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Student loans can make college more affordable. Learn how to apply for student loans and what requirements you must meet. (Shutterstock)
Apply Online Student Loans
When you apply for a student loan for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You can choose a federal student loan from the government or a private student loan from private lenders. You should always exhaust your federal loan options before applying for private loans.
Infographic: How To Apply For Student Loans
Whether you need federal loans, private loans, or both, here’s how to apply for student loans and the general requirements you must meet.
If you’ve exhausted all of your federal loan options, you may need to turn to private loans to cover the rest of your tuition costs. Visit Credible to learn more about student loans and see your private student loan rate in minutes.
The US Department of Education offers federal student loans. These loans come with low fixed interest rates, flexible repayment plans, deferment and forbearance, and forgiveness options. Because of this, you should apply for federal loans before applying for private loans. Here’s how to apply for federal student loans:
Most federal student loans fall into two categories: subsidized and unsubsidized. With subsidized loans, the federal government pays the interest that accrues while you’re in school at least half the time, saving you money over the life of the loan. But these loans are only available to students who demonstrate financial need, and you can only borrow a certain amount each year.
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With unsubsidized loans, you’re responsible for paying the accrued interest, including while you’re in school. The good news is that these loans have higher credit limits and you don’t need to prove financial need.
While subsidized and unsubsidized loans are the most common, the federal government also offers Direct PLUS loans, which are available to graduate or professional students whose parents qualify.
Once you understand what types of loans may be available to you, it’s time to gather any documents or information you’ll need before applying, including:
If you are an independent student, then the above information is only necessary for you. But if you are a dependent student, you will need the same information and documents for your parents.
How To Apply For Student Loans
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the form that all students and their families use to apply for federal aid, including grants, scholarships, and student loans. On the FAFSA, you’ll share important information about your family’s finances to help the federal government and schools determine how much your family can afford and what aid you’re eligible for.
After you fill out the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, which summarizes the information on your FAFSA, tells you your expected family contribution, and includes information about your Are you eligible for federal aid?
You can expect this report in at least three to five days if you provide an email address, or two to three weeks if you do not provide an email address.
Review the information in the SAR as it arrives to make sure everything is correct. If you notice an error, you will need to make a correction or update your FAFSA.
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Depending on which institution you applied to, you can complete a CSS College Board profile. This application is similar to the FAFSA, but instead of determining whether you qualify for federal student aid, it helps you qualify for institutional aid from colleges and universities.
Once you’ve applied and listed the schools you’re considering, you can find out if you’re eligible for scholarships or grants from any of those schools. Each school has different deadlines for completing the CSS profile, but most require that you complete it before your senior year of high school.
Completing the CSS profile is free for undergraduate students whose household income is less than $100,000. For families with income above this amount, the initial application fee is $25, and additional reports cost $16.
You will then receive a financial aid offer letter from the financial aid office of the school or schools to which you have applied, either electronically or by mail.
How To Apply For Private Student Loans: A Step By Step Guide
Your offer letter will list the financial aid you’re eligible for, including loans, grants, work-study programs, and scholarships from the federal government, your state government, and the school you’re attending.
The letter will also include information about the cost of attending school: the total cost of attendance, the expected family contribution, and the total cost remaining after financial aid. If you have questions about your offer, please contact your school’s financial aid office.
It’s always a good idea to accept grants or scholarships because it’s free money that you don’t have to pay back. And federal work-study, while it requires you to work for money, doesn’t have to pay either.
Private lenders offer personal loans, and you generally need good or excellent credit to qualify. If you have strong credit, you may have access to a lower interest rate. In addition, you can often borrow up to the full cost of attending school, which is not the case with federal loans.
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But these loans have some disadvantages. Because many first-time student loan borrowers may not have an established credit history, they will need to apply for a cosigner to qualify. And if you or your co-contractor don’t have good credit, you could be stuck with a higher interest rate.
Private loans are also less flexible when it comes to repayment. You may need to make loan payments as soon as the loan funds are disbursed. And when you graduate, you’ll receive fixed payments that don’t depend on your income.
The good news is that there is no shortage of private lenders to choose from. But since there are so many, it can be difficult to find the best one for you. A great starting point is to compare interest rates and loan terms from multiple lenders. The better your interest rate, the less money your student loans will cost you in the long run.
Because private loans come from individual lenders, they may set their own credit requirements. Some may require a certain credit score or income level. Some lenders may also charge an application fee or loan origination fee.
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Once you’ve found the lender with the best interest rate and are confident about your loan requirements, complete the application. Provide any documents requested by the borrower, including pay stubs, W-2s, and bank statements. Depending on your credit history, you may need to apply for a co-signer to improve your chances of loan approval or to qualify for a lower interest rate.
Here’s what you typically need to get a private student loan (although exact requirements may vary from lender to lender):
You’ll want to apply for a student loan early to make sure you have the money you need to pay for your education. The FAFSA application opens on October 1 each year for the following school year. Here are the following terms:
Keep in mind that each state and college has its own FAFSA deadlines. The StudentAid.gov website lists the deadlines for each state.
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If you need federal student loans to pay for your education, it’s a good idea to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible. The sooner you fill out your FAFSA, the sooner you’ll know what other types of financing you need to arrange. Federal loans are disbursed shortly before a new school starts, and if you haven’t completed the FAFSA, you’ll need to find other ways to pay for your education.
In addition, some types of aid, especially those provided by schools, may be limited. And students who apply early will have the first chance to receive any available aid.
When it comes to personal loans, it’s a good idea to apply as soon as you know you’ll need the money, especially if your credit makes it difficult to qualify. While there isn’t necessarily a deadline, you’ll want to apply at least a month before school starts so you have plenty of time.
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You have been accepted to college. Congratulations! This is an achievement to be proud of and we are confident that you will make the most of this opportunity. Now that you’re signed in, you have one more hurdle to overcome: how to pay for it.
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