If you have heard about any kind of Federal financial aid for students, you are already familiar with US Department of Education loans. The US Department of Education handles all government aid for defraying the cost of attending college in America, from grants to loans. The first thing that you will need to do to apply for US Department of Education loans is to fill out a FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid form. FAFSA forms compare the amount of money required to attend a specific college to the amount of money that can be expected to be paid by the family of the attendee. Any difference is the amount of money eligible for student aid.
US Department of Education loans have specific qualifications that an applicant must meet to be eligible. The qualifications include US Citizenship (some non-citizens with social security numbers are also eligible), financial need, possession of a valid Social Security Number, and proof of eligibility for higher education in the form of a high school diploma, General Education Development (GED) certificate, or similar. Furthermore, applicants for US Department of Education loans must be in good financial, academic, and legal standing. In other words, they must be registered with the Selective Service if required, they must not have defaulted on a student loan in the past, they can have no record of conviction on charges of sales or possession of drugs, and they must maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to continue to receive student loans from the Department of Education.
There are three main possibilities when considering US Department of Education loans: grants, which are monetary gifts, student loans, and work-study programs where the money for education is earned. Only in the case of student loans does the money need to be repaid. Most federal grants are based solely on financial need, and some are given on a first-come-first-served basis, so it is important to apply as early as possible.
Work-Study programs are not technically US Department of Education loans, but they are a federally mandated way to receive financial aid to attend college. A number of work-study hours are specified as part of the financial aid package. These usually involve jobs working with non-profit companies or on campus, and pay a modest salary. The money earned can be used for college tuition.
True US Department of Education loans include the Perkins Loan, the Stafford Loan, and the PLUS loan for parents. Perkins loans have a particularly low interest rate and can be paid back over a time period of as long as 10 years. There are a limited number of Perkins Loans available to each school every year. The Stafford Loan has a higher interest rate than the Perkins loan, and doesn necessarily offer a grace period after graduation. However, there are more Stafford loans offered by the US Department of Education every year. Stafford loans are even available to students who don have a pressing financial need. Stafford loans may be paid off over a period of as long as thirty years.
PLUS loans are the final type of US Department of Education loans. They are offered to parents of undergraduates, as opposed to the students themselves. Payments on Federal PLUS loans start two months after the money is received, and can be paid off over a ten-year term.