Student Loans

Get help finding the right type of student loan or the right payment plan — and find options if you're having trouble.

There are three types of student loans: federal loans, private loans and refinance loans once you leave school. Here’s a guide to your college student loan options.

Types of federal student loans

Most federal loans don’t require a co-signer or good credit; nearly every student with a high school diploma is eligible to receive them. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to apply.

There are two types of federal direct loans: subsidized and unsubsidized; undergrads with financial need can get subsidized loans. The government pays the interest on these loans while you’re in school, in your grace period or pausing payments through deferment. Your college will tell you whether you’re eligible and how much you can borrow.

You don’t need to show financial need to get unsubsidized loans, and they’re an option for both undergrads and graduate students. Interest starts accruing on unsubsidized loans immediately and you'll be responsible to pay all interest through the life of the loan.

Until September 2017, these were available to undergraduates and graduates with particularly high financial need. Students borrowed money from, and repaid it to, their school. Those with outstanding Perkins loans who work in public service careers may be eligible for Perkins loan forgiveness.

Federal direct PLUS loans are available to both graduate students and parents. They have higher interest rates and origination fees than other federal loans, and they require a credit check. Borrowers with “adverse credit history” will have a harder time qualifying, but they can apply with an endorser, also known as a co-signer.

Types of private student loans

When you apply for private loans, the lender will want to see proof you can repay it, usually in the form of a good credit score. A co-signer can help you qualify; that person will be responsible for the loan if you can’t pay it back.

Private student loans can cover any costs related to attending college and are originated from a bank, credit union or an online lender. Since private student loans come with less flexibility for borrowers, look to these loans only after exhausting all of the federal loans available to you.

Most federal student loans don’t require a credit check, so they’re your best option. If you need more money for school, a handful of private lenders offer loans specifically for borrowers with bad credit. They’ll decide whether to lend to you based on additional factors like earning potential.

Undergraduates in particular often need a co-signer to get a private loan. But if you don’t have access to one, a few lenders will assess your ability to repay according to factors beyond credit history, making it more likely you’ll qualify on your own.

Graduate student loans are offered by both the federal government and private lenders. Take advantage of the unsubsidized federal student loans offered to you before taking on any federal grad PLUS loans or private student loans.

Students who aren’t U.S. citizens generally won’t qualify for federal student loans (unless you’re an eligible noncitizen). Several private lenders offer loans for international students, and they often require a U.S. citizen co-signer.

Many states offer their own loan programs, but they generally behave more like private loans than federal loans.

Credit unions and community banks offer private loans, too. If you have an existing relationship with one of these institutions, you may have access to more favorable terms and discounts on your loan than larger financial institutions offer.

An income share agreement, or ISA, offers funding for college that you repay based on your future salary. Consider an ISA instead of high-interest loans, such as federal PLUS loans or private student loans — especially if you plan to enter a high-paying profession. You'll likely get the most favorable repayment terms.

Private student loans may offer lower interest rates than federal loans for medical students with good credit. But they don’t come with forgiveness options if you work for a nonprofit hospital after graduation, which would qualify you for federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

This is a type of loan offered directly by a college. An institutional loan doesn't come with standard features such as interest rates, terms and repayment options, so consider all attributes of the loan before accepting it.

If you need to borrow money for your coding bootcamp, steer toward personal loans designed for bootcamp costs and away from credit cards or high-interest personal loans. Bootcamp loans may have lower interest rates and more favorable repayment terms for students.

These loans cover expenses traditional student loans won’t — like prep classes, living expenses and exam application fees — while law students or graduates study for the bar exam. Bar loans also typically have higher interest rates than private or federal student loans do.

» MORE: Bar loans

Types of student loan refinancing

After you graduate and have shown responsible payment history, you may be able to refinance student loans. That’s when a private lender pays off your loans and gives you a new repayment schedule and lower interest rate. Generally, you need a credit score of 690 or higher to refinance. You’ll lose federal loan protections if you include federal loans in the package.

Refinancing your student loans can save you money by replacing your current loan with one from a private lender at a lower rate. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure it is the right decision for your loans.

Parents are often especially good candidates to refinance PLUS loans. PLUS loan interest rates start off higher, and if parents have long credit histories and strong credit, they’re likely to get a lower interest rate.

Some lenders have student loan refinancing programs specifically for medical residents, which could make your monthly payment or interest rate cheaper. Consider refinancing again after residency to get an even lower interest rate.

As an attending physician with strong income and good credit, you’re an excellent candidate for refinancing. Steer clear if you plan to take advantage of federal loan programs like income-driven repayment or forgiveness.

The basics

Student loan refinancing can save you money, but how much depends on your credit history, income and financial health.
They are the middleman between you and the company that lent you money. Find the most common ones here.
They’re ways to temporarily halt your loan payments, and they prevent your loan from going into default.