Comparing Student Loan Options

You’ve recently determined that your child will need a student loan to help cover the remaining cost of college. You’ve probably also discovered that there are many options to choose from. What might be less obvious is that there are some big differences between those options and many providers make it hard for you to know what those differences are.

Knowing how to spot these differences can help you get the best loan for your situation and potentially avoid thousands of dollars in added costs and fees.

Key Differences:


  • Marketing Tactics. Many student loan providers won’t tell you the actual interest rate you will receive until you have invested a significant amount of time and provided the necessary information to apply for their loan. Instead, they advertise using the lowest rate they offer, without explaining that only a small percent of applicants qualify for it.
  • Incomplete information. All private student loan lenders are required by law to provide consumers with the annual percentage rate (APR) of their loan products. The federal government however, does not publish the APR for the widely used PLUS Loan for parents. Instead, they provide the interest rate. By not disclosing the APR, consumers often don’t see the effective rate for the PLUS Loan which is much higher than the advertised interest rate due to an upfront fee charged on PLUS Loans not included in the advertised rate.
What You Can Do:


  • Do your homework. Be sure to compare several different options to determine the best fit for your situation. Things to look for include: interest rates, repayment options, terms and any additional charges or fees.
  • Be mindful of advertisements including “rates as low as”. Most applicants don’t qualify for the lowest advertised rate. Instead compare the highest advertised rates. If the lender won’t tell you your rate in advance of applying than the most important benchmark to consider is the highest rate they charge.
  • Know your FICO score before applying. Most lenders of private student loans use this as a key factor in assigning your interest rate and APR. Some lenders will provide their interest rates upfront. If you know your FICO score, this allows you to learn what interest rate or APR you will receive if you qualify for their loan before even starting an application.

By: Steve McCullough
Iowa Student Loan

At Iowa Student Loan, we believe in providing you with as much information as possible upfront, before you even start an application. That’s why we offer a national comparison for students and families interested in our Partnership Advance Education Loan®.

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Making the Leap: Financially Preparing for College Life

The first year of college may bring a lot of new experiences, and for many, this includes the need to budget a limited income for the first time. Earnings from a summer job can provide financial help for the school year as well as the opportunity to learn how to be financially independent.

Follow these five steps to make the most of the opportunity this summer.

1. Take time to really understand the financial aid package. Make sure you have a good idea of expected aid and how much college will cost for the student as well as the parents or other financial supporters.

  • Each college provides set costs for tuition, fees, room and board, and expected expenditures like books and transportation.
  • In addition, families often face additional expenses that either add up over time or weren’t expected.
  • How much awarded financial aid is gift aid? Grants and scholarships do not need to be paid back and fall into this category. Be aware, though, that many awards are one-time gifts and are not renewable for future years.
  • Is work-study reliable? Work-study awards are dependent on the student finding a qualified position and receiving the wage and hours required to total the award. Check the college’s website for a job board or financial aid section to gather information. Social media can also provide insight on whether students are able to find adequate work-study jobs.
  • Remember that loans must be paid back, with interest. It may help to calculate an expected monthly payment for anticipated college loans and compare that to average monthly payments for a car, house or other major expenses.

2. Track spending. Keeping track of purchases for a week or a month helps indicate where and on what most spending occurs.

  • Apps like Mint and tools like banking or card statements can be helpful.
  • A pattern of where spending can be cut or reduced may start to become clear.

3. Set up a basic budget. Budgets compare income and other funds to monthly expenses to keep consumers from spending more money than they have.

  • Take into account taxes and other deductions that will be removed from gross earnings. A site like PaycheckCity can help estimate these.
  • Divide up expenses into general categories based on typical spending.
  • Consider how spending will change once the academic term begins.

4. Plan out a monthly budget. Use realistic numbers to calculate an in-school budget.

  • Don’t forget that earnings will need to cover expenses for the remainder of the summer plus the entire academic year, unless the student also works while taking classes.
  • If a school-year job with the desired hours or pay doesn’t happen, or if it’s necessary to reduce hours to concentrate on schoolwork, each dollar may have to go further.
  • If parents are contributing to expenses, how will that happen? Options include a one-time gift intended to last through the school year, a monthly deposit into a checking account, a shared credit card account for certain purchases, or another method.

