Paying for College

Questions & Answers about Student Loans

Get answers to questions on Federal Direct Student Loans, the PLUS Loan, co-borrowers, loan amount and timing, loans for multiple children, repayment, and credit.
father and son using computer to get answers to questions about student loans

Student loans can help you pay for college, but they're a serious endeavor, and you should make sure you've done your research before borrowing. If you need a student loans overview, watch our recorded webinar, Comparing College Loan Options. Within it, we provide information on key loan terminology, the differences between lenders, and what to know about repayment. For additional guidance, we've included below answers to some of our frequently asked student loan questions.

Federal Direct Student Loans

How and when do you apply for Federal Direct Student Loans?

You can submit the FAFSA® at to apply for a Federal Direct Student Loan. As long as you include your college name on the FAFSA, your college's financial aid office will offer you the loan. The FAFSA typically becomes available on October 1st each year for the following academic year, so you can submit the FAFSA any time after that date to apply for the following year's loans. Though note that the FAFSA will not be available until December 2023 for families completing the 2024-25 application. As long as you're eligible to receive federal financial aid, you'll be offered the Federal Direct Student Loan.

If the student borrows Federal Direct Student Loans, but then payments are deferred while he attends graduate school, can he still make payments on those loan?

Most student loans, including Federal Direct Student Loans, don't have any penalties for early repayment. Many families opt to pay back loans early, either before repayment officially begins, or during deferment periods. You are welcome to make payments on Federal Direct Student Loans during any period of deferment.

PLUS Loans

What is the PLUS Loan?

The PLUS Loan is a loan offered by the federal government, borrowed solely by the student's parent. The parent must pass a credit check to receive the loan, and may borrow up to the college's cost of attendance minus any financial aid received. Students are not responsible for PLUS Loan repayment, and aren't included anywhere on the loan agreement. You can check with the college to find out how to apply. PLUS Loans for each academic year have an origination fee and an interest rate set by the federal government. Be sure to compare PLUS Loan rates against other lenders before you apply. You can find current PLUS Loan interest rates listed here and current fees here.

Does the PLUS Loan have an option for a co-borrower?

Yes, the student's parent may opt to include a co-borrower on the PLUS Loan, called an endorser. The student may not be the endorser on the loan.


Can a student get a loan without a co-borrower?

Students may submit the FAFSA to receive the Federal Direct Student Loan, a loan offered by the federal government in limited quantities ($5,500 for freshman year, as an example). Students are the sole borrowers on these loans, so they never include a co-borrower. For every other student loan, students will need a co-borrower, unless they're an older student and have an established credit history. Most students who attend to college directly out of high school haven't established enough credit to be approved for a private loan on their own.

Loan Amount and Timing

If you borrow a certain amount in a loan but decide you need less, can you reduce the amount?

Yes, if you're approved for a certain loan amount and then determine you don't need the full amount, simply contact the college to reduce the amount borrowed. This is easiest to do before the school year begins. The college may also ask you to work with the lender directly on this request.

Can you apply for a loan and then defer the money until it is needed?

When you apply for a student loan, you can only borrow for the current or upcoming academic year, and once approved, the money will be disbursed to the student's college account on a specified date, determined by the lender. If you receive the loan funds into the student's account but don't need all of the money immediately, the funds will simply sit in the student's account until used. Keep in mind that interest will begin accruing on all private loans as soon as the money is disbursed to the student's account.

What's the advantage of applying for a full-year loan vs. per semester?

Applying for a student loan for the entire academic year will ensure that you have loan funds available for both semesters, and you'll receive that approval all at once. While you may have some uncertainty of the amount you may need for the spring semester, you can estimate the amount based on your fall semester bill. You can also speak with the college financial aid office for guidance on the loan amount to request.

Multiple Children

If we have more than one child entering college this fall, do we need to take out separate loans for each one?

Yes, even if your children attend the same college, you'll need to submit a separate loan application for each child. The loan funds for each child will go directly into that child's student account.


If you borrow a student loan each year, do you need to combine them after graduation?

If you borrow a loan from the same lender each year, that lender will combine your billing statements, sending one monthly statement with one total payment due each month. This will make your repayment much simpler. If you borrow from several lenders, you will need to repay each lender every month. You do have the option to refinance your loans after the student graduates. Refinancing could lower your interest rate and monthly payment, and will allow you to combine your loans from several lenders, but refinancing is not for everyone. Find out if refinancing might be best for you here.


What's the easiest and free way to find out our credit?

You can visit each year to obtain a free credit report from each of the three main credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union. Many credit cards and banks will also provide you your credit score for free. Check with your bank or credit card company for more details.

Watch the Comparing College Loan Options webinar