Before and During College: The Key Difference Between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans

Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans. If you’re an undergraduate IMG_4578borrowing for college, you’ve probably borrowed both. What’s the difference? And what’s this mean for how you should handle them?

The most important ways Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans vary are:

•   Interest charges: No interest is charged on Subsidized loans while you’re enrolled at least half-time, during the six-month grace period you get when you stop being
IMG_4579enrolled half-time, and whenever your loan payments are postponed under federally-approved deferments.

Unsubsidized loan interest starts being charged the day those funds get disbursed — i.e. used to pay your tuition, given to you, or sent to your bank account, whatever comes first. This interest keeps getting charged until these loans are 100% repaid.

•   Interest Capitalization: You may pay Unsubsidized interest while you’re enrolled and during your grace period, but you’re not required to pay it until your grace period ends. At that point, interest you’ve not paid gets capitalized. This means it’s added to your loan’s principal. Then you’ll pay interest on your new, larger principal amount.

Suppose you borrow $1,000 in Subsidized and $1,000 in Unsubsidized loans at the beginning of this fall semester. Your loans’ interest rates are 5.5% (the rate for these loans in academic year 2018-19). But suppose you can’t afford to make any loan payments while enrolled, nor can you afford to pay anything during your grace period.

When your grace period ends, you’ll still owe $1,000 on your Subsidized loan. But what you owe on your Unsubsidized Loan will have grown by 23.5%, to $1,235. This is your original principal amount of $1,000 plus $235 in unpaid interest that gets added to your Unsubsidized principal. By the time it’s paid in full, it’ll cost at least $2,600 to repay your fall Unsubsidized loan of $1,000.

But you may be able to minimize your Unsubsidized loan debt. Here are three ways:

•   Reduce Borrowing: You’re not required to borrow all, or any, of the loans you’re IMG_4582offered so, if you don’t need all your Unsubsidized loan, tell the financial aid office to downsize or cancel it before it’s disbursed.

•   Pay During School: Return Unsubsidized loan funds within 120 days of the day they’re disbursed. This’ll reduce your principal amount, and the government will cancel any interest and fees charged on the returned amount. Your aid office can usually help you do this.

•   Pay During Grace: Anything you pay during your grace period will reduce interest you owe. Contact your loan servicer about this.

So because Unsubsidized loan interest always gets charged, and because it’ll inflate the amount you repay, minimize Unsubsidized borrowing whenever you can, and prepay Unsubsidized interest whenever you can.

Contact College Affordability Solutions if you’re looking for strategies that’ll reduce your costs of borrowing for college.

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