How Parent PLUS Loans Work: Approval, Interest Rates and Repayment

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College is more expensive than ever, so it’s understandable that parents want to help their kids foot the bill. If you’ve decided to take out loans to pay for your child’s schooling, you’ve likely heard about parent PLUS loans, a popular option for parent student loans.

Basically, parent PLUS loans are federal government loans which a parent can take out to find their child’s education. Here are the details on how they work and their pros and cons — specifically:

What are parent PLUS loans?
How does a parent PLUS loan work? What you need to know
Other ways of paying for school

What are parent PLUS loans?

Unlike private student loans, which are issued by a bank or financial institution, the federal government issues parent PLUS loans. Parent PLUS loans are a form of federal financial aid specifically designed for parents of current students.

To take out a parent PLUS loan, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You must be the biological or adoptive parent of the student. In some cases, stepparents can also qualify.
  • The student must be a dependent.
  • Your child must be enrolled at least half time in an undergraduate program.
  • You cannot have an adverse credit history.

With a parent PLUS loan, you can borrow up to the full cost of attendance minus any other financial aid your child received.

How does a parent PLUS loan work? What you need to know

Parent PLUS loans differ from other forms of federal aid in many different ways. Here is our list of the five key things you need to know about how parent PLUS loans work.

1. Responsibility for payments
2. Impact on credit
3. Availability of repayment plans
4. Interest charges
5. Disbursement fees

1. Responsibility for payments

When you take out a parent PLUS loan, you’re solely responsible for repaying the loan. The student has no legal or contractual obligation to make payments. You cannot transfer the loans into your child’s name unless you pursue student loan refinancing with a private lender.

2. Impact on credit

Taking out a parent PLUS loan can affect your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI is the recurring monthly debt payments you have relative to the amount of money you have coming in each month.

Whenever you apply for a loan or credit card, the lender looks at the DTI ratio to determine your ability to afford your payments. A parent PLUS loan can hurt your DTI ratio, which can make it harder to get a mortgage, car loan or new credit card.

If you fall behind on your parent PLUS loan payments, you could end up in default. Entering default can damage your credit report and lead to wage garnishment.

3. Availability of repayment plans

If you have trouble keeping up with your payments under the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, there are three alternative repayment plans available to you:

  • Graduated Repayment: With a graduated plan, your payments start small and grow every two years. Your loans are still paid off within 10 years.
  • Extended Repayment: With an extended plan, your payments are spread over 25 years rather than 10. You must have at least $30,000 in outstanding student loans to qualify for this option.
  • Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR): As a PLUS Loan borrower, you’re only eligible for ICR if you first consolidate your loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan. Under the ICR plan, the repayment period is 25 years instead of 10.

You can use Federal Student Aid’s Repayment Estimator to calculate your monthly payment and how much you’d pay in interest with each of the repayment plans.

4. Interest charges

With an interest rate of 7.08% as of July 1, 2020, parent PLUS loans are federal loans with some of the highest rates. That’s why it’s a good idea to help your child select other forms of aid, such as Direct Subsidized Loans, before applying for a parent PLUS loan. Direct Subsidized Loans have an interest rate of 4.53% as of July 1, 2020.

5. Disbursement fees

There’s a loan fee for all parent PLUS loans. The fee is a percentage of the loan amount that the government deducts from each disbursement. As of Oct. 1, 2020, the loan fee is 4.236% of the loan total.

For example, if you borrowed $7,000 to pay for the current semester, the loan fee would be $296.52. That amount would be deducted from your loan before disbursal, so you’d receive just $6,703.48.

Other ways of paying for school

Now that you know how the parent PLUS loan works, it’s worth comparing it with options. Keep in mind that federal loans are not the only parent loans available. Depending on your credit score and income, you might qualify for a private parent loan with a lower interest rate, helping you save money over time.

Private loans are sometimes cheaper than PLUS loans in terms of the interest rate and origination fees, if any, but they have drawbacks as well. In particular, they don’t come with some of the automatic protections afforded to federal loans, including those special payment plans mentioned above.

As a result, you’ll want to weigh both options carefully before making a decision. And before you take out any loans — whether from the government or a private lender — make sure your child has exhausted all possibilities in terms of scholarship and grant aid.

Christina Majaski contributed to this report.

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