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College Students and Recent Grads

7 Ways for College Students to Build Credit

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Ways for students to build credit in college
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College is a great (read: strategic) time to work on building a credit score from scratch. If you work on building credit while in school, you could graduate with a healthy credit score in the high 600s to mid-700s.

Coupled with a solid starting salary, graduating with a good or excellent credit score puts you in a great position to rent your first house or apartment and, eventually, make larger purchases like a new car or a first home. On top of that, you’ll qualify for the best terms when it comes to borrowing personal loans or opening credit cards.

How to build a positive credit history

Here are a few inexpensive things you can do to bulk up your credit report and build your credit score before graduating from college

#1: Learn how to use a credit card — the right way

You can start working on your credit score by opening a student credit card with a bank or credit union. Having a credit card can be risky — there are plenty of stories of students overspending or seeing their credit limit as “free money” — but opening a student card also gives you an opportunity to learn good credit-building habits. Here’s a simple strategy for building credit with a student credit card:

  1. Charge only a recurring bill like a phone bill or monthly streaming subscription to the card.
  2. Set up automatic payments to pay off the credit card bill on time and in full each month.
  3. Rinse and repeat for four years.

When selecting a credit card, you’d ideally choose a credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee. You shouldn’t use the card for anything other than the recurring bill — and, if absolutely necessary, the occasional emergency. The recurring bill should ideally be less than 30 percent of a your total available credit. (Using as little as possible of your available credit helps you get a good credit score.)

Eventually, your credit score should reflect a history of consistent, on-time payments and will likely be in the good or excellent range. These are some of the best student credit card offers available now.

Con: High interest rates

While credit cards generally carry high interest rates across the board, student credit cards tend to have some of the highest APRs. The rate is high because students don’t usually have much credit history, so lenders see them as risky borrowers and charge a higher interest rate to compensate for the risk.

Pro: Build credit without debt

Using the strategy described above — making a small purchase and paying it off each month — you can establish a healthy credit history without paying a cent of interest. Assuming you pay the bill on time and you’re using the card to buy something you’d purchase anyway, there’s no cost to this approach of building credit.

Con: Low limits

Limits on student credit cards are generally pretty low, as banks want to minimize risk of lending to an inexperienced borrower. A low limit makes it pretty easy to use more than the suggested 30 percent of one’s total credit limit. For example, 30 percent of a $500 limit is $150 — basically the cost of a textbook.

Pro: Access to an unsecured line of credit

Having a credit card gives you a line of credit to borrow from when you need to. This can be helpful if you can’t immediately cover all of your personal costs like books, food or an emergency. The student credit card is also unsecured, meaning the student won’t have to make an initial deposit to open the line of credit.

Con: Easy to make credit mistakes early on

A credit card comes with a lot of responsibility. Having a credit card can make it really tempting to spend more than you can afford (which results in expensive debt) or use a lot of your credit limit (which can hurt your credit score). Be prepared to exercise a lot of self-control if you get a student credit card, because it can take years to undo the damage caused by irresponsible credit card use.

#2: Become an authorized user

If your parent has good credit history, ask them about becoming an authorized user on their credit card. When you become an authorized user, your parent’s behavior with the credit card will be reported like it was your own.

Pro: A passive way to build credit history

If you use this tactic, you can build credit history while never having to actually apply for credit yourself.

Con: It’s not guaranteed to help

Not all credit card issuers report authorized user accounts to the credit bureaus, according to Experian. On top of that, not all credit scores look at authorized users the same. There are dozens of credit scores, each with their own algorithms, and some may not give an authorized user much weight in determining a score, according to Experian.

Con: Could easily backfire

While authorized users are not liable for debts on the account, missed payments or high credit card balances on the account could hurt you. If that happens, you can either file a dispute to have the negative information removed or contact the card issuer and ask to be removed as an authorized user on the card.

#3: Get a co-signer

You can thank the 2009 Credit CARD Act for making it more difficult to get a credit card before you’re 21. The CARD Act stopped companies from marketing credit cards to students on college campuses and made it so people who are younger than 21 must either have a co-signer, such as a parent or a guardian, or have an independent source of income to qualify for a credit card.

Pro: Allows a student who can’t qualify on their own to open a credit card

Lenders generally consider it risky to hand a line of credit to a college student with little or no credit history. By requiring a co-signer, lenders transfer part of this risk to someone else, giving you an opportunity to build your credit you may not have had on your own.

