21 Student Loan Definitions Everyone Should Know

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When I was 17, I signed on the dotted line and took out student loans to attend college. I didn’t have a clue what I was signing up for. All I knew was that if I wanted to attend a college that fall, student loans would help me do that.

As a young adult, it can be overwhelming to read a legally-binding contract full of unfamiliar terms. And when you sign up for something you aren’t 100 percent clear on, that’s usually when you run into trouble.

It’s no different when you’re learning to speak the language of stocks or mastering mortgage verbiage before buying a house. So before financing your education, consider these 21 important student loan definitions.

21 student loan definitions you need to know

A whopping 25 percent student loan borrowers don’t know whether they have federal and private loans, according to a 2017 survey from Prudential Financial. But even if you know what a federal student loan is, that’s just one student loan definition among many. Here are 21 more:


I was shocked when I graduated and found that my loan amount grew because of capitalization. I didn’t understand how student loan interest actually works.

Capitalization of interest is when the interest that accumulates on your student loans is added to the principal balance. Interest can add up quickly and can add to the sum of your principal, making it tough to pay back student loans.


To consolidate is to group. In the case of federal student loans, a borrower might consider grouping numerous loans with numerous servicers into a Direct Consolidation Loan. Consolidating would simplify your repayment, giving you one new, larger loan with one servicer.

Consolidating won’t save you money the way that refinancing would. The interest rate of your Direct Consolidation Loan would be a weighted average of your previous loans’ rates, plus a small percentage on top.

There are more factors to weigh when deciding if Direct Loan Consolidation is right for you.


Many private student loans require a co-signer. A co-signer is typically a parent or relative with good credit that signs the promissory note and is responsible for the student loan if the primary borrower is unable to make payments.

You might need a co-signer if you have a limited (or poor) credit history and are applying for a private student loan. But consider the pros and cons of student loans without a co-signer before making a final decision.

Most federal loans don’t require a co-signer, but you might need a creditworthy endorser for a Direct PLUS Loan.

Debt-to-income ratio

Private lenders look at the ratio between your outstanding debt and your annual income when evaluating you as a loan applicant and deciding what rates to offer you. It’s important to know your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) when shopping for a loan.

You’re better off with a lower DTI, which would put you in a better position to pay off your loans.

Debt-to-Income (DTI) Calculator


If you fail to make a monthly payment for 270 consecutive days (or nine straight months), your federal student loan will enter default. Your lender, the Department of Education (DOE) in this case, will report the default, causing harm to your credit report.

That’s just scratching the surface of everything you need to know about default.

There’s even less room for error on many private student loans, for example. Your lenders could skip past delinquency and push you into default after missing a single monthly payment.


You can pause repayment on your federal student loans for as long as three years by applying for one of numerous forms of deferment. You might be able to secure deferment if you become unemployed, for example, but it might not be the right option for you.

Deferment is doubly helpful for Direct Subsidized Loans, as it stops interest from accruing. The same isn’t true for Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

Private lenders might or might not offer some relief. You should compare the protections offered by private lenders before taking out a loan in the first place.


Although delinquency can lead to default, a more serious predicament, you are delinquent on your student loan as soon as you miss a single payment.

Delinquencies are reported to credit agencies. They don’t cause as much damage to your credit report as a default as long as you get back on track with repayment.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The student aid report you receive from schools will estimate how much you and your family can reasonably contribute to the cost of your education. This estimation is computed based on the family income information you entered on your FAFSA.

A low Expected Family Contribution means you might be eligible for more financial aid, such as grants, a work-study program, or subsidized loans. A higher EFC, on the other hand, means you might be on the hook for a larger percentage of your cost of attendance.


If you don’t qualify for a deferment, forbearance also allows you to pause your student loan payments for as much as 12 months at a time. It might be offered at the discretion of your federal loan servicer. It also won’t stop interest from accruing on your loans, even subsidized loans.

Private lenders might offer forbearance in some form or fashion.

It’s important to ask your lender or servicer about the protections it offers before deciding on the best way to pause your student loan payments.

Grace period

A grace period is a set amount of time, typically six months, before your repayment begins. You enter your grace period upon graduation, after leaving school, or dropping below half-time enrollment.

Not all student loans have a grace period, and interest might still accrue on your loans.

But you’ll want to make the most of a grace period if you have one. It might be wise to make loan payments during this period because interest accrues on your loan while you wait to repay it.

Interest rate

When you borrow money from the federal government or a private lender, they want to make sure they are receiving a return on their investment. As part of the lending process, they will add interest to your loans.

If you are taking out federal student loans, the interest rate is set by Congress. Current interest rates for federal loans are fixed, meaning they will remain the same throughout the life of your loan. Private lenders might offer fixed or variable interest rates.

The interest rate you might be quoted is based a variety of factors.


