The Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Student LoansNovember 19, 2020
If you are thinking about getting a graduate degree and you have undergraduate student loans, you probably have some familiarity with borrowing student loans for school. However, when you are deciding how to pay for graduate school, there are some key differences you should know that can help you save some money.
Federal Graduate Student Loan Considerations
Federal graduate student loans often have higher interest rates than federal undergraduate student loans. A higher interest rate results in more interest costs, meaning you are paying more money to borrow the loan. Interest rates can change annually, so it’s important to know the current rates when you’re considering taking out student loans.
The difference in interest rates can add up to thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan. When borrowing federal graduate student loans you want to be cognizant of only borrowing the amount you actually need since you will be paying a much higher interest rate on the loan.
When applying for Federal Student Aid, you are required to fill out the FAFSA form, as you likely did for your undergraduate degree. The major difference is graduate students are considered independent students as opposed to dependent students, and therefore, your parent’s financial information is not needed. In addition, as an independent student, you may earn less than your parents, which could make additional financial aid available.
Higher Borrowing Limits
Federal graduate student loans have higher borrowing limits to cover the higher cost of tuition. For undergraduates, the maximum that can be borrowed depends on your year in school and whether you are a dependent or independent student, with limits ranging from $9,500 to $12,500 per year. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans. There is no limit to how much can be borrowed in Grad PLUS loans, except for the cost of attendance.
These higher limits can be helpful when you need to cover all the expenses related to graduate school. However, this can lead to borrowing large loans at high interest rates that may be difficult to repay. Since graduate loans can be used to pay living expenses it is important to continue living on a budget and only borrowing the amount necessary.
No Subsidized Loans
With subsidized loans, interest does not accrue while you are in school. Unfortunately, that option is not available for federal graduate student loans. Your graduate student loan options include Direct Unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans, which both begin accruing interest as soon as they are disbursed.
To avoid accruing more interest than necessary, be sure to minimize your graduate school expenses and loans. Also, if you are able to pay at least the interest costs while you are in school this will prevent you from having a larger total to pay back after graduation.
If you find yourself in need of greater financial flexibility, then consider student loan refinancing with a private lender after graduation. This option could decrease your interest rate and monthly student loan payment.
Additional Graduate Student Loan Considerations
Financial Aid More Limited
Undergraduates have several financial aid options based on need, such as the Federal Pell Grant, which in many cases does not have to be repaid.
Although grants and other forms of financial aid are sometimes available to graduate students, these options are more limited. Some financial aid options that may be available for graduate school include grants, scholarships, fellowships and federal and private student loans.
You may pay higher origination fees for federal graduate student loans versus undergraduate student loans. The origination fees are a percentage of the total loan amount you borrow. This fee will be taken out of your student loan disbursement which lowers the actual amount you will receive, but the full amount of the loan is required to be paid back.
Some private lenders, like ELFI, do not charge an origination fee for loans, so be sure to consider that when comparing loan options.
The Benefit of Private Graduate Student Loans
Private student loans may be more beneficial for graduate school than undergraduate student loans. That’s because you may be able to score a lower interest rate on a private student loan if you have an excellent credit history. Private student loan interest rates are based on your income and credit history, so if you are looking to return to school while you are still employed, they may be a good option for you.
Refinancing Your Graduate Student Loans
If you already have undergraduate and graduate student loans, student loan refinancing could help you to save money on your monthly payment and on interest costs. Refinancing is when you obtain a new loan to pay off previous student loans. You can refinance both federal and private undergraduate and graduate student loans.
The Bottom Line
Understanding the differences between undergraduate and graduate student loans can help you make an informed decision about the best way to fund your education. If you have significant student debt, student loan refinancing could help you to save money and pay down your loans more quickly.