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Federal Stafford Loans

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Stafford loans are fixed-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students attending college at least half time. Provided under a federal government program, Stafford loans provide an excellent educational funding resource for US citizens and permanent residents. Because the program is controlled by the US federal government, interest rates can be very competitive - as low as 5.6% currently for undergraduates. Stafford loans can be subsidized or unsubsidized, based on the student's financial need. Subsidized Stafford loans have a lower maximum limit than unsubsidized loans but the government pays the interest rate while the student is in school.

Direct Subsidized Loans

Direct Subsidized loans have more favorable terms to help students with financial need, including:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans are available to undergraduate students who have financial need.
  • The student’s school determines the amount they can borrow, and that amount cannot exceed the student’s financial need.
  • The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on a Direct Subsidized Loan:
    • while you are in school at least half-time;
    • for the first six months after you leave school (known as a grace period); and
    • during a period of deferment (a postponement of loan payments).

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, including:

  • There is no requirement to demonstrate financial need.
  • The student’s school determines the amount the student can borrow based on the student’s cost of attendance and other financial aid he or she receives.
  • The student is responsible for paying interest on a Direct Unsubsidized Loan during all periods.
  • If the student decides not to pay the interest while he or she is in school and during grace periods and deferment or forbearance periods, his or her interest will accumulate and be added to the principal amount of your loan.

Eligibility for Direct Stafford Loans

In order to receive either a Direct Subsidized Loan or Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you will need to be enrolled at least half-time in a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. Generally speaking, you must also be enrolled in a program that will lead to a degree or certificate awarded by the school. You school will determine the type of loan(s), if any, and the loan amount you are eligible to receive each academic year.

There are limits on the amount in both subsidized and unsubsidized loans that you are eligible to receive each academic year (annual loan limits) and the total amounts that you are allowed to borrow for undergraduate and graduate study (aggregate loan limits). The loan amount you are eligible to receive each academic year may be less than the annual loan limit. These limits vary depending on:

Applying for a Stafford Loan

To apply for a Stafford Loan, you first must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Renewal FAFSA. After the FAFSA is processed, your school will review the results and you will receive an "Award Letter" informing you about your loan eligibility. You may then apply for the Federal Stafford loan. If you have not already submitted your FAFSA, you can complete the FAFSA online at FafsaOnline.com.

Repaying the Stafford Loan

You will have a six month grace period after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment before you are required to begin repayment on your loan. You will receive repayment information from your loan servicer during this period, and you’ll be notified of your first payment due date. Payments are generally due monthly.

Start your application today, or learn more about Stafford Loans in the Loan Details page.