What Is a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

By Kayla McCormack · July 26, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Is a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

A Direct Subsidized Loan is a type of federal student loan available to students who demonstrate financial need. The federal government subsidizes this type of loan by paying the interest that accrues while the student is enrolled in school at least half-time and during qualifying periods of deferment, such as the grace period.

The Direct Subsidized loan is one of three federal student loans available to student borrowers. The others are the Direct Unsubsidized Loan, Direct PLUS Loan, and Direct Consolidation Loan. Read on for more information about the benefits of Direct Subsidized loans and details about other types of student loans available to eligible students.

What Are the Benefits of a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

Like other types of student loans, you will be responsible for paying back your Federal Direct Subsidized Loan after you finish school. Unlike many other student loans, however, having a Direct Subsidized loan means you won’t be responsible for paying interest while you are in school or during a six-month grace period after graduation (or during other deferment periods). The U.S. Department of Education subsidizes this type of loan by paying the interest on your behalf during those periods.

Since the government is paying the interest that accrues while you are in school and during the grace period, no interest will be added to your balance before you begin repayment. This might sound like a minor detail, but not having to pay interest while you are in school and for six months after you graduate can significantly reduce the overall cost of your loan.

Like an Unsubsidized Direct loan, you’re not obligated to make payments during school — and the interest rate is relatively low. For the 2023-24 academic school year the interest rate for a Subsidized or Unsubsidized Direct Loan is 5.50%.

💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.

How Do You Apply for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan?

To apply for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan, you will need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is available for free online, and contains questions about you and your family’s financial circumstances.

The information you submit through the FAFSA is transmitted to your school and then used to determine what types of aid (including federal loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study) you are eligible to receive. The FAFSA must be completed annually.

There is no credit check involved in applying for a Federal Direct Subsidized (or Unsubsidized) loan, and you don’t need to worry about having a certain credit score.

How Is Your Eligibility for a Federal Direct Subsidized Loan Determined?

After your FAFSA has been reviewed, your selected school will send you an award letter that tells you your total cost of attendance, the award money you’ve been given, and what federal aid programs and loans you qualify for based on your FAFSA information.

You school will determine exactly how much you are eligible to borrow in federal loans based on a number of factors, including the amount the federal government expects you and your family to contribute to your educational costs, your current enrollment status, the school’s cost of attendance, any other financial aid you receive, and whether you are a dependent or independent student.

However, there are limits on the amount you can borrow with a Direct Loan, regardless of your financial need. If you are a dependent student, you can borrow a total of $31,000 for your undergraduate education in federal loans, but no more than $23,000 of this amount may be in Direct Subsidized Loans. Graduate and professional students cannot borrow subsidized loans.

Beyond Subsidized Loans: Other Options Available to Student Borrowers

Since eligibility for Direct Subsidized Loans is based on borrower need, and there are annual borrowing limits, you may be interested in learning about other available loan options. There are three other types of federal loans, and some borrowers may also want to consider private student loans.

The three types of federal loans available outside of Direct Subsidized Loans are:

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans These loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and eligibility is not based on financial need. Unlike Direct Subsidized Loans, however, interest starts accruing as soon as the money is disbursed to your school. You may choose not to pay this interest while you’re in school and during your six-month grace period, but any unpaid interest that accumulates during this time will be added to your total balance. How much you can borrow with an unsubsidized loan depends on your year in school as well as if you’re a dependent or an independent student.

•   Direct PLUS Loans PLUS Loans are options for graduate/professional students and parents of students who are interested in borrowing a loan to help their child pay for college. Eligibility for this type of loan is not based on need, but the application process does require a credit check. The terms of these loans are somewhat less favorable than Direct Loans, which is why families will want to look at Direct Unsubsidized and Subsidized loans first. The interest rate on PLUS loans for the 2023-24 academic year is 8.05%. These loans also have an origination fee of 4.228%.

💡 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.

•   Direct Consolidation Loan This federal loan isn’t awarded to borrowers as a part of their financial aid package. Instead, a Direct Consolidation Loan allows borrowers with multiple federal loans to combine (or consolidate) them into a single loan, usually after school. The loan’s new interest rate is the weighted average of the current interest rates on the student loans that will be consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one eighth of a percent.

Private student loans are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders. They come with a variety of terms and can offer competitive interest rates for students (or parent cosigners) with good or excellent credit. Unlike federal student loans, which offer only fixed rates, private student loans can have fixed or variable interest rates.

Also unlike federal student loans, private student loans often don’t charge any fees, such as an origination fee. However, private student loans don’t come with the same protections, such as government-sponsored loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans, as federal loans. Because of this, you may want to consider private loans only after you’ve exhausted federal loan options like Direct Subsidized loans and other sources of federal aid.

To apply for private student loans, potential borrowers will need to fill out an application directly with the lender of their choice.

The Takeaway

Borrowers with Federal Direct Subsidized Loans are not responsible for the interest that accrues while they are enrolled in school at least half-time or during the grace period or other qualifying periods of deferment. The interest is subsidized by the U.S. government. To qualify for this type of federal student loan, borrowers must be qualifying undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need.

Other options for students looking to pay for college may include Federal Direct Unsubsidized loans and PLUS Loans, scholarships and grants, and federal work-study programs, 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.

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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.

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.

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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