Parents Borrowing for College

Are you a parent looking for a college loan?

Most of the press attention is focused on college loans that students take out, but there are parent loans as well.

Today, I’m going to focus on  PLUS Loans and home equity lines.

PLUS Loan

For  parents, the federal government offers PLUS Loans. At first blush, the terms won’t look so great. PLUS Loans offer an interest rate of 7.9%. Parents also have to pay a fee of 4% of the loan amount. Here, however, are four potential benefits of the PLUS Loan:

1. The PLUS Loan comes with a fixed interest rate.

Okay, sure the 7.9% seems awfully high considering where interest rates are currently. I agree.

It’s my understanding that interest rates on these college loans are higher than you could get, say with a home equity loan, because there is no collateral. If you stop making payments on your mortgage, the lender has your house as collateral. If you stop making payments on your PLUS Loan, trust me bad things will happen, but no one will confiscate your kid’s college diploma.

When you consider how low interest rates are currently, there is little to no room for them to drop further. When interest rates start jumping, parents with a fixed rate loan most likely will be glad they have one. Private college loans have no interest rate ceilings!

2. Most parents can get a PLUS Loan.

You will qualify for a PLUS Loan unless you have an “adverse credit history.” This would include experiencing a bankruptcy or foreclosure in the past five years.

3. Everyone receives the same terms.

Everyone borrowing through a PLUS Loan for the upcoming college year will get the 7.9% interest rate. That’s not the case for families using private loans. Private lenders will charge higher interest rates to families with lower FICO scores and will even base interest rate decisions on what schools students are attending.

4. The loan ceilings are higher.

Parents can borrow up to the cost of their child’s college expenses minus any financial aid that the family has received. Of course, that doesn’t mean parents should borrow that much. Please read:

College Loans: How Much Should Parents Borrow?

Home Equity Loan

If I ever have to borrow for college, I’m going to tap into my home equity line of credit.  The HELOC is variable, but my loan is one percentage point below prime. It’s at a great rate – 2.25%, which is one percentage point below the prime rate.

Anticipating college costs, I set up the HELOC when my daughter, who is about to graduate from college, was in high school. Luckily, I didn’t need it for my daughter, but it’s there if I have to tap it for my son, who is finishing up his freshman year in college. I feel fortunate that I have the credit line.

For many parents, their home equity line is going to offer a better interest rate than a PLUS Loan, but there are three potential problems:

1. If you don’t possess a line of credit, you might not be able to obtain one now because of tighter loan underwriting.

2. You might not have any home equity!

3. The interest rates on these lines are variable. You could be better off with a fixed rate versus a credit line rate that could significantly increase.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

Learn more:

4 Things You Need to Know About Federal Student Loans

Playing the Financial Aid Lottery

Parent loan image by donbuciak. CC 2.0.

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