5. Evaluate the results. Adjustments may be required, based on the initial budget and events that occur later.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Building Good Credit as a Student

Credit is a tool and, similar to wielding many other types of tools, using credit can have both positive and negative results. Using credit positively can help young adults build a history that may enable them to get better terms for future credit, such as car or home loans.

Federal regulations limit the amount of credit available to teens and young adults. But, it’s difficult to qualify for loans or other consumer credit without a credit history. Here are some tips for students who want to ensure they’re building good credit.

Opt for a student card. Many national credit card companies offer a student credit card for college students, or those soon to be in college. These cards often carry more lenient requirements and low annual fees, and they may offer incentives for certain actions. For example, you may qualify for cash back for achieving certain grades or discounts on purchases.

Don’t go it alone. Work with your parents to become an authorized user on an existing credit account, like a credit card. This means you have a card with your name on it, but the account holder is still responsible for paying the bills. Be sure you understand the card issuer’s policy for reporting credit for authorized users.

Alternatively, look into credit cards that will allow a cosigner. A cosigner would be responsible for any debt if you don’t pay your own bills, so parents or other close relatives are generally the best people to ask. The cosigner must also have good enough credit to qualify on his or her own.

Create a solid work history. A steady record of income from employment indicates that you‘re more likely to repay debt over time. Generally, you need to demonstrate full-time or near-full-time employment to qualify for a credit card or other credit before the age of 21.

Make a deposit. A secured credit card allows you to make a deposit to secure a line of credit. Even if the deposit must be equal to the credit limit, using the card instead of cash and then making regular on-time payments will build credit. Some credit card issuers may offer an unsecured credit card after you demonstrate good use for a period of time.

Take on bill paying. If you share housing with other students, consider holding a lease or utility in your name. This means you will be responsible for collecting your roommates’ share of the bill each month and making the full payment from your checking or savings account. Demonstrating your ability to pay bills on time each month will help build a positive credit history.

Pay early and pay often. Once you qualify for a credit card or other consumer loan, be sure to make payments. Although you may be required to make only a minimum payment, it’s better to pay a credit card balance in full each month to minimize interest. Making more than the interest payment is also a good idea for other types of loans. To help ensure you can make payments, limit your use and carry a low balance.

Check your results. As you build credit, monitor your credit reports and scores for errors and signs of fraud. Each year, you qualify for free credit reports from the three national consumer reporting agencies from (Never pay for a credit report.)

Educate yourself. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides resources to learn more about credit reports and scores, building credit and what to do if you suspect fraud or identity theft.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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College To-Dos for Entering Freshmen

Deciding which college to attend can be a huge relief as senior year winds to a close. Don’t forget to take care of these important items, however, as high school ends and college approaches.

Sign up for orientation. Many colleges allow you to choose between single- and multi-day orientation sessions and offer several different date selections. Parent sessions may be offered, and some colleges even offer sessions for younger siblings. Choose the option that works for you and sign up early. You may need to pay a fee for on-campus housing or make separate arrangements to stay nearby.

Take care of financial issues. Pay any remaining fees or deposits due before the first term begins. You may need to reserve a parking permit, sign up for tickets to games, pay to use the fitness or other facilities, or submit funds for food or housing. You should also review your financial aid award package and accept or decline any funds as needed.

Plan out possible course options. You may sign up for fall classes at orientation, so be prepared with a few alternative plans. First, check to see what existing credits will transfer from dual enrollment, AP or other classes. You may also want to look at recommended course plans for your specific major to ensure you enroll in the necessary prerequisites to take required classes later. If you have questions, contact your admissions or registrar’s office.

Take any required online tests or courses. You may need to take an online placement test for math, foreign language or other courses. Some colleges also have drug and alcohol education, campus-wide reading and other programs they expect all students to participate in. Review the requirements for your college and get these items out of the way early.

