You dream, like many others, of going to an Ivy League University to study law, or perhaps medicine. Of walking in through the hallowed doors of Harvard or Princeton. However, then the reality strikes you, you cannot afford it. If you are unable to get a scholarship, or money from family members, the next step then is applying for a student loan. A student or education loan is a form of financial aid that must be repaid, with interest (as opposed to scholarships, which do not need to be repaid).
Take a look at the website for Federal Student Aid (details below). It helps to provide a step-by-step explanation of how to go about choosing colleges, applying and thinking of funding. Its easy to navigate, and sets out simple steps to follow, and things to remember and think about. They also provide tips to reduce college costs, which are worth looking into.
The website explains that Federal Student Aid is the largest source of funding in America, giving out more than $80 billion in grants, loans and work-study assistance. Look at the website to determine whether you are eligible and how much you can expect to get. In general, you must be a US citizen, have a Social Security number, have completed high school and qualify for financial need (with some exceptions). Even if you aren’t eligible to federal aid, you should fill in the form, as you may be eligible for non-federal aid and private aid. The website provides more details, especially new changes brought in by recent legislation.
Student Loans Simplified
Student loans come in three categories — student loans like Stafford or Perkins, parent loans eg PLUS and private or alternative student loans. The first category are federal loans that are low-interest and don’t need collateral or credit-checks. They also provide extended repayment terms and deferment options. They include the Federal Stafford or Federal Perkins loans.
All Stafford loans are either subsidized, for which the government pays the interest, or unsubsidized, for which you must pay the interest. For the former, you need to demonstrate financial need. All students are eligible for the unsubsidized Stafford Loan. Some students combine the two categories to borrow the maximum allowed each year. To apply for a Stafford Loan, you need to fill in the FAFSA (see below).
Parents can also take out loans to pay for their children’s undergraduate education. These are called PLUS (Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students), which can be upto the amount of expense that is not covered by any other form of aid. These loans now have a fixed rate of interest at 8.5%, and the repayment term is upto 10 years.
You can also apply for private educational loans to make up any shortfalls. This is through private financial institutions, and depends on your credit score and other factors.
These do not require federal forms, and are often turned to when federal loans are not sufficient to meet the financial expenses.
Depending on your chosen field, you may be eligible for specific departmental federal aid. The Students.Gov website (http://www.students.gov/STUGOVWebApp/Public?topicID=14&operation=topic ) gives information on specific loans and grants for students in the health and education sectors. This site also gives specific information on the FAFSA. It also provides a student funding calculator, to figure out how much you will need to budget for study and living.
FAFSA – What is it?
Its stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and is just that, a free form that you fill in to apply for aid. Before filling it in, ensure you have all the required information. Perhaps you can look at the form beforehand, and gather all the needed documents. You can download the form at this link: http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/fafsaws78c.pdf. There are seven steps to filling the form. There are instructions and help, and worksheets that help compute figures for you. You may need a PIN, which is not required, but is the fastest way to file an application. If you are a dependent student, you may need a parent to sign it for you.
If you have to opt for non-federal aid, you may be able to choose a lower interest rate provider. Many lenders offer discounts to entice students. Check out the FinAid comparison charts to find which is the best offer for you (http://www.finaid.org/loans/studentloandiscounts.phtml#comparisoncharts).
There are some who provide discounts, rebates upon repayment etc. Most common discount is that of providing a 0.25% reduction for having your monthly loan payments direct debited from your bank account. They may also waive the 1% guarantee fee. Many also offer discounts on making all your repayments on time.
The problem is that making all repayments on time is difficult to ensure. If you have signed up for automatic direct debit and have insufficient funds in your account, you may lose these benefits. Even being late on one payment makes you lose the discounts permanently. Remember, you will have to maintain this for upto 36 or 48 payments. For some discounts, a minimum loan balance may be required, and thus the best discounts are kept for those who borrow the most. Many fee rebates include fine print, which require repayment on certain conditions, like consolidating with another lender within a time frame.
Although this article is primarily about student loans, don’t overlook the importance of scholarships and sponsorships. They may not be as hard to get as you may think. There may be many small scholarship amounts that you could win, which can add up to a lot. Also, apply to firms in you field, and you may be lucky enough to be sponsored to study in your dream University.