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College Students and Recent Grads

The Ultimate Guide to Student Loans in 2018

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.

Student loans are loans that you take out to help pay for educational expenses, such as tuition, fees, room, board, equipment and transportation to and from school. This guide covers the ins and outs of federal and private student loans, explains how to apply for student loans, discusses which option may be best for your circumstances and offers several alternatives to borrowing money.

PART I: Understanding student loans

As with other types of debt, you must agree to repay the money, plus interest.

However, student loans can differ from other types of loans. They may have less stringent credit or income requirements for students, and you may be able to delay making payments until after you leave school.

How do student loans work?

You can apply for a student loan from the federal government or from a private lender. The eligibility requirements and application process (discussed in detail later) are different for federal and private student loans, but the overall student loan process can be similar.

After applying and getting approved for a student loan, the lender will often send the money directly to your school. The school applies the money to your account to pay for tuition, fees and other expenses. If there’s money left over, the school will issue you a refund which you can use for additional educational expenses, such as off-campus housing and food. You can also return the excess funds.

With federal loans, you’ll need to reapply for financial aid once every year to remain eligible;the policies of private lenders vary. You may need to reapply each term, apply once for an academic year or apply once and fund multiple years. However, with both federal and private student loans, the loan will generally be split up and disbursed (i.e. sent) to the school at the beginning of each term.

Terms and repayment options

Your repayment term — the amount of time you have to repay the loan — and repayment plans can vary depending on the type of student loan. Many student loans, including federal student loans, let you defer payments while you’re enrolled at least a half-time in an eligible program, as well as during a six-month grace period after you graduate, leave school or drop below a half-time schedule. However, some private lenders require borrowers to make at least interest-only or $25 monthly payments once the loan is disbursed.

Federal student loans automatically enter a 10-year standard repayment plan. However, you can switch to a different plan for free. Other repayment plans may give you more time to repay your loans, which can decrease your monthly payments but lead to paying more interest over the loan’s lifetime.

You may also be eligible for an income-driven plan that bases your monthly payments on your income, family size and where you live. An income-driven plan could even lead to $0 monthly payments, and the remainder of your loan balance might be forgiven after you make monthly payments for 20 to 25 years. There are also federal student loan forgiveness and cancellation programs.

Private loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment, forgiveness or cancellation programs, and often you’ll choose your loan’s term or be assigned a term when you apply. Some lenders have different repayment plans, but with others the only way to change your private loan’s term is to refinance the student loan.

Interest rates

The interest rate on your student loan can impact your overall cost of borrowing and your monthly payment amount. It’s important to understand how a lender determines your interest rate, how interest accrues on your loan and what your options are before agreeing to take out a student loan.

Congress sets the interest rate on federal student loans. All federal student loans have a fixed interest rate, meaning the rate won’t change once the loan is disbursed.

By contrast, private student loans’ interest rates can vary greatly. Lenders may offer different rate ranges, and the rate you receive will depend on your creditworthiness (or the credit of your cosigner). Private lenders also offer fixed- and variable-rate loans. Variable-rate loans are riskier because the interest rate can change in the future, but they can be enticing because they often offer a lower initial interest rate than fixed-rate loans.

Many federal and private student loans begin accruing interest as soon as the loan is disbursed. The interest will continue to accrue while your loans are in deferment or a grace period, and then it will be added to your loan’s principal balance (i.e. capitalized) once you enter repayment. When this happens, more interest may accrue each month, as your interest rate will now apply to a higher principal loan balance.

PART II: Types of student loans

Students loans fall into one of two general categories: federal or private student loans.

Federal student loans

Federal student loans can offer borrowers simplicity and savings compared to private student loans. Although there are differences depending on the type of federal student loan or the degree the borrower is pursuing, federal student loans have uniform eligibility requirements, interest rates, loan terms, benefits and repayment options for every borrower.

Private student loans

On the other hand, private student loans — and their eligibility requirements, interest rates, loan terms, benefits and drawbacks — can vary depending on the lender. Carefully research different companies’ policies and the fine print on their loan agreements before agreeing to take out a loan.

Often, federal student loans are the best first choice for borrowers because of their standard terms and low barrier to entry. Even if you could get a lower rate with a private student loan, federal loans’ flexible repayment options and eligibility for federal repayment plans and forgiveness, cancellation, deferment and forbearance programs can make them a better option. Private lenders may not offer or guarantee similar options.

