Parents of college students can sink hours or even days into navigating educational costs. From applying for student aid to figuring out a college budget and comparing financing options, the process can be a time suck. But the cost isn’t just time; it’s also money. On average, parents borrow around $40,000 to finance education in their families.
And if it leads to a decision to borrow through Parent PLUS loans, this guide can help you find out what’s next. We’ll walk you through the Parent PLUS loan application process one step at a time — and point out any minefields to avoid or opportunities to jump on along the way.
How to apply for a Parent PLUS loan in 6 steps
Applying for a Parent PLUS loan can be a confusing process. But by following the steps below for your Parent PLUS application, you’ll have a clear path for obtaining the parent student loans you need.
Here’s where to start — along with the steps that come next and all the details you need to know in between.
1. Fill out a FAFSA and review your student aid award
First, fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with your child. The Federal Student Aid Office uses the information from this packet to determine your need and eligibility for financial assistance (such as Parent PLUS loans) to pay for college.
To complete a FAFSA, you and your child first need to create FSA IDs. Make sure you remember your FSA ID; you’ll need it when you submit your Parent PLUS Loan application.
Once you submit the FAFSA and it has been processed, your child will receive a financial aid award summary. It should list all financial aid the Department of Education has approved for your child, so see if Parent PLUS loans are listed.
2. Determine if you’re eligible for a Parent PLUS loan
Before you apply for a Parent PLUS loan, it’s helpful to check if you’ll qualify for this type of federal student loan.
And don’t just go off your child’s financial aid award letter. Even if Parent PLUS loans are included, you’ll need to meet the eligibility guidelines. On the other hand, you might be able to borrow through Parent PLUS loans even if they aren’t listed on the award letter.
Eligibility requirements for Parent PLUS loans include the following:
- You must be the biological or adoptive parent of a current student.
- Your child must be a dependent undergraduate enrolled at least half time at a college that participates in the Federal Direct Loan Program.
- You and your child must meet all other eligibility requirements for federal student loans.
- You must not be in default on any federal student loans.
- Your credit must not be “adverse.” The Department of Education defines an adverse credit history as one that includes a current delinquency of 90 days or longer. It also includes borrowers who have certain derogatory marks within the past five years, such as bankruptcy discharge or foreclosure. The full definition of adverse credit is outlined here.
The last requirement makes Parent PLUS loans unique among federal student loans, most of which have no credit requirements.
Parents who don’t meet these credit requirements should still apply for Parent PLUS loans — getting denied can actually help your college student. Federal student loan limits are set higher for undergraduate students whose parents are denied PLUS loans, so your child could access more federal student loans.
3. Figure out how much you can borrow
You’ll need to indicate a loan amount on the Parent PLUS application. However, how much you can borrow with Parent PLUS loans will depend on the specific cost of attendance (COA) at your child’s college:
- Each college determines its own cost of attendance, and the COA is used to set the federal loan limits on Parent PLUS loans.
- You can borrow a Parent PLUS loan amount only up to the remaining cost of attendance after all other financial aid (including your child’s student loan funds) has been applied.
It can help to get in touch with your child’s college. Its financial aid office can more accurately determine your eligibility and any limits on Parent PLUS loans.
Additionally, the process to complete a Parent PLUS loan application varies from school to school, according to a guide from the Federal Student Aid Office. Ask the financial aid office how the college handles and processes Parent PLUS loan applications.
4. Decide on a final loan amount
Although you can borrow up to the Parent PLUS loan limit, that doesn’t mean you should. The Parent PLUS limit is set according to your child’s costs, not your financial situation, so borrowing up to the full amount could result in student loan payments you can’t afford.
So, how much should you borrow?
It’s best to go for the least amount possible through Parent PLUS loans while still covering your child’s college costs. Calculate your child’s education costs, from tuition to room and board. At the same time, project your monthly Parent PLUS loan payments to ensure that, at the amount you’ll need to borrow, you will be able to keep up.
And make sure you’re maximizing all other financial aid opportunities first, as they might be more cost-effective than Parent PLUS loans.
