So, you’ve got a student loan. Don’t we all? One could argue that they are all pretty terrible, and you would not be totally wrong about that. However, in my opinion, some are better than others. If you are looking for some basic financial aid counseling, here is my own ranking of the most common student loans, least-worst to most-worst:
- Federal Perkins Loans. These are low-interest federal student loans available to both undergraduates and graduates who have significant financial need. The funds for Perkins loans are provided by the federal government to participating colleges and universities, and then leant by the schools to students directly. I like Perkins loans because they have low, fixed interest rates at 5% and relatively small loan balances. Interest accrual is deferred while you are enrolled in school, and they have fairly generous forgiveness and cancellation options if you work in the right profession. There are two major downsides, however: these loans are not eligible for Income-Based Repayment (IBR), and if you default on them, resolving the defaults can be quite costly, and might even involve litigation.
- Federal Subsidized Stafford Loans. These are next on my list and are probably the most common student loans out there. They are available to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and have relatively low interest rates. The government waives interest accrual during school enrollment, which is a huge benefit.
- Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loans. These loans are the Subsidized Stafford loan’s evil twin. Although they also tend to have relatively low interest rates and are widely available, they are typically disbursed in larger amounts, and the government does not waive interest during school enrollment or other deferment periods. This makes these loans significantly more costly for students than subsidized loans, given that thousands of dollars of interest can accrue by the time you graduate.
- Federal Graduate PLUS Loans. These loans are available only to graduate and professional students. They have much higher interest rates than most other federal loans and they can also have origination fees. Students can borrow up to the cost of attendance, but these loans are not subsidized, which means a huge amount of interest can accrue during school enrollment and other deferment periods. This can be quite costly.
- Federal Parent PLUS Loans. These are the worst federal student loans, in my opinion. These loans are only available to parents for the benefit of their child’s education. Like Graduate PLUS loans, these loans have very high interest rates, origination fees, high balance limits, and they are not subsidized. To make matters even worse, these loans are not eligible for Income-Based Repayment (IBR), which can cause a major hardship (although it may be possible to place these loans on a less-favorable income-driven plan in certain circumstances).
- Private Loans. If you follow my posts, this should come as no surprise to you. Private student loans typically have high interest rates, high origination fees, and few avenues for repayment flexibility or hardship relief. Private loans should be avoided at all costs, in my opinion.