Con: Puts a co-signer at risk

If you go with a co-signer, you need to be very careful to only charge what you can afford to pay off in full each month. Both you and your co-signer’s credit scores will take a hit from any negative behavior like missed payments or high credit card balances. Asking someone to co-sign a credit application is no small request and can affect your relationship with that person. Be sure to set ground rules for the arrangement before agreeing to it.

#4: Get a secured credit card

If you’re unable to get approved for an unsecured credit card, you can try opening a secured credit card instead. A secured card can help prove your responsibility to lenders without a lender taking on much risk. You’ll have to put down an initial deposit in exchange for access to a line of credit on the card. Typically, the line of credit will equal the amount of the deposit. You can check out our roundup of the top secured credit cards for people looking to improve their credit scores.

Pro: A better shot at approval

Because the required deposit lowers a lender’s risk, you have a better shot at getting approved for a secured credit card over an unsecured student credit card.

Con: A required deposit

You will likely have to come up with $100 or more to put down as a deposit before a credit card issuer will approve you for the account. If you miss a payment, the lender can take your deposit. And because the deposit will likely serve as your credit limit, you won’t have much room for spending if you want to reap the credit-score benefits of using little of your available credit.

#5: Get a credit-builder loan

You can get credit-builder loan through banks and credit unions. When approved for a credit-builder loan, your loan is deposited into a savings account, but you can’t access the money until you’ve paid back the loan.

A credit-builder loan is good for students who want to build credit but don’t want to risk overspending on a credit card or using a credit card irresponsibly. Credit-builder loans are secured loans, so they often have lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The loan also gives you the advantage of making equal, periodic payments so you aren’t caught off guard when a bill arrives.

You can find a credit-builder loan account through a variety of lenders. For example, online-only lender Self Lender specializes in credit-builder loans, but they’re common products at credit unions as well. Research a variety of options and compare borrower requirements, as they vary from lender to lender.

Pro: No deposit necessary

You won’t have to come up with any money upfront to open this secured line of credit. You will, however, need to make periodic, on-time payments to effectively build your credit history.

Con: No access to the line of credit

You won’t have access to the funds from a credit-builder loan right away. This could become an issue if you suddenly need money. If you want to access the money, you must first finish paying off the loan to the lender.

Con: Fees

Some credit-builder loans come with fees, making this a potentially costly option for building credit.

#6: Stay on top of student loan payments

If you have student loans, repaying them will be a crucial part of your credit history. After graduation, you can easily hurt your credit score by missing a student loan payment. Many student loans have a grace period of six months after graduation, meaning you won’t have to make payments during that time. If you’re not paying attention to when that grace period ends, you could easily miss your first payment and hurt your credit score.

A missed payment can cause your credit score to drop significantly and stay on your credit report for years, which can be seriously harmful to someone just starting to build a credit history.

Credit-building tip: You don’t have to wait until your loans come due to start making payments. If you can afford to start paying your student loans while you’re in school, you can save money in the long run, and you don’t have to wait until you graduate to establish a positive payment history on your credit report. This could give you a head start on getting out of debt and building your credit before entering “the real world.”

Keep an eye on your email inbox and physical mail for information from your loan servicer (the company to which you make loan payments) regarding your first student loan bill and be sure to make your payment. Continuing to make on-time payments on student loans will help you build a good credit history.

If you can’t afford the student loan payments and have federal loans, you can learn all about how to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan here. Enrolling in an income-driven plan can reduce or eliminate your required student loan payment, making it easier to stay on top of payments and avoid credit damage.

#7: Build credit with a rent payment

If you rent an off-campus apartment, you can build your credit history by simply paying rent on time, if it’s reported to the major credit bureaus. Students should ask their landlord or property manager if their rent payments are reported to Equifax, Experian or TransUnion.

If the rent-taker doesn’t report the payments, you can ask them to sign up for a rent payment service like PayLease or RentTrack that will let you pay rent online and give the landlord the option to report the payments to the bureaus. The rent payment information will be included on a standard credit report and can help students build good credit history without ever opening a line of credit.

Pro: Build credit with money already intended to spend

You’re already spending money paying rent each month, so why not make that payment serve both your housing and credit-building needs?

Con: Some landlords may not agree to report payments

Many landlords check credit scores when a tenant applies, but not many report regular, on-time payments to the big three credit bureaus. Getting your landlord to switch to (and pay for) a payment service they aren’t familiar with might be a long shot, but it’s worth asking.

Con: Not all credit scores factor in rent payments

This isn’t a sure-fire way to build credit, as not all credit scoring models include rent-payment history. The same goes for utility payments: They could help you build credit, but they may not. If you’re looking for a certain way to work on your credit, the other strategies in this article make more sense.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
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Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Can You Really Get Rid of Student Loans by Leaving the Country?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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A college degree that didn’t lead to your ideal job. A stack of student loan bills you can’t afford. A collections agent blowing up your phone.

