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Applying, Borrowing, and Paying Back


student loans work

Increasingly, tuition continues to rise, saddling millions of students with large amounts of student loan debt. In fact, the average student is carrying $37,172 in student loan debt, according to CNBC. That’s slightly more than a Tesla Model 3 or even a wedding. Without students loans, many people would not even be able to attend college.

For most anyone heading to college, student loans will become a fact of life. But where do student loans come from, how much can you borrow, and what is the true cost? In this article, you’ll learn all about how student loans work.

The Ins and Outs of Student Loans

Student loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students alike. They are based on need, of which income is only one component. Students loans are issued by the government. Although, private loans are also available. The amount issued to a student will depend on the student’s financial situation. The final decision is up to the school.

Financial aid packages are the first step in receiving a student loan. The financial aid package is made up of gift aid (such as grants and scholarships), loans, and work-study programs.

How to Apply for a Student Loan

The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, must be filled out each year to receive financial aid. FAFSA deadlines change each year. You can check their status here. Be sure your FAFSA is submitted on time. Otherwise, a late FAFSA will certainly complicate your financial situation and leave you scrambling to pay for school.

To get an idea of how much financial aid you might be awarded, check the FAFSA4caster website.

Upon being awarded financial aid, you’ll receive amounts for gift aid and loans. There should also be a breakdown of your school’s cost. Schools display cost information in different ways and the true cost can be off by a wide margin. Depending on what is shown, you may need to ask the school for cost on:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Food
  • Travel
  • Fees (labs, etc.)
  • Books

Add in any other known cost. It’s better to overestimate rather than underestimate. Many students find that they are short on money, even after receiving their financial aid. This is due to many costs that are not accounted for.

How Much Should You Borrow?

Once you have an annual cost for school, subtract out gift aid and any money your parents may have saved up for college. If you have saved up money for college, subtract it out as well. The number you’re left with is not only direct school cost (tuition & housing) but cost needed to live while you’re in school. If you have a job, factor in how much of the above cost it will cover. You should have a final number on cost at this point.

That final number is the amount needed for school loans. The less money in school loans you have to take, the better. As you can see, the amount of loans isn’t just about tuition and books. It should factor in all costs that are associated with being a student.

One caveat about student loans: students will often take the full awarded amount, even if it isn’t needed. If you don’t need the full amount, you can take only what is needed. Taking more loan money than what is needed will cost more in interest and increase your monthly loan payments.

Paying Back Your Student Loans

The government offers a number of loan features that are not available with non-government loans. These include:

  • Forbearance: You don’t have to start paying on student loans until after you graduate.
  • Hardship: While in repayment, you can push back payments until your finances improve.
  • Low interest: Most loans will have interest rates in the single digits.
  • Low origination fees: Fees for disbursed loans are ~1% of the loan value.

If you are enrolled at least half-time, you don’t have to begin making payments on government loans until six months after graduating. Additionally, interest will not accrue until after graduation.

If you fall below half-time, interest will begin accruing. At this point, it would be best to make payments above the minimum payment, which will decrease the amount of interest that accumulates.

According to the Federal Reserve, the average monthly payment is $393, with a median monthly payment of $222. How much you pay will depend on the repayment plan and interest rate. Note that graduate loans will usually have higher interest rates than undergraduate loans.

A Necessity for Most Students

With tuition continuing to skyrocket, student loans have become a necessity for virtually any student wanting to attend college. While student loans can be a large source of financing for college, planning for cost and taking only the amount needed will help to avoid being overly saddled with unneeded debt.

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