Enroll in special programs. Your college may offer camps or other programs that occur before fall move-in. Some departments also offer specialized programs for a fee or by application. Check out your options to see if any appeal to you. These programs can help you meet other like-minded students and establish a network before school even starts.

Connect with other students. Look on social media sites for groups of other incoming freshmen or current students to connect with. Becoming part of these groups may help you locate a compatible roommate, find others from a similar background or discover social events and activities you’d like to join.

Connect with faculty. If you plan to do lab research, initiate a specialized project or work in a particular department, take some time to reach out to relevant faculty. You may want to ask a researcher what classes you should take to become qualified to work with him or her or determine the requirements for employment at a specific position.

Finalize housing arrangements. It’s probably time to find a roommate and select your dorm preference if you don’t want to be randomly assigned. Follow your college’s instructions for online roommate matching services and choosing your residence hall. The online communities mentioned above can help you if you have questions about dining, shared spaces, room layout or student population in any of the dorms.

Get to know your campus. The college website is a good place to start. Look for information on student organizations as well as support systems like career planning, tutoring, mental health and physical health services. A video tour or campus map can help you visualize where the main buildings are. You may want to plan another campus visit either separate from or adjacent to your orientation session now that you have committed to this school.

Get to know your new community. Either in person or virtually, spend some time looking at the areas surrounding campus. Some commonly used community services include post offices and shipping centers, drugstores, grocery stores, book and supply shops, electronics stores and repairs, medical specialists and restaurants. Look for transportation options if you will regularly need to go further than walking distance from campus.

Make a list. Finally, make sure you are prepared for packing and moving. Think about what items you should purchase beforehand and transport with you to campus and which items you can pick up after arrival. Many retailers allow you to order online or select your purchases locally, and then pick them up at a store closer to your college. You may need to shop for clothes if your climate will change, and you’ll need a few basics like toiletries, bedding and towels.

See other college prep suggestions.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Staying on Track for College Graduation

Growing numbers of college students end up staying — and paying — beyond the traditional four years in college. While college can be one of the best times of your life, the cost of extra semesters means you should do your best to stay on track.

Here is what you can do, beginning with your freshman year, to increase your chances of graduating within four years.

1. Know your graduation requirements.

  • Colleges usually have a minimum number of credit hours required for a degree; some majors may require additional hours.
  • Know which classes count toward the degree requirements.
  • Maintain good grades to ensure you meet academic progress standards. If you fall below the minimum, you may be required to take classes that don’t count toward your degree.
  • Understand which electives outside your major you need to complete.

2. Plan out academic courses now through graduation.

  • Your college may offer an online program or paper planner to help you track progress.
  • Some required courses may entail prerequisites you need to ensure you take first.
  • Follow the recommended course plan or curriculum path for your major as a guide.
  • Know which classes are offered every term and which ones are only offered in the fall or the spring.

3. Ask for assistance early and often.

  • Meet with your academic adviser before signing up for classes and any time you need to evaluate progress.
  • Go to your professors’ office hours with questions or discussion ideas.
  • Attend tutoring sessions and meet with classmates to go over work.
  • Visit the campus career center to discuss career paths for your major and plan for resumes and interviews.

4. Focus on your goals.

  • Identify your major as early as possible.
  • Avoid taking classes that provide credit but don’t count for graduation requirements.
  • Attend every class.
  • Stay ahead of your assignments and projects.
  • Check your school email and online portal several times a week.

5. Know how special circumstances affect you.

  • If you are planning to study abroad or take on an internship or co-op, understand how that affects your course plan and timeline.
  • Summer, intersession and online courses can help you gain required credits, but be sure to know how the credits you take outside your college system transfer.
  • You may be able to test out of certain classes. Investigate these opportunities and how those credits are applied.
  • Credits are often “lost” when students transfer to different schools or change majors. Before taking these steps, work with your school to determine how they affect your graduation plan.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Plan for Total College Costs; Enter to Win

Use the free College Funding Forecaster online tool now through June 9 and enter for a chance at cash prizes for educational expenses.

