$30,500. That was the average yearly cost of tuition, fees, room and board at U.S. colleges for the 2019-2020 school year. If you’re after a four-year degree, it will cost you, on average, $122,000. This is all to say that you’ll likely need help paying for school in the form of student loans.
But taking out a loan is usually unchartered territory for teenagers. And more questions can arise when beginning to pay back the loan. To help guide you through the process, we asked Donald Kerr, AAA Northeast’s senior manager of student lending, to answer some of the most common student lending questions.
When should I apply for a loan to cover the 2021-2022 school year?
Usually after May 1 is a good time to start the process for looking around at options.
What are the qualifications to be approved and get a good rate?
Most loans are based on income and credit so the stronger your income and credit is the better chance you have of being approved and getting a good rate.
Are the interest rates variable or fixed?
Most lenders will let you choose from either fixed or variable rates.
Do I need a co-signer?
While co-signers are not required they are usually needed to meet the income and credit eligibility guidelines, as most students do not work full time or have credit established.
Are there any fees for the loan?
No application fees, no origination fees.
What types of loan terms are offered?
Most lenders allow you to choose from 5 years, 7 years, 10 years or 15 years with the most common being 10 years.
Do I apply for a loan for the whole year or by semester?
Most people apply for a loan for the entire academic year and the funds are sent by the school’s semester schedule.
Can I use the loan to pay for expenses related to college such as off-campus housing or books?
Yes, you can use the loan funds to cover expenses related to the cost of education but all the funds are sent to your school so it is a good idea to ask them what the refund policy is so you have an idea what to expect.
How long does the application take and when does my school receive the money?
You can apply online in as little as 15 minutes and your school will choose the date they want the lender to send them the money.
The school awarded me the subsidized and unsubsidized loan. Should I use them?
Yes, these are government loans and they usually have the lowest rates and best terms so we always recommend that if you have to borrow you should use these loans first and then look at other options to cover any remaining balances.
Do I have to apply every year and will I have multiple loans when I graduate?
The most common option is to apply every year but you might find a lender that will allow you to apply for all four years at once. Keep in mind that if you have multiple loans all with the same lender, they will offer you a combined bill so you only have to make one payment and they will split it up to the individual loans. You can also consolidate all your loans into one after you graduate.
Can I defer my payments until after I graduate?
Yes, most lenders will give you a choice of paying on your loan immediately while you’re in school, interest only payments while in school or defer all payments until six months after graduation but interest does add up during the deferment period.
Donald Kerr, Senior Manager of Student Lending for AAA Northeast, discusses how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting student lending on WATR
What is the difference between refinancing a loan and loan consolidation?
Consolidation is the act of combining multiple loans into one and refinancing is getting a lower rate and different terms on a single or multiple loans.
Is now a good time to refinance my loans?
If they are federal loans, now is not a good time as the CARES Act has placed an administrative forbearance on federal loans and no payments are required until September 2022 and no interest will be accruing during this time.
If you have private student loans now is a great time to look into refinancing as you may be able to get a much lower rate today than you were able to get a few years ago.
Are there any costs to consolidate or refinance my loans?
No application fees, no origination fees, no closing costs,
If I change the term of my loan from 10 years to 15 or 20, am I locked into this?
No, if you refinance your loans into a longer-term loan you can always refinance again and change it back into a shorter-term loan.
If I have a co-signer can they be removed from the loan?
Some lenders do offer this as an option but it is important to note that in order for a co-signer to be removed you have to have the income and credit to support the loan on your own. Once you do, you can always refinance the loan again in your own name and remove the co-signer.
How long does the refinance process take?
You can apply online and receive an initial credit decision in as little as 15 minutes. If you are approved and want to move forward with the loan you will go into a loan closing process in which you will have to supply documents such as a pay stub, driver’s license or other documents such as a payoff letter. You will then sign the contract for the loan (electronically) and the lender will pay off your existing loans and create the new loan. So from the initial application to when your new loan goes into effect can be on average 30 days or longer.