Understanding Direct PLUS Loans for graduate students
So what are Graduate PLUS Loans? Simply put, they’re federal student loans available to students attending graduate school and professional school.
Part of the federal Direct PLUS Loan program, a student would typically seek a Graduate PLUS Loan after maxing out a Direct Unsubsidized Loan (a type of a federal student loan). The Direct Unsubsidized Loan limit is $20,500 per year, so if you’ve reached that limit and still need funds to cover the cost of grad school, the Graduate PLUS Loan may be an option for you. Private student loans, offered by banks, could be another option worth considering, especially if you have good credit.
Grad PLUS Loans come with a fixed interest rate and flexible loan limits. For academic year 2020-21, the interest rate is 5.30%.
The Graduate PLUS Loan does include an origination fee: this is a fee issued by the U.S. Department of Education to cover the cost of issuing your loan. In this case, the fee is 4.236%, and it’s deducted from the total loan amount before the money is sent to the school.
Requirements necessary for applying for Graduate PLUS Loans
If this sounds like a good fit to help finance your future, the next question may be ‘am I eligible for a Graduate PLUS loan?’
To receive a Graduate PLUS Loan, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are a graduate or professional student enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school in a program leading to a graduate or professional degree or certificate.
- You do not have an adverse credit history (unless you meet certain additional eligibility requirements). This means you have no student loan defaults, no long-term delinquencies, and no bankruptcies on your credit report
- If you do have a challenging credit history, consider applying with a cosigner – but remember, the cosigner is legally responsible for repaying your loan should you be unable. (If you have a potential cosigner who isn’t sure what it means to cosign on a student loan, show them this: 7 Things You Should Know About Cosigning a Student Loan.)
- You meet the general eligibility requirements for federal student aid, including being a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, having a social security number, and making satisfactory academic progress.
How to Apply for a Graduate PLUS Loan
Once you determine that you meet these criteria, it’s time to complete the FAFSA. Completing the FAFSA isn’t just for high school seniors and undergraduates – grad students should file it, too, in order to qualify for various forms of aid, including scholarships and grants, work study, and federal student loans.
Once you’ve filed the FAFSA, you can start a Direct PLUS Loan application for graduate students. The average application takes about 20 minutes, and you’ll need to provide your verified FSA ID (which is a username and password created to file the FAFSA), your school name, your permanent mailing address, your U.S. address (if your permanent address is outside of the U.S.), your telephone number and email address, and if applicable, your employers’ information.
If you’re eligible for the loan, you’ll need to agree to the terms of the loan by signing a Master Promissory Note. You may also need to complete entrance counseling.
What does a Graduate PLUS Loan cover?
The Graduate PLUS Loan can cover the full cost of attendance for your graduate program, with the exception of other financial aid received – like scholarships, fellowships, grants, etc. There is no aggregate loan limit.
The cost of attendance includes:
- Tuition and fees
- Room and board
- Books and supplies
- Technology and equipment
- Miscellaneous and personal expenses
Key benefits of the Grad PLUS Loan:
There are benefits to a Graduate PLUS Loan, similar to benefits offered for other federal student loans. For example, Graduate PLUS loans come with a fixed interest rate that won’t go up (or down) during the life of your loan.
In addition, loan payments can be postponed while you’re in school, just so long as you’re enrolled at least half-time at an accredited program, and for an additional six months after you’ve left school or dropped below half-time status.
Graduate PLUS Loans have multiple repayment plans available and lastly, the interest you pay on your loan can be tax deductible.
Alternative options to pay for your graduate degree
When it comes to paying for grad school, federal student loans are a good resource. Before you take out student loans, though, explore money you don’t have to repay, like scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships.
Use online tools, like this free Graduate School Scholarship Search tool, to connect you to scholarships specifically designed for grad students. After you’ve maximized money you don’t have to pay back, and you’ve explored federal student loans, you still may need additional funds.
That’s when a private student loan may make sense. Most private student loans don’t have an origination fee, and some offer expanded repayment terms, so they could be a competitive option.
Whatever methods you choose to finance your graduate degree, you can rest assured you’re making a commitment, and an investment, in your future.