The College Funding Forecaster helps you get a clearer picture of the total costs, aid and shortfalls over four years using freshman year financial aid award information, as well as family contributions and outside scholarships and grants.

How to Use the College Funding Forecaster
Follow these simple steps to get started:

  1. Gather up your financial aid award information from the college(s) and any information about scholarships received from schools or outside organizations.
  2. Go to
  3. Enter in the college’s financial information as well as information about your family’s earnings and savings and any outside awards.
  4. Review year-by-year estimates and make adjustments for your own situation. For example, living off campus after sophomore year may cost less than living on campus. Or you may be expecting to earn more after the first year of college.
  5. Review the results, as well as the informational tips on how to address funding shortfalls.
  6. Enter your information at the end of the tool to be included in the drawings.

Cash Awards for Educational Expenses
Iowa high school students and their parents and guardians can enter the weekly drawings for a chance at one of two $250 awards to offset education expenses.

Iowa high school seniors and their parents and guardians will also be entered into a grand prize drawing for two $1,500 awards to be paid to the winning students’ colleges in fall 2017 to offset college expenses.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Moving Checklist for College Grads

As college graduation approaches, you may be planning a move for a job or grad school. Be sure you’ve taken care of essential tasks with this handy checklist.

Change your address. Start by filling out the U.S. Postal Service form online or at your local post office. You’ll want to notify your family and friends of your new address, but don’t forget your college, student loan servicers, employers, credit card providers, service providers and anyone else who may need to mail you items like paychecks, tax forms or diplomas.

Contact your insurance providers. Besides advising of your new address, you’ll want to be sure you have the appropriate coverage for your new circumstances. Also ask about coverage for your items that could be damaged in transit during your move.

Establish a non-school email. If you generally use your school email for electronic communication, establish one that you can use after you leave college. Check that service providers and others who may need to get in touch with you have the new email address.

Update bank information. If you will be switching banks, make sure any automatic payment arrangements, bill pays and other services are correctly set up with your new banking information. If you have a safe deposit box at your current institution, make sure it’s empty and cancel your rental agreement.

Join a local chapter. If you are a member of a professional society or other organization, look for a local chapter in your new location. Attending a social event or reaching out to members can help you network and create connections.

Establish new health relationships. Ask your current doctor, dentist or specialists for recommendations of providers in your new area. Arrange to have your records transferred to the new practice or ask for a copy to take with you. Don’t forget about any Power of Attorney, HIPAA or other documentation you may have on file that allows providers to speak with others about your information.

Service your car. If you are moving to a different state, you may have to meet different regulations as far as car inspections or services. Look online and have your mechanic check your car over to be sure it meets requirements. A change in climate could also require different fluids or parts.

Fill prescriptions. If you have prescriptions filled at a local pharmacy, fill these before you move so you don’t run out during the transition. Also set up the transfer of prescriptions to a new pharmacy, or consider an online pharmacy that will mail your medications to your new address.

Gather all your belongings. Make sure you pick up any cleaning, stored items or stuff stowed away in lockers at your gym or college.

Fulfill the terms of your lease. Work with your landlord for a final inspection, the return of cleaning or security deposits, final rent payments and turning over the keys before you leave town.

Cancel or change scheduled deliveries. Contact any suppliers who regularly deliver items to your address, including newspapers, magazines, food services and others.

Get new documents. Once you’re established in your new home, register to vote. You also may have a limited time to get a new driver’s license or auto registration in your new location.

Take care of your pets. Different areas may have different requirements for vaccinations or various conditions that could affect your pets. Work with your veterinarian to ensure your furry friends are up to date. Then, if your new city requires it, be sure to license your pet. Also, provide your new contact information to any microchip or other pet location and retrieval services.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Thirty Iowa Seniors Receive College Scholarship from Nonprofit

High school seniors from across the state earned $2,000 for college while learning important financial literacy skills through the 2016–2017 Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship sponsored by Iowa Student Loan®.

