Whether you’re heading off to college this fall or in a couple years, it’s never too early to start figuring out how to pay for college. Even after scholarships and parental contribution, the reality is that you’re probably going to have to take out a student loan. According to FinAid.org, about 65% of students at 4-year colleges take out loans. After you’re sure it’s the best option for you (remember, student loans are scary), it’s time to start hunting for a loan.
Disclaimer: I’m just a kid starting college this fall. This is what I’ve personally learned going through the financial aid process and I am not any kind of financial aid advisor.
First, look into federal government loans. They usually offer the best interest rates. You must apply for these loans through the FAFSA. You’ll be filling that out in the spring before you go to college, so watch out for those deadlines!
The Stafford Loan and Perkins Loan are available based on financial need (except the unsubsidized Stafford Loan, available to everyone regardless of need). Find out which of these loans you might qualify for. These loans can come from private lenders or directly from the government.
Make sure to check with your school to see what kind of student loans they offer. Some schools offer loans directly through the school while others will point you in the direction of lending companies they “recommend.” Keep in mind that just because a school suggests a certain loan doesn’t mean it’s the best, most affordable option.
You can get a loan directly from the government or from a private lender. Unfortunately, many of the private lenders are no longer offering federal or private student loans because of the credit crunch or the loans students receive aren’t enough. Some students are turning to peer-to-peer student lenders, meaning they’re borrowing money from other people facilitated through a lending site. According to this article by Justin Pope, these peer-to-peer lending sites are popping up all over the web. Fynanz and Greennote are some of the big ones.
Make sure to investigate all of your student loan options before borrowing the big bucks you need to pay for college. The average cumulative debt for students attending a 4-year college is about $19,000 and if you’re going to acquire that much debt you’d better do it right.