For any of these reasons, you might be seeking a way out — even out of the country. Leaving the U.S., however, might not solve your education debt.

Can you escape debt by leaving the country?

The short answer is no. The debt will still be there.

There’s no statute of limitations on federal loans, meaning that you’d be responsible for repaying your debt when or if you return to the U.S.

For private loans, on the other hand, state laws do put limitations on lenders’ ability to sue over your old loan debt. However, these statutes last years and won’t stop collections agencies from contacting you, regardless of where you reside.

If you abandoned your debt, you would need to establish an income and credit report in your new country and otherwise lay down roots.

But just because you could abandon your American debt doesn’t mean that you should.

For one, you have a moral dilemma on your hands: You borrowed money to fund your education, and although the borrowing and repayment process might seem unfair, you did agree to repay it.

But even if that’s not an issue, you still have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to face the consequences of creating zombie debt that will hang over your head.

Consequences of a move overseas to escape student loans

It’s impossible to say whether you’d need to look over your shoulder, wary of creditors on your tail. They might not have the willingness or the wherewithal to track you down.

You also can’t be arrested for your debt, and, no, your passport isn’t at risk. Still, the punishments of ignoring your debt can be severe. Some effects include:

Your loan balance will balloon

Just because you disappear doesn’t mean your debt will too. Quite the opposite — it’ll continue to grow. Interest will accrue and capitalize onto your balance each month that passes without payment.

If you skip town $40,000 in the hole at 7.00%, for example, your balance would collect about $16,000 worth of interest after 10 years, and almost $35,000 after 20 years.

Your credit score will tank

Although your credit score won’t follow you overseas, it will only worsen while you’re away.

After all, more than a third of your score’s composition rests on your payment history. By ignoring your payment due date, your score will take a nosedive. And when you default, the status will show up and stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

With such poor credit, you’ll have a hard time after your stateside return borrowing money in any form, including a home mortgage, car loan or credit card.

Your wages could be garnished — and worse

Once you default on your federal loans — that is, fail to make a payment for more than 270 days — your servicers could send your debt to a collections agency, where it will incur more fees.

The Department of Education could then take the following measures to collect your debt:

  • Treasury offset: The government could withhold any federal money you were set to receive, such as income tax refunds and Social Security benefits. Your driver’s license and/or other state-issued licenses could even be forfeited.
  • Wage garnishment: Your collections agency could require your employer to hand over 15% of your paycheck to put toward your defaulted loan. If it’s unable to take your income — perhaps because you’re self-employed — then you might face a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

Private lenders vary in their practices, but you can bet they’ll farm out delinquent loans to their debt collection agencies. They can also sue you to secure a percentage of your income.

Your cosigner could be left hanging

Federal loans are borrowed in the student’s name, so you — and only you — are on the hook for them. The family you leave behind in the U.S., however, might have to deal with phone calls or mail from collections agencies.

Private loans are a different story. In all likelihood, you asked a family member to cosign your loan as an undergraduate, since about nine of 10 private loans are cosigned.

By leaving your debt and country, however, you’d be passing the buck to your cosigner. Mom, Dad or whoever else could be legally responsible for repaying your debt, potentially putting a stranglehold on their finances.

Can you even move to another country with student loan debt?

Just because you shouldn’t leave the U.S. to flee your student loans, however, doesn’t mean you’re trapped inside the country until your debt is repaid. If you’re motivated to live abroad for reasons other than escaping your education debt, consider that you could take your debt along for the ride.

You might make progress in repayment, for example, if you can earn an American salary but reside in a country with a lower cost of living.

No matter where you decide to shack up while repaying your education debt, consider these tips.

Explore repayment plan options

Whatever ails your loan situation so much that you’re considering quitting your repayment, know that there are debt relief options, including:

Income-Driven Repayment (IDR)

On the federal loan front, consider switching repayment plans. IDR would allow you to limit your monthly payment amount to a percentage of your discretionary income, making it a good option if you’re out of work or climbing the career ladder from the bottom. Keep in mind though that when you lower your payments and extend your loan term, your debt grows because of accruing interest.

Unfortunately, private lenders generally don’t offer IDR, but they could be willing to adjust your repayment if you fall on hard times.

Deferment or forbearance

There are more than a dozen types of eligibility for deferment and mandatory forbearance on federal loans. These measures pause your payments while you get back on your feet. To cure your wanderlust, you could even defer your loans for up to three years by joining the Peace Corps.

