Given the rising cost of college, many students have no choice but to borrow money to finance a degree. And when it comes to taking out student loans, you have choices: You could borrow privately for college or limit yourself to federal student loans. You could even sign up for a combination of both.
But while taking out private loans might give you the flexibility to borrow more money for college than federal loans, there are drawbacks to going this route. And it's important to recognize them before committing to private loans.
The problem with private student loans
Private student loans are given out by private lenders, which means those lenders can determine what interest rates they want to offer borrowers. Some private student loans do come with competitive interest rates. But you should know that in some cases, you'll be looking at a much higher interest rate on private loans than federal loans. The result? Higher monthly payments.
Also, when you take out federal student loans, you're entitled to certain protections. With private loans, if you need leeway in repaying your debt, you're basically at the mercy of your lender.
Federal student loans, for example, allow borrowers to apply for relief in the form of forbearance or deferment. Private lenders generally are not required to offer these options. This doesn't automatically mean that yours won't. But is it a chance you want to take?
Furthermore, federal student loan borrowers get multiple options when it comes to repayment plans. If you take out federal loans, you can request a repayment plan that calculates your monthly payments as a small percentage of your income. You may not get that option if you borrow privately for college.
Similarly, federal student loan borrowers can apply for an extended repayment plan that results in smaller monthly payments. You may not have that option if you borrow privately, which means you could end up getting stuck with payments that are hard to manage.
Granted, extended repayment plans aren't always a good thing because they can cost you more in the form of added accrued interest. But it's nice to have the option if you need it.
Are private student loans automatically a bad choice?
Not necessarily. If you're not borrowing a very large sum and are able to snag a competitive interest rate on your loans, then borrowing privately might work out just fine for you. Similarly, if you anticipate going into a field like finance or engineering that will allow you to earn a higher wage pretty much right away, then you may not have a problem repaying private loans.
The point, however, is that federal student loans can be less expensive from an interest rate perspective, and you generally get more options for paying your loans off. So if you're thinking of taking out private loans, make sure you recognize the disadvantages of doing so. Also, be sure to shop around with different lenders so you can compare rates and, ideally, walk away with the best deal.
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