POP Quiz: How much do you know about higher education financing?

Financial Literacy

We want students and families to feel confident about financing higher education, and that starts with having a plan and knowing the facts about paying for college.

Test your own college preparedness knowledge by taking the quiz below.

Sallie Mae Q&A: Your College Financing Questions Answered

Financial Literacy

It’s time to talk. Americans owe $1.7 trillion in student loans – and roughly 93% of that debt is made and held by the federal government.

Higher education lays the foundation for future success, and loans can help make those successes and dreams a reality. But responsible repayment begins with responsible lending – that’s where Sallie Mae® comes in. We clarify the complex world of college financing and help students achieve their education goals. How? Let’s start at the beginning…

How much do students typically rely on loans to pay for college? 

College financing looks different for everyone and not everyone borrows to pay for college. In fact, roughly 45% of bachelor’s degree recipients from public and private non-profit four-year colleges graduated with no student debt, according to College Board.

According to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays For College report, in the 2021-22 school year, families reported spending an average of $25,313 on college, with borrowed money like loans covering 18% of that. Family income and savings covered over half of these total costs and scholarships covered another quarter.

We believe that responsible borrowing begins with responsible lending, and that we’re only successful when our students are. This approach has proven enormously successful for our borrowers.

How do students pay for college?

Students and families pay for college through a combination of income and savings, scholarships, grants, and loans. After maximizing money that doesn’t need to be paid back, such as scholarships and grants, the next step in the college financing process is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The FAFSA opens the door to federal, state, and school-based financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study, and federal student loans. After completing the FAFSA and evaluating financial aid offers from schools, if families need more to cover remaining costs, they can apply for credit-based private student loans to fill the gap. Private lenders like Sallie Mae will look at creditworthiness and repayment history before approving loan applications.

How does Sallie Mae help?

Sallie Mae is best known as a private student loan lender, but as an education solution provider, we make it easier to understand, plan for, and finance higher education. We believe higher education should be affordable and accessible.

We offer several free resources like planning calculators and scholarship searches that help students build their plan – and pay for college – with confidence. If families need more to cover remaining costs, we offer credit-based private student loans. Lending responsibly also means assessing the ability to repay before a loan is approved. In fact, on average approximately 2% of our loans in repayment default annually.

Is Sallie Mae part of the federal government?

No. Sallie Mae is a private student lender – we offer private, credit-based loans.

Our name has been around for decades, but the company we are today is fairly new. Sallie Mae stopped originating federal student loans in 2010. Today, we exclusively offer private student loans. Even before we offer a private student loan, we help student and families build an effective and responsible plan to pay for college with a three-step approach. We advise them to start with free money and then explore federal student aid before considering a private loan.

What’s the difference between federal and private student loans?

The federal government is the largest provider of student loans, holding roughly 93% of all student loan debt. Federal student loans are made to all eligible students who apply for them; they are issued directly to students, without underwriting.  

Private student loans, on the other hand, are originated by credit unions, state agencies, and banks like Sallie Mae. Private student loans make up about 8% of all student loans. They are recommended as supplemental support to students and families who have financed the bulk of their education with income and savings, scholarships and grants, and federal aid. Private student loans are made to students, often with a cosigner, and require an evaluation of creditworthiness before they’re issued.

What is a federal Parent PLUS loan, and how is it different from other federal student loans?

Federal Parent PLUS loans are made to students’ parents rather than to students themselves. Unlike federal student loans, federal PLUS loans are unlimited up to a school’s full cost of attendance, minus any financial aid the borrower’s child has already received. These loans do require a basic credit check.

Federal Parent PLUS loans come with higher origination fees and higher interest rates than other federal student loans. Additionally, repayment for these loans can begin right away. These factors, in conjunction with the unlimited nature of PLUS loans, mean that they can be difficult to pay back.

When and how do students start paying back loans?

Federal student loans are either direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, or direct PLUS loans. Federal student loans are available to any eligible student who completes the FAFSA; they are not underwritten and do not assess the ability to repay. Depending on the loan, students can make payments while in school or defer payment until after college although interest will accrue during this time. Many federal student loans offer income-based repayment plans, which allow qualifying borrowers to make monthly payments based on a percentage of the borrower’s salary after college.