Private lenders’ protections are typically less comprehensive, so talk with your lender about what it offers.

Student loan refinancing

You’ll need good credit and steady income (or a cosigner) to qualify, but student loan refinancing could solve several of your repayment problems simultaneously. It could consolidate your debt into one new loan, potentially lower your interest rate and give you the power to choose your new (private) lender.

Just be aware that by refinancing federal loans, they’ll be stripped of the federal safeguards that come with them, such access to IDR and some loan forgiveness programs.

Budget for travel — and loan payments

Once you know how much you need to spend to keep pace with — or, better yet, attack — your loan balance, it’s time to budget. This step is crucial if you’re planning to live abroad. A budget will serve as your roadmap, helping you to estimate the affordability of the life you want to lead and the debt you’re due to repay.

Cutting U.S. expenses like apartment rent and utility bills is a great start. You can also maximize your money by choosing the right country. You might have designs on visiting Scandinavia, for example, but then find that Southeast Asia is more in your price range. Nomadlist is an excellent resource to help plan for potential monthly costs on a city-by-city basis.

Increase your income

You can budget until you’re blue in the face, but eventually you’ll run out of expenses to trim. Give yourself more wiggle room by increasing your income at home or abroad.

If you’re fortunate enough to work remotely and take your American salary with you, you might already have the cash flow necessary to travel cheaply and still pay down your debt. You might also seek side gigs like teaching English as a second language in another country.

Keep your American bank account

Even if you’re not sure when you’ll return to the U.S., keeping your American bank account will ease your student loan payments. You won’t want to deal with foreign transaction fees, for example.

Additionally, by keeping your domestic checking account, you can score an interest rate reduction with some lenders and servicers by signing up for autopay.

You can repay your debt and still wander the world

Leaving your home country for a clean slate elsewhere is an age-old strategy. But unless you’re planning to leave the U.S. permanently, it could wreck your student loan debt situation.

Before you book a flight, consider the consequences of wandering the world without a repayment plan. Whether you choose to live in the U.S. or abroad, there are plenty of ways to get back on track. You just have to look for them.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Andrew Pentis
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Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews

Review: SunTrust Custom Choice Loan

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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SunTrust offers students a good option to finance their education with its Custom Choice Loan. Interest rates are fairly low, students may apply with a cosigner, and it comes with several repayment options. As a bonus, SunTrust offers graduates a 2% principal balance reduction as long as students graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree.

 

Details of SunTrust’s Custom Choice Loan

The minimum amount you can borrow is $1,001 and the maximum amount you can borrow is $65,000. The total amount of Federal and private student loan debt you take out per year can’t exceed $150,000. You can choose a 7- or 10-year repayment term, and a 15-year term is available for borrowers taking out $5,000 or more.

Fixed APRs range from 5.35% to 14.05%, and variable APRs range from 4.37% to 13.38%.

You have four choices of repayment plans:

  • Immediate Payment – There’s no grace period as you begin full payments while in school
  • Interest-only Payment – You pay the interest that accrues on your balance while in school
  • Partial Payment – Available on loans $5,000 or more, you can make payments of $25 per month while in school
  • Full Deferment – You get a grace period of six months when you choose this option, and you’re eligible for deferment as long as you’re enrolled in school part-time at an approved school (this option is the closest to how Federal student loans function)

The interest rate you get approved for is based on your credit history, loan term, amount requested, and other information provided on your application.

A 0.25% interest rate reduction applies if you set your loans to autopay, and SunTrust customers benefit from an additional 0.25% reduction if they pay through their SunTrust bank account.

How Does the Custom Choice Loan Compare to Federal Student Loans?

Before applying for the Custom Choice Loan, you should exhaust all of your federal student loan options first. Make sure your family fills out the FAFSA form to see what you might be eligible for. Federal student loans have lower fixed interest rates, and come with more benefits than private student loans do. These benefits will help in case you hit a rough patch with your money.

For the 2018 – 2019 Academic year, Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans have a fixed interest rate of 5.05%. That makes the 5.35% fixed APR and 4.37% variable APR of the Custom Choice Loan comparable. However, those are the lowest possible APRs available, and if you don’t have excellent credit, you may not be eligible to receive them. Variable rates are also subject to change, which means they can increase over the life of your loan and become more expensive.

SunTrust doesn’t have an origination fee with its loan, but the Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan has a 1.062% disbursement fee from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019.

SunTrust’s APRs aren’t horrible, though. If you can, apply with a cosigner who has better credit, as you’ll be eligible for lower rates. You want to get as close to Federal interest rates as possible to get the best deal.

