The E-Z Guide To Student Loans (Stafford Loans)

Student Loans are a bit overwhelming at first. Especially when you’ve just graduated high school and you have so much other stuff on your plate.

I remember when I graduated high school, the only thing I wanted to know was “What will it take for me to get a college degree”. Whatever it was, I was prepared to do it. So I applied for financial assistance using FAFSA (the letters stand for Free Application for Federal Assistance in case you were wondering). Then once I actually got to college, I was ushered into a room and made to sign all this paperwork with the underlining idea being: Unless you’re going to pay your tuition cash or through some scholarship fund, you need to sign these student loan documents. I ended up signing and practically forgot about my student loans until I graduated. Then I got the bill…. OH BOY!

I believe everyone should know something about student loans before signing your life away… I mean the loan documents. Not to say that student loans are BAD per say, just that an informed person is more prepared to deal with something than someone who doesn’t know their hands from their feet.

So let’s get into it!

What kind of Student Loans are there?

The first one we’ll discuss is: The Direct Stafford Loan

The money being borrowed from this loan comes directly from your good ol’ Uncle Sam. Yes, Uncle Sam cares about you too! Direct Stafford Loans are “low-interest loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school.” I’m sure you’re asking what the requirement is to receive the Direct Stafford Loan and as with all complicated questions, the answer is, IT DEPENDS.

There’s two types of Stafford Student Loans

There’s the Subsidized Stafford Loan and then there’s the Unsubsidized Stafford Loan.

With the Subsidized Stafford Loan, you are not charged interest as long as you’re enrolled into school at least half-time and during grace periods and deferment periods. The Federal Government actually pays the interest for you while you’re still in school. So the loan value is actually the same amount you really borrowed. Sounds great right? Well there’s a catch. The catch is that this loan is dependent on the financial needs of the student. This loan isn’t available to everyone, its availability actually dependent on what tax bracket you and your parents fall into. Another catch is that your school actually determines how much you can barrow.

The second type of Stafford Loan is Unsubsidized Stafford Loan. This type of loan is geared toward those who are qualified for Subsidized Stafford Loans, but need a little more money to pay their tuition as well as those that aren’t qualified for Subsidized Stafford Loans but still need money to pay their tuition. Just about every household is eligible for Unsubsidized Stafford Loans.

How is that possible? Well for Unsubsidized Stafford Loans interest begins accumulating from the first time money is paid out. So the very first semester that your Unsubsidized Stafford Loan is applied to is also the beginning of interest accumulation on your loan. What that also means is the longer you decide to stay in college, the more interest will accumulate on your loan.

What a great way to motivate you to complete your degree in 4 years right? Well, not really, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind. However, as a word of advice, you should try paying at least your accumulated interest while your still in school to avoid blowing up your loan even further. By doing so, you could get the same benefit that Subsidized Stafford Loans give by only being responsible for the amount of your loan by the time you graduate. If you decide not to pay anything towards your loan while still in school, you’ll end up with a hefty bill by the time you graduate since your accumulated interest ends up accumulating its own interest as well.

Another important point about Unsubsidized Stafford Loans is that, like Subsidized Stafford Loans, your school decides on the amount you receive. The Unsubsidized Stafford Loan isn’t quite the blank check you wished for, but it does help take care of those semesters at more expensive schools.

How much money can you barrow with the Stafford Student Loan?

Well as I mentioned above, ultimately your school decides that, but they also have to work within the limits set by the loan. The maximum amounts your school could allow you to barrow are listed below:

Dependent Undergraduate Student (except students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans)

First Year: $5,500- No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Second Year: $6,500- No more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Third Year: $7,500- No more than $5,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Maximum Total Debt from Stafford Loans When You Graduate* (aggregate loan limits): $31,000-No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Independent Undergraduate Student (and dependent students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans)

First Year: $9,500-No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Second Year: $10,500-No more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Third Year: $12,500-No more than $5,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Maximum Total Debt from Stafford Loans When You Graduate* (aggregate loan limits): $57,500-No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Graduate and Professional Degree Student

First, Second, and Third Years: $20,500-No more than $8,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

Maximum Total Debt from Stafford Loans When You Graduate* (aggregate loan limits): $138,500-No more than $65,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans. The graduate debt limit includes Stafford Loans received for undergraduate study.

* You can spend more than 4 years in college but the maximum total amount you barrow from the Stafford Loan cannot exceed the limit above.

Here’s an interesting fact:

Outstanding Student Loan Debt in the USA is about $850 Billion and growing while consumers owe about $828 billion in revolving credit, including credit card debt.