For instance, discuss having your child borrow the maximum amount of unsubsidized loans first. You can help out with repayment on these loans, and they have much lower costs than Parent PLUS loans:
- Interest rate: 4.45% on Direct undergraduate loans vs. 7.00% on Parent PLUS loans
- Loan fee: 1.069 percent on Direct undergraduate loans vs. 4.276 percent on Parent PLUS loans
You can use this handy tool from FinAid.org to estimate how much you might need to borrow to cover your child’s college costs.
5. Complete a Parent PLUS loan application
Once you know how much you want to borrow, you can start a Parent PLUS loan application. Many colleges will request that you apply for a Parent PLUS loan through StudentLoan.gov. However, as the application notes, “some schools may have a different process for obtaining the additional information needed to process your Direct PLUS loan application.”
Provide loan and identification details
The Parent PLUS loan application on StudentLoan.gov is actually a “request for supplemental information,” which you can preview here. You’ll need to have your FSA ID (not your child’s) on hand to file and submit this form.
The information you’ll have to provide includes:
- Loan details: the type of loan you need (Parent PLUS in this case) along with your requested loan amount and period
- Academic information: the code and address of your child’s college and the award school year
- Student information: your child’s name, Social Security number, date of birth, permanent address, and telephone number
- Borrower information: your name, Social Security number, date of birth, citizenship status, permanent and mailing addresses, phone number, and email address
- Employment information: your employer’s name and address
Choose your deferment and disbursement preferences
You also will choose between a few Parent PLUS loan options on the application:
- Whether to defer Parent PLUS loan repayment: Unlike your child’s federal student loans, Parent PLUS loans aren’t automatically deferred while your child is enrolled in college and for the six-month grace period afterward. You can decide if you wish to begin repayment immediately or defer until after your child graduates or otherwise leaves school.
- How the school can apply Parent PLUS loan funds: Like other student loans, Parent PLUS loans are disbursed to the student’s financial aid office and applied first to tuition, fees, and room and board. You also might choose to authorize the school to use these loan funds to settle other outstanding charges like library fines or campus parking tickets.
- Where the college should send leftover Parent PLUS funds: Any amount remaining after educational costs are paid is called a credit balance. You can indicate on the Parent PLUS loan application if you want this credit balance to be paid out to you or the student.
Submit the Parent PLUS loan application
Once you’ve complete all fields, you can submit the application using your FSA ID. Doing so will trigger an immediate credit check to see if you have adverse credit.
If you don’t have credit issues, the application will pass to the financial aid office of your child’s college. The college aid office will process this document and determine your full eligibility for a Parent PLUS loan.
If you do have adverse credit, you will be denied for a Parent PLUS loan. But you might be able to become eligible, according to the application documents, if you complete PLUS Credit Counseling and obtain an endorser or document “extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the U.S. Department of Education.”
If you decide in the future to borrow more through Parent PLUS loans, you will use this same form to request additional funds.
6. Sign a PLUS Master Promissory Note
After you submit your Parent PLUS application, your child’s college financial aid office will process it, determine if you’re eligible, and notify you upon approval (or denial). You also can contact the aid office at any point to check on the progress of your application.
If you’re approved, there’s a final step to complete the Parent PLUS loan process: signing a PLUS Master Promissory Note (MPN). This legal document works as your loan agreement, fully outlining the terms of your repayment, including the loan period, interest rates, and fees.
You can complete a PLUS MPN here. The process takes about 30 minutes, and the MPN must be completed in one sitting. You’ll need to provide much of the same identifying information you included in the application.
Additionally, you’ll need to supply two references on your MPN. They must be two different people who:
- Live at two different U.S. addresses
- Don’t live with you
- Have known you for at least three years
For each reference, you’ll need to list a full name and contact information.
Once you submit the Parent PLUS MPN, your student loans should be disbursed soon after it’s processed, per your directions on the initial application.
You will need to submit a new Parent PLUS loan application to take out additional loans in the future, but you have to sign an MPN only once. “Most schools are authorized to make multiple federal student loans under one MPN for up to 10 years,” according to the FSA Office.
Make sure you’re keeping track of your Parent PLUS loans as you go and that you’re aware of when the repayment will kick in. For many parents, applying for a Parent PLUS loan isn’t the hard part — repaying it is. It’s smart to explore your repayment options for Parent PLUS loans now so you can quickly adjust if you find yourself struggling with payments.
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