PART III: Federal student loan options

What is a federal student loan?

A federal student loan is a loan that’s funded by the federal government. There are currently three types of federal student loans available to new borrowers through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.

There are also Direct Consolidation Loans, which allow borrowers to combine multiple federal student loans. Previous borrowers may also be repaying other federal student loans that are no longer available to new borrowers.

All three types of federal student loans have the same basic eligibility requirements, including being enrolled at least half-time or accepted into an eligible degree or certificate program. In addition, the application process always starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

However, these loans are not identical. They may have different annual loan limits, aggregate loan limits and credit requirements. Loan details, such as eligibility for different repayment plans, can also vary depending on the borrower — whether they are an undergraduate, graduate or professional student, or the parent of a student.

The loans may have different interest rates and disbursement fees, a fee that’s subtracted from the amount that’s sent to your school. These fees depend on the loan type, the type of borrower and when the loan is disbursed.

The federal student loan interest rates in this guide are for federal loans disbursed from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2017. The disbursement fees apply to federal student loans disbursed from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018.

Direct Subsidized Loan

 

Interest rate

Disbursement fee

Annual loan limit

Aggregate loan limit

Credit needed

Direct Subsidized Loans

5.05%

1.066%

$3,500 first year
$4,500 second year
$5,500 third and subsequent year

$23,000

None

How does it work? Direct Subsidized Loans are only available to undergraduate students, and only if their school determines they have a financial need based on the school’s cost of attendance and their expected family contribution. The Direct Subsidized Loan loan limit increases during your second and third years. However, your offer could decrease if your financial need decreases.

The subsidy part comes into play after your loan is disbursed. Although the loan starts to accrue interest right away, the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest while you’re in school at least half-time, during your grace period and if you later put the loan into deferment.

Pros and cons. If you plan to take out a federal student loan, the Direct Subsidized Loan’s relatively low disbursement fee and interest rate, and the subsidization, makes it the best option in most cases. Of course, it’s only an option if you qualify — the biggest drawback is that you may not be able to borrow enough to pay for all your educational expenses.

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Interest rate

Disbursement fee

Annual loan limit

Aggregate loan limit

Credit needed

For dependent undergraduate students

5.05%

1.066%

$5,500 first year
$6,500 second year
$7,500 third and subsequent years

The annual loan limits include Direct Subsidized Loans.

$31,000, including up to $23,000 in Direct Subsidized Loans.

None

For independent undergrads and dependent undergrads after a parent gets denied for a PLUS Loan

5.05%

1.066%

$9,500 first year
$10,500 second year
$12,500 third and subsequent years

The annual loan limits include Direct Subsidized Loans.

$57,500, including up to $23,000 in Direct Subsidized Loans.

None

For graduate and professional students

6.6%

1.066%

$20,500

$138,500, including up to $65,500 in Direct Subsidized Loans.

None

How does it work? Undergraduate and graduate students may be able to borrow money with Direct Unsubsidized Loans, even if they don’t have a demonstrated financial need. The loans also have higher annual and aggregate loan limits than Direct Subsidized Loans, and the limit varies depending on your degree type and dependency status.

However, the loan limits include debt from both Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans loans. You also might not be offered the maximum amount, as your offer depends on several factors — these can include your school’s cost of attendance, your family’s expected contribution and how much money you’ve received from other sources of financial aid, such as scholarships.

Pros and cons. The higher loan limits and lack of a financial need requirement may make it easier to qualify for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan;for undergraduate students, these loans have the same interest rate and disbursement fee as the subsidized version. However, the biggest drawback may be the lack of the subsidy. Without the subsidy, you could leave school with significantly more debt than you initially borrowed, unless you make interest payments while you’re in school and during the grace period.

For graduate and professional students who aren’t eligible for Direct Subsidized Loans, the Direct Unsubsidized Loans offer a lower interest rate and disbursement fee than grad PLUS loans. However, graduate and professional students may have already established their creditworthiness, and so might be able to save money with a private student loan.

Parent PLUS loan

 

Interest rate

Disbursement fee

Annual loan limit

Aggregate loan limit

Credit needed

Parent PLUS loan

7.6%

4.264%

No limit

No limit

No adverse credit history

How does it work? Parent PLUS loans are Direct PLUS Loans that a parent borrows to help a dependent child pay for school. Parent borrowers must meet many of the same basic eligibility requirements as student borrowers;however, parent PLUS loans also require a credit check. The credit check looks for an adverse credit history in your credit reports, such as a recent bankruptcy or outstanding delinquent debts.

