graduation-1345123_960_720Student-loan commitments can hold long-lasting (and unforeseen) financial perils, and one of the best pieces on the subject we’ve read—what to know and what to avoid–is an excellent article by James Sullivan and Melissa Towell. Here are excerpts from their piece:

“Here are some of the most important things you need to know before you or your children take out a student loan:

  • “There are two types of student loans. Federal student loans (FSLs) are issued directly to students by the federal government. Private student loans are issued by banks or other financial institutions.
  • “FSL interest rates are either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized FSLs do not accrue interest while the student is in school. Unsubsidized FSLs accrue interest while the student remains in school.
  • “FSLs and private loans have different repayment terms. The repayment terms for FSLs are more flexible and offer relief if needed. Private student loan terms are set by the lender and offer little flexibility or relief if the student has trouble repaying the loan.
  • “FSLs are based on a student’s financial need, not on the borrower’s (or parents’) credit rating. The only exception among FSLs is the parent PLUS loan. Financial need is calculated as the difference between the cost of attending a school and the student’s expected family contribution.

“These four points are certainly not exhaustive. But they are a good place to start as you or your clients consider student loan options.

“Below are some tips to keep in mind when you’re considering financing college with student loans:

  • “FSLs are typically better for the student for various reasons. The interest rate on an FSL is often lower than a private student loan. (However, private student loans can have lower interest rates if both the student and co-signer have excellent credit.) Also, repayment terms for FSLs are more flexible and offer relief if needed, whereas private student loans’ terms are set by the lender and are generally less flexible. Even if a student’s or a parent’s employer offers special access to private student loans, check out the availability of FSLs before opting for a private student loan.
  • “While in school, students should consider paying off the interest accruing on an unsubsidized loan to minimize the overall interest they’ll need to pay on the debt.
  • “Students do not need to borrow all the money available. If possible, students should borrow only what they need to cover tuition, books, and fees, and pay living expenses with income earned by working part time or applying for a work/study program as part of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
  • “When applying for a private student loan, ask questions of the lender, read the terms very carefully, and, more importantly, read the promissory note! Consult a CPA or an attorney if you are unclear about the terms.
  • “Whether a student applies for an FSL or a private student loan, he or she should plan the loan backward. In other words, students should think ahead to the loan repayment. What are their job prospects given their major and degree? What will they earn right out of school? High student loan debt—whether for an FSL or a private loan—can limit the choices a student has when he or she looks for a job. A recent graduate may even have to move back in with Mom and Dad until his or her student loans are paid off.

“That’s why students should have a realistic idea of what the amount of their monthly loan repayment will be. This information can help them make more informed decisions about how they want to finance their college education and, in some cases, which major they elect.

“Many nonprofit credit counseling agencies now provide student loan counseling services. Finding a local agency that is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America is a good place to start.”