If you’re like me, you probably were at least somewhat confused the first time you looked at your financial award letter. “Stafford Loans”, “Perkins Loans”, “PLUS Loans”, what does it all mean?! Well friend, I’m glad you asked!
Each type of loan has a special purpose, so I’d like to break it all down for you and we’ll start with with the most common one, the Stafford loan.
To get started with these puppies, there are two different kinds of Stafford loans: subsidized and unsubsidized. The difference between the two is all about the interest; subsidized loans have a lower fixed interest rate of 4.5% for the 2010-11 academic year (meaning you pay less money over the course of the loan) and actually don’t start accruing interest until your six month grace period after graduation is over.
Unsubsidized Stafford loans begin to build interest (currently at 6.8% fixed) immediately after disbursement, which means that they snowball like private student loans. The nice thing about Stafford loans though is if you can afford to, you have the option of paying off the interest as it accrues while you’re still in school without any penalties. The end result is you pay a lot less interest over the life of the loan, and save yourself a pile of money. If you can’t afford to pay the interest while you’re in school though, don’t worry too much… you’re still getting a bargain on the interest rate compared to most private student loans out in the market.
A Perkins loan is a special type of low-interest product (5% fixed, as of 2010) intended for students with exceptional financial need. Although your need for the loan is determined based on your FAFSA, your school actually is the entity that decides whether to give you the money or not. Every year, the Federal Government grants participating schools with a certain amount of funding meant for Perkins loans, and each school can choose to lend only those funds, or add some of their own to the pool for financial assistance to their students.
If you ever write an appeal notice to your financial aid department at school, this, along with any school-sponsored scholarships or grants, is likely what they would consider you for to increase your award. One thing to consider that is a little odd for this particular type of loan is that since the school is your lender, you actually will receive the repayment bill from them instead of the government. Due to this, there can be different billing cycles… for instance, it isn’t unheard of to only be billed for this type of loan once every four months instead of monthly.
The PLUS loan is the last type of lending that the government offers to students and families, and is meant to bridge the gap between your Stafford, Perkins awards, and your total cost of attendance. Unlike the other two, the PLUS loan requires a credit check, much like a private student loan. There is a quirk though, in that if the parent does not pass the credit check, a friend or relative can actually co-sign on the loan. The APR of this loan changes every July, but will never exceed 9.0%.
As a side note, all the loans above are available to both undergraduate AND graduate students. As always, the best types of financial aid you can get are scholarships and grants (since you don’t have to pay them back!), and there are tons of resources available to find them like StudentScholarshipSearch and ScholarshipPoints. However, the subsidized Stafford loan is definitely the best option you can get as far as student loans go, and will cost the least over the course of your repayment.
*Credit Images to “Cmiper” on Flickr
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