If you don’t pass the credit check, you may still be able to take out a parent PLUS loan if you have a creditworthy endorser (i.e. cosigner) or appeal the decision. Your child may also be able to take out additional Direct Unsubsidized Loans if you’re unable to qualify for a parent PLUS loan.

Loan payments begin immediately after the parent PLUS loan is disbursed, unless parents request a deferment. If you request a deferment, you may not have to make payments as long as your child is enrolled at least half-time and for the six months after they leave school or begin taking a less-than-half-time schedule. However, interest will accrue during the deferral period.

Pros and cons. As with other federal student loans, parent PLUS loan are eligible for different federal repayment plans, and forgiveness and cancellation programs. However, parent PLUS loans are only eligible for one of the four income-driven plans: the income-contingent plan — notably, this is only an option after the parent PLUS loan is consolidated with a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Direct PLUS Loans, including parent PLUS loans, also have the highest interest rate and disbursement fee of the federal student loans. The interest rate and fees may still be lower than what you could receive with a private student loan, but you should compare your options.

Another potential con is that parents can’t transfer the loan to their children, although a child may be able to take over the debt if they can qualify to refinance student loans with a private lender. The debt from the parent PLUS loan could also increase your debt-to-income ratio, which may affect your eligibility for other loans or financial products.

Grad PLUS loan

 

Interest rate

Disbursement fee

Annual loan limit

Aggregate loan limit

Credit needed

Grad PLUS loan

7.6%

4.264%

No limit

No limit

No adverse credit history

How does it work? Graduate and professional students can use grad PLUS loans to pay for educational expenses. They have the same fees, limits and credit-check requirements as parent PLUS loans (both loans are Direct PLUS Loan), but there are a few differences.

Grad PLUS loans are eligible for all four income-driven repayment plans, and unlike parent PLUS loans, grad PLUS loans are automatically placed into deferment until six months after you drop below a half-time schedule, graduate or leave school. However, you can make early payments if you want.

Pros and cons. Grad PLUS loans don’t have pre-set annual or aggregate loan limits;you can also borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, minus your other financial aid awards. This means you may be able to fund all your educational costs with grad PLUS loans — but that doesn’t mean a grad PLUS loan should necessarily be your first choice.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans will have a lower interest rate and disbursement fee than grad PLUS loans, and they offer the same access to federal repayment plans and programs. You may also want to compare private student loans offers to your grad PLUS loan rates to determine which will save you the most money.

PART IV: Private student loans

What is a private student loan?

A private student loan is an educational loan issued by a non-government lender. As with federal student loans, borrowers must use the money for educational expenses.

Some federal laws apply to both federal and private student loans. For example, lenders aren’t allowed to charge you a fee for paying off your loans early — however, it can be difficult to discharge a federal or private student loan during a bankruptcy.

There are also important differences between federal and private student loans, and several pros and cons, to consider before taking out a private student loan.

Pros:

  • High loan limits. The federal student loans with the lowest interest rates also have pre-set annual and aggregate loan limits. By contrast, private student lenders may let you borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance.
  • Potentially lower interest rates. Creditworthy borrowers may qualify for a lower interest rate with a private lender than they’d receive with a federal student loan.
  • No funding fee. Federal student loans often have a disbursement fee;private student lenders generally don’t charge a disbursement or origination fee.
  • Variable-rate options. Private lenders may offer variable-rate loans, which generally start with a lower interest rate than fixed-rate loans. However, there’s a risk the rate will increase in the future.
  • Interest rate discounts. Federal and private student loans often offer a 0.25 percent interest rate discount if you sign up for autopay. Private lenders may offer additional discount opportunities.

