Federal vs Private Student Loans

Jessica Martinsen

What’s the difference between federal and private student loans? What are the different types of federal and private student loans? And how can you apply for the loan type you choose? 

Federal Student Loans 

Federal student loans are loans administered by the federal government, specifically, The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid. If you apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA, the student loans administered to you are federal. There are several types of federal student loans:

-Direct Subsidized

-Direct Unsubsidized

-Direct PLUS

-Direct Consolidation

Direct Subsidized Loans are loans for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need to help pay for college or career school. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on Direct Subsidized Loans while you’re in school at least part-time, for the first six months after you leave school, and during deferment (postponement of loan payments).

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are loans for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students but are not based on financial need. Borrowers with this loan type are responsible for paying all of the interest that accrues.

Direct PLUS Loans are loans for graduate and professional students (Grad PLUS), as well as parents of dependent undergraduate students to help pay for school expenses not covered by financial aid (Parent PLUS). A credit check is required to receive Direct PLUS Loans. 

Direct Consolidation Loans allow borrowers to combine all of their eligible federal student loans into one loan with a single loan servicer. The benefits of consolidation and how to apply can be found on our blog here

The benefits of federal student loans compared to private student loans include:

  • -There is no credit check for borrowers (except for the Direct PLUS Loans) and you don’t need a cosigner for federal student loans.
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-The interest rate on federal student loans is fixed and usually lower than the interest rate on private student loans.

-You don’t have to begin repaying your federal student loans until after you leave school (6 months, known as the grace period).

-The federal student loans mentioned above are all eligible for income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, (these plans cap monthly required payments in proportion to your income).

-Federal student loan borrowers are free to change their repayment plan even after the loan is disbursed.

-The federal student loans mentioned above are also eligible for student loan forgiveness, (PSLF and IDR plan forgiveness).

-Federal student loan borrowers can postpone their loan payments if they’re having trouble paying. 

How you can apply for federal student loans:

  • To apply for a federal student loan, you must first complete and submit the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. Based on your financial need, your school will send you a financial aid offer, which may include federal student loans. Your school will tell you how to accept all or a part of the loan(s). 

Private Student Loans:

  • Private student loans are loans available to all students (or parents) regardless of undergraduate or graduate status. A bank, credit union, state agency, or a school can disburse private student loans. It is important to note, private student loans should be considered after a borrower has explored scholarship, grant, and federal student loan options.
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  • Generally, there are two types of private student loans:
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  • -School-Channel Loans
  • -Direct-To-Consumer Loans
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  • School-Channel Loans are loans “certified” by the school for which the borrower is attending. The school signs off on the borrowing amount, and the funds are disbursed directly to the school. The funds are held by the school and are used as needed, meaning the borrower does not have access to the money, but is responsible for paying the loan back. This type of private student loan offers lower interest rates, but generally takes longer to process. 
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  • Direct-To-Consumer Loans are loans that are not certified by the school the borrower is attending. The school does not hold the loan nor disburse any funds for education expenses. A borrower simply supplies enrollment verification to the lender they are borrowing from, and the loan proceeds are disbursed directly to the borrower. This type of private student loan usually comes with a higher interest rate.

Benefits of private student loans include:

  • -Private student loans can be taken out by the student (often with a cosigner), parent, or creditworthy legal guardian or relative.
  • -Private student loans usually offer the choice of a fixed (stay the same) or variable (may go up or down) interest rate.
  • -Private student loans can be disbursed to borrowers pretty quickly, sometimes in a matter of days.
  • -Private student loans offer different repayment plans—including options that allow a borrower to pay while in school. This can significantly lower the overall cost of the private student loan.
  • -Some private student loans allow you to track the health of your credit score for free.
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How you can apply for private student loans:

  • Once you know exactly how much you need to borrow, you can submit an application for a private student loan directly from the lender’s website. However, be very careful of which lender you borrow from! Check with your school first to see if they have a preferred lender list. Shop around and compare interest rates, payment terms, and fees to find the most cost-effective private student loan for you. 
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  • Whether you choose federal or private student loans to help pay for your schooling, you must pay back the money you borrow, regardless if you graduate or not! Taking out a loan is a legal agreement between you and the loan lender so make sure you understand what you are signing and agreeing to. Make sure you know and understand the interest rates, how to repay the loan(s), and when you should begin to repay. If something isn’t clear, ask for help!

Chip Away At Your Student Loan Debt

  • Regardless if you take out federal or private student loans, you can use Chipper to chip away at your debt! With features such as Round-Ups, Boosts, and Pool, you can shrink the amount you owe without even feeling it! Learn more here