How to Get or Refinance Georgia Student Loans

How to Get or Refinance Georgia Student Loans

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If you’re headed to college in the Peach State, you might need Georgia student loans to cover costs. In fact, the majority of Georgia students graduate with loans — 57% according to The Institute for College Access & Success.

And if you already have Georgia student loans, you may be looking for ways to make repayment easier or cheaper.

Here’s a guide to how to get Georgia student loans and how to refinance them (along with other options):

Getting Georgia student loans

Before you apply for Georgia student loans, exhaust your options for scholarships and grants, which are sources of college funds you don’t have to repay. For example, these resources for finding Georgia scholarships can help you start your search.

GAfutures also provides information on sources of financing for school, including scholarships, grants and student loans. GAfutures is run by the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), a state agency that was originally created to provide loans. It now also administers scholarships and grants funded by the state and by the state lottery and offers free financial aid counseling.

Of course, you might not be able to cover your cost of attendance with grants and scholarships alone. In that case, you have some choices, including loans through GSFC that may be cancelable through service work. Here are the main types of loans available…

Federal student loan options

If you need to borrow money after obtaining scholarships and grants, federal student loans usually are your best bet. These loans provide competitive interest rates and can be easy to qualify for. Federal loans also allow you to choose affordable and flexible repayment options. Plus, they provide borrower protections you may not get with private loans.

Your options for federal loans include:

  • Direct subsidized loans: For undergraduate students with demonstrated financial need, these loans typically are one of the best options because the government covers interest charges while you’re in school, during your grace period and during deferment.
  • Direct unsubsidized loans: While interest isn’t subsidized on these loans, qualifying is easy for both undergraduate and graduate students. There’s no requirement to demonstrate financial need.
  • Direct PLUS loans: Both parents and graduate students can obtain PLUS loans. Unlike with direct loans, however, your credit matters in determining your eligibility. PLUS loans aren’t always a better deal than private loans, so comparison shopping is important.

To obtain federal student loans, students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Georgia student loans

The Georgia Student Finance Commission administers the Student Access Loan (SAL) program. This program offers fixed-rate loans at 1.00% interest to eligible undergraduate students who need help funding their education.

Students can obtain financing to attend a private postsecondary institution or a school within the University System of Georgia or Technical College System of Georgia.

The loan application and eligibility requirements are available online. Students must submit the FAFSA before being considered for loans through SAL. The minimum annual loan amount is $500 and the maximum is $8,000 for students within the University System of Georgia or attending a private university. For technical college students, the minimum is $300 and the maximum is $3,000 per year.

If you work as a teacher in a STEM field or in public service after graduation, you might be eligible for loan cancellation. Students who attend a technical college in Georgia and graduate with a 3.5 GPA or higher might also be eligible for loan discharge.

Engineering students at Mercer University might also qualify for the Scholarship for Engineering Education (SEE) program. This scholarship works like a forgivable loan of $3,500 per academic year for up to $17,500. Students must then work as engineers in Georgia to get forgiveness for $3,500 per year. If they fail to meet the service requirements, they’ll have to pay the award back with interest within a six-year period.

Private student loans

Some students need to fill a funding gap left by grants, scholarships and state and federal student loans. Private student loans may be a good option, and they’re available through banks, credit unions and online lenders. Loan terms vary among private lenders, so make sure you shop around.

Consider the interest rates, repayment terms and borrower protections offered by lenders. Keep in mind that private loans won’t qualify for federal borrower protections or income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. You’ll also need good credit or a cosigner with good credit to qualify for private loans.

Refinancing or consolidating Georgia student loans

Graduates who leave school with Georgia student loans may be interested in making repayment easier. The first step is to see if you qualify for student loan forgiveness. This can be tough to get, however, so it’s also worth considering student loan consolidation and refinancing as possible options.

Loan consolidation through the federal government allows you to combine multiple federal loans, including direct loans, into one loan. A direct consolidation loan makes repayment simpler because you’ll have only one loan to repay instead of several. It also can give you access to additional IDR plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

A direct consolidation loan won’t reduce your interest rate, however. Your new rate will be the weighted average of the rates on your consolidated loans.

Refinancing isn’t offered by the federal government. Instead, you’ll need to work with a private lender to refinance your student loans. When you refinance, you take out a new loan with different terms to repay your existing education debt. Students should shop carefully to find a lender offering your best rates and terms.

While refinancing can save you money, refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal protections and plans. It’s also important to weigh the pros and cons of refinancing before you trade your federal debt for a private loan, and to consider whether you’re better off with income-driven repayment instead.

Some final thoughts on Georgia student loans

Choosing the right Georgia student loan is important because you don’t want to be burdened with unaffordable debt after graduation. You should, however, prioritize applying for grants and scholarships before turning to student loans.

In many cases, federal student loans are preferable to private debt, thanks to borrower protections and flexible repayment plans offered by the government. But since they come with borrowing limits, you might need to look to private sources for additional funding.

If you do, compare loan terms carefully so you get the most affordable loan. It may take time to do the research, but it’s worth it to make a smart investment in your future.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

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