5 Hidden Student Loan Fees to Watch Out For

hidden student loan fees

Death, taxes … and fees? These days, it can feel like added costs are an unavoidable part of life, whether you’re buying tickets on StubHub or Ubering Thai food to your doorstep. And if you’re a student loan borrower, you know the feeling all too well.

But there are several types of fees you could pay as a borrower, and you might not be aware of them all. Some fees are mandatory — but others are completely within your control. Here’s a look at the different student loan fees out there and what you can do to minimize them.

1. Federal student loan origination fees

Like most other types of loans, student loans granted by Uncle Sam come with origination fees. Paid up front by borrowers, these fees are meant to offset the costs associated with processing new loans.

As Zack Friedman, founder and CEO of personal finance website Make Lemonade, explained, “The fees are built into the total loan amount.” That means you won’t actually receive the full amount you borrowed. Instead, the origination fee, expressed as a percentage of the total loan amount, is taken off the top before the funds are disbursed to you.

Let’s look at an example.

Say you take out a $10,000 Subsidized Direct Stafford Loan. Even though you’re responsible for paying back the full $10,000, the amount you’ll receive is $9,893, thanks to the 1.07 percent origination fee.

If your educational costs amount to the full $10,000, you’ll need to account for that fee and tack on an additional $107 to the loan. What’s important to note is the fact that, in either case, you’ll end up paying interest on the origination fee as well. For some of the more expensive loans, such as Parent and Grad PLUS, that can add a significant amount to the total cost.

Current federal student loan origination fees

October 1, 2017 – September 30, 2018 October 1, 2016 – September 30, 2017
Direct Stafford Loan – Subsidized (Undergraduate Students) 1.07% 1.07%
Direct Stafford Loan – Unsubsidized (Undergraduate Students) 1.066% 1.069%
Direct Stafford Loan – Unsubsidized (Graduate/Professional Students) 1.066% 1.069%
Direct Parent PLUS Loan 4.264% 4.276%
Direct Graduate/Professional PLUS Loan 4.264% 4.276%
HPSL (Health Professions Loan) 0.00% 0.00%

Image credit: Iowa State University

There’s no avoiding origination fees on federal student loans, unfortunately. However, knowing what they are can help you plan your borrowing accordingly.

And Friedman noted that, unlike private student loans (more on those below), there are no additional servicing fees associated with federal student loans. That makes these loans an ideal first choice when you’re weighing borrowing options.

2. Private student loan origination fees

Private student loans are different from federal student loans. Since they’re offered by private institutions and not the federal government, it’s up to the individual lenders to decide the terms — including what types of fees they charge.

Most of the best private student loan companies don’t charge any origination fees. Even so, there are a lot of lenders out there, and your top choice might be one that does charge this fee.

Most private student loan companies base their fees, including origination fees, on the creditworthiness of applicants. Generally, better credit means lower fees — so if you do borrow from a lender that charges origination fees, at least be sure your credit is in good shape. (It’ll help you get a low interest rate too.)

Ideally, however, you should avoid origination fees because they increase the total cost of your loan.

If you’re able to get a low interest rate in addition to no origination fee, you might be able to finance your college education for less than you could with a federal student loan. There are fewer protections for private student loan borrowers, though, so weigh the trade-offs carefully.

3. Collections fees

As long as you make your student loan payments on time, you’ve got nothing to worry about. But if you fall behind and enter default, a serious knock to your credit score won’t be the only cost.

When you’re more than 270 days late on student loan payments, you enter default. Your entire balance becomes due at this point, and it’s often sent to collections. And because private collections agencies charge fees, the loan servicer will be sure to pass that cost on to you.

In fact, collections fees can total 18 to 40 percent of the balance. For a $10,000 loan in default, that could equate to a $4,000 fee. Yikes.

What’s more, an Obama-era protection that allowed collections fees to be waived if the default was resolved quickly was recently rolled back. Needless to say, it’s a good idea to keep your loans in good standing and avoid the financial headache of collections fees and damaged credit.

4. Late payment fees

You might not be anywhere close to defaulting, but missing a payment here and there can still cost you a hefty chunk of change. Just about all federal and private lenders charge student loan late fees.

Again, the exact fee will vary depending on the particular lender. According to Credit.com, there’s usually a grace period of 10 to 15 days. After that, late fees can be as high as $15 or 5 percent of the payment due. Student loan late fees are just one more reason to stay on top of those payments.

5. Other private student loan fees

As mentioned, private lenders can charge fees for just about anything they please. Some of the fees borrowers have come across include charges for arranging deferment or forbearance, providing copies of loan payment histories, providing loan verifications, returned payments, expedited payments, and sending documents by express delivery or fax.

According to Friedman, it’s important to “ask the lender for a written list of the fees associated with the prospective student loans so [you] can compare fees across lenders.” Comparing fees is an important part of shopping around for the best student loan deal.

Friedman also noted that although origination fees are fairly common, legitimate private student loan companies will not add on exorbitant fees. So if you end up staring down a long, pricey fee schedule, it’s probably a sign you could do better.

Avoiding student loan fees

Although some fees are unavoidable, there are steps you can take to minimize the fees you pay on student loans.

“Before borrowing student loans, borrowers should maximize their scholarships and grants,” said Friedman. “Then, borrowers should maximize their federal student loans before borrowing private student loans.”

The more you do to avoid unnecessary fees, the cheaper your debt is going to be. And keeping your student loan costs at a minimum is certain to pay off after graduation.

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