The majority of students borrow loans to pay for college these days, but many of them may not fully understand the terms and conditions of their debt when they sign on the dotted line. Given all the rules and jargon involved, it can be easy to get confused. But if there’s one document you should pay close attention to, it’s your Master Promissory Note for school loans.
Here we’ll take a closer look at school promissory notes and how they can clear up any questions you have about your student loans. Specifically, we’ll examine…
What is a Master Promissory Note?
What details can you find on your promissory note?
When do you sign your Master Promissory Note?
Using the Master Promissory Note to get your student loan
Plus: Student loans can be helpful, but avoid borrowing too much
When you borrow from the federal government to obtain student loans, you promise to pay that loan back — with interest and fees. This is a legal promise made by signing the Master Promissory Note.
As your school promissory note will explain, you’re obligated to pay back your loan even if you leave school early or can’t find a job after graduation. The only exception would be if your school closed, violated state law or met another condition that would qualify you for student loan discharge, which, while rare, does happen on occasion. In most cases, however, you’re on the hook for repaying your debt, and your Master Promissory Note is the contract that contains that agreement.
Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate/professional student, you will sign a Master Promissory Note. There is one version of the Master Promissory Note for Direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, and another for Direct PLUS loans.
Your Master Promissory Note will explain items including:
- How your interest will be calculated and how fees are charged
- Annual loan limits
- The items for which you can use your loan (room, board, tuition, books, etc.)
- How your loan will be dispersed
- Your options for repayment plans
- Under which conditions you might get a lower interest rate
After you sign the note, you will find out specific details including the amount, interest rate and fees of your loan in a disclosure statement.
Pay attention to the details on your Master Promissory Note so you understand what’s expected of you when paying back your loan, and which repayment plan might work best for you — for example, the standard repayment plan, the graduated repayment plan or the extended repayment plan. You must choose a repayment plan, or you will automatically be put into a standard plan.
Some questions to consider as you read the Master Promissory Note:
- Might you be able to get a lower interest rate (for example, if you are a military member)?
- What will happen if you default on your loan?
- What if you eventually need to be granted a deferment or forbearance?
You will get the answers to these questions and more within the note. Read carefully and make sure you fully understand your options before signing.
You’ll need to sign your Master Promissory Note before you receive any disbursement of your student loans. If you discover you’ve borrowed too much when you receive your exact loan amount, you do have a window of time during which you can return your loan, even if you’ve already signed the promissory note.
You can typically sign just one promissory note for multiple subsidized or unsubsidized loans, and it will be good for up to 10 years, as long as your school does not require that you sign a new note each year. One exception is if you borrow a PLUS loan with an endorser to boost your creditworthiness. In this situation, you can only receive one loan for each promissory note. If you choose to borrow another PLUS loan in the future, you’ll need to sign a new promissory note.
Your parent doesn’t have to sign the Master Promissory Note unless they are taking out a parent PLUS loan on your behalf.
If you’re not sure whether you need a new promissory note when borrowing a student loan, contact your school’s financial aid office for guidance. Even if you don’t reach out, the office should get in touch with you about completing any outstanding paperwork for your loans.
You can sign your Master Promissory Note online at StudentLoans.gov. Expect the process to take about 30 minutes, per the Federal Student Aid site.
First, you’ll sign in with your Federal Student Aid ID and provide personal information about yourself and your school.
Next, you’ll provide information for two references. Your references must have known you for at least three years and have different addresses, both of which must be in the U.S.
Federal Student Aid asks for these references in case they can’t get a hold of you. If you stop paying your student loan and answering calls, collectors may contact your references to track you down.
Finally, you can read over the contract to familiarize yourself with what it is you’re signing. After reviewing this language, you’ll electronically sign and submit your Master Promissory Note.
The above is a Master Promissory Note for direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans. By clicking here, you can see a version of the Master Promissory Note for PLUS loans.
By keeping borrowing to a minimum and educating yourself on your debt, you’ll be off to a strong start in managing your finances. Even if you are able to borrow a large amount, you want to be careful not to borrow too much.
One way to reduce the amount you borrow in student loans is to apply far and wide for scholarships and grants. These are great options because you typically do not have to pay the money back.
You might also work a part-time job during college to bring in extra income. While you don’t want to take time and energy away from your studies, earning some spending money could mean you don’t have to take on as much debt.
Once you’ve determined how much you should borrow, make sure you understand the details of your student loans. You can use our student loan calculator to estimate your future monthly payments and how much you’ll spend on interest.
Lauren Bowling and Rebecca Stropoli contributed to this report.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2021!
|1.04% – 11.98%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|1.13% – 11.23%*,2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|3.80% – 9.36%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.05% – 11.44%4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.22% – 11.66%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|2.76% – 7.14%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|1.24% – 11.99%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers. |
1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
Information advertised valid as of 4/22/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
2 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. If you choose to complete an application, we will conduct a hard credit pull, which may affect your credit score. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.12% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.29% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.22% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 4/1/2021. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.76% – 7.14% (2.76% – 7.14% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.01% – 7.50% (3.01% – 7.50% APR).
Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.19% – 6.73% (2.19% – 6.73% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 2.89% – 7.09% (2.89%-7.09% APR).
Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 9.54% (1.36% – 8.82% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.13% – 9.84% (4.13% – 9.12% APR).
Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 1.36% – 8.34% (1.36% – 8.04% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.03% – 8.64% (4.03% – 8.34% APR).
Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 2.10% – 7.41% (2.10%-7.41% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.69% – 7.83% (4.69% – 7.83% APR).
Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 4.45% – 9.60% (4.45% – 9.53% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.38% – 12.81% APR).
Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.55% – 7.05% (3.55% – 6.77% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.07% APR).
Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable Rates are based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of March 1, 2021, the one-month LIBOR rate is 0.11%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable rate is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%.
Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer. Borrowers should carefully review federal benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are considering possible loan forgiveness options, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision on our website including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
Eligibility Criteria: Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. Citizens Bank private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/Promissory Note, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens Bank participating school.
Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.