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A student loan is an unsecured loan made by lenders that receive government underwriting assistance. Without this government assistance, student loans would not be very practical. Lenders would find other more profitable arenas in which to loan their money. Nobody would be able to get a low interest student loan – without the help of a parent with a substantial financial history and reasonable means. Like any government sponsored program, there are rules and regulations and red tape to deal with. In the case of student loan red tape, it all begins with a financial aid form called the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
This form establishes the student’s eligibility (or ineligibility) for all manner of student loan assistance, including low interest loans. This form can be filled out and submitted as a regular paper form, or it can be filled out and tracked online (much easier). The guidance office at your High School is likely to have a pile of these forms. Libraries and College Admissions offices are other places to look for the paper version of the form. If all else fails and you really want the paper version of the FAFSA, you can get one by calling 1-800-4-FED-AID.
Most people find it more convenient to simply log on to www.fafsa.ed.gov and submit the form electronically. By doing it this way you also automatically get a way to look in on the status of your application. Supposedly, doing the form online can make the process from one to two weeks faster than submitting the paper form. Either way, you will find that the form is relatively easy to fill out, and typically will require much of the same information that would be included in the parent’s tax returns.
Student loans are also available to those who turn out to be ineligible for the regular unsecured low interest student loans. These other loans are normally called Parent Plus loans or private alternative loans, or just “alternative loans”. These are basically loans made with a co-signature from the parents. In effect it’s no different from a young person buying a car with a parent’s co-signature. Both the student and the parents are on the hook for repayment of the loan.
Because of the government regulation involved with the unsecured student loans, this is one of the few types of loans that do not require a whole lot of shopping around. There is not a lot of variability in the interest rates and other features of the government sponsored loans. The same is not true for the Parent Plus loans or private alternative loans. With those you do need to shop around.
So the first step is really to fill out a FAFSA form well in advance of the time tuition is due and use that to start your quest for college money. This will help you to determine what kind of student loans you are eligible for and assist you greatly in your loan shopping.
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