As a soon-to-be college student (or the proud parent of one), the prospect of taking out student loans can be intimidating. Grants and scholarships are great if you can get them, but they don’t always cover the full cost of tuition and books. Before you sign on the line, carefully consider your options and know what to expect.
Start your student loan search by looking at the safest options first. These are generally the federal loans. They are immune to your credit rating, and their interest rates don’t fluctuate. These loans also carry some borrower protection. This is in place in case of financial issues or unemployment following your graduation from college.
If you choose to pay off your student loans faster than scheduled, make sure that your extra amount is actually being applied to the principal. Many lenders will assume extra amounts are just to be applied to future payments. Contact them to make sure that the actual principal is being reduced so that you accrue less interest over time.
If you’ve taken out more than one student loan, familiarize yourself with the unique terms of each one. Different loans will come with different grace periods, interest rates, and penalties. Ideally, you should first pay off the loans with high interest rates. Private lenders generally charge higher interest rates than the government.
To keep the principal on your student loans as low as possible, get your books as cheaply as possible. This means buying them used or looking for online versions. In situations where professors make you buy course reading books or their own texts, look on campus message boards for available books.
To keep your student loan load low, find housing that is as reasonable as possible. While dormitory rooms are convenient, they are often more costly than apartments near campus. The more money you have to borrow, the more your principal will be — and the more you will have to pay out over the life of the loan.
Some people sign the paperwork for a student loan without clearly understanding everything involved. Asking questions and understanding the loan is essential. Otherwise, you could have much more debt than you were counting on.
Try looking at consolidation for your student loans. This can help you combine your multiple federal loan payments into a single, affordable payment. It can also lower interest rates, especially if they vary. One major consideration to this repayment option is that you may forfeit your deferment and forbearance rights.
Never sign any loan documents without reading them first. This is a big financial step and you do not want to bite off more than you can chew. You need to make sure that you understand the amount of the loan you are going to receive, the repayment options and the rate of interest.
Starting to pay off your student loans while you are still in school can add up to significant savings. Even small payments will reduce the amount of accrued interest, meaning a smaller amount will be applied to your loan upon graduation. Keep this in mind every time you find yourself with a few extra bucks in your pocket.
Be careful with private loans. It can be difficult to figure out what the terms are exactly. Sometimes, you may not know until it is too late. Then, you may not be able to do much about the situation. Learn all that you can prior to signing. If a lender gives you a good offer, see if another lender will match it or do even do better.
If you take out loans from multiple lenders, know the terms of each one. Some loans, such as federal Perkins loans, have a nine-month grace period. Others are less generous, such as the six-month grace period that comes with Family Education and Stafford loans. You must also consider the dates on which each loan was taken out, as this determines the beginning of your grace period.
If you want to see your student loan dollars go farther, cook your meals at home with your roommates and friends instead of going out. You’ll spend less on the food, and a lot less on the alcohol or soft drinks that you buy at the store instead of ordering from a server.
Initially try to pay off the most expensive loans that you can. This is important, as you do not want to face a high interest payment, which will be affected the most by the largest loan. When you pay off the largest loan, focus on the next highest for the best results.
The better your understanding of student loans, the more confident you can be in your decision. Paying for college is a necessary evil, but the benefits of an education are undeniable. Use everything you’ve learned here to make smart, responsible decisions about student loans. The faster you can get out of debt, the sooner you can earn a return on your investment.