college vector / Student Loans

Get a Student Loan

Use this quick guide to do it right! Whether you’re planning ahead – or the tuition is due today – it’s never too late to do your research and find the best student loan to help you cover college costs.

Compare loans before you commit to one

Unlike federal student loans, private loans come from multiple sources, and have multiple options for repayment length, repayment type (fixed, variable), deferment, and interest rates. You’ll need to shop around. Use our student loan comparison tool to compare your options.

Make sure to compare on the basis of quantitative factors (like, APR, Monthly Payment, Total Cost of Loan) as well as qualitative factors (like lender reputation, customer service, etc).

Choosing a Student Loan

Of around 20 million people that attend college in the United States, about 60 percent borrow money to help pay for college - that's around 12 million students! Since more than half of students are borrowing money, you would think that most of them understand the options for financing a college education, and would know what to expect when repayment eventually comes around. However, a lot of students remain confused. They don't know the procedures they should follow to get the most out of their money. That's where comes in!

Related Resources

  • Search for scholarships to minimize borrowing.
  • Find student loan refinancing options to lower your prior loan payments.

What Loans Cover

Typically student loans can cover the cost of attendance: tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, and board. Student loans are NOT designed to pay for things that aren’t essential to the school experience. But private loans might be used to cover expenses such as computer supplies, internet services, parking fees, and so forth.

Choosing between Federal and Private Loans

Federal loans should be a student’s first choice when considering their borrowing options for college. However, many times federal loans are just not enough to cover the costs of college, which is where private loans can come into play.

The types of student loans vary. The following are important terms students should know before they begin to shop.

Private Student Loans

Loans given by banks and credit unions.

Federal Student Loans

Loans given by the U.S. Department of Education.

Fixed-Rate Student Loans

The amount of interest charged on your loan doesn’t change.

Variable-Rate Student Loans

Interest rates depend on the market and can change over time.

*Some students may NOT be eligible to receive federal loans because they:
are not U.S. citizens
are convicted of a drug offense
are in default on a federal student loan
don’t maintain satisfactory academic progress in college

More on Private Loans

Private student loans typically let you borrow more money than federal loans, and offer a variety of interest rates, fees and other borrower terms. Some are variable-rate loans linked to market conditions, while other are fixed-rate. Some lenders require students to make payments while they are enrolled, while many others allow students to pay later, or offer a grace period where payment is not required, until after graduation. Often students are the primary borrower of these loans and generally will need a credit-worthy co-signer, such as a relative or friend, to ensure they are approved for the loan.

Eligibility and Application Process:

Often private loans require you to have an established and decent credit score to be eligible. Most students straight out of high school have yet to establish credit and therefore will require a co-signer. A co-signer is someone with good credit standing who agrees to be your guarantor or be financially liable for you during the life of your loan. Generally speaking, the better your – or your co-signer’s – credit, the better your private student loan terms. Private loans may have higher loan limits and more generous loan cap amounts than federal loans for these borrowers. Private lenders may require a certification from the school in order to determine the maximum amount of money, or cap, they will offer to lend you. This is based on the cost of attendance minus any other aid you may already be receiving. Each private lender will set the terms, conditions, and eligibility requirements for the loans they offer.

The application process may also differ from lender to lender. Many have the option to fill them out electronically on their individual website. You will generally need your name, date of birth, school information, Social Security number, and income or tax information to apply. Most private lenders will perform a credit check to determine your eligibility. Private lenders do not publish the rate you will receive before the application is complete, so you should apply for more than one in order to determine which one offers the most favorable terms.

Once you have been approved, the lender will send you a letter detailing the terms and conditions of your loan. The money is not disbursed until you accept these terms and sign a promissory note that details your rights and responsibilities as a borrower. This note is a legally binding contract between you and the lender in which you agree to repay your loan and all interest accrued. Be sure to keep a copy of your promissory note for your records.

Loan Disbursement Information:

Generally speaking, loans are disbursed directly to the school and used to pay education-related expenses. This means that the loan will cover your tuition and fees and then, if there is any money left over, it will be disbursed to you to cover any other outstanding educational expenses. Depending on the type of loan offered by your lender, after tuition and school fees are covered, you can use a private student loan to pay for:

  • Room and board
  • Books
  • Computer equipment
  • School supplies
  • Dependent child care
  • Transportation

Loans are generally based on the total cost of attendance at a school, which is not limited to just the cost of enrollment. When applying for a private student loan, you should only borrow however much you actually need which may be less than the amount offered to you. It can be very easy to get into debt quickly and difficult to dig yourself out.

More on Federal Loans