Choosing a Lender

Although students are encouraged to only apply with a single lender, they are strongly encouraged to look at several lenders and compare their terms, fees, restrictions, repayments, etc.

Students also are encouraged to view their credit report and know their credit score before they contact a lender. This can be checked for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Questions to ask to lenders

Once you have this information in hand, make sure you review it closely to decide which options are best for your particular situation.

Initial Questions

  • What is the lowest interest rate and fee combination that you offer, and how do I get this rate?
  • How much can I borrow without reducing my eligibility for federal, state, or institutional aid?
  • How often do you capitalize interest?
  • What steps do I have to go through to obtain a loan with your company?
  • What is the time frame from deciding to obtain a loan with your company to receiving the funds?
  • What is the maximum I can borrow both annually and cumulative, both with and without a co-signer?
  • Do you require a co-signer?
  • How can my co-signer be released?
  • Are payments required while I am in school? If so, just interest, or principal and interest?

Interest Rate Questions

  • Is the rate only for a limited period of time (i.e., introductory rate) or for the duration of the loan?
  • Is the interest rate fixed or variable?
  • If variable, is there an absolute maximum or minimum rate, both with and without a co-signer?
  • If variable, how often is the interest rate adjusted?
  • If variable, how is the interest rate determined?
  • If fixed, what is the lowest rate I can get on a fixed-rate loan, both with and without a co-signer?

Repayment Questions

  • When does repayment begin?
  • Is there a grace period before I have to start repaying the loan? If so, how long is it?
  • How long can I defer payments while in school?
  • Under what circumstances may I defer payment after graduation (e.g., while attending graduate school, during residency, while studying for the bar)?
  • How much will I owe when I do start making payments?
  • How long will I be repaying the loan?
  • Is there a penalty for early repayment?
  • Do you offer on time payment or any other discounts?
  • What percentage of borrowers actually receive the discounts you offer?
  • Are your discounts guaranteed or are they subject to change later?

Problems with Repayment Questions

  • What if I have problems?
  • Do you have any deferment or forbearance options?
  • Will I lose any benefits for just one late payment or if I ask for a change in the payment schedule?
  • What causes me to lose an earned benefit?
  • If I lose a benefit, how can I gain it back?
  • If I have difficulty making payments (“economic hardship”), do you allow me to defer or reduce my payment temporarily?
  • Under what circumstances and for how long can I defer or reduce my payments?
  • Can the loans be discharged upon death or permanent disability of student?

Other questions to ask if applicable to your situation:

  • Do you offer any discounts if I have a current relationship with you (bank account, credit card, car loan, mortgage, etc.)?
  • Are there any restrictions as to where I live or attend school?
  • Are these loans available to international students/non-citizens? If so, do I need a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be the co-signer?
  • Do I have to be at least half-time status?
  • Do I have to be in a degree-seeking program? If not, do you require school certification?
  • Can I use this loan to study abroad?
  • Can I use this loan for past due semester charges?

Questions to ask yourself

  • Is the maximum yearly or cumulative amount high enough to cover my program?
  • Do I have a co-signer? If so, will they be willing to sign each year until I graduate?
  • Can I afford to make payments while in school?
  • Are the higher fees made up for by the lower interest rate or vice versa?
  • Can I realistically expect to benefit from these back-end benefits? If so, do they make one loan better than another in the long run?
  • Are the grace period or deferment or forbearance options more valuable to me than a lower interest rate?

Common benefits offered

  • Co-signer released after a certain number of consecutive monthly payments.
  • Interest rate reduction for auto-debit.
  • Interest rate reduction after a certain number of consecutive monthly payments.
  • Interest rate reduction for in-school payments.
  • Interest rate and/or principal reduction upon graduation or starting payments.
  • Grace period after graduation (or during residency).

Terms to know

  • LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate): This is the average interest rate (over three months unless otherwise specified) paid on deposits of U.S. dollars in the London Market. Many lenders' interest rates are LIBOR plus a percentage.  The rate can be checked here.
  • PRIME: The Prime Lending Rate as published in the Wall Street Journal. This is the rate banks charge their most creditworthy customers. Many lenders' interest rates are PRIME plus a percentage. The rate can be checked here. 
  • APR (Annual Percentage Rate): This rate factors in interest, fees, and other terms of the loan.
  • Cost of Attendance (COA): The maximum a student can receive in total financial aid for the academic year (as determined by the school); this includes funds for tuition, fees, books, and living expenses. Students can check this amount on SURFS.
  • Other Aid Received: Any other financial aid received by the student (grants, scholarships, loans, stipends, etc.). Unless lenders have a lower limit, the maximum the school will certify per year for a Private/Alternative Loan is COA minus Aid.