Cons:

  • Credit requirements. Your income, credit score and other factors could impact your eligibility, interest rate and maximum loan amount.
  • No access to federal benefits or programs. Private student loans aren’t eligible for federal repayment plans or subsidies. They also aren’t eligible for forgiveness, cancellation, discharge, forbearance or deferment programs.
  • Fewer hardship options. Private lenders might not offer borrowers forbearance or deferment options when borrowers have trouble making payments.
  • Quicker defaults. Private student loans may default sooner than federal student loans if you stop making payments. When a loan defaults, you’ll immediately owe the entire loan balance. Federal student loans also offer ways to get your loan out of default and back onto a repayment plan, but private lenders may not give you similar options.
  • Limitations with loan repayment assistance programs. Some government and private student loan repayment assistance programs won’t help you repay private student loans.
  • Varied discharge policies. Private lenders may not discharge your loan balance if you become permanently and totally disabled or die. As a result, you may leave your estate or cosigner with a loan balance to pay. Federal student loans can be discharged when the borrower, or student in the case of parent PLUS loans, permanently and totally disabled or dies.

Where can you find private student loans?

Banks, credit unions, online lenders, schools and states all offer private student loans to students, and sometimes to students’ parents. Your school’s financial aid office may be able to recommend several options, but you can also look online or speak to friends and family members to get recommendations.

There’s no single best private student lender, and you should compare different lenders’ loan types, loan terms, repayment options, fees, discounts and fine-print restrictions, like if they let you release a cosigner. You could also read others’ reviews and recommendations to determine which private student lenders might be best for your situation.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you can then apply for a student loan with several lenders and compare your offers to determine which loan is best.

Who are private student loans best for?

Federal student loans are the best place to start for most borrowers, but there are some students who may want or need to take out private student loans. For example, if you’ve reached your annual or aggregate loan limit with federal student loans and you still need more money for school, you may want to consider a private student loan.

Parents and graduate or professional students who have established their creditworthiness may also want to consider private student loans as an alternative to federal student loans. Their federal loans have a higher interest rate and disbursement fee than undergraduate students’ federal loans, and older applicants may be able to qualify for a lower interest rate with a private lender. However, consider the big picture as there may be other drawbacks, such as lack of access to federal forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

PART V: How to get a student loan

Applying for federal student loans

You must complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year to apply for, and remain eligible for, federal financial aid.

MagnifyMoney has a detailed guide on filling out the FAFSA. You can also find a PDF guide from the Education Department and free phone support at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243).

Submitting your FAFSA early can help your financial aid situation, as some schools and states offer financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis based on information in your FAFSA. Even if you don’t plan on taking out loans, the FAFSA is a requirement for some grant and scholarship opportunities.

To begin the FAFSA process online, go to fsaid.ed.gov and create your FSA ID. The FSA ID will be your username and password for signing into your account and you’ll also use it to sign loan documents. Dependent students also need a parent to create an FSA ID, which the parent will use to sign the child’s FAFSA.

After you’ve created your FSA ID, you can start the online application at fafsa.gov. To complete the application, you’ll need:

  • Your Social Security number or alien registration number
  • Income-related forms, including recent W-2s and federal income tax returns
  • Copies of your bank, brokerage, and other financial account statements
  • Documents related to other income
  • If you’re a dependent student or you’re married, you may also need your parents’ or spouse’s Social Security number and income-related forms.

It generally takes under an hour to complete the FAFSA. Returning students will send the form to their school, while first-year students can send their FAFSA to the schools they’re considering.

After submitting your FAFSA, you will get a Student Aid Report (SAR) by mail or email;you should review this document to ensure all your information is correct. The SAR will list your expected family contribution amount, along with your FAFSA information. Schools and state agencies use this data to determine your financial aid eligibility and award amounts, and a mistake could lead to you being offered less aid.

Your school, or the schools you’re considering, will then send you an aid offer that lists the financial aid types and amounts that you can accept. Your aid package may include a combination of grants, scholarships, work-study funds, and/or several types of student loans.

You can choose which aid package offer to accept and how much money to borrow if you’re taking out a loan;the process can vary depending on your school. If you’re accepting a federal student loan offer, you will have to sign a promissory note, or loan contract. Keep in mind that you do not have to accept the full amount of federal loans you’re eligible to borrow — do the math to avoid unnecessary debt.

Applying for private student loans

Private student lenders may have different applications, and the application processes could vary. However, you can find some lenders that have a fairly simple and straightforward online application.

You won’t need to complete the FAFSA to apply for a private student loan, but you may want to gather similar personal and financial documents — you’ll likely need information from these documents during the application process, and you might have to submit copies for verification purposes.

You may also need personal and financial information from a cosigner if you’re adding one to your application;in some instances, the cosigner may be able to log in and submit his or her information directly.

