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Monday, September 21, 2009

Student loans in the United States

While included in the term "financial aid" higher education loans differ from scholarships and grants in that they must be paid back. They come in several varieties in the United States:

Federal student loans made to students directly: No payments while enrolled in at least half time status. If a student drops below half time status, the account will go into its 6 month grace period. If the student re-enrolls in at least half time status, the loans will be deferred, but when they drop below half time again they will no longer have their grace period. Amounts are quite limited as well. There are many deferments and a number of forbearances one can get in the Direct Loan program.[1] For those who are disabled, there is also the possibility of 100% loan discharge if you meet the requirements.[2] Due to changes made by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, it will become much easier to get one of these discharges as of July 1, 2010.[3] There are loan forgiveness provisions for teachers and health professionals serving low-income areas. Currently, certain loan forgiveness or discharges are considered income by the Internal Revenue Service due to 26 U.S.C. 108(f).[4]
Federal student loans made to parents: Much higher limit, but payments start immediately
Private student loans made to students or parents: Higher limits and no payments until after graduation, although interest will start to accrue immediately. Private loans may be used for any education related expenses such as tuition, room and board, books, computers, and past due balances. Private loans can also be used to supplement federal student loans, when federal loans, grants and other forms of financial aid are not sufficient to cover the full cost of higher education.
Federal student loans in the United States are authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act as amended.

These loans are available to college and university students via funds disbursed directly to the school and are used to supplement personal and family resources, scholarships, grants, and work-study. They may be subsidized by the U.S. Government or may be unsubsidized depending on the student's financial need. The U.S. Department of Education published a booklet comparing federal loans with private loans.[5] In this same document, the government describes what you may use the loan for:

You may use the money you receive only to pay for education expenses at the school that awarded your loan. Education expenses include school charges such as tuition; room and board; fees; books; supplies; equipment; dependent childcare expenses; transportation; and rental or purchase of a personal computer.

Both subsidized and unsubsidized loans are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Education either directly or through guaranty agencies. Nearly all students are eligible to receive federal loans (regardless of credit score or other financial issues). Both types offer a grace period of six months, which means that no payments are due until six months after graduation or after the borrower becomes a less-than-half-time student without graduating. Both types have a fairly modest annual limit. The dependent undergraduate limit effective for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2008 is as follows (combined subsidized and unsubsidized limits): $5,500 per year for freshman undergraduate students, $6,500 for sophomore undergraduates, and $7,500 per year for junior and senior undergraduate students, as well as students enrolled in teacher certification or preparatory coursework for graduate programs. For independent undergraduates, the limits (combined subsidized and unsubsidized) effective for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2008 are higher: $9,500 per year for freshman undergraduate students, $10,500 for sophomore undergraduates, and $12,500 per year for junior and senior undergraduate students, as well as students enrolled in teacher certification or preparatory coursework for graduate programs. Subsidized federal student loans are only offered to students with a demonstrated financial need. Financial need may vary from school to school. For these loans, the federal government makes interest payments while the student is in college. For example, those who borrow $10,000 during college will owe $10,000 upon graduation.

Unsubsidized federal student loans are also guaranteed by the U.S. Government, but the government does not pay interest for the student, rather the interest accrues during college. Nearly all students are eligible for these loans regardless of demonstrated need. Those who borrow $10,000 during college will owe $10,000 plus interest upon graduation. For example, those who have borrowed $10,000 and had $2,000 accrue in interest will owe $12,000. Interest will begin accruing on the $12,000. The accrued interest will be "capitalized" into the loan amount, and the borrower will begin making payments on the accumulated total. Students can choose to pay the interest while still in college; however, few students choose to exercise this option.

Federal student loans for graduate students have higher limits: $8,500 for subsidized Stafford and $12,500 (limits may differ for certain courses of study) for unsubsidized Stafford. Many students also take advantage of the Federal Perkins Loan. For graduate students the limit for Perkins is $6,000 per year.

[edit] Stafford loan aggregate limits
Students who borrow money for education through Stafford loans cannot exceed certain aggregate limits for subsidized and unsubsidized loans. For undergraduate students, these amounts are $23,000 in subsidized and $34,500 in unsubsidized loans.[6] Once a student has borrowed the maximum amount s/he is eligible for (based on grade level, such as undergraduate, graduate/professional, etc.), in subsidized loans, the student has the option to take out a loan in an additional amount less than or equal to the amount s/he would have been eligible for in subsidized loans. Once both the subsidized and unsubsidized aggregate limits have been met for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans, the student is unable to borrow additional Stafford loans until a portion of the borrowed funds has been paid back to the respective lender(s). Once the student has paid back some of these amounts, s/he will regain eligibility up to the aggregate limits as before.

[edit] Federal student loans to parents
See PLUS loan

Usually these are PLUS loans (formerly standing for "Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students"). Unlike loans made to students, parents can borrow much more — usually enough to cover any gap in the cost of education. However, there is no grace period: Payments start immediately.

Parents should be aware that THEY are responsible for repayment on these loans, not the student. This is not a 'cosigner' loan with the student having equal accountability. The parents have signed the master promissory note to pay and, if they do not do so, it is their credit rating that suffers. Also, parents are advised to consider "year 4" payments, rather than "year 1" payments. What sounds like a "manageable" debt load of $200 a month in freshman year can mushroom to a much more daunting $800 a month by the time four years have been funded through loans. The combination of immediate repayment and the ability to borrow substantial sums can be expensive.

Under new legislation, graduate students are eligible to receive PLUS loans in their own names. These Graduate PLUS loans have the same interest rates and terms of Parent PLUS loans.

Parents should also be aware that legislation raised the interest rate on these loans significantly — to 8.5% on July 1, 2006.

[edit] Disbursement: How the money gets to student or school
There are two distribution channels for federal student loans: Federal Direct Student Loans and Federal Family Education Loans.

Federal Direct Student Loans, also known as Direct Loans or FDLP loans, are funded from public capital originating with the U.S. Treasury. FDLP loans are distributed through a channel that begins with the U.S. Treasury Department and from there passes through the U.S. Department of Education, then to the college or university and then to the student.
Federal Family Education Loan Program loans, also known as FFEL loans or FFELP loans, are funded with private capital provided by banking institutions (i.e., banks, savings and loans, and credit unions). Because the FFELP loans use private capital as their source, students who use FFELP loans are able to take advantage of payment options that are similar to those available to customers who take out a home loan or a consumer loan. For example, some institutions will allow a discount for automatic payments or a series of on-time payments. In 2005, approximately two-thirds of all federally subsidized student loans were FFELP.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 6,000 colleges, universities, and technical schools participate in FFELP, which represents about 80% of all schools. FFELP lending represents 75% of all federal student loan volume.

The maximum amount that any student can borrow is adjusted from time to time as federal policies change. A study published in the winter 1996 edition of the Journal of Student Financial Aid, “How Much Student Loan Debt Is Too Much?” suggested that the monthly student debt payment for the average undergraduate should not exceed 8% of total monthly income after graduation. Some financial aid advisers have referred this as "the 8% rule

U.S. Dept. of Education


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