Preparing for college can be one of the most exciting and challenging times of a person’s life. Deciding on how you’ll finance your education is certainly one of a student’s larger challenges. Obviously, you should exhaust such options as savings, grants, and scholarships first. But when those options fall short of your needs, a student education loan is a logical choice to fill in the gap.
Student loans come in a variety of flavors, with loans tailored for students with exceptional need, and loans for the needs of average students. There are even loans specifically designed for medical students. There are also federal and private versions of these loans.
It is easy to understand how a student would feel overwhelmed with so many education financing options. But like most things in life, there’s a method to the madness. And with just a little insight into the pros and cons of each loan type, students and their parents can see more clearly the options that are best suited for an individual student’s needs.
Of all student education loan options, the one with the most attractive terms is the Perkins Loan. Perkins Loans have an incredibly low, fixed interest rate of 5 percent. These loans also have a longer “grace period” – the time allowed after leaving school before payment is required. Perkins Loans offer a 9-month grace period, as opposed to 6 months with a Stafford Loan. Another huge benefit of Perkins Loans is that they don’t begin to accrue interest until after you have left school.
Your Perkins Loan may also qualify for Loan Cancellation, which could pay back a portion, or all, of your student loan. Federal Loan Cancellation is offered to graduates who agree to work in high-need areas, such as agreeing to teach in a designated low-income school. The downside of Perkins Loans is that they’re not available for everybody – these loans are designed for students with “exceptional need.”
If Perkins Loans are not an option for you, then Stafford Loans are the next best thing. Stafford Loans offer benefits similar to Perkins Loans, with interest rates currently running in the 5 to 7 percent neighborhood – still very reasonable, as loans go these days. Like Perkins Loans, Stafford loans don’t require repayment until after you leave school or drop below half-time student. They also feature a “grace period” of six months before payments must begin.
Stafford Loans are offered directly from the federal government, and are also offered through the use of a private lending institution. Depending on the college you’ll attend, you may have the option of taking either a direct federal Stafford Loan, or taking the same loan by using a private lending institution as an intermediary. With some schools you may have both options. With regard to private lenders, certain colleges may have specific institutions that they regard as ‘preferred lenders,’ but remember that you have the option to seek your own private lender for a Stafford Loan.
If you find that grants, scholarships, and federal student loans don’t cover your needs, private student loans are always an option. Private student loans are a good value, but they generally feature slightly higher interest rates than their federal counterparts, and these rates are generally variable. Because private student loans are not federally-backed, you will likely find that you will need someone, such as a parent, to co-sign for you. Even if your credit allows you to secure financing on your own, having a cosigner is a very wise choice, since this can lower your loan’s interest rate. Lowering this interest rate, even by a fraction of a percent, can make a major difference in lowering the total amount of money you’ll have to repay on the loan.
Unlike federal loans, private student loans may require that you begin making monthly payments while still in school. These payments may be in some reduced form during this time, such as an interest-only payment. Even if your particular loan doesn’t require any type of repayment while in school, it’s still a good idea to send what you can, when you can. Even small irregular payments, made ahead of time, can have a huge effect on lowering the total amount you’ll have to repay.
Student loans, especially the federally-backed versions, are a great value for students and their parents when other funding options aren’t enough. It’s true that the many different types of student loans can be confusing to sort through. But more loan options means you’re more likely find a fit that is better for your specific needs. And by having a basic knowledge of the various education financing options available, it will be much easier to find the fit that’s right for you.