If your application is approved, you might be able to pick from several loan terms with varying interest rates. Or, the lender may make you an offer and you can choose to accept or decline it.

At some point during the application process, the lender could contact your school to verify your eligibility and the school’s cost of attendance, which can determine your maximum loan limit. Alternatively, you could be asked to self-certify these numbers.

Alternatives to student loans

A loan shouldn’t necessarily be your first choice when it comes to financial aid. Scholarships and grants can offer money for school that you don’t need to pay back. Graduate or professional students may be able to get “free” money from fellowships. And you could look into different work opportunities.

If you submitted a FAFSA, you may get a work-study award as part of your financial aid offer. The federal work-study program pays a portion of work-study recipient’s wages, which could make it easier for you to find a job while you’re at school. However, only certain employers are eligible, such as the school, nonprofits and some for-profits if the work you’ll do aligns with your major.

Graduate and professional students may have opportunities to get an assistantship at the school. Depending on the program, you could receive a stipend, tuition waivers or even benefits in exchange for working part-time.

You can also look for work opportunities that aren’t part of a financial aid program. A part-time job while you’re at school, or a full-time job during the summers, might not earn you enough to cover all your educational costs — but every dollar you earn and put towards your education is one less dollar you need to borrow (and pay interest on).

This post was updated July 17, 2018 to reflect changes to federal student loan interest rates.

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.

Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at louis@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

6 Best Reasons to Refinance Student Loan Debt in 2019

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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Like the beginning of a new year, student loan refinancing can offer you a fresh start.

And this time, you could enjoy a lower interest rate or reduced monthly payment, as well as choosing which lender or servicer helps you reach the finish line.

These are among the six reasons to refinance your student loan debt in 2019.

1. Reduce your rate

After staggering four rate hikes across 2018, upping its benchmark by a full percentage point, the Federal Reserve is expected to impose increases of roughly half a percentage point during 2019.

Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the perfect time to refinance your student loans, this year could be the right time for you, as banks, credit unions and online lenders are still offering relatively low rates.

Don’t simply rely on lenders’ advertising, however. To qualify for the bottom of their best rate ranges, you’ll need a strong credit score and a healthy debt-to-income ratio. A steady, well-paying job helps, too.

You might treat 2019 as the year to strengthen your refinancing application, even if you decide it’s not the year you’ll be able to snag that super low rate.

A lower rate equals greater savings. Say you refinance $30,000 on a 10-year term and manage to cut your original average rate of 8% down to 5%. You’d save $5,494 over the next decade — no small chunk of change.

Check out our student loan refinance calculator to see what your own numbers look like.

2. Stretch your paycheck

Some borrowers see refinancing as a way of lowering their interest rate, but others see it as a pathway to reduce monthly payments.

A smaller monthly due could stretch your paycheck, which could be helpful if debt repayment isn’t your only financial goal for the year ahead.

By refinancing your federal loans and their 10-year standard repayment plan, you could switch to a longer term with a private lender. Most lenders offer you the ability to choose a term anywhere between five and 20 years.

If temporarily lowering your payments via refinancing is your top priority, shop around. You might be surprised by what you find. LendKey, for example, offers interest-only payments for up to four years.

As you seek a lower monthly payment in 2019, keep a couple of caveats in mind. By choosing a longer repayment term, for example, your loan repayment becomes progressively more expensive. That’s because interest will accrue and capitalize onto the principal loan amount.

Say you refinanced that $30,000 loan to a longer, 20-year term. Despite lowering your rate from 8% to 5%, you’d pay an additional $3,839 in interest over the life of your loan.

Also, don’t forget about the federal government’s income-driven repayment plans. With a plan like income-based repayment, you could tie your dues to a percentage of your discretionary income — and hold on to government-exclusive protections, such as access to loan forgiveness programs. It’s a preferable alternative to refinancing for many borrowers.

3. Snag some perks

If you’re considering refinancing federal loans, you might be worried about what you’d be giving up. The list includes access to loan forgiveness, plus the ability to switch repayment plans or receive mandatory forbearance.

Although private lenders won’t offer the same protections, their benefits are getting better and better all the time.

Consider some of the recent innovations being offered by top-rated lenders:

  • SoFi’s Unemployment Protection program lets you pause your loan for up to 12 months, and it includes career coaching support to find your next gig.
  • Earnest allows you to choose your payment due date, select from a much wider assortment of repayment terms than at most lenders, and skip one payment annually.
  • CommonBond has pioneered hybrid loans for student refinancing, offering a loan that blends fixed and variable rates.
  • Laurel Road is among the group of lenders that give a parent the chance to refinance federal PLUS Loans in their child’s name.

