Education loans for Graduate students

Graduate and professional students have several private and federal loan options available.

Three medical students study over coffee.Graduate and professional students can use Stafford and Grad PLUS loans to help pay for school.

Unlike undergraduates, who can qualify for Pell Grants and other subsidies, student loans are the primary financial aid vehicle for graduate students. Fortunately, grad students have several funding options to choose from.

[Know what questions to ask before borrowing for grad school.]

• Stafford loans: Most graduate students can borrow up to $20, 500 a year in federal Stafford loans and cannot exceed $138, 500 between undergrad and grad school. Those limits jump to $47, 167 annually, with a lifetime cap of $224, 000, for students in certain health fields.

Graduate students only qualify for unsubsidized Stafford loans, which begin accruing interest immediately. tied federal student loan interest rates to the interest rate on the 10-year Treasury note. As the rate on that note increases, so do the interest rates on Stafford loans and Direct PLUS loans.

[Learn how student loans for grad school differ from undergrad.]

Interest rates for new loans are determined as of June 1 each year and locked in for the life of the loan. The rate for graduate Stafford loans is equal to the rate of the Treasury note, plus 3.6 percent, and is capped at 9.5 percent. Grad students who borrowed a Stafford loan for the 2013-2014 school year did so at an interest rate of 5.41 percent. Stafford loans come with federal loan benefits, including flexible repayment plans and certain loan forgiveness programs.

• Graduate PLUS loans: Students can cover their entire out-of-pocket costs each year – including living expenses – via the PLUS loan program. Unlike other federal loans, borrowers must pass a credit check, and those with an account in collections or a bankruptcy on their record may be denied.

Like Stafford loans, the interest rate on new PLUS loans is determined annually using the rate on the 10-year Treasury note as of June 1. Graduate students will pay that rate plus 4.6 percent, with a cap of 10.5 percent. Grad PLUS loans borrowed for the 2013-2014 school year have an interest rate of 6.41 percent. The interest rate is locked in for the life of the loan.

Grad PLUS loans also qualify for federal repayment options such as graduated or income-based repayment, as well as loan forgiveness.

[Video: Student loan repayment Q-and-A.]

• Perkins loans: Graduate students with limited financial resources may qualify for a Perkins loan, but experts warn that these funds are few and far between. While the Perkins loan is a federal program, the funds are doled out by the institution and loan payments are made directly to the school.

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How is the year of graduation stored in a higher education student information system?

For the majority of US colleges your graduation year and your academic standing (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) are determined by the number of academic credits you have. For example check out Aquinas College's Academic Advising FAQ:

How many credit hours do I need to be considered a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior?You need 0 to 27 credits to be considered a freshman, 28 to 59 credits to be considered a sophomore, 60 to 93 credits to be considered a junior and 94+ credits to be considered a senior.


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