[7 Things You Need to Know about Private Student Loans]

Eligibility Requirements

You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to apply. A majority of four-year public or private colleges are eligible – you can check eligibility on the first page of the application.

If your credit history isn’t sufficient enough, you can apply with a cosigner, and there’s a cosigner release option available after 36 consecutive, on-time payments.

You must also be the legal age of majority when completing the application. Applicants residing in Iowa or Wisconsin aren’t eligible for this loan.

[How to Tell if Your Loans are Federal or Private]

Application Process and Documents Needed

You can apply online by yourself or with a cosigner. After your application and credit (a hard credit inquiry is used) are reviewed, you’ll be presented with your loan options. If you choose to move forward with the loan, you’ll be provided with a list of documents you need to upload.

Once you’ve submitted everything, an Approval Disclosure will be sent to you for acceptance. You have 30 days to accept the terms of the loan before they expire.

Upon acceptance, SunTrust will contact your school to request certification of the loan, as you’re only allowed to borrow enough to cover your education expenses. This also ensures you don’t take out more student loan debt than necessary.

Once everything is complete, you (and your cosigner, if you applied with one) have three days to back out of the loan. After that, the loan is finalized, and the funds are sent directly to your school.

Have these documents ready to submit when applying:

  • Proof of income – the student or cosigner must show proof of positive income in the form of a recent W2, paystub, or tax return
  • Photo ID
  • Proof of residency may be required if Photo ID isn’t sufficient

The Fine Print

There are no origination, application, or prepayment fees for this loan. If you’re 10 days past due on a payment, you’ll be charged 5% of the unpaid amount as a late fee.

The minimum loan amount is different in certain states: $5,001 in Alaska, $3,001 in Colorado, $2,501 in New Mexico, $5,101 in Oklahoma, $5,001 in Rhode Island, and $3,701 in South Carolina.

[Student Loan Disbursement 101]

Repayment Assistance Options

American Education Services is the loan servicer for SunTrust. If you experience any difficulty repaying your student loans, you’ll have to contact them for repayment assistance options. You may be able to apply for a deferment, forbearance, or interest-only payment for an extended period of time.

Pros and Cons of the Custom Choice Loan

Pro: If the borrower dies, then the balance of the loan may be forgiven as long as SunTrust is contacted and provided with proof of death. (If the cosigner dies, the student remains responsible for the loan.) Students who become permanently disabled can apply for a loan discharge as well.

Con: The loan isn’t available to those living in Iowa or Wisconsin, and minimum loan amounts differ in six states. Make sure that doesn’t apply to you in case you’re not looking to borrow a large amount.

Pro: The Custom Choice Loan fittingly gives you a few choices when it comes to loan repayment options. Choosing partial payments or interest-only payments can help lessen the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of your loan, and are easier to manage than going into immediate repayment.

Pro: SunTrust offers a Graduation Reward where 2% of your principal balance will be reduced, provided you graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree. The principal balance is based off the net total of all disbursements you receive from SunTrust.

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Private Student Loan Alternatives

Not eligible for a loan with SunTrust? There are many other private lenders offering student loans, such as Citizen’s Bank and Sallie Mae.

Citizens Bank: You can borrow up to $90,000 and your combined Federal and private student loan debt can’t exceed $120,000. Fixed APRs range from 6.39% to 11.65%, and variable APRs range from 6.14% to 11.40%. Repayment terms offered are 5, 10, and 15 years.

Citizens Bank (RI)

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Sallie Mae: One of the most well-known private student loan lenders, Sallie Mae has a Smart Option Student loan with fixed APRs ranging from 6.25% to 9.16%, and variable APRs ranging from 4.00% to 9.04%. You can borrow up to the cost of attendance, and this loan comes with a Graduated Repayment option.

Sallie Mae Bank

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It’s also worth checking with your bank or local credit union for their rates. If you or your cosigner have an existing relationship with a bank, that could help you secure lower rates.

Are you afraid of your credit being negatively affected if you apply with too many lenders? As long as you complete applications within a 30-day window, then the credit bureaus will count all inquiries as one inquiry, ensuring your credit doesn’t take a huge hit. Shopping around for the best deal is worth the effort with student loan debt being such a burden. Lower interest rates will make your loan more affordable.

A Solid Option if You Have to Use a Private Lender

The SunTrust Custom Choice Loan is a solid option for students requiring more financial assistance than what the Federal government can provide. SunTrust customers benefit more with the 0.50% interest rate deduction, and no one can complain about receiving a 2% principal reduction on their loans upon graduating.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Millard
Erin Millard |

Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erinm@magnifymoney.com

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