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Comparison of federal higher education loans

  Unsubsidized Stafford Loan Subsidized Stafford Loan Perkins Loan PLUS Loan
Description A low-interest federal student loan A low-interest federal student loan A low-interest federal student loan available to students with the greatest financial need A federal education loan made to borrowers with good credit histories; borrowers may borrow the full cost of higher education, less any financial aid received
Available to Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half-time Undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half-time Undergraduate and graduate students (can be less than half-time) Parents of undergraduate students enrolled at least half-time, and independent graduate and professional students
Lender

Federal government only

(prior to July 1, 2010, loan could be obtained from federal government or private lender)

Federal government only

(prior to July 1, 2010, loan could be obtained from federal government or private lender)

College

Federal government only

(prior to July 1, 2010, loan could be obtained from federal government or private lender)

Borrower Student Student Student Parent or graduate/professional student
Based on financial need No Yes Yes No
Interest rate 6.8% fixed for loans disbursed after June 30, 20061 6.8% fixed for loans disbursed after June 30, 2006--this interest rate will gradually be reduced to 3.4% by 20122 5% 8.5% fixed for loans disbursed after June 30, 20061
Interest subsidized No Yes3 Yes3 No
Grace period 6 months 6 months generally 9 months 6 months
Loan limits 2010/2011 Dependent undergraduates:

Undergraduate students: $4,000/year $20,000 limit

Graduate students: $6,000/year $40,000 limit (including undergraduate loans)

Student's total cost of education, less any other financial aid received by either the student or parent
1st year: $5,500 ($3,500 subsidized)
2nd year: $6,500 ($4,500 subsidized)
3rd - 5th year: $7,500/year ($5,500/year subsidized)
Maximum: $31,000
Independent undergraduates and dependent undergraduates whose parents don't qualify for PLUS loans:
1st year: $9,500
($3,500 subsidized)
2nd year: $10,500
($4,500 subsidized)
3rd - 5th year: $12,500/year
($5,500/year subsidized)
Maximum: $57,500
Graduate students:
Any year: $20,500/year
($8,500 subsidized)
Maximum: $138,500, including undergraduate loans
($65,500 subsidized)

Notes
1The interest rate for Stafford and PLUS Loans disbursed on or after July 1, 1998 through June 30, 2006 is variable. For the period July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011, the interest rate on Stafford Loans in repayment is 2.47% (down from 2.48%), the interest rate on in-school, grace, or deferment status Stafford Loans is 1.87% (down from 1.88%), and the interest rate on PLUS Loans is 3.27% (down from 3.28%).
2For subsidized Stafford Loans, the interest rate will be fixed at 6.0% for loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2008 and before July 1, 2009; 5.6% for loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2009 and before July 1, 2010; 4.5% for loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2010 and before July 1, 2011; and 3.4% for loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2011 and before July 1, 2012.
3The federal government pays the interest on the loan when the student is in school at least half-time, in a grace period, or in a deferment period.