Florida residents have it pretty good. Year-round sunshine, discounts to theme parks, and no personal income tax. But not all is perfect in Florida. Student loan debt is as prevalent there as anywhere else in the United States.
Students from Florida colleges and universities are graduating with more than $24,000 in debt, according to a report from The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS). Depending on where you attend school, that amount could be higher.
Whether you’re planning to attend college in Florida or you’ve already graduated, there are a few different options for how to tackle Florida student loans.
What Florida student loans are doing to graduates
Florida has one of the lowest student loan debt averages among graduates, according to TICAS. But some parts of the state come with a high cost of living. Miami, for example, has some of the most expensive home prices in the country.
Even with lower-than-average student loan debt, the cost of living can force some borrowers to choose between paying off student loans and having a place to live.
Skipping college to avoid student loan debt isn’t a great option either. The difference in median salary between someone with at least a bachelor’s degree and someone without one is $12,000 a year, according to the Good Jobs Project.
Federal student loan options in Florida
If you’re on your way to college in Florida, start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Florida Department of Education’s Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) is the guaranty agency for the state. The site offers information on the FAFSA, grants and scholarships, and student loans.
The award letter you receive from your college will detail how much money you can get in grants, scholarships, and federal loans. The amount you receive is based on the information you provide in your FAFSA.
Private Florida student loan options
The money you receive from grants, scholarships, and federal loans might not be enough to cover the cost of college. You might need to get a private student loan to cover a funding gap.
Once you receive your award letter, you’ll know how much college will cost you and how much you’ll be receiving in aid. If you’ll need a private student loan to cover some expenses, you can start looking into different lenders.
Private student loans aren’t offered by the federal government. Instead, they’re offered by individual private lenders. So if you’re a student with little or no credit, you might need a cosigner to qualify for a private student loan.
Free money for college in Florida
While the FAFSA helps determines your federal aid, there are ways you can get money at the state level. You might need to submit the Florida Financial Aid Application (FFAA) to get state-funded scholarships and grants. Here’s a look at the aid offered:
State scholarships and grants
Once you fill out the FAFSA and the FFAA, you’ll be eligible for a few different scholarships and grants, depending on your needs.
The Access to Better Learning and Education (ABLE) Grant, for example, is for Florida residents who are attending private colleges or universities in the state. The Bright Futures Scholarship is funded by the Florida lottery and offers aid that can be used for both public and private schools.
Here’s a list of Florida scholarships and grants:
Bright Futures Scholarship
First Generation Matching Grant
Florida Resident Access Grant
Florida Student Assistance Grant
Florida Work Experience Program
Jose Marti Scholarship Challenge Grant
Mary McLeod Bethune Scholarship
Minority Teacher Education Scholarship
Rosewood Family Scholarship
Scholarships for Children and Spouses of Deceased or Disabled Veterans
OSFA has more information on these scholarships and grants, including which ones require FFAA completion.
Florida Prepaid College Plan
The Florida Prepaid College Plan has helped over 1 million families save for college. If you’re a parent, you can start saving money now for your child’s future. The plan is also good if you want to lock in the cost of college, especially if you suspect tuition and fees to rise by the time your child applies for school.
The funds can go to your child’s education, be transferred to another eligible relative, or can be refunded.
The Florida 529 Savings Plan can be used in conjunction with the Florida Prepaid College Plan. It can be used for qualifying education expenses, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, and supplies.
How to refinance student loans in Florida
If you already have federal loans but are having trouble paying them off, refinancing might be a good idea. Refinancing allows you to consolidate multiple loans into a single private loan. You can also refinance a loan in order to get a lower interest rate or better repayment plan.
But not everyone is a good match for refinancing. It’s important to see if you qualify and whether it makes sense for your financial situation. If you decide to move forward, there are many refinancing options to choose from.
Getting Florida student loans that are right for you
Getting student loans might not be necessary. However, having access to different loan options gives you the opportunity to get into college when you might otherwise be unable to afford it.
But keep your other financing options in mind. Florida scholarships and grants are a great way to reduce your dependency on loans. If you do end up with student loans, keep an eye on your refinancing options to ensure repayment is as easy as possible.
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