If an atypical loan feature makes refinancing right for you, survey the landscape in 2019 to see if any reputable lender offers the benefits you seek.

4. Simplify your repayment

If you’re holding federal loans, you might be cautiously optimistic about NextGen, the Department of Education’s plan to reorganize how student loan servicing works. If it fulfills expectations when it arrives sometime in 2019, NextGen will allow you to make your monthly payments in one place at one time.

“Cautiously optimistic” are the operative words here. NextGen is a massive undertaking, and government projects can sometimes move more slowly then we’d like, so you might not want to count on the new platform simplifying your repayment.

On the other hand, refinancing offers you that simplicity now. By replacing your federal loans (and private loans, if you have them), you’re not just receiving a new interest rate and repayment term. You’re also simultaneously consolidating (or grouping) them by replacing them with a single refinanced loan.

5. Choose your lender

When you first borrowed federal loans, you weren’t given the option to select your loan servicer.

Refinancing, however, allows you to choose your lender based on whatever criteria matter most to you. For example, you might be seeking a lender that services its own loans or offers a unique perk (see point No. 3 above).

Regardless of what you want in a new lender, remember that this year, you’re in charge. Shop around and hold potential banks, credit unions and online companies accountable for what you want out of refinancing. If they’re unable to meet your needs, move on to a competitor.

6. Gain financial independence

Student loan refinancing is more accessible in 2019 than it has been at any point previously.

In mid-2018, for instance, CommonBond announced it would accept refinancing candidates who are visa holders who have graduated from a U.S. university. Citizens Bank has been refinancing debt for college dropouts. Plus, more and more lenders are removing employment and minimum income from their eligibility requirements.

If you’ve found refinancing to be out of your reach, you might now be in luck. As a creditworthy applicant, you could thank the cosigner on your original loans by removing their name from your refinance application.

If not — maybe your credit score still needs work — take the first months of 2019 to strengthen your application. A cosigner could help you do just that. Plus, through refinancing, you could release that cosigner within a relatively short period. Splash Financial and LendKey are among lenders that offer cosigner release after just one year of prompt payments.

That would give you greater financial independence by 2020 — and put you on a path to becoming debt-free on your own.

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
Andrew Pentis |

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

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

Student Loan Forgiveness Programs for Doctors

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.

As a medical professional, you might have taken on a mountain of debt on your journey to becoming a doctor. The average indebted doctor left medical school in 2016 owing more than $189,000 in student loans, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Even if you’re on your way to a six-figure income, your residency income will likely be far less — in 2017, residents earned an average of just over $57,000. During that time, the interest alone on all your student loans could be equal to your entire disposable income after room and board.

Fortunately, there are student loan forgiveness programs for doctors and other medical professionals that could pay off part or even all of your loans. If you’re looking to cure yourself of medical school debt, turn to these programs for assistance.

National Health Service Corps (NHSC)

The National Health Service Corps can provide up to $50,000 to repay your health profession student loan in exchange for a two-year commitment to work at an NHSC site in a high-need, underserved area. After completing your initial service commitment, you can apply to extend your service and receive additional loan repayment assistance.

In order to qualify, you’ll need to work at least half-time in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Along with earning loan forgiveness, you could put your medical degree to good use by caring for an underserved community.

Indian Health Services Loan Repayment Program

This federal program offers up to $40,000 in exchange for two years of service in an American Indian or Alaskan Native community. You can also renew your contract and receive additional benefits that could pay off your entire student loan balance.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program

If you work in medical research, you could qualify for $35,000 per year from the NIH Loan Repayment Program. To do so, you’ll need to conduct research at a non-profit organization in an eligible field, such as health disparities, contraception and infertility or pediatric medicine.

Students to Service Program

If you’re still in medical school, you can apply for a major award through the Students to Service Program. This program provides up to $120,000 to medical students who commit to providing primary health care at an approved site for three years after graduating.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)

The PSLF program is intended to encourage individuals to enter and continue to work full-time in public service jobs. You could receive forgiveness of the remaining balance of your federal direct loans after making 120 qualifying payments while employed by certain public service employers.