If you borrow money, you have a lender that gave you the money. For student loans, the lender could be the DOE, as is the case for many federal student loans. It can also be a bank, a credit union, or another private company. It’s also worth noting that your private student loan could be sold to another lender.

You might take out a $5,000 loan with CommonBond as your lender, for example. Similarly, SoFi could be your lender on a separate private loan.

No matter your lender, it’s wise to ask if a different company will act as the servicer of your loan. The servicer, which might not be your lender, is your go-to source for troubleshooting your loan.


Although Congress sets the interest rates for federal loans, private lenders take their cue from the Federal Reserve and the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR).

LIBOR is an average interest rate itself. Its fluctuations are particularly impactful if you’re shopping around for a private loan or selected a variable interest rate loan and are now at the mercy of the market.

Loan forgiveness

Your federal student loan could be partially or fully forgiven if you qualify for one of the DOE’s loan forgiveness programs. Typically, you can receive this form of relief if you make consistent payments over a specific period, work in a public-service field, and submit supporting documentation with your application.

Some loan forgiveness programs could delete your student loan debt immediately. Others, like the Federal Perkins Loan program, might offer you complete forgiveness over a five-year period, 15, 20, or 30 percent of your loan balance at a time. That specific type of forgiveness is only available to borrowers who took out a Perkins Loan before the program expired on Sept. 30.

Loan servicer

When it’s time to make payments, you send your money to your loan servicer. They handle all the payments for your student loans. If you have any questions about your repayment plan or are struggling to make payments, you want to talk to your loan servicer.

If you have a federal loan, for example, the DOE acts as your lender, but your servicer might be Navient (or one of eight other federal loan servicers). Because loans can be transferred, it’s important to know how to track down your loan servicer in a pinch.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

If you take out federal student loans, you must sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN). This is a legal document that holds you accountable for paying back loans, fees, and interest owed to the DOE.

An MPN lets borrowers take out multiple student loans for a period of up to 10 years, so long as your school allows it. Your MPN will outline all the terms and conditions of your student loans, so be sure to read carefully before signing.

Principal loan

The principal is the amount you originally borrowed when taking out student loans — before any interest or fees were added on. It’s important to know this term because your payments must first go toward any outstanding fees and interest before going toward principal. This is one of the reasons to make extra payments on your student loans.

When interest capitalizes, it’s added to your principal. Depending upon your loan type, you might graduate with a larger loan principal than the one you started with as a freshman.


Refinancing your student loans allows you to take multiple loans (and their various servicers) to the private lender of your choice and potentially score a better interest rate and loan term on a new, larger loan.

As you consider refinancing your student loans, be aware that working with a private lender isn’t a wise move if you want to keep your federal loan protections or are working toward loan forgiveness.

Student Loan Refinancing Calculator






Repayment term

Your repayment term, also known as your repayment period, is how long you have to pay back your student loans.

Federal student loan borrowers are enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan, which has a repayment term of 10 years. You might be able to extend your repayment term through a different repayment plan, though you’ll end up paying more in interest over time.

This is why it’s especially important to pick the best repayment terms when refinancing.

Subsidized loans

Direct Subsidized Loans are offered to students who demonstrate financial need. They’re great because the DOE pays your interest while you are in school and during your grace period or deferment.

Unsubsidized loans

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to anyone regardless of financial need. The bad news is you are responsible for every cent of interest that accrues, even while in school or during deferment. There are also other differences between unsubsidized and subsidized loans.

Knowledge is power when it comes to student loan definitions

Taking out student loans to attend college is serious business. You might have no other choice, but it’s important to become familiar with these essential student loan definition terms before saying yes to educational debt.

Knowing these loan definition terms now can help you avoid lots of confusion or stress later on when it’s time to pay up.

Melanie Lockert contributed to the reporting for this article.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 8 lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.20% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.89% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of December 13, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 12/13/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% APR (without AutoPay). Variable rates currently from 2.31% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% (without AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.31% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.31% plus 0.75% margin minus 0.25% for AutoPay. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your credit history and the term of the loan and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. 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.

3 Important Disclosures for Figure.

Figure Disclosures

Figure’s Student Refinance Loan is a private loan. If you refinance federal loans, you forfeit certain flexible repayment options associated with those loans. If you expect to incur financial hardship that would impact your ability to repay, you should consider federal consolidation alternatives.

4 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave Disclosures

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.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown 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$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.

4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. 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 1/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.


There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.


For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.


Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).

Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.


The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.


The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.


After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.


This information is current as of November 8, 2019 and is subject to change.

6 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.

7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). 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. 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 1.76% effective November 10, 2019.

8 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 12/019/2019 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% to 8.59% Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.49% to 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.

1.99% – 6.89%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.31% – 7.36%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

2.06% – 6.81%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Figure

2.62% – 6.12%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.99% – 6.65%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

1.99% – 7.06%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.85% – 6.13%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.90% – 8.59%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.

Published in Student Loan Repayment, Student Loans