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Federal Student Loans

November 6, 2007

by Kevin Ladd

Loans don’t incite pleasant feelings in students, in anyone on the borrowing side. It doesn’t help that the media has made it a point to discuss, extensively, what appears to be the newest trend… mortgage loan defaulting. Student loans aren't as large as mortgages, but for a growing number, they are catching up.

Regardless of cost, there are a lot of dedicated students out there, and until the college-financing system undergoes a major overhaul (cross your fingers but don't hold your breath), loans may be inevitable. Before taking out loans, students should complete a FAFSA and conduct a free scholarship search. Those who still need money should apply for federal loans. Only after exhausting government loans should one consider private student loans

As a result of the recently passed College Cost Reduction and Access Act, there will be a decrease in interest rates on federal college student loans. That's great news for students with large financial aid needs, but loan rates have not yet been changed. Even before government rates become less expensive, it is in a student's best interest to see what the government has to offer before looking elsewhere. Below are the federal student loan options available to those in need.

Stafford Loans- Students who are interested in taking out a Stafford Loan (or other types of federal student loans) will need to fill out a FAFSA. The amount that a student can borrow will depend on a student’s year in school as well as on whether the Stafford Loan is subsidized or unsubsidized (only a portion of the amount may be subsidized). Stafford Loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 are fixed at a 6.8 % interest rate, but lower rates are in the works.

  • For the 2007-2008 school year, dependent undergraduate students attending college full time may borrow between $3,500 and $5,500 (borrowing limit increases after each completed year).
  • Independent undergraduates or dependents whose parents were denied a PLUS Loan may borrow between $7,500 and $10,500 (again, freshmen may take out less than seniors).
  • The maximum amount of a professional or graduate student loan is a bit larger—as is graduate tuition. This year, students may borrow up to $20,500, regardless of their year in graduate school.

PLUS Loans- The Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students or PLUS Loan is offered to, as the name suggests, parents of undergraduate students. Recently, the loan has also been made available to graduate school students. PLUS Loan amounts may not exceed the total cost of attendance minus any other financial aid received. If the student’s estimated cost of attendance (amount determined by each school) is $6,000 and the student receives $4,000 in aid, only $2,000 may be borrowed. To take advantage of this loan, students must max out their Stafford Loans, and doing so is in a student’s best interest anyway. PLUS Loans have higher interest rates than Stafford Loans; those disbursed on or after July 1, 2006 are fixed at 7.9% for Direct PLUS Loans and at 8.5% for FFEL PLUS Loans.

Perkins Loans- Although Perkins Loans are made with government money, they are normally classified as campus-based aid because they are administered by schools. Perkins Loans are offered to students with exceptional need, and only a limited amount is available. Once a school runs low on Perkins Loan funds, students will not receive as much (the same holds true for federal-work study opportunities). This is why students are generally advised to submit their FAFSA early. The earlier they apply, the greater their chance of receiving some forms of aid. The loan amount received through the Perkins Loan program depends on the amount a school has, on already-received aid and on the financial needs of the student. Students who qualify can borrow up to $4,000 each year and pay it off at a 5% student loan rate.


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