Since you’ll likely have to work for 10 years before you get loan forgiveness, you’ll have to move your student loans off the standard 10-year plan and onto an income-driven repayment or extended repayment plan — otherwise you’ll have already paid off your balance by the time you qualify for forgiveness.

You should also keep up to date with any developments around the PSLF program. While it was signed into law in 2007, the program is not guaranteed to be around forever, and it’s recently drawn controversy over the uncertainty around getting approved.

Military loan repayment programs

If you’re serving as a medical provider in the Army, Navy or Air Force, you could qualify for assistance toward your student loans. Here are some of the programs available for military personnel.

Financial Assistance Program (FAP)

The Army, Air Force and Navy all offer the FAP, a program that grants loan repayment assistance and a living stipend to medical residents.

If you’re a medical resident in the Army or Air Force, you could get at least $45,000 per year of service, plus a monthly stipend of at least $2,000. And although the Navy grant can change from year to year, Navy medical residents could also qualify for significant assistance from the Navy FAP.

Active Duty Health Professions Loan Repayment Program

This program offers up to $40,000 per year in student loan repayment over a set number of years. You must be a physician in the Army, Navy, or Air Force to qualify.

U.S. Navy Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP)

The Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP) provides medical personnel in the Navy with aid for their education loans. If you meet the program’s criteria, you could receive repayment assistance of up to $40,000 per year, minus about 25% in federal taxes.

State Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs)

Many states also run programs that grant student loan repayment assistance in exchange for working in a high-need or underserved area. A good place to check the medical loan repayment and forgiveness programs available in your area is through the AAMC database.

Here are just two examples of the many state-specific programs:

  • The Arizona Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in exchange for a two-year commitment from physicians.
  • The Kansas State Loan Repayment Program offers up to $25,000 per year of contract toward your outstanding education debt. After completion of the initial two-year service obligation, you may be able to extend your contract in one-year increments.

Check with your state to find out if it has an LRAP for doctors, nurses or other medical professionals. Depending on where you live and work, you could qualify for significant assistance toward your student loans.

Do the math before committing to a loan forgiveness program

As you take a look at each loan forgiveness program, remember to weigh salary considerations against any amount you’d receive in student loan assistance. Opting for a job with a $75,000 salary to earn $25,000 in loan forgiveness wouldn’t be as lucrative as going after a job with a $200,000 salary and no loan forgiveness, for instance.

Unless you’re driven to work in a high-need area or with an underserved population, you might not benefit from sacrificing a high salary for the sake of qualifying for loan forgiveness. Consider your career goals and your wants and needs in a job.

Refinancing student loans can also help

Whether or not you’re working toward student loan forgiveness, you might also consider refinancing as a strategy for managing your debt. Through refinancing, you could reduce your interest rates and save money on your loans beyond whatever forgiveness you can get from these programs.

Because of their steady incomes, doctors tend to be especially strong candidates for student loan refinancing. Along with lowering your rate, you could choose new terms and adjust your monthly payments.

But refinancing with a private lender also means you’ll lose access to federal programs and repayment plans, so make sure you’re comfortable with this sacrifice before making any changes to your debt. If you decide refinancing is right for you — or simply want to learn more about the process — check out the best lenders to refinance student loans here.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this article.

Our Top Picks for Refinancing Student Loans

You can learn more about what these lenders have to offer by checking out the best options to refinance student loans here.

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.90% - 7.95%


Fixed Rate*

2.47% - 7.17%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

EarnestA+

20


Years

3.89% - 7.89%


Fixed Rate

2.57% - 6.97%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Earnest’s secure website

CommonBondA+

20


Years

3.67% - 7.25%


Fixed Rate

2.61% - 7.35%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on CommonBond’s secure website

LendKeyA+

20


Years

5.23% - 8.97%


Fixed Rate

2.68% - 8.77%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on LendKey’s secure website

Laurel Road BankA+

20


Years

3.50% - 7.02%


Fixed Rate

3.24% - 6.66%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured

on Laurel Road Bank’s secure website

Citizens BankA+

20


Years

3.90% - 9.99%


Fixed Rate

3.01% - 9.75%


Variable Rate

$90k / $350k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Citizens Bank (RI)’s secure website

Discover Student LoansA+

20


Years

5.74% - 8.49%


Fixed Rate

4.99% - 7.99%


Variable Rate

$150k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

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Steven D. |

Steven D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Steven at steven@magnifymoney.com

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