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A College Loan Glossary

April 29, 2008

by Paulina Mis

Financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants is a student’s best bet when searching for college funding. Families who cannot pay for a student’s education without outside assistance should first turn to cost-free resources. When these prove insufficient, students can consider borrowing money for college.

With recent articles detailing the plights of indebted students and their troubled lenders, it’s no surprise that students are intimidated by the borrowing process. If one’s economic situation calls for assistance in the form of student loans, getting comfortable with the lending process is a good way to get rid of the loan jitters. So before you sign on the dotted lines, familiarize yourself with the following terms:

The Basics:

  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR): The Annual Percentage Rate is the total annual cost of a loan, including all fees and interest, expressed as a percentage.
  • Co-Borrower/ Co-Signer: A person, other than the borrower, who signs the loan promissory note. If the borrower does not pay, the co-borrower is responsible for payment of the debt.
  • Consolidation: The process of combining several federal or private loans from multiple lenders into a single loan. Consolidation is done to reduce the monthly payment amount, simplify the repayment process and/or increase the repayment period.
  • Default: A default is a failure to repay a loan in accordance with the terms of the promissory note. Defaults can also occur if students fail to submit requests for deferments or discharges (cancellations) in a timely manner. For Perkins Loans: Failure of a borrower to make a loan-installment payment when due or to meet other terms of a signed promissory note or written repayment agreement. For FFEL and Direct Loans: Failure to make a loan-installment payment on (a) a loan repayable in monthly installments for 180 days or (b) for FFEL, a loan payable in less frequent installments for 240 days.
  • Interest: Interest is an amount charged to the borrower for the privilege of using the lender's money. Interest is usually calculated as a percentage of the principal. The percentage rate may be either fixed or variable, depending on the terms of the loan.
  • Lender: A financial institution, agency or school that provides loan money
  • Principal: The amount borrowed (may increase because of interest capitalization). Interest is usually calculated as a percentage of the principal.  

The Rest:

