Student Loans

Millions of Americans take out student loans every year to pay for higher education, but what is the impact? Learn everything you need to know about student loans, including how to pay them off and alternatives to consider.

Your Guide to Student Loans

A recent grad looks over her student loan statements.
U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do you apply for student loans?

    To apply for federal student aid, you must first complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The results of the FAFSA form will be sent to your college or career school, and they will decide whether you qualify and how much of a loan you will receive. Private student loans, on the other hand, are issued by banks, credit unions, and other lenders based on your credit profile. The application process will depend on the lender.

  • How much student loan money can you borrow?

    The U.S. Department of Education sets limits on how much you can borrow each year. If you are an undergraduate student, the maximum amount you can borrow annually in subsidized and unsubsidized loans ranges from $5,500 to $12,500 per year, depending on your grade level and dependency status. For graduate or professional students, you can borrow up to $20,500 annually in direct unsubsidized loans. Direct PLUS Loans can also be used for the remaining college costs, as determined by your school. Remember, you should only borrow what you need to pay for the higher education at hand.

  • How do you get student loans forgiven?

    Student loan forgiveness gives you the opportunity to not have to pay back some or all of your federal student loan debt. To qualify for help with repayment, there are very specific eligibility requirements that you have to meet. The most common way to get your loans forgiven is if you repay loans as part of an income-driven repayment plan.

  • What is the most common type of student loan?

    Federal student loans are more common than private student loans, as they are offered by the U.S. government and follow a strict standard. With federal student loans, the terms are uniform and apply to everyone receiving them. Private loans, though, have varying terms and criteria, based on individual lenders as well as the circumstances of the borrowers.

  • How long does it take to pay off student loans?

    The average student loan borrower will spend 20 years repaying their loans. However, how long it actually takes to pay off your loans will depend on where you went to college, as well as your degree level. Attending a more expensive school or pursuing a postgraduate degree through student loans, for example, will increase your timeline for repaying the debt. Generally, higher balances take longer time to pay back.

Key Terms

Explore Student Loans

Young woman doing home finances at home in the morning student loans
Best Graduate Student Loans
A student studies on campus grounds
What Is an Education Loan?
An elementary school teacher in a classroom
What Is a TEACH Grant?