Your Guide to Parent Student Loans

 April 3, 2020
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As a parent, it’s common to want to help your child with their college tuition and fees so they don’t have to pay for it all themselves. When it comes to paying for college, parents typically use their income and savings to pay for 30% of their child’s education costs and borrow enough money to cover an additional 10% of the expense.

There are several options for parent student loans, including federal loans and private student loans. Here’s what you need to know about parent student loans and how to choose the best one for your needs.

Parent student loan options
Who’s eligible for parent student loans?
How to apply for parent student loans
Repayment options for parent student loans

Parent student loan options

If you’re shopping around for parent loans for college students, your two choices are parent PLUS loans and private student loans.

1. Federal parent PLUS loans

Parent PLUS loans are part of the federal direct PLUS loan program. They are only available to biological or adoptive parents of dependent undergraduate students enrolled at least half time at an eligible school.

Unlike some other federal student loans that have caps on how much you can borrow per year, parent PLUS loan limits don’t exist. You can borrow up to the total cost of attendance at your child’s school, minus the other financial aid they receive.

The following rates and fees apply on parent PLUS loans as of 2020:

  • Interest rate: 7.08% for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2019, and before July 1, 2020
  • Origination fee: 4.236% for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2019, and before Oct. 1, 2020

The parent PLUS interest rate is fixed, meaning it stays the same for the length of the loan. Your payment will stay the same, too.

If approved for a parent PLUS loan, payments are due as soon as it’s disbursed, unless you opt to defer the loan until after your child graduates, leaves school or drops below half-time enrollment. Under the default standard repayment plan, you’ll have 10 years to repay your loan.

2. Private student loans

While parent PLUS loans are federally backed by the U.S. Department of Education, private parent student loans are offered by individual banks and online lenders.

Terms and eligibility can vary widely by lender. Lenders will generally review your income and credit when they look at your application to determine whether to offer you a loan. Depending on your creditworthiness, you could qualify for a loan with a lower interest rate than you’d get with a parent PLUS loan. And private student loans for parents usually don’t have origination fees, helping you save money.

Private loans usually have different repayment options, allowing you to choose repayment terms ranging from five to 20 years. The longer repayment term can give you a more affordable monthly payment and more breathing room in your budget. Private lenders typically list both variable and fixed interest rates:

  • Fixed-rate loans have the same interest rate for the life of the loan
  • Variable-rate loans usually start off with a low interest rate, but — over time — the rate can change, causing your payment to fluctuate

Some borrowers opt for a variable-rate loan if they plan on paying off a loan early so they can take advantage of the initial lower rate.

Who’s eligible for parent student loans?

The requirements for federal parent PLUS loans are often easier to meet than the criteria for private parent student loans. However, the lending requirements for private loans differ depending on the lender with which you’re working, so it’s a good idea to shop around for various lenders.

Parent PLUS loan eligibility requirements

To qualify for a parent PLUS loan, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You’re a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • You’re the biological or adoptive parent of an undergraduate dependent student enrolled at least half time at an eligible school
  • You don’t have an adverse credit history

While most federal loans don’t require a credit check, parent PLUS loans do. The U.S. Department of Education defines an adverse credit history as having one of the following on your credit report in the past five years:

  • Default determination
  • Discharge of debt in bankruptcy
  • Foreclosure
  • Repossession
  • Tax lien
  • Wage garnishment
  • Write-off of federal student loan debt

You also can’t have one or more debt accounts with a total combined outstanding balance greater than $2,085 that are delinquent by 90 days or more, or that has been placed in collections or charged off during the two years before the date of the credit report.

If you do have an adverse credit history and are denied for a loan, there may be two ways you can regain parent PLUS loan eligibility:

  • Use an endorser: If you have a friend or relative with good credit, ask them to be an endorser. The endorser acts as a guarantor on the loan. If you don’t make the payments, the endorser is instead responsible for paying them.
  • Document extenuating circumstances: If there’s an extenuating circumstance, such as a timing issue regarding the foreclosure listed on your credit report, you can submit documentation and request an appeal.

If you qualify for a loan with either of these options, you’ll also have to undergo credit counseling for PLUS loan borrowers.

Private parent student loan eligibility requirements

For private student loan lenders, your credit score is a major factor in their decision in evaluating your application.

In general, you’ll need to have good to excellent credit. Lenders will also want to see that you have a low debt-to-income (DTI) ratio, or a low amount of debt relative to how much money you have coming in each month. Lenders often have minimum income requirements as well. If your credit score or income doesn’t meet their criteria, you may need a cosigner to qualify for a loan.

How to apply for parent student loans

The application process is quite different for parent PLUS loans than it is for private parent student loans. Parent PLUS loans require your child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before you can apply, while you’ll have to submit separate applications for private loans.

Parent PLUS loan application process

The application process for parent PLUS loans has two steps:

1. Fill out the FAFSA

Before you can apply for a parent PLUS loan, your child must complete and submit the FAFSA. Your child may need your help to fill out the application since you have to enter your household income and other financial information.

