Deciding Between Federal and Private Student Loans

Written By Mary Beth Eastman
Last updated December 8, 2020

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July 3, 2019

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

When it’s time to pay for your college tuition and other fees, it can get a little tricky deciding the best student loans to use. But if you want to choose the right loans for you, it’s important to consider the pros and cons. Here’s what you should know:

There are several benefits and pitfalls to take into account when choosing a federal student loan to cover your education costs. Here are a few essential factors to consider:


  • Fixed interest rates. Federal loans provide fixed interest rates, which can provide a consistent rate you can expect that saves you money over the life of your loans.
  • Subsidized loan options. Subsidized loans don’t accrue interest while you’re in school or on a qualified deferment.
  • Various repayment options. Federal student loans provide several repayment options, including income-based repayment (IBR). You may even qualify for a student loan forgiveness program that removes your obligation for paying your federal student loans.


  • Income tax for some loan forgiveness programs. If you apply for loan forgiveness under income-based repayment plans, such as IBR or PAYE, you may be responsible for paying taxes on any forgiven amount of the loan.
  • Loan limits. You can only borrow up to a specified amount based on your dependent status, school year, school and loan type. For instance, graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 of unsubsidized loans per year. However, first-year dependent undergraduate students have an annual loan limit of $5,500, including $3,500 of subsidized loans.
  • No bankruptcy discharge. Even if you file bankruptcy, you must still repay your federal student loans. That’s because the government does not allow discharging of this type of debt under Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

It’s critical to assess the advantages and disadvantages of private loans before making a commitment. Consider these private student loan benefits and drawbacks:


  • Lower interest rates for excellent credit. If you have excellent credit, you may get interest rates lower than federal student loan interest rates.
  • Higher loan amounts. You may qualify for a higher loan amount with a co-signer who has good credit. That’s because private student loans are not based on your need.
  • Immediate access to loans upon approval. Most private student loans give you access to funds right away, unlike federal student loans that may require a waiting period.


Whether you opt for federal loans versus private student loans, it’s important to evaluate your needs. Consider your current financial situation and choose the best loans that help you achieve your goals. Remember that in the future you may wish to refinance your student loans to take advantage of interest rates; use that as a factor in your decision. Here are a few of the best student loan refinancing companies that perform this service.

About the Author

Mary Beth Eastman

Mary Beth Eastman serves as the content manager for Simple. Thrifty. Living, where she is dedicated to helping readers use money and credit wisely. Mary Beth believes that access to the right financial information paired with a growth mindset are essential tools for getting out of debt and building wealth. Mary Beth has a degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University and has focused her 20-year journalism career on putting readers front and center, carefully considering their concerns and presenting information that will help them in their everyday lives. She has won numerous statewide journalism awards. Her writing on personal finance as been featured on numerous websites in addition to Simple. Thrifty. Living, including Huffington Post and Lexington Law blog. Mary Beth resides in Pittsburgh, Pa., with her family and two rescue dogs.

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