Whether you’re a Mountaineer or a member of the Thundering Herd, or whether you attend one of West Virginia’s 37 colleges, chances are you’ll leave school with student debt.
In fact, more West Virginians graduate from college with student debt than residents of any other U.S. state, according to The Institute for College Access & Success. That said, the average debt for 2016 graduates of a four-year college in the Mountain State was $27,708, which is roughly $12,000 less than the latest national average student loan balance.
Ideally, you’d avoid West Virginia student loans altogether. But if you can’t, it’s important to know where to get the lowest rates and how to limit the amount you need to borrow.
West Virginia student loans
West Virginia students can apply for federal and private student loans to help pay for college costs. And depending on your school, you might also have other loan options.
Federal student loans
Whether you’re an undergraduate student, a graduate or professional student, or a parent trying to help your child, the U.S. Department of Education offers a few federal loan options. These loans offer special benefits and protections that you generally can’t get anywhere else, including income-driven repayment (IDR) plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Here are the highlights of what’s available as of May 14, 2018. For the latest information, contact the Federal Student Aid office.
|Loan type||Designed for||Requires a credit check?||Interest rates||Loan fee|
|Direct Subsidized Loans||Undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need||No||4.45%||1.066%|
|Direct Unsubsidized Loans||Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students||No||4.45% for undergraduates, 6.00% for graduate and professional students||1.066%|
|Direct PLUS Loans||Graduate and professional students, and parents of undergraduate students||Yes||7.00%||4.264%|
Private student loans
If federal loans aren’t enough to cover your education costs, consider private student loans. The main drawback is that private student loan companies require a credit check. If you’re new to credit or your credit score is poor, consider finding a cosigner to boost your approval odds. In fact, even if you can get approved on your own, a cosigner with a good credit history could help you score a lower interest rate.
Private student loans also typically don’t offer access to IDR plans or student loan forgiveness programs. But many of the best private student loan companies come with competitive interest rates. Here are a few examples:
|Student loan company||Variable interest rates||Fixed interest rates||Origination fees|
|LendKey||As low as 4.53%||As low as 5.36%||None|
|Citizens Bank||3.80% - 11.90%||5.25% - 11.99%||None|
|College Ave||3.54% - 10.81%||3.54% - 12.07%||None|
Research these options and compare them with other private student loans to find the right loan for your needs.
West Virginia-specific student loans
Some loans are available only for students in the state.
West Virginia University, for example, offers the Alex & Betty Schoenbaum Teacher Preparation Scholarship/Loan. Designed for students who plan to work in education, it’s essentially a scholarship with one stipulation: Complete the degree for which you received the loan. Otherwise, you’ll need to start making payments after you leave school.
The university also offers the West Virginia Medical Student Loan, which is a low-interest, subsidized loan for students in its Health Sciences Center. There are no loan fees and the interest rate will be the current rate for federal Stafford loans when you start making payments.
Most student loans are intended to be used for tuition and supplies. But Marshall University offers a student emergency loan. If you experience an unforeseen financial emergency, you can borrow up to $250 per semester. You’ll need to contact the bursar’s office for information about interest rates and fees.
These are a few examples, but your school might have specialized loans of its own. Check with its financial aid office to see your options.
Refinancing West Virginia student loans
If you’re no longer in school and have started making payments on your student loans, you might be feeling overwhelmed. The good news is that you might be able to get a lower interest rate on your West Virginia student loans by refinancing them.
For the most part, student loan refinancing companies offer variable and fixed interest rates. If you qualify, you might get a variable interest rate that’s lower than the fixed rates offered by the Department of Education.
The lenders also have various repayment terms and other features that might offer extra flexibility as you pay down your debt. But as with private in-school student loans, you’ll undergo a credit check when you apply. And with federal loans, you might not want to refinance the debt if you want to hold on to its benefits such as IDR plans and student loan forgiveness programs.
Here’s a summary of three of the top student loan refinancing companies:
|Student loan company||Variable interest rates||Fixed interest rates||Minimum loan balance|
|CommonBond||2.54% - 6.65%||3.20% - 6.65%||$5,000|
|Earnest||2.57% - 5.87%||3.25% - 6.32%||$5,000|
|SoFi||2.56% - 7.40%||3.25% - 7.13%||$5,000|
To improve your chances of getting a lower interest rate, compare several student loan refinancing companies and look at rates, repayment terms, and other features that fit your needs.
Ways to limit your West Virginia student loans
Even if you leave college with student loan debt that’s lower than the state average, it can be stressful to make those payments along with all of your other financial obligations. If you haven’t left college yet, start taking steps now to reduce your dependence on student loans. Here are a few things you can do:
- Choose an inexpensive college. State colleges typically are less expensive than private universities. A well-known university name might look great on your resumé, but many colleges offer a quality education and affordable tuition.
- Apply for scholarships. There are many organizations and companies that offer scholarships. Start researching them and apply for any you’re eligible for. Earning even one scholarship could save you money down the road because you won’t have to borrow that money. As you do this, don’t forget about the Student Loan Hero $5K Scholarship.
- Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Department of Education uses the FAFSA form to decide how much financial aid you need in college. If your financial need is high enough, you could qualify for a Pell Grant, which you don’t have to repay.
- Get a job. Student loans are designed to pay your tuition and other education-related costs, but not living expenses. If you can get at least a part-time job, you won’t have to worry about how to manage your day-to-day costs.
Responsible student loan use is wise
The best way to reduce the amount you’ll owe in student loans and the interest you’ll pay is to shop around. As you do the research and apply for the loans with the best interest rates, you could save hundreds of dollars over the life of your loans.
In addition, try to limit your dependence on student loans while you’re still in school. This will make it easier when you start your career, and you’ll have more financial flexibility to set and work toward other financial goals that are important to you.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
1 = Citizens Disclaimer.
2 = CollegeAve Autopay Disclaimer: All rates shown include the auto-pay 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.
* 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.
3 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
|3.54% - 12.07%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CollegeAve|
|4.11% - 12.19%||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit Ascent|
|4.00% - 11.85%*3||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit SallieMae|
|2.93% - 9.67%||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit CommonBond|
|3.80% - 11.99%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents||Visit Citizens|
|4.53% - 9.69%||Undergraduate and Graduate||Visit LendKey|