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College Students and Recent Grads

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for Private Student Loans

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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Once you’ve maxed out your eligibility for federal financial aid, you might turn to private student loans to cover the costs of college. But you’ll soon discover that applying for private student loans is a different process than applying for federal ones.

To access private loans, you’ll need to seek out a bank, credit union or another financial institution. Along with all the required paperwork, you might also need a cosigner to sign on to your application. Learning how to apply for private student loans before you act will help ensure there are no delays along the way.

Applying for private student loans in 7 steps

1. Determine how much money you need to borrow

Your first step to getting a private student loan involves figuring out how much money you need to borrow. Private loans can be used for any eligible educational expenses, including tuition, fees, textbooks, room and board and other living expenses.

Take a look at your school’s estimated cost of attendance, which you can typically find on its financial aid website or your financial aid letter. Take the amount listed and subtract any other aid you’ve already received, like federal student loans, grants or scholarships.

If you haven’t received aid yet, the FAFSA4Caster tool can help you estimate your award. After submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you’ll also see your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount your family is expected to pay out of pocket.

If you still have a gap in funding after aid has been applied, you might fill it with a private student loan. But be careful about borrowing too much — you don’t want to be stuck with a burdensome amount of debt after you graduate.

What’s more, you probably can’t borrow much beyond your school’s cost of attendance anyway, since your school will likely have to certify any amount you request from a private lender. Estimating your costs will give you a good sense of how much you’re eligible to take from a bank.

From there, you can look for ways to lower the amount you need to borrow in student loans, whether that involves applying for more scholarships or working a part-time job during college.

2. Research private lenders

Once you have a sense of how much you want to borrow in private student loans, it’s time to research your options. You have lots of choices when it comes to borrowing a private student loan.

To save you some time, we’ve vetted private student loan lenders to help you find some of the best ones. Here are a few of our top recommendations for lenders with excellent rates and terms.

Since each lender is different, it’s useful to compare your options to find one that’s best for you. Along with finding the lowest interest rate, you might also look for other perks, such as flexible repayment options or a reputation for good customer service.

3. Compare private student loan offers

Another advantage to several of the lenders mentioned above is their offer of an instant rate quote. After heading to their website, you can check the rates available to you with just a few pieces of basic information, such as your name, school, and the amount you wish to borrow.

At this point, you can immediately see some pre-qualification offers, along with the rates you might get if you apply. This instant rate quote makes it easy to compare offers from multiple lenders so you can find one with the best terms.

Plus, it won’t impact your credit at all, since it’s just a soft credit check. Remember, however, these are only pre-qualification offers — you’ll need to submit a full offer and consent to a hard credit check to see your final loan offer.

But these pre-qualification quotes do give you a good sense of what you could be eligible for, as well as help you narrow down your options for lenders. Note that not every lender offers an instant rate quote, and you probably shouldn’t neglect the ones that don’t.

If you belong to a bank or credit union, for instance, it could be worth speaking with them about a loan to see if you can get an even better deal. Still, taking advantage of instant rate quote or loan comparison marketplaces such as LendKey will help you get an initial sense of what’s available.

4. Find a cosigner if necessary

Unlike the federal government, private lenders have underwriting requirements for credit and income. You’ll need strong credit and a steady income to qualify for a loan, as this reassures the lender you’ll be able to pay back your debt.

Most undergraduates can’t qualify on their own, so they apply with a cosigner, such as a parent. However, know that your cosigner becomes just as responsible for the debt as you are — their credit is on the line in the event you can’t pay, so have a conversation with your cosigner before applying for private student loans to ensure you’re both on the same page about who’s paying back the debt.

Cosigning debt isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. It’s important to clarify expectations so no one’s finances (or relationships) get hurt.

5. Gather the required paperwork

Once you’ve done the preliminary research, the time has come to collect all the necessary documentation. If you’ve submitted the FAFSA, you might already have some of this information on hand.

Although requirements can vary, most private lenders ask for the following:

  • Social Security numbers for you and your cosigner (if any)
  • Personal data, such as your date of birth, home address and phone number
  • Annual income, with pay stubs or W-2s as supporting documentation
  • Employment information
  • A copy of the previous year’s tax returns
  • Monthly rent or mortgage payments
  • A list of assets and their values
  • Contact information for a personal reference
  • The Private Education Loan Applicant Self-Certification form, which you can obtain from you school’s financial aid office or the Department of Education

Each lender sets its own requirements, but the majority will want most of the documents on this list. Gathering them in advance will help your application go smoothly.

