no one is tracking how you spend loan money.
Both federal and private student loans are disbursed to your school, which takes out tuition and fees, and if you live on campus, room and board. Any remaining money goes to you, so it’d be hard for lenders to tell if you’re using the remainder as intended.
If it’s tempting to go on a spending spree with the residual, remember that you will pay, or are paying, interest on that borrowed money.
Federal student loans have annual and aggregate limits that may seem generous, especially for graduate and professional students, but then there are private student loans, too, issued by private lenders.
As a rule, it’s a good idea to obtain a private student loan only after maxing out federal student aid and to know that private student loans do not come with some of the same protections in cases of financial hardship that federal student loans come with.
But private student loans can come in handy to fill gaps in need, and a cosigner can often help a student qualify.
Recommended: Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner? – A Guide
Other Ways to Cover Living Expenses
Aside from using student loans, there are several ways to pay for living expenses while in school. Here are a few.
Consider opting for a part-time job that allows flexible hours or that will work with your class schedule. Some students may also be able to find part-time jobs related to their major or career of choice.
Working while pursuing an undergraduate degree may improve time management skills. In that limited study time, it’ll be helpful to get organized and shut out distractions.
Recommended: Jobs that Pay for Your College Degree
Federal work-study may be offered as part of a student’s federal aid package and is based on financial need.
Work-study programs are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, regardless of whether you are a part-time or full-time student.
Becoming a Resident Assistant
Another way to pay for room and board, or to cover a portion of the cost, is to become an RA. An RA is usually assigned to a particular floor or wing of a dormitory to oversee dorm residents. Not only do you typically get a better room than others on your dorm floor, but you also get free housing.
RAs might lead mandatory floor meetings, organize monthly social gatherings, and referee the occasional roommate disagreement.
Another way to cover housing and living expenses (and tuition, quite frankly) is through merit scholarships. There are scholarships available from private companies, nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities, and professional and social organizations.
It might pay to take an afternoon to research scholarships that you might be eligible for, paying attention to scholarship requirements.
Awards may have certain conditions, such as requiring that the money only be used for tuition, but others may be delivered directly to you to use on whatever you want.
Recommended: Grants For College—Find Free Money for Students
As an alternative to (or addition to) a part-time job, you might want to consider a summer job or paid internship. During the summer, students may have more free time to work more hours and rack up cash to help cover their housing and living expenses for the following year.
Selling Unwanted Items
A quick way to cover housing and living expenses without going into more debt can be to sell your castoffs on buy-and-sell apps and websites.
Student loans for living expenses and housing? Yes, they can cover those college essentials. Food and transportation? Check. Study abroad? Possibly. Road trip to that music fest? Nope.
College costs usually reach well beyond tuition, so when federal student loans don’t meet all needs, private student loans can fill any gaps.
SoFi offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students, and parents, that can cover up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance.
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