If families need more to cover remaining costs, private lenders like Sallie Mae offer credit-based student loans to fill the gap. When students are approved for a private loan, they can choose either a fixed or variable interest rate and from a variety of in-school repayment options that determine how much principal – the original loan amount – and how much interest is paid back each month. Sallie Mae pioneered the option of making small or interest-only in-school payments to reduce total debt and keep overall balances down. More than half of our customers choose to do this. In fact, choosing an in-school payment option may also lead to a more effective interest rate. Students can also choose to defer until six months after leaving school.

It’s critical that students understand their loan and repayment options before making the commitment. That’s why Sallie Mae provides resources and tools for students and families to help them navigate the college financing process. We conduct routine communication with students about their loans while they are in school, long before their first payment is due and provide annual student loan snapshots to help them understand how much they owe and what strategies they can implement to help them pay down faster.

A Higher Education Can be Transformative, So Let’s Make Sure Students From All Backgrounds Have That Opportunity

Financial Literacy

Higher education opens the door to more opportunities. But not all students – especially those from underserved and marginalized communities – have the same resources or support to achieve their college dreams. Read from Sallie Mae EVP Nic Jafarieh about how Sallie Mae provides tools and resources to level the playing field for all students and families to access and complete higher education.

What Students and Families Need to Know About The FAFSA

Financial Literacy

Each year, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) opens the door for students and families to more than $112 billion in scholarships, grants, state-aid and federal financial aid, and provides information to schools to create financial aid packages. Yet too many families skip completing the FAFSA altogether due to misconceptions about eligibility or a lack of support to complete the form.

According to Sallie Mae’s How America Pays for College 2022 report, while October marks the beginning of the FAFSA® application window, only one-quarter of undergraduate students and parents are aware of that.  Additionally, the College Confidence: What America Knows about Paying for College 2022 report found that only 62% of families with college-bound students plan on completing the form and just 32% of students who will be the first in their family to attend college plan on submitting the FAFSA®. Moreover, just 20% of these students feel prepared to complete the FAFSA®.

Here are five important things to know about the FAFSA®:

1. All students — regardless of family income — should complete the form.

Nearly four in 10 families (36%) said they bypassed the FAFSA® because they believed their income was too high to be eligible, according to the College Confidence report. The reality is, just about every family will qualify for some form of aid. Some of that aid, like scholarships, grants, and state-based aid is offered on a first-come, first served basis so the sooner families can get in line – as close to the Oct. 1 open date for the FAFSA each year – the better.

2. There is no fee to submit the FAFSA®.

Families should never pay to submit the FAFSA®. Filing is free, period. A paid service will not get students more aid. Sallie Mae provides students with free resources to help them fill out their application properly, but they can also check with their high school, local college and financial aid office for assistance.

3. Fill out the “special circumstances” form when financial information changes.

Students and families – including those attending grad school – should complete the FAFSA® every year they are in school. That said, sometimes income and other factors may change due a job loss, medical circumstance, or impact of broad scale events like the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when completing a “special circumstances” form may make sense. The form is available from college financial aid offices and can be helpful in receiving additional aid in these situations.

4. List schools on the FAFSA® even if it’s not a final list.

If students don’t list any colleges on their FAFSA®, then the schools won’t know the student is potentially interested in applying for grant money from them. Students should always list state schools first in case they offer additional state-based aid on a priority basis.

5. There is no age limit.

Federal financial aid is just as available to non-traditional students in the 24 to 35-year-old range as it is to students in their late teens and early twenties. There’s no age limit for receiving federal financial aid—so all students and families should apply!

Submitting the FAFSA® is one of the critical first steps students and families can take to pay for college, and can help make college more affordable.  For help filling of the FAFSA®, check out this comprehensive step-by-step guide.

Five Ways to Get Ready for Federal Student Loan Repayment

Financial Literacy

Students with federal student loans will start making payments again in January.

