When next winter rolls around, we’ll have a more in depth look at the Financial Aid process and how to best navigate it. For now, however, since most students have received their financial aid awards, we’re going to talk a little about making sure your bill for the coming year is covered.
Some students will find, for whatever reason, that the amount of aid they have been awarded will not cover the whole cost of the coming year. If that’s the case, private loans are one option available for students to pay their bill for the year. Because private loans tend to have higher interest rates than federal loans, they are best viewed as a last resort, only when all other options are exhausted.
If you find that you need to utilize a private lender to cover the cost of the coming school year, check with your school’s financial aid office. Often they will have a list of private lenders that they have previously worked with available right on their website, but you can use any lender you choose.
Once you’ve found a private lender you want to work with, it’s important to determine just how much you want to borrow. Figure out the total cost of your next year at school. Include tuition, room, board, and any fees. Then, figure out what you’ve been awarded for financial aid for the coming year. Subtract the latter from the former. That number will be important.
Let’s say the difference between the financial aid you’ve been awarded and the cost of the next year is $10,000. Once you apply for a private loan, the information is submitted to your school for certification. This means that the school has final say over the amount you are able to borrow from the private lender. You can’t, for example, borrow an additional $10,000 simply because you want it to buy a car.
After you know the amount you’ll need to borrow, determine whether you can apply for the loan with a co-signer. A co-signer can sometimes help a student, who often will have little or no credit, obtain a lower rate on the loan, or even be able to get the loan at all.
Once you have the amount you need to borrow and have determined whether or not someone can co-sign the loan for you, simply follow the instructions for the loan on the lender’s website. Most lenders make the application process straightforward, and can give you a decision regarding your application relatively quickly if you apply online.
It’s important to explore the terms that the private lenders are offering for their loans. Generally they will not need to be paid back until after you graduate, but interest is charged during the entire duration of the loan. This can add up significantly, so if you have the ability to pay the interest portion of the loan while you’re in school, you should consider doing so.
If the lender’s decision on your application is unfavorable, speak with your financial aid office about other options available to you. Often the offices are able to work with you in order to fulfill your bill for the coming year.
Remember, applying for private loans, just like financial aid, is a yearly process. You will need to re-apply for new loans each year to cover your costs, if necessary.