Federal student loans can be the best option if you must borrow student loans for college. Before you borrow federal student loans, you should apply for scholarships and grants. You can also consider employers who offer tuition assistance, work colleges and tuition-free colleges. To reduce student loan debt, consider attending an affordable college and reducing expenses during college as much as possible.

If you do need to borrow student loans, federal student loans are better than private student loans because they offer many perks, including:

 

Take these steps to get a federal student loan

 To get a federal student loan, start by completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is available online at the Federal Student Aid website run by the Department of Education. You can also obtain a PDF copy of the form that you print and mail or can call 800-4-FED-AID to request a printout be sent to you that you can complete and return by mail.

To complete the FAFSA, you’ll be required to provide some basic financial information, including details about your family income if you are a dependent student. You’ll need: 

  • Your Social Security number and your parent’s numbers if you’re a dependent
  • Your driver’s license number, if available
  • An Alien Registration number if you aren’t a U.S. citizen
  • W-2s, 1099s, foreign tax returns, or tax returns for U.S. territories for you and for your parents if you’re a dependent
  • Records of untaxed income
  • Details on your assets, including checking and savings account balances

The FAFSA becomes available as early as October 1 and should be completed ASAP as some funding runs out. The deadline is June 30 of the academic year for which you want to be considered for aid.

What happens after you fill out your FAFSA

When you complete your FAFSA, you must include the schools you’ve applied for and are considering attending. Based on the results of the FAFSA, your school will prepare a financial aid package that might include some federal student loans.

Credit is not a factor in determining eligibility for federal student loans. You may be offered different kinds of loans, including Subsidized Loans available to undergraduates with financial need as well as Unsubsidized Loans that are not means-tested and that are available to both undergrads and graduate students.

When your school sends your financial aid letter, you can choose to accept some or all of the federal loans offered to you. You should always max out federal student loans before borrowing from private lenders but you don’t want to borrow more than you need to fund your schooling.