Have you made your New Year’s resolutions for 2015? Is one of them restarting your education? The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that it’s easy to get a full head of steam going at first but much more difficult to complete them as the months go by. If one of your resolutions is restarting your education to complete your degree it’s important to understand that any student loans you had before haven’t gone away. They’re like that Roach Motel where roaches checked in but they never checked out. Once you have student loans, there’s no getting away from them. They will stay with you until you repay them or if you could get them canceled (more about this later).
Given the fact that your goal is to return to school this year it’s important that you do it the smartest financial way you can. As a nontraditional student there are three things to understand that would help you do this.
1. Get any existing loans in order
If you borrowed money when you were in school before it’s important to know the status of your loans. The website National Student Loan Database System has all the information on any federal student loans you had including the type of loan, when the money was disbursed, the last payments you made and your balances. When you check out your status in this database you may find you have some problems. If so, you will need to get these taken care of before you can get any additional federal aid. This is especially important if you find you have a student loan in default. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to default on a student loan because all you have to do is be one day late on a payment.
If you do find you are in default on a federal student loan you will be ineligible for any more federal student aid. You will also lose the benefits that come with federal student loans including Extended Repayment, Graduated Repayment and Income-based Repayment. Plus, a loan default is one of the worst things to have in your credit reports.
What to do if you have a loan in default
There are three different ways you can get a student loan out of default. They are loan consolidation, loan rehabilitation and, of course, loan repayment. If you were to choose to rehabilitate your Direct Loan or FFEL Program loan, the Department of Education and you must agree on an affordable and reasonable payment plan. (Note: if you have a Perkins Loan you will need to contact your school.) Your loan will have been rehabilitated when you have voluntarily made the payments you agreed to and on time and a lender has agreed to buy your loan. If you are able to and is and is one of the back-to-school problem with New Year’s resolutions is that it’s easy to get going for a do this before the last day of classes of your school year you may be able to retroactively get aid for the entire year. Of course, if you need to rehabilitate a loan this may mean you’ll have to delay the start of your schooling.
2. Understand the differences between federal and private student loans
As eager as you might be to restart your education you need to be careful the type of loan you sign up for. There are really only two types. They are private loans and federal loans. Private loans are just that. They come from private lenders such as a credit union or bank. Two of the biggest private lenders are Wells Fargo and Discover. However, as a general rule these loans do not come with the same repayment benefits as federal loans. They generally have a fixed interest rate and a fixed term. In comparison, federal student loans offer a number of different repayment options as well as postponements, cancellation and loan forgiveness. If for some reason you can’t get enough federal aid to cover your schooling you may have to get a private loan. However, it’s best to exhaust your options for federal student loans first and then shop around for the best deal you can find in a private loan.
You’ve probably seen dozens of advertisements for different kinds of degree programs. The important thing is to do the research so you will know what to expect before you sign up for any one of them. Your goal should be to borrow sensibly for the educational program that will be best for you. For example, since you’re returning to school you might decide to take a different route to your degree such as attending a community college first to complete your lower-level course requirements. While this can be an excellent option just make sure that your credits will transfer.
There are also a huge variety of online programs and for-profit colleges available but again be sure to do your research before you sign up for any of these. You should be especially careful in the case of for-profit schools. As an example of why this is true, the federal government recently forced Corinthian College to shut down 97 of its US campuses by withholding access to any more federal money. The school was in trouble financially plus the government thought its ads and claims were misleading. The Department of Education has also targeted schools such as ITT Technical College and the Art Institutes chain.
4. Know it’s possible to get federal loans cancelled
As noted above another benefit of a federal student loan is that it’s possible you could get it canceled. In fact all of your federal loans will be canceled if you become totally and permanently disabled. You may also be eligible to have your loans canceled or discharged if the school falsely certified that you would be eligible to receive the loan based on your ability to benefit from its training or if it signed your name on a promissory note or application without your authorization. You could also have your federal loan canceled if the school certified your eligibility but due to a mental or physical condition, age, criminal record or other reason you would be disqualified from employment in the occupation in which you were being trained. And you might be able to get your Direct Loans or FFEL Program loans canceled if you withdrew from a school but it didn’t pay a refund that it owed to the lender or to the US Department of Education.