UNIVARSITY.ORG | Student Loan Basics – What You Need to Know About Applying for Student Loans
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31 Jul Student Loan Basics – What You Need to Know About Applying for Student Loans

So you’re thinking about college. Maybe you’re just out of high school getting out in the world for the first time, or maybe you’re an adult considering college for the first time or even grad school. When I decided to go back to school to finish my B.A., my main question was how I would fund it. Of course, I had a job, but it’s difficult to both work full-time and go to school full-time. My only option was student loans, at least at the beginning.

Now, student loans are not the only way to fund college. There are scholarships you may be eligible for; some of you may be lucky enough to have parents that can assist in stemming the costs you might incur; or you might have been diligent about saving for just an occasion. Many of us aren’t that fortunate and the costs of paying for tuition, books and other school related fees on top of rent, utilities and other living expenses can be a little overwhelming to deal with. When all else fails, student loans are a good option, but there are some key issues you need to know before going this route.

Federal student loans are designed to assist students in paying for tuition and other expenses. Additionally, they have many advantages over other loans. One advantage is that student loans do not need to be paid back until you’re done with school. This takes away much of the stress of taking out a loan and not knowing whether you’ll be able to pay it back or not. Even when you do enter repayment, there are several repayment options that student loans allow you to choose from that can be changed with some restrictions based on what might suit your financial situation. Another advantage student loans have over other loans is that the rates and terms are much more lenient. First of all, the interest rates for student loans are variable, much lower than other loans and at the moment there is a cap on the maximum interest you will pay. Secondly, depending on the repayment plan you choose, you can also take as much as 30 years to pay back your loans. Additionally, if your financial situation takes a nose-dive, you may also be eligible to defer repayment on your student loans up to three years and depending on what you do after school, some of the loan may be forgiven.

One of the first decisions you have to make is how much you will need to take out in student loans.

Here are the key issues you should consider when making this decision:

1 – What are your living expenses?

This question involves making a budget that includes all the expenses you incur on a monthly basis. Included in this should be rent, utilities, car payments, insurance, gas, food, child care if needed, other loan payments and any expense that you think you might need on a monthly basis. You’ll then need to multiple your monthly budget by the number of months in the school year, usually nine, and then add in the costs of tuition and other college related fees. This will give you a good idea of the total financing you’ll need for the year.

2 – Are you going to work?

This is a critical factor in deciding how much you’ll need and working will allow you to take out much less in student loans decreasing your debt when you are finished. Additionally, for undergraduates, unless you take out private loans, student loan funding is limited and may not always cover all your expenses depending on the college you decide to go to. You might also qualify for work-study, which also gives you valuable work experience. Unless you’re planning on only going to school part-time, I don’t suggest working full-time. Your main goal in going to college is to get a good education and working full-time detracts from this opportunity.

So you’ve figured out your approximate expenses for the school year. Here’s what you need to do in order to get student loans:

File a Free Application for Financial Student Aid

Filing the FAFSA should not be put off. While the deadline for student loans isn’t terribly strict, most schools have a February 15th deadline to qualify for grants and other types of non-loan aid such as work-study, which may significantly decrease the amount of debt you owe when you’re finished with school. I suggest getting an application for the next year as soon as they become available. This is usually right around the end of the year. Fill it out right after you get your tax documents, usually around the end of January. Your financial information on your form needs to match what you file with your tax return and sometimes your school’s financial aid office will need a signed copy of your tax return as well if anything is questionable, so be sure to make a copy after you sign it. One thing you don’t want to do on the form is provide inaccurate information. This could prevent you from getting any aid at all in the present and in the future.

Soon after you send it in, the Department of Education will send out your student aid report (SAR) with all the information you provided as well as the information the school takes into consideration. If they ask for additional information, don’t wait to send it to them. Doing so could prevent you from getting aid of any type. How much you’ll be able to take out will depend on your information, the school and the budget they assume for the academic year.

Student loans are like any other loan. You need to be cautious of how much you borrow and how much you’ll need to pay back. Weigh the costs and the benefits just as you would any loan, but don’t let it keep you from returning to college or just starting out. The cost of not going is always much greater.



Peter Livingston

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