6. Submit your application for a private student loan

Once you’ve done your research, chosen a lender and gathered your information, the time has come to submit your private student loan application. Most lenders make it easy to apply for a private student loan online.

This process shouldn’t take long, especially once you have all the relevant documents at the ready. You’ll usually start by filling out your personal information, as well as the details for any cosigner. You’ll have to indicate where you’ll be attending school, as well as the loan amount you’re requesting, and likely upload verifying documents, such as pay stubs or tax returns.

Your final step will be acknowledging the lender’s terms and conditions before hitting submit. At this point, most lenders will reach out to your school to certify the amount you requested.

Assuming all goes well, the lender will likely send the funds to your financial aid office. After applying it to your tuition bill, your financial aid office will return any remaining funds to you.

You can use this money on living expenses, or you can return it to the bank so you don’t have to pay interest on it. In fact, you can always prepay your student loan ahead of schedule without penalty.

Note that some lenders will send the funds directly to you, rather than to your financial aid office. In this case, it’s your responsibility to get the loan money and pay your tuition bill.

While you can borrow a private student loan at any time throughout the school year, don’t leave your application until the last minute. The process can take some time, so you want to ensure the money arrives in time to pay your tuition bill before the deadline.

7. Read over the terms of your contract before signing

Once your application has been submitted and approved, make sure to read over your student loan contract before you sign it. Check to see exactly how much you’re borrowing, along with your repayment term, interest rate and monthly payment.

Find out if you need to make any payments while you’re still in school, or if you have a grace period that extends for a few months after you graduate. Use our student loan calculator so you have a clear understanding of the long-term costs of your loan.

Finally, find out if your lender offers any alternative repayment options in the event you lose your job or return to school in the future. For instance, some lenders will postpone payments temporarily if you run into financial hardship or go to graduate school.

Learn about your options beforehand so you don’t make any false assumptions about your private student loan options.

Applying for private student loans doesn’t have to be arduous

Applying for a private student loan might feel daunting when you’re heading to college the first time, but the process will seem easier after you’ve gone through it once. Learn how to get private student loans well before the school year starts, so you won’t be left scrambling when tuition is due.

And make sure you shop around with multiple lenders before choosing one to finance your education. By putting in your due diligence now, you can find a private student loan with the best rate and lowest costs of borrowing.

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.

Rebecca Safier
Rebecca Safier |

Rebecca Safier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rebecca here

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College Students and Recent Grads

Can You Transfer Private Student Loans To Federal Loans?

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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You might have heard all the buzz about federal student loans being refinanced at lower interest rates by private lenders. That could leave you wondering whether you can accomplish the opposite and transfer private student loans to federal loans.

This would be a great option, since consolidating private student loans to federal debt would allow you to score government-exclusive protections like special repayment plans and forgiveness options. But unfortunately, transitioning loan types only works in one direction.

Still, there are other alternatives to make your private student loan repayment easier, as we’ll discuss below.

Can you transfer private student loans to federal debt?

Private student loans are borrowed from banks, credit unions and online lenders. They’re awarded based on your (cosigner’s) credit history and include perks like potentially lower rates, more repayment term options and, often, better customer service.

Unfortunately, they’re missing one key feature: There’s no way to consolidate private student loans into federal education debt. Once your debt is private, it stays that way.

On the other hand, it is possible to combine your debt into a single loan. Both federal loan consolidation and private refinancing allow you to do this and pay just one monthly bill. But there are significant differences between the strategies, starting with loan eligibility.

 Direct loan consolidationRefinancing
Eligible loansFederalPrivate or federal
LenderDepartment of EducationBank, credit union or online lender
PurposeGroup federal debt at its average interest rate, rounded to the nearest ⅛ of 1% (fixed rates only)Group education debt at an interest rate awarded based on your creditworthiness (fixed or variable rates)
Key benefitsKeep federal loan protections, including income-driven repayment, forbearance/deferment and pathways to loan forgivenessReduce your interest rate to save money, shorten or lengthen your repayment term, and switch lenders
Key costsExtending your repayment would allow more interest to accrue over time, and it could reset the progress you’ve made toward certain loan forgiveness programsYielding the protections (like income-driven repayment) on any federal loans you elect to refinance

So, no, you can’t transfer private student loans to federal loans. You could either consolidate your federal loans into a direct consolidation loan with the Department of Education, or you could consolidate your federal and private loans via refinancing.

