The most expensive college in the United States—Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York—charges $44,220 a year for tuition. And that doesn’t include fees and room and board, which can cost an additional $14,000. Even more disturbing is that the annual cost of a college education has risen by 130 percent in the past 20 years, according to the College Board. As a result, Americans have racked up about $1 trillion in education debt from both federal and private student and parent loans.
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Key information to understand student loans includes being aware of the annual and cumulative loan limits, interest rates, fees, and loan term for the most popular private student loan programs. Often the interest rates, fees and loan limits depend on the credit history of the borrower and co-signer, if any, and on loan options chosen by the borrower such as in-school deferment and repayment schedule. Loan term often depends on the total amount of debt.
Student loan repayment assistance is a perk that more companies are providing given that most students carry debt into their careers. Although only 4% of companies offer this benefit now, it is the hottest benefit of the past year with 76% of people saying that student loan repayment benefits would be a deciding or contributing factor to accepting a job, according to the 2015 American Student Assistance survey. Employers usually pay $100 to $300 a month with many employers matching contributions up to $2,000 per year.
When it comes to Stafford, Perkins, PLUS, and Direct Consolidation loans—which make up 85 percent of education debt—there are five repayment options. They range from the standard plan, which requires a minimum payment of $50 every month for up to 10 years, to the new, income-based plan that caps your monthly payments at a “reasonable percentage” of your income (determined by the federal government)and forgives any debt remaining after 25 years. So which schedule is best for you?
You can pay off the principal early by making pre-payments while studying. Call your loan servicer to make sure your payments are applied to the principal and not the interest. You can make payments on federal loans while in school, but some private loans will charge you a fee for doing so. Be sure to find out which loans you can pay off without fees.
For example, you may see variable rates advertised as low as 2.5% APR and fixed rates starting around 3.9% APR. But this is a sunny day scenario. You and/or your cosigner would need to have the right qualifying credit score or credit factors to achieve the lowest rate, and the lender may impose requirements such as signing up for auto-debit from a checking or savings account to lock in these low rates. When comparing lenders, look for the asterisks and footnotes along with the fine print to understand what it takes to achieve or put you in the running for the advertised rates.
Lastly, accept the financial aid package from your chosen school, if you choose to receive aid. Your financial aid award letter will have an itemized list of all available types of aid, including grants and federal student loans. Remember, even after you've accepted your award letter, you should check with your school's financial aid office to see what other forms or documents you will need to complete in order to secure your funding (for example, completing your Direct Loan Master Promissory Note, or MPN).
If you’re thinking about signing up for an income-based repayment plan, this may not be the best choice if you want to pay off students loans fast. Income-based Repayment or Pay As You Earn plans may not cover all of the interest that’s accruing, which can lead to capitalized interest. In the short term, you may feel better covering your payments, but you may end up owing more in the long term.
There are several ways to have your student loans forgiven, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which applies to qualifying loans after 10 years of payments. You can work for a government agency, non-profit organization or other qualifying organizations. Your state may also offer some repayment assistance in which they repay part of your loan, but you need to work in an area in which the state needs assistance.
After those two options, you should consider federal student loans. These typically have lower interest rates, better benefits, more protections for borrowers, and access to a wider variety of repayment plans. There are, however, federal student loan limits, so you may not be able to cover the rest of your education costs with them. In this situation, most students will turn to private student loans.
To obtain federal student aid, you’ll have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA. As the name implies, the form is free and puts you in the running for financial aid for college, including federal student loans — making the whole application process easier, even if the form itself takes some time to fill out.
CommonBond has no application or pre-payment fees, interest rates are competitive, and co-signed loans have no origination fee. (Its medical school, dental school, and MBA loans have a 2% origination fee.) Loans are available for undergrads, grad students, and parents. Interest rates for those loans range from 3.69 to 9.74% APR with 5 to 15 year payback periods.
Private loans are typically made through private banks, credit unions, state agencies, or financial institutions. They may have rates and terms that are different from federal loans. If you’re considering applying for a private loan, be sure that you’ve taken advantage of all federal aid opportunities first. There are two types of private education loans:
If you decide to take out a loan, make sure you understand who is making the loan and the terms and conditions of the loan. Student loans can come from the federal government, from private sources such as a bank or financial institution, or from other organizations. Loans made by the federal government, called federal student loans, usually have more benefits than loans from banks or other private sources. Learn more about the differences between federal and private student loans.