Paying for college: federal or private loans


by Shirley Fenlason

If you’re going to college this fall, you’ve likely already made your decision and paid your deposit. But have you thought about how to fund your education?

You’ve likely completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and received your award letter that tells you if you qualify for the Pell grant, federal loans, or work study and the amount for each. Scholarships may also come into play. If you haven’t researched scholarships yet, I suggest doing so now. Fastweb.com offers the possibility to match up to $3 billion in scholarships. Complete the Find Scholarships section and receive email notifications when scholarships matching your interests are available for application. Renewable scholarships are the best. You could receive the scholarship throughout college, if you continue to meet the scholarship requirements. Any scholarship dollars, however, are helpful and could help with textbooks and other expenses.

 

When it comes to student loans, do your research.  All loans are not created equal. I was recently reading the April 22, 2009 Forbes.com article “Choosing Federal or Private Student Loans.” It stresses that federal loans are better deals for students than private loans which are backed by banks and not the federal government. Federal student loans disbursed after July 1, 2006 have a fixed interest rate.  CNNMoney.com states in “Get smart about borrowing for college,” (May 5, 2009) that private loans should be the last choice for funding college. These loans, compared to federal loans, often have higher interest rates and also variable interest rates. Students may resort to these to fill the gap between grants, scholarships, and federal loans. Finaid.org notes “As a general rule, students should only consider obtaining a private education loan if they have maxed out the Federal Stafford Loan.”

 

Comparing loan options is helpful. Finaid.org has federal student loan and private student loan charts to help you. It would be wise to have your parents, spouse, or another trusted adult review the various loan terms before you make a final decision on which loan(s) to take out. Read the small print before signing. A loan is a binding contract.

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