If you apply for financial aid, you may be offered loans as part of your school’s financial aid offer. A loan is money you borrow and must pay back with interest.
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.
What types of federal student loans are available?
- The U.S. Department of Education’s federal student loan program is the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. Under this program, the U.S. Department of Education is your lender. There are four types of Direct Loans available:
- Direct Subsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help cover the costs of higher education at a college or career school.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, but eligibility is not based on financial need.
- Direct PLUS Loans are loans made to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid. 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.
- Direct Consolidation Loans allow you to combine all of your eligible federal student loans into a single loan with a single loan servicer.
How much money can I borrow in federal student loans?
It depends on whether you’re an undergraduate student, a graduate or professional student, or a parent.
- If you are an undergraduate student, the maximum amount you can borrow each year in Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans ranges from $5,500 to $12,500 per year, depending on what year you are in school and your dependency status.
- If you are a graduate or professional student, you can borrow up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. Direct PLUS Loans can also be used for the remainder of your college costs not covered by other financial aid.
- If you are a parent of a dependent undergraduate student, you can receive a Direct PLUS Loan for the remainder of your child’s college costs not covered by other financial aid.
Why should I take out federal student loans?
Federal student loans are an investment in your future. You should not be afraid to take out federal student loans, but you should be smart about it.
Federal student loans offer many benefits compared to other options you may consider when paying for college:
- The interest rate on federal student loans is fixed and usually lower than that on private loans and much lower than that on a credit card.
- You don’t need a credit check or a cosigner to get most federal student loans.
- You don’t have to begin repaying your federal student loans until after you leave college or drop below half-time.
- If you demonstrate financial need, the government pays the interest on some loan types while you are in school and during some periods after school.
- Federal student loans offer flexible repayment plans and options to postpone your loan payments if you’re having trouble making payments.
- If you work in certain jobs, you may be eligible to have a portion of your federal student loans forgiven if you meet certain conditions.