More than 3,500 Iowa high school seniors registered for the scholarship between November 2016 and February 2017. Of those, nearly 2,000 completed two online financial literacy tutorials and a related assessment to qualify for one of 30 scholarships. The 30 recipients were those who scored highest on the assessment and, because of a tie for top scores, received the highest scores on an independently judged essay.

“Students face high college costs and, for many, the related student debt,” said Christine Hensley, chair of the Iowa Student Loan board of directors. “We know the decisions students make about spending, college choice and college major may have a significant impact on the amount of debt students need to take on. This scholarship is one way we encourage high school students to experience our online tools to learn about the concepts of minimizing debt and making responsible borrowing decisions. Each year that we offer this program, students, parents and educators comment on the valuable lessons gained through the scholarship qualification process.”

The tools, along with tips that registered students received by email through the scholarship period, are designed to help students avoid the pitfalls of heavy student loan debt, Hensley said. Student Loan Game Plansm and the ROCI Reality Check were developed by Iowa Student Loan to help students understand the consequences of college borrowing and discover how to maximize their return on college investment, or ROCI.

“The Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship has provided me with helpful tips and advice to save money, budget my expenses, and overall become a more financially responsible student while in college,” said Jordan Turner, a 2017 graduate of Linn-Mar High School and a 2016–2017 scholarship recipient.

Charlotte Lenkaitis, another recipient and a 2017 graduate of Ames High School, agreed. “This scholarship and the tips that I learned throughout the process will help me to minimize my need to borrow money for college. By making smarter decisions now, I am giving myself greater opportunities for success in the future,” she said.

Each recipient’s high school will also receive a $500 award to improve or implement financial literacy and scholarship programs.

Program Future

Although details are not yet finalized, Iowa Student Loan anticipates offering the scholarship next academic year. More about the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship is available at

Scholarship Recipients

The following students each earned a $2,000 scholarship. Iowa Student Loan will send scholarship funds directly to recipients’ colleges.

Student Name Student High School Student Name

Student High School

Katiana Anderson Johnston Gabriel Mintzer Valley (West Des Moines)
Noah Berthusen Waukee Kaytlyn Mulford Iowa Falls-Alden
Amber Brincks South Winneshiek Sophie Nielsen Dowling Catholic
Emily Bruinsma Pleasant Valley Matthew Parcher Northwood-Kensett
Sophie Catus Johnston Isaiah Passmore Crestwood
Janielle Cobler Ottumwa Jacob Peake Southeast Polk
Cole Drenth Alta-Aurelia Hailey Pullman West Sioux
Ashley Erne Harris-Lake Park Ethan Schmitz Columbus Catholic
Dakota Fouts Waukee Brandon Svoboda Okoboji
Tyler Groathouse Waukee Cameron Trentz Pleasant Valley
Collin Hillinger Lawton-Bronson Jordan Turner Linn-Mar
Adriana Jorgenson Linn-Mar Sreeja Vepa Urbandale
Alexander Kock AR-WE-VA Ryan Wagner Fort Dodge
Morgan Koenen Linn-Mar Nichole Winter Maquoketa Valley
Charlotte Lenkaitis Ames Damon Wolter Keokuk

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Take Necessary Steps for College Graduation

As college commencement approaches, you may be eagerly thinking about tossing that cap in the air and receiving your diploma. Don’t forget to take all necessary steps before graduation day. Here are some typical requirements to take care of.

Complete all coursework and departmental graduation requirements for your degree. This one seems obvious, but check with your academic adviser or the online system to ensure that you have met all the academic requirements, including internships, co-ops, student teaching, projects and other qualifications, to be eligible to graduate.

Apply to graduate. Many colleges require you to complete an application to have your degree be awarded. As part of this process, you may also need to complete additional forms or surveys.

Check your official records. Verify that the college has your correct name, permanent or next address, an email address besides your school email, and an updated phone number on record.

Confirm your diploma arrangements. Typically, you need to provide an address where you’ll receive your actual diploma at a later date. You may be able to arrange pickup if you aren’t leaving the area right away.

