Financing an education in the United States is difficult, even for a US student. For international students, paying for college in the US is even harder. Almost two-thirds of all students enrolled at private four-year US schools receive loans of some type. US students can receive loans guaranteed by the government (Stafford loans, among others), but these valuable loans are not available to international students. Luckily, private student loans are available to international students on the same terms received by US students.
Before applying for a loan, you should exhaust the following potential funding sources:
1. Apply for international student financial aid from your school. Here’s a searchable list of schools awarding financial aid to international students: http://www.internationalstudent.com/schools_awarding_aid/
2. Research and apply for international student scholarships on your own: http://www.InternationalScholarships.com
3. Carefully evaluate how much money you or your family can provide towards your education. Every dollar you can pay directly is one less dollar you have to borrow.
Some international students can fund their US education simply using the sources above. However, like US students, most international students will need to fund at least a portion of their US education, if not the entire amount, with loans.
· US Co-Signer Required. International student loans require a US citizen or permanent resident (Green card holder) as a co-signer. The loans are credit-based, meaning the co-signer must have good credit history, good employment history (or other income history if the co-signer does not work), and must have lived in the US for the past two years. Although not everyone can find a family member, friend or other US citizen or permanent resident to co-sign for them, for those that do, they can access private student loans on the same basis as US students.
· Funds Paid Directly to You. Loan funds are paid to you, not to the school. This is a great feature in that you can use the funds for living expenses – but it also means that it is up to you to use the funds responsibly. Pay your tuition, room and board, health insurance and books first – anything extra is a luxury!
· Repayment. Repayment of an international student loan can be deferred while you are in school, and for six months after you finish school. After that, you will have up to 20 years to repay the loan, with a payment due every month. You are also eligible for hardship extensions if you run into unexpected circumstances that prevent you from being able to repay the loan for a short period of time.
· Proof of Finances. One nice feature of international student loans is that you can use the initial loan approval to satisfy the school and visa requirement of showing one year’s financial resources. You can apply for the loan without the proof of enrollment from your school, and receive conditional approval. Then you can provide your school with the conditional approval from the lender, and the school will see you have the necessary funds. Typically, a financial aid officer or international student advisor at a US school is quite familiar with this process and will help you. After admission and enrollment, you can complete the loan process and receive your funds.
· Interest Rates. Interest rates are variable, based on the LIBOR plus a margin. LIBOR is always several points below prime, so the margin is from 3.5% to 7.75%, and will be set by the lender based on the credit history of your co-signer and the repayment plan you select. The better your co-signer, the better your rate! LIBOR changes monthly, up or down, so the rate will be reset monthly. Click here for repayment examples for a $10,000 undergraduate international student loan.
· Online Application. You can apply online, and receive an almost immediate response as to whether you are conditionally approved for the loan. Then, you will need to sign the promissory note, and provide proof of enrollment and immigration status to receive your funds.
· No Application Fees. There are no application fees to apply for an international student loan. There is an origination fee if you actually receive the loan, but that amount is rolled into the loan amount and does not have to be paid out of pocket.