It depends on the type of loan you're referring to. It helps to understand the different loan types and the eligibility requirements. There are two main types of federal loans, subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Both are federal student loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school. The U.S. Department of Education offers eligible students at participating schools Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
To receive either type of loan, you must be enrolled at least half-time at a school that participates in the Direct Loan Program. Generally, you must also be enrolled in a program that leads to a degree or certificate awarded by the school. Direct Subsidized Loans are available only to undergraduate students who have financial need. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to both undergraduates and graduate or professional degree students. You are not required to show financial need to receive a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.
The main difference in the two types of loans is when interest begins to accrue. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest on a Direct Subsidized Loan
- while you’re in school at least half-time,
- for the first six months after you leave school (referred to as a grace period*), and
- during a period of deferment (a postponement of loan payments).
The interest on Unsubsidized Loans is your responsibility as soon as you take the loan out. Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students; there is no requirement to demonstrate financial need.
- Your school determines the amount you can borrow based on your cost of attendance and other financial aid you receive.
- You are responsible for paying the interest on a Direct Unsubsidized Loan during all periods.
- If you choose not to pay the interest while you are in school and during grace periods and deferment orforbearance periods, your interest will accrue (accumulate) and be capitalized (that is, your interest will be added to the principal amount of your loan).
As far as when you need to start paying the loans back, after you graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment, you will have a six-month grace period before you are required to begin repayment. During this period, you'll receive repayment information from your loan servicer, and you'll be notified of your first payment due date. Payments are usually due monthly. This is for federal loans and may differ if you've taken loans from a state program or a private lender.
Take a look at the Federal Student Aid web site if you haven't done so yet. There is a lot of good information about all of the federal programs. https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/
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