Prepare for the ceremony. You may need to pay a graduation fee, reserve or buy tickets for guests, RSVP for the ceremony and purchase your cap and gown. In addition, you may be able to order announcements, class rings, medals or stoles for the ceremony, or commemorative DVDs or photos if you plan to participate in the graduation ceremony.

Take care of business. You may not be able to graduate if you owe any outstanding balances for tuition, parking, housing, library fines or other fees. Return library, lab and other materials as needed, and cancel any ongoing payment arrangements for services like student health insurance and parking permits.

Prepare to repay student debt. Many students who have student loans are required to participate in a financial aid exit interview before leaving school. This is your opportunity to be sure you understand when you have to start repaying your loans, how much payments will be and where you should direct them.

Get ready to move out and move on. If you’re living in the dorms, check with the housing or student life department regarding procedures for students who are graduating.

By: Iowa Student Loan

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Nonprofit, State-Based Student Loan Organizations Publish Recommendations for Improving Higher Education Financing

Iowa Student Loan’s mission is to provide the resources necessary for students to succeed in postsecondary education. You’ll see the ways Iowa Student Loan, a state-based nonprofit, and other similar student loan organizations support students and families through recommendations for improving higher education financing.

Nonprofit, State-Based Student Loan Organizations Publish
Recommendations for Improving Higher Education Financing

Education Finance Council Releases White Paper Outlining
Recommendations for Improving Student Loan Program

Education Finance Council (EFC), the national trade association representing nonprofit and state-based student loan organizations, released on Monday a new white paper, “Helping Families Plan and Pay for College: Recommendations for Improving Higher Education Financing,” that highlights the important role of nonprofit and state-based student loan organizations and makes recommendations for improving higher education financing to better enable students and families to successfully plan for and finance their postsecondary goals.

“We are thrilled to release this white paper that both spotlights the current work of nonprofit and state-based organizations and serves as an outline for improving the higher education financing system. Our members work diligently to put families first by providing top-notch advisory and outreach services, consumer-friendly education loans, and comprehensive assistance and guidance for borrowers experiencing personal hardship or financial difficulties,” said EFC President Debra J. Chromy. “It is within that framework that EFC is pleased to present a set of common-sense policy recommendations that will minimize confusion by simplifying and streamlining programs and processes, save money for borrowers and the federal government, require consumer protections that put borrowers first, and assist more families in achieving their higher education dreams.”

In 2016, EFC Members directly worked with over 2.5 million families to help them successfully plan, save, and pay for college. And, during the 2015-16 fiscal year, nonprofit and state-based organizations helped over 76,000 students and their families close the gap in college funding with more than 87,000 loans, totaling $1.1 billion.

With this background and expertise in working with students, families, and borrowers, EFC members present a number of policy recommendations to better support families’ abilities to plan and pay for college, including:

  • Support nonprofit and state-based organizations’ college access, counseling, and financial literacy initiatives and explore ways to leverage the existing infrastructure of these organizations;
  • Preserve tax-exempt bond financing (Private Activity Bonds) for education loans;
  • Reduce repayment options to three plans (standard, graduated, and income-based) and combine existing forgiveness programs into a single program;
  • Require all income-driven repayment (IDR) programs to, at a minimum, cover the interest accruing on the loan balance to avoid negative amortization;
  • Require the disclosure of annual percentage rates (APR) for federal student loans;
  • Create a mechanism for borrowers to give the Education Department advance permission to automatically access their tax information for the limited purpose of determining eligibility for all IDR plans;
  • Exempt federal and private education loans discharged due to death or total and permanent disability of a borrower from income tax on the amount discharged;
  • Provide higher education institutions with authority to reduce loan limits for certain borrowers and require all non-federal education loans to be certified by a higher education institution official;
  • Amend the Preferred Lender List statute to allow schools the ability to recommend to students and families loans offered through nonprofit and state-based organizations; and
  • Allow all Federal Direct Loan servicers the ability to service consolidation loans, so that borrowers do not need to transition to a new servicer at this crucial point in the repayment process.

Download the white paper here.


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