What is a Stafford Loan?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A Stafford Loan is a loan for students attending colleges or, in some cases, trade and business schools. Student loans are one of the primary means by which most can pay for their education and additionally offset the financial burden of attending a school on a full-time basis. A Stafford Loan can be obtained by someone attending school at least part time, but will be offered at lower amounts than those for full-time students.

A student loan and financial aid application.
A student loan and financial aid application.

There exist two basic types of Stafford Loan, subsidized and unsubsidized. Neither type requires a credit check. However, to apply for either type of Stafford Loan, one must fill out paperwork that states income. This information is computed with the price of attending a particular school, and an offer is made of the maximum amount one can obtain per academic year.

Repayment on student loans generally begins shortly after graduation.
Repayment on student loans generally begins shortly after graduation.

A Stafford Loan may be reduced or increased depending on other sources of financial aid. For example, a student who receives grants or scholarships will have a reduced offer on loans. Since, in most cases, grants or scholarships do not have to be repaid, reduced loan amounts are advantageous to the student, as they mean less debt obligation when the student graduates.

A subsidized Stafford Loan is need-based. Subsidized loans are guaranteed by the federal government, which pays all interest accruing on the loan while the student remains in school. Since financial aid decisions are made based on tax returns the year prior to attending school, some people do not qualify for subsidized loans. If one is going to quit work to go to school, additional paperwork can be filed to show significant change in financial status, which will change determination of need.

Therefore, those who do not initially qualify for a subsidized Stafford Loan may be able to have their status changed so that the loan is subsidized. This change is valuable because an unsubsidized Stafford Loan ends up being a much costlier loan to repay. Instead of the government paying the interest while the student is in school, the student is responsible for paying the interest.

The student can defer paying the interest until graduation, or when school attendance ends. This results in higher loan payments when repayment starts. To a new graduate, loan payments present a financial challenge. Students can end college owing between 20,000 to over 100,000 US dollars (USD). Loan payments are not always negotiable, and wages may be garnished if a student defaults on a loan.

Further, one cannot clear loans through bankruptcy, so the student is burdened with significant debt from which there is no escape. Some relief may be offered in the form of deferment of the Stafford Loan. Students can defer loans during times of great financial need, serious illness of oneself or an immediate family member, temporary disability, or a return to school with at least six units of coursework. In rare cases of total disability, the loan may be forgiven.

Deferral of a subsidized Stafford Loan will not increase the amount which must be paid back, as the government will again assume responsibility for interest accrual. On the other hand, each time an unsubsidized loan is deferred, the student will increase his or her debt and have higher loan payments when he or she begins to repay the loan.

A Stafford Loan can be obtained through a variety of lenders, and one should give consideration to the repayment policies of each lender before choosing one. Financial aid representatives may advocate for the student choosing several lenders. Students should be aware that schools receive kickbacks and incentives from various lenders, and should treat advice regarding lenders with caution.

Unless financial need requires it, students should keep borrowing to a minimum. They should give consideration to the kinds of fields they may enter upon graduation, and to what degree the salary in these fields will help them to repay loans. Amounts borrowed should be evaluated on the basis of the ability to repay the loan, particularly if one is entering a poorly compensated field. Loan repayment prices begin at 50 USD monthly. Repayment rates on larger loans are generally much higher, and may be between 200 and 300 USD per month.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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There is a new law just came out as of July 2009.

Call your loan servicer and enjoy the surprise news.


I received parent plus loans starting around 1992 for my 2 children, these loans were consolidated when my children finished undergraduate school at a rate of around 7.65%. I switched lenders again and got an additional .25% off for direct ach withdrawal & a additional rebate from new lender. I became ill in 2004. The illness related to heart attacks suffered and severe back injuries. I had cervical spinal fusion surgery in January, 2004. I did not awake from the anesthesia following the surgery and remained in a coma for around 27 days. After coming out of the coma I needed extensive rehab. This was complicated due to diabetes & cardiac heat disease. I was unable to work and went on social security disability on 5/1/2004. I was fortunate enough to have a private disability policy to help make ends meet and continued to make all monthly student loan payments via ach through 1/31/08 as well as other debts without adversely effecting my credit. This was done despite severe economic hardship by refinancing my home and taking an additional home equity loan and getting a part-time job at the IRS through social security disability program. This was just seasonal term work that ended in 2006. now to my question: In January 2008, I had a setback and had heart surgery, I am definitely considered Totally Disabled Of which I have no problem getting my physicians to certify and I have both the total Disability form and the temporary Total Disability form. I have been told that I should have applied for the deferment or permanent dismissal back in 2004. However, my son was in law school paying his way with federal & private loans. He completed school in 2004 & passed the bar exam & began repayment in 2005. He is well on his way to paying his loans which were in excess of 100,000. Although I was told my loans are strictly mine I felt I could continue paying them. I am now, due to my illness, in a position where the debts are becoming to extreme & I need relief. Is there an issue about getting these loans forgiven or dismissed because I didn't apply when I first became disabled? My daughter after working for 5 years is going back to school full time to become a physician assistant. Any loans she takes will be strictly on her own as my sons loans are. Does my situation affect my children in any way? They both live on their own & have been helpful to me but have their own issues.

Thank You: sorry to be so long winded

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