  • Accrued Interest: The accumulated interest on a loan. It may be compounded or simple and is usually paid when the principal becomes due. Depending on the loan, the interest accrued between the disbursement date and the time a payment must first be made may be the responsibility of the borrower or of the government.
  • Average Daily Balance (ADB): The sum of unpaid principal on all qualifying loans. The ADB is based on each day’s current interest rate and the number of days in the quarter.
  • Amortization: The process of gradually repaying a loan through periodic payments of principal and interest.
  • Cancellation/Discharge: A cancellation occurs when a borrower meets the requirements necessary to nullify his/her obligation to repay all or a part of the loan.
  • Capitalized Interest: The interest added to the principal amount of your loan. Future interest will be based upon the higher amount. Capitalizing is a consequence of delaying interest payments; it increases the amount of the principal and, consequently, the total amount that must be repaid.
  • Collateral: Property of a borrower that is pledged as security in case he/she does not repay the loan. It may become property of the lender if the borrower fails to repay the loan.
  • Commercial Bank: An institution whose primary function is to make loans to businesses.
  • Deferment: A period of postponement during which loan repayment is suspended. The borrower must meet deferment requirements as established by law to have his/her payments suspended. For subsidized loans, interest is not accumulated during the deferment. Interest does accrue during the deferment period on an unsubsidized loan.
  • Deferred Interest: Interest payments that are delayed while a borrower is not employed, as, for example, when the borrower is a student. This benefit is generally characteristic of federal and state guaranteed student loans.
  • Delinquency: You are delinquent if your payment is not received by the due date. Delinquencies greater than 30 days are reported to national credit bureaus.
  • Disbursement: The release of loan funds to the school for delivery to the borrower. Disbursements are usually made in equal multiple installments co-payable to the borrower and the school.
  • Entrance Counseling: Each institution participating in the Federal Perkins, FFEL, and Federal Direct Loan Programs (excluding PLUS and Direct PLUS Loans) must offer loan entrance counseling to first-time student borrowers. The institution must offer this counseling before the delivery of the first disbursement of any loan to a borrower at the institution. Entrance counseling covers the borrower's rights and responsibilities, the terms and conditions of the loan and the consequences of default.
  • Exit Counseling: Each institution participating in the Federal Perkins, FFEL, and Federal Direct Loan Programs (excluding PLUS and Direct PLUS loans) must offer loan counseling called "exit " counseling to student borrowers. For Federal Perkins borrowers, the interview must take place before the borrower leaves school. In the case of FFEL and Federal Direct Loan student borrowers, the interview must take place shortly before the borrower ceases at least half-time enrollment. During the interview, the borrower's rights and responsibilities are reviewed, details about handling loan repayment are discussed, and the average indebtedness of the school's borrowers must be disclosed. Borrowers are also required to provide updated personal information such as address, telephone number, employer (if known), and driver's license and state of issuance.
  • Fixed Interest: Interest rate that remains the same for the life of the loan.
  • Forbearance: When an FFEL lender (or the U.S. Department of Education for Direct Loans) allows a temporary cessation of payments or reduction of payment amounts for subsidized or unsubsidized Federal Stafford, Federal PLUS, Federal Perkins, or Federal Direct Loans. In doing so, it allows an extended period for making payments or accepts smaller payments than were previously scheduled. Forbearance may be given for circumstances that are not covered by deferment. Interest expenses continue to accrue during forbearance.
  • Grace Period: The period that begins the day after a loan recipient ceases to be enrolled at least half time and ends the day before the loan repayment period starts. Some loans have a grace period so that repayment doesn't begin until several months after graduation. Grace periods are specified in the promissory note.
  • Interest Subsidy: Interest the federal government pays on certain loans while borrowers are in school, during authorized deferment, or during grace periods.
  • Interest-Only Payment: A payment that covers only accrued interest owed on a loan and none of the principal balance. Interest-only payments do not prohibit borrowers from making additional or larger payments at any time if the borrower desires.
  • Loan Disclosure Statement: A statement sent to a loan borrower by the lender before or at the time it disburses a loan, as well as before the start of the repayment period. The purpose of the disclosure is to provide the borrower with thorough and accurate information about the loan terms and the consequences of default. It includes information such as: • amount of the loan, • interest rate, • fee charges,• length of the grace period (if any),• the maximum length of the repayment, the minimum annual repayment, deferment conditions, and the • definition of default.
  • Master Promissory Note (MPN): An agreement a student signs when taking out a Stafford Loan. The Master Promissory Note covers both the Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans the student may receive for the same enrollment period. If the student is attending a 4-year or graduate school, the Master Promissory Note also covers Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans the student may receive for future enrollment periods.
  • Origination Fee: The origination fee is an upfront charge deducted from the loan to pay part of the loan's administrative costs.
  • Prime Rate: The prime interest rate is the rate charged by commercial financial institutions for short-term loans to corporations or individuals whose credit standing is so high that little risk to the lender is involved in making the loan. This rate fluctuates and serves as a basis for the interest rates charged for other loans.
  • Private Loans: Private loans provide funding when other financial aid does not cover costs. These loans are offered by banks or other financial institutions and schools to parents and students.
  • Promissory Note: A binding legal document that a borrower signs to get a loan. By signing this note, a borrower promises to repay the loan, with interest, in specified installments. The promissory note will also include any information about the grace period, deferment, or cancellation provisions, and a borrower's rights and responsibilities with respect to that loan.
  • Repayment Schedule (A Specific Timetable): The borrower's repayment plan detailing the amount of loan principal and interest due in each repayment installment and the number of payments that will be required to pay off the loan in full. A repayment schedule traditionally lists the loan's interest rate, the due date of the first loan payment, and the frequency of loan payments.
  • Simple Interest: Interest computed only on the original amount of a loan.
  • Subsidized Loan: A subsidized loan is awarded based on financial need. You will not be charged any interest before you begin repayment or during authorized periods of deferment. The federal government "subsidizes" the interest during these periods.
  • Variable Interest: Interest rates that fluctuate periodically (usually annually). The interests rates of federal Stafford and PLUS Loans disbursed between July 1, 1998 and June 30, 2006 are variable. Those disbursed after this date are fixed.

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