The best alternative to consolidating private student loans to federal debt

If you were hoping to consolidate private student loans to federal, consider the next best option: Finding a private lender whose product mimics what you like about federal loans.

No private lender will match every aspect of a federal loan. You won’t find subsidized loans (where some of the interest is paid for you), student loan forgiveness or the ability to switch repayment plans for free and at a moment’s notice. Those options only come from Uncle Sam.

However, there are plenty of federal loan-like features available at banks, credit unions and online lenders, including:

  • Fixed interest rates: Your rate will stay the same for the life of the loan
  • Six-month grace period: Smaller payments or no payment for six months after you leave school
  • In-school deferment: Smaller payments or no payment while you’re in school, usually at least half time
  • Autopay rate reductions: Often a 0.25% discount on your interest in exchange for setting up automatic payments
  • Economic hardship forbearance: Possible pause on repayment if you suffer a hardship such as losing your job
  • Tax-deductible student loan interest: As with federal loans, you can write off the interest paid on your student loan

You might even find an income-driven option in the private marketplace, setting your payment at a fixed percentage of your disposable income. The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority and industry major SoFi make a form of income-driven repayment available to its borrowers — but only in cases of financial hardship.

What to know about student loan refinancing

Because student loan refinancing allows you to potentially lower your interest rate, the eligibility requirements aren’t forgiving.

Typically, you need good-to-excellent credit and a stable source of income — or a cosigner who enjoys both. It also helps to have made full and prompt payments on your loans.

Even if your application is strong enough to gain approval, it might not qualify you for the low end of lenders’ advertised interest-rate ranges. If you need a credit score of 650 to be eligible at Earnest, for example, you’ll likely need a score 100 or more points higher to access the best of its rate offerings.

A lower interest rate makes all the difference. Say you currently have a 9.00% rate on $20,000 worth of private student loans to be repaid over the next decade. Refinancing that five-figure debt to a 5.00% rate would save you nearly $5,000 in interest over 10 years, according to our student loan refinancing calculator.

Still, a reduced rate isn’t the only factor that should nudge you toward refinancing — especially if you’re privatizing your federal loan debt, too. Refinancing is irreversible and would strip your federal debt of its government-exclusive protections.

On the other hand, note some of the advantages a refinanced loan might have over federal debt, such as:

  • Option to apply with a creditworthy cosigner
  • Ability to choose fixed, variable and hybrid interest rates
  • Access to a wider choice of repayment terms, often between five and 20 years

Consider whether student loan refinancing is right for you

Not being able to transfer private student loans to federal debt shouldn’t feel like the end of the world.

After all, at least you retain the option to transition your debt in the other direction — moving your federal (and private) loans to a bank, credit union or online lender that offers low rates or other attractive terms.

While not suitable for every borrower, student loan refinancing gives you the power to press reset and charge forward on your repayment. To gauge its usefulness for your situation, explore the pros and cons of refinancing.

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

Student Loan Statute of Limitations: Can You Wait It Out?

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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If your student loan debt seems like an unsolvable problem, you might be tempted to play hide-and-seek. Maybe your lender will eventually give up and stop looking for you. And isn’t there a student loan “statute of limitations,” after which you don’t need to pay?

Before deciding to wait it out and hope for the best, first consider some facts: Ignoring the problem of your education debt could stall your personal finances for years to come and still not get collections agents off your back. For most people, it isn’t a good solution.

What is the statute of limitations on student loans?

When it comes to student loans, a statute of limitations is the amount of time your lender has to use the court of law to collect your debt.

That said, there are no statutes of limitations placed on federal loans. They were struck down by Congress in 1991.

On top of potentially facing a lawsuit, there are significant consequences if you allow your federal loans to default. Your credit report would suffer, and your wages and tax refunds could be garnished, among other penalties.

On the other hand, banks, credit unions and online lenders must abide by the statutes of limitations on private student loans, as set by each state government. Depending on the state with jurisdiction, a lender might have as little as three years or as long as a decade to bring a suit against you to retrieve your debt.

