The United States has the fourth-most doctorate degree holders in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. But the degree is still a prestigious one. Fewer than 20 in 1,000 citizens between the ages of 25 and 64 hold one.
If you’re planning on staying in school to get your Ph.D., you’re not only in for a few more years of school but also potentially thousands of dollars in Ph.D. student loans.
One way to help cover the cost of your education is to become a research or teaching assistant. But if you can’t find an assistantship to cover tuition and other expenses, you might need to resort to Ph.D. student loans.
To ensure that you pay as little in interest and fees as possible, it’s critical that you understand what your options are and how to compare them. To help you, we’ll list off some of the top options and what to look for.
The top Ph.D. student loans to consider
Depending on your needs and preferences, there are a couple of main options to which you have access: federal and private student loans. Let’s discuss each in turn.
Federal loans for Ph.D. students
The U.S. Department of Education offers Direct PLUS Loans to graduate and professional students. If you’re eligible, you can borrow up to the cost of attendance at your school minus any other financial aid you receive.
Unlike federal student loans for undergrads, Direct PLUS Loans require a credit check. So, if you have bad credit, you might need to ask someone to cosign the loan. You might qualify on your own if you have extenuating circumstances, such as:
- There are errors on your credit report.
- You had an account in collections but have recently paid it off.
- You had a wage garnishment, but it’s been released.
- You defaulted on a federal student loan but have since consolidated it, and it’s no longer in default.
- You went through bankruptcy but can prove that it was discharged more than five years ago.
If you do get approved for a Direct PLUS Loan, you’ll pay an upfront loan fee of 4.264%, which the Department of Education will deduct from your loan disbursement. So, if you’re approved for a $10,000 loan, you’ll actually receive $9,573.60.
Also, if you get approved before July 1, 2018, you’ll pay a fixed interest rate of 7% on your Direct PLUS Loan.
The federal government doesn’t offer the best interest rates and fees for Ph.D. student loans, but it does offer some special perks.
For example, you’ll be eligible for the various income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. These can help you keep your monthly payments affordable. And depending on your career plans, you might also qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
Private student loans
While private student loans don’t qualify for IDR plans or the PSLF program, they can offer lower interest rates and fees.
Several private student loan companies offer Ph.D. loans, including College Ave, CommonBond, and Citizens Bank. Also, online marketplaces such as LendKey can help you find regional banks and credit unions with funding options.
Here’s an idea of what type of interest rates you can expect:
|Variable Interest Rates||Fixed Interest Rates|
|CommonBond||3.95% – 9.81%||5.29% – 9.83%|
|Citizens Bank||4.45% – 12.42%||5.74% – 12.19%|
|College Ave||4.20% – 11.44%||5.29% – 12.78%|
|LendKey||5.85% – 6.99%||4.68% – 6.54%|
As with a PLUS Loan, your credit has to be in good standing to qualify for private Ph.D. student loans. But if you can’t get approved on your own, you can get a cosigner to improve your chances.
Many of these lenders don’t charge a loan fee. So, if you borrow $10,000, you’ll get the full amount. And depending on the lender, you might also get access to other features. For example, some offer an interest rate reduction for setting up automatic payments.
Others offer cosigner release, which allows you to remove your cosigner from the loan after a few years of on-time payments and a second eligibility check.
Some of these lenders offer both fixed and variable interest rates, giving you more flexibility in how you pay back your loans. You can compare private Ph.D. student loans and weigh their costs and features against federal options.
Other ways to pay for your Ph.D. program
Financing your education is always an option, but the fewer loans you take out, the better. To limit your debt, consider these other funding options:
- Scholarships and grants
- University-based or external fellowship
- Research or teaching assistantship
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Federal work-study
Research each of these options in advance. Find out how much money, if any, you’ll need to cover your education. Then, compare Ph.D. student loans from private lenders and the Department of Education.
As you do your due diligence, you’ll have a better chance of finishing your Ph.D. program with less debt and lower monthly payments. That could make it easier to eliminate your debt once you start your career.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
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.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* 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.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|