Parents, Start Student Loan Homework!

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Here’s a reminder that parents should start their homework this summer to minimize college loan repayments over the long haul. A few basic decisions can add or subtract thousands of dollars.

A little help came last week, when the interest rates on all federal student loans were reduced. Despite the declines, the rates for the PLUS loans available to parents remain much higher than the loans available to their offspring – taking out a PLUS loan will nearly double the interest paid on $50,000 over 20 years, compared with an undergraduate Stafford loan.

This is an argument for having prospective students take out the loans, rather than the parents.  As for paying them back, financial advisers tend to agree that young adults with decades of work ahead of them can share in that responsibility at a time their parents are facing retirement.  This complex family decision depends on myriad factors, including how much income the graduate can expect to earn after college and how comfortable the parents are.

There are one-time, upfront fees on federal student loans, and they are also much higher for parent PLUS loans: 4.272 percent of the loan’s principal amount versus 1.068 percent for Stafford loans for undergraduates – these fees will go up for loans disbursed after Oct. 1.

The Institute for College Access & Success has put together an excellent cheat sheet explaining the federal loan options, who qualifies for various types of loans, and the costs of each.  To see this sheet, click here.

Below is the institute’s summary of the new loan rates, effective July 1:

  • Federal PLUS loans for parents will carry an interest rate of 6.31 percent, down from 6.84 percent for loans issued for the 2015-16 academic year.
  • Subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates will decline to 3.76 percent in the fall from 4.29 percent last year. The federal government pays the interest on subsidized loans if the student is in college at least on a half-time basis, while the interest adds up on unsubsidized loans during college.
  • Stafford loan rates for graduate students are falling to 5.31 percent, from 5.84 percent.
  • The maximum Pell grants for low-income students are rising a measly $50 next year, to $5,815 per academic year. That’s not enough to cover one-third of the cost at a four-year public institution. Pell grants will erode in real terms every year after the 2017-18 academic year – the last year Pell grants will be adjusted for inflation.

The more parents know now about how repayment works, the less they and their offspring will pay later. For those with foresight, this link explains the eight federal repayment plans available.

Again, parents, your homework can’t start soon enough.

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Chuck Miller

A dollar saved in a 529 plan is a dollar not borrowed and a dollar your kids don’t have to repay.

Val Reader

The only question is what will that USD be worth? The nominal value has nothing to do with the purchasing power.

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