Although the timing varies from state to state, the rules of play are generally the same:

  • The statute of limitations “clock” starts ticking from when you fail to make a payment.
  • The statute could be reset in some cases, such as if you make a payment.
  • The statute won’t stop a lender from attempting to collect your debt (only its ability to file suit for that debt).

Say you’re on a 10-year repayment term but haven’t made a payment in four years. If your state’s statute of limitations on private student loans is five years, your lender could drag you into a courtroom anytime in the next 12 months.

When can you be sued for your student loan debt amount?

The costs of student loan default are many, and they only increase when lawyers get involved. If you want to avoid potential attorney’s fees and other court costs, you might be wondering about when exactly you could be sued for your debt.

If you go 270+ days without making a payment on a federal loan, your servicer (or its collection agency) could sue you for the debt — plain and simple.

However, it would take some guesswork to determine when — or even if — the servicer or agency would actually file suit. For example, it’s unlikely you would find yourself in court if you’ve only recently defaulted on a relatively small amount of debt. There are simply too many defaulters for the government to sue all of them.

From a legal standpoint, private lenders have a little less leeway. They could sue at any moment after you default (as outlined in your loan agreement) and before your state’s statute of limitations on private student loans takes effect.

Which brings us to the definition of time-barred debt. Time-barred debt is legalese for financial obligations that can’t be haggled over in a courtroom once the statute of limitations has expired.

Also, just because you can’t legally be sued for your time-barred debt doesn’t mean a lender won’t try. If you find yourself being served papers, you might need to prove to the presiding judge that your debt is time-barred (or paid off). You can accomplish that by providing the court with proof of your last payment date. That makes holding onto your loan paperwork a smart practice.

How to handle your private student loan debt

If you’ve gotten this far, you may think you could survive a few more years, at least until your state’s statute of limitations on private student loans expires.

Before ignoring your debt, though, let’s cover a few more considerations:

Dealing with collections agents

Whether you have a federal or private loan, you might learn that it’s been transferred to a collections agency. That’s one fact of dealing with zombie debt: It can come back to haunt you, as collections agents tend to reach out routinely.

On the plus side, collections agents are required to be truthful if you ask about the status of your debt. It’s important to understand your other rights, as reserved by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Harming your credit report

If you don’t make payments for a number of years on your student loans, your credit score will fall off a cliff. Additionally, your credit report will show your late payment history, which comprises 35% of your FICO Score.

What’s more, the default (or defaults) will stay on your credit report for seven years. That could prevent you from borrowing in the future, whether to continue your education or to buy a home.

Unless you’re willing to stall your personal finances for almost a decade, think twice about running from your creditors.

Considering alternatives to handle your distressed debt

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to manage your federal loans:

  • Seek loan forgiveness: Survey federal programs that offer cancellation or repayment assistance to see if you’re eligible.
  • Deferment and forbearance: Pause your monthly payments because of a hardship or other eligible life event.
  • Income-driven repayment (IDR)Reduce your monthly payments by switching to an IDR plan that caps them at a percentage of your income.
  • Consolidation and refinancing: Group your debt via a direct consolidation loan with the government, or combine them and possibly lower your interest rate by refinancing your student loans with a private lender. If you go with the second option, just be sure you won’t miss out on federal loan protections that will be irreversibly lost via refinancing.

But for outstanding private loans, your options to reduce or pause payments might be limited, depending on your lender. Open up the lines of communication to learn about what your bank, credit union or online company can do to support you.

If you have strong credit and stable finances (or a cosigner who does), you could consolidate your debt via student loan refinancing, just as with federal loans. This would allow you to choose a new loan term and, as noted above, maybe save money with a lower interest rate as well.

For more dire situations — perhaps to discharge or decrease your debt via bankruptcy — you could consider various forms of debt relief. And if you need legal support, you might start by using the American Bar Association’s resources or contacting your state attorney general’s office.

Reconsider testing the statute of limitations on student loans

Waiting it out might seem like a novel approach to your student loans. For federal loans, however, it’s rarely wise. There are no statutes of limitations, so your debt won’t simply disappear, no matter how much you ignore it.

And while there is a time limit on private lenders’ ability to sue over your debt, testing that limit could cause long-term harm to your credit and leave your finances in limbo. In this case, ignorance doesn’t sound so blissful.

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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