2. Apply for the parent PLUS loan

Once the FAFSA is submitted, you can proceed with the parent PLUS Loan application. In most cases, you can apply for parent PLUS loans online. However, some schools have a different process.

When you go to the Federal Student Aid website to fill out the application and select your child’s school, the site will notify you if the college has a different application process. If that happens, contact the school’s financial aid office and ask for next steps.

The parent PLUS loan deadline can vary by school, so check with the financial aid office to find out when applications need to be submitted.

Private parent student loan application process

Each private parent student loan lender has its own application, but you’ll generally be able to apply online in just a few minutes.

1. Gather necessary information

Lenders will ask you for basic information about yourself, including your name, address, Social Security number, employer name and address, and income. You may also be asked to submit the following documentation:

  • Government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license
  • Recent pay stub
  • W-2 form from most recent tax year

2. Compare loan offers

It’s always a good idea to shop around and compare offers from multiple lenders to ensure you get your best rates. When looking at your options, consider the following key factors:

  • Interest rate
  • Interest rate type
  • Length of loan term
  • Monthly payment

3. Submit your application

Once you find a lender and loan terms that work for you, you can complete the full application. The lender will review the application and will perform a hard credit inquiry, which can affect your credit score. You’ll usually receive a decision quickly, but the lender may reach out to you if they need additional information or documentation.

Repayment options for parent student loans

Parent PLUS loans and private student loans also have different repayment options.

Parent PLUS loans

With federal parent PLUS loans, there are five repayment options, including one that offers parent PLUS loan forgiveness:

  • Standard repayment: Under a standard repayment plan, your loans are paid off within 10 years. You have a fixed monthly payment for the duration of the loan.
  • Graduated repayment: With graduated repayment, your payments start out low. Every two years, they gradually increase, but your loans are still paid off within 10 years.
  • Extended repayment: When you sign up for extended repayment, your repayment term is extended to 25 years. Your payments are either fixed or graduated.
  • Income-contingent repayment: Parent PLUS loans are eligible for income-contingent repayment (ICR) if they’re consolidated with a direct consolidation loan. The repayment term is 25 years. The payment is capped at 20% of your discretionary income or what you would pay with a 12-year repayment term adjusted to your income, whichever is less.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness: If you work for a nonprofit organization or government agency, parent PLUS loan borrowers can qualify for parent loan forgiveness through Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). To be eligible, you must consolidate your loans with a direct consolidation loan and apply for an ICR plan, then work for an eligible employer for 10 years and make 120 qualifying monthly payments.

Private student loans

Your repayment options for private parent student loans are dependent on which lender you choose. In general, your repayment terms can range from five to 20 years. Some lenders require you to start making payments while your child is still in school, while others allow you to defer payments until after your child graduates or leaves college.

Private student loans aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness, so you can’t qualify for PSLF even if you work for a nonprofit organization or the government.

Parent PLUS loans vs. private loans: Which are right for you?

Parent PLUS loans Private parent student loans
Pros ● Eligible for loan forgiveness
● Eligible for federal loan deferment and forbearance
● Competitive interest rates
● Variable interest rates
● May be dischargeable if the student dies or becomes permanently disabled
Cons ● Not dischargeable if the student is permanently disabled
● Relatively high interest rates
● Not eligible for loan forgiveness● Limited repayment options

If you’re not sure which loan type is best for you, there are three key differences that can help you make an informed decision.

Interest rates

Parent PLUS loans have the highest interest rates of all federal student loans. If you have good credit and a low DTI ratio, you may be able to qualify for a private parent student loan with a lower interest rate, helping you save money. And private student loans can come with variable rates, which may give you more options.

Loan forgiveness

Private loans aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness, so if you work for a nonprofit organization or government agency, you may be better off with parent PLUS loans. By consolidating your debt with a direct consolidation loan and enrolling in an ICR plan, you can qualify for PSLF and have your loans forgiven after 10 years of working for an eligible employer and making qualifying payments.

However, you should know that few people qualify for PSLF. As of December 2018, just 262 out of over 38,000 applicants qualified for loan discharge through PSLF. You can use the federal PSLF Help Tool to assess your eligibility, find out whether your loans and employment qualify for PSLF and figure out what forms to submit.

Discharge in cases of disability

If your child becomes totally and permanently disabled, the type of loan you have will affect your options. Parent PLUS loans can only be discharged if you die, your child dies or if you — the borrower — become permanently disabled. If your child is the one who becomes disabled, your loans aren’t eligible for discharge.

Policies for private student loans vary by lender. Some private lenders, such as Sallie Mae, will discharge your parent student loans if your child becomes totally and permanently disabled, eliminating a serious financial burden and giving you some relief.

If you need help choosing a parent student loan, use our Student Loan Term Comparison Calculator to compare your options and see whether a private loan or parent PLUS loan is most cost-effective for you.

Elyssa Kirkham and Meredith Simonds contributed to this report.

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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community 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.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. 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.
  3. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 8/01/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and 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 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.49% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 1.59% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred. 


4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of July 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 1.02%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
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Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.

6 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.