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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Government Student Loans - A General Guide

Federal student loans are more attractive than private loans because of their lower interest rates. Apart from other advantages, they offer many options to defer payment if the borrowers have trouble getting a job after completing school. A total of nine government student loans and scholarships programs are currently run by the federal government, with the state governments also running more than 600 such programs.

To apply for the federal government student loan programs, prospective loan applicant are required to fill the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which requires details about their assets, dependency and income. It is quite a long form, and in 2010-2011 had more than 130 questions. The form is used to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for each applicant, taking into consideration the household income of the applicant, the size of his or her family, assets and other such details. Depending on all these factors, the student may qualify. Even when they do not qualify, they can still get unsubsidized loans.

There are a number of different types of student loans. Broadly, these are Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, Federal PLUS Loans, and the Graduate Consolidation Loans. Most of these loans require a credit check for the applicant, so if you want to take such a loan, you should keep a good credit history.

Stafford Loans

Stafford loans are the most widely used. They come in two varieties, the ones covered under Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), and the ones covered under the Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP). The former are provided by private lenders, with the government guaranteeing the lenders against default by borrowers. The latter are also called Direct Loans, and are administered by what are called Direct Lending Schools. These can be subsidized as well as unsubsidized.

Stafford loans are one of the best government loans because the government pays off their interest while you attend school. Only once you have finished school do you have to start paying off the debt; and because their interest can be subsidized, their repayment is easier than for other loans. To be eligible for a Stafford loan, you must enroll in a college that participates in the Federal Family Education Loan Program. You also need to fill out the FAFSA form to get the subsidized Stafford loan.

Federal Perkins Loan

Federal Perkins Loans are available to graduate and undergraduate students who require financial aid more than others do. It is a campus-based program, in which the school acts as the lender using a pool of funds provided by the federal government. The Perkins Loan is one of the best loans a student can take - it comes with an interest rate of only 5%, with the federal government paying the interest during the period in which one is enrolled in the school, and during a 9-month grace period. Afterwards, there is a repayment period of up to 10 years.

As of 2009-2010, the Perkins program had a limit of $5,500 per year for undergraduate students, and a limit of $8,000 per year for graduates. The total lifetime limits for both were $27,500 and $60,000 respectively. Perkins loans are cancelled partially or fully for teachers who teach in designated low-income schools, and for Peace Corps volunteers. The amount of loans cancelled depends on the number of years in service as a teacher and a Peace Corps volunteer; for example, 3 years of service cancels 50% of debt.

Graduate PLUS Loan

Graduate PLUS loans offer the borrowers an unsubsidized loan for fees towards graduate and professional courses. It is guaranteed by the federal government, which means that if the borrower defaults, the government will pay the lender. Unlike Perkins, whose interest is applied only once the study period is over, the interest on Graduate PLUS starts getting applied from the time it is disbursed. Their interest rate is about 8.5%. The borrower should meet three criteria to be considered for this loan: first, they should be a US citizen, or a non-citizen with a valid Social Security number; second, they should pass a credit review; and third, they must not have defaulted on a federal education loan in the past.

Parent PLUS Loan

Parent PLUS loans are offered to the parents of the student involved. The Grad PLUS program is an offshoot of this particular program. Like the Grad PLUS loans, repayment of the Parent PLUS loans begins right after the time the loan is fully disbursed. Its interest rate is fixed at 7.9%, though many lenders will offer benefits that reduce the effective interest rate. Because it is borrowed by the parent, it is also the responsibility of the parent to repay the loan. Just like the Grad PLUS loan program, it requires that the borrower not have an adverse credit score.

Federal Consolidation Loan

Consolidation loans from the federal government allow a student-borrower to consolidate his or her Perkins, Stafford and Graduate PLUS loans into a single consolidated loan with a longer term of repayment. The longer term ensures lower monthly repayments. The interest rate for these loans is calculated by finding the weighted average of all the loans consolidated by a student, and rounding them off to 0.125%; the interest rate is ultimately capped at 8.25%.

Both the Perkins and Stafford loan programs require one to fill out the FAFSA form. With so many government student loans programs available to students to choose from, anyone without the means to pay for his or her education has no reason to stop their education due to monetary constraints.

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