When Covid-19 turned America upside down, the federal government put a pause on federal student loan repayment. The program suspended current loan payments and collection on loans in default and interest charges on all federal student loans. The Biden Administration recently announced that the program will end at the close of the year, which means nearly 43 million Americans with federal student loans will resume making regular payments in January.

While some eligible students may have up to $20,000 of their federal student loans forgiven, those with remaining balances need to get ready to begin making payments again. Although Sallie Mae only offers private student loans, many of our customers may also have federal student loans. Whether federal or private, we’re here to help students get ready to repay their loans.

Check out these ways to prepare for the restart of federal student loan repayment.

1. Create a budget

Your federal student loans probably aren’t your only monthly expense. Maybe you’ve just moved into a new place, or you purchased a car to get you to your new job. Consider your total monthly expenses, including rent, groceries and utilities. Sallie Mae can help you get organized and create a plan on how to stay on top of your finances.

2. Verify your contact information

Ahead of your payment date, your federal student loan servicer will reach out to you with important information about your loan and repayment. Make sure your contact information, especially your email and home address, is up to date. Check now by logging into studentaid.gov.

3. Know how much you owe, and when you owe it

Stay on top of your loan by making sure you know exactly how much you owe and when it’s due. Your payments may not resume on the same day as when you were previously making payments. Look for an email with a billing statement from your federal loan servicer, which should come at least 21 days prior to your payment due date.

Additionally, your payment amount may have changed in the last two years, depending on the remaining time to payback your loan and the current principal and interest balance left. Your billing statement will tell you how much you owe, but you can also find out by logging-in to your account.

4. Confirm enrollment in auto debit

To ensure you make your payments on-time every month, verify your enrollment in automatic payments, known as auto debit. When enrolled, you receive a 0.25 percentage point reduction on your interest rate. Even if you were enrolled in auto debit before the repayment pause, you may have to enroll again. You can sign up through your loan servicer.   

5. Choose a repayment plan

Your financial situation may not look the same as it did two years ago. Find a repayment plan that works for you by using the Department of Education’s loan simulator. Whether you’re looking to pay off your loans faster or you already know you’ll need to lower your monthly payment, there are several repayment options to consider:

  • Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. IDR plans base your loan payments on your income. Requesting an IDR plan could lower your monthly payments.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. The PSLF program offers loan forgiveness on federal student loans for full-time employees of U.S. federal, state, local or tribal governments and nonprofit organizations. Employees are eligible once they’ve made 120 payments under a qualifying repayment plan.
  • Request additional relief. If you run into issues making monthly loan payments, contact your federal loan servicer to find out if you qualify for additional relief. For short-term financial hardships, you can request a deferment or forbearance to temporarily suspend payments but understand that may increase what you have to pay back in the long run.

If you have remaining federal student loans to pay back beginning in January, start preparing now to ensure you’re prepared to re-enter repayment as smoothly as possible.

College Confidence: 5 Things to Know About How Families Feel About Paying for College

Financial Literacy

More than 81% of college-bound students view a degree as their ticket to better jobs and opportunities in the future. Yet, nearly half of students and families feel stressed when thinking about how to plan and pay for higher education, according to Sallie Mae® and Ipsos’ recent College Confidence: What America Knows About Paying for College report.

Navigating through scholarships, grants, loans, and other financial aid can feel overwhelming—especially for first-generation college students but it doesn’t need to be. That said, those conversations about how to pay for college should start early.  Sallie Mae® provides students and families with free tools and resources to help them make informed decisions about their higher education.

Here are five findings from the report you should know:

1. Federal Student Loan Options Can be Confusing

Almost half of families expect to borrow money to pay for college, but roughly the same number of families don’t know federal loans need to be repaid. Specifically, less than half of college-bound families correctly identified direct subsidized loans (47%), direct unsubsidized loans (46%), and the Parent PLUS loans (41%) as money that needs to be repaid. More than two-thirds of families, however, know that private student loans need to be repaid.

The benefits of understanding loan options can help significantly once it’s time to start paying them back and avoid could families taking out loans without understanding their long-term impact.

2. The Cost of College Drives Decisions

Many families eliminate colleges based on cost – before researching available scholarships, grants, and other financial aid. However, according to the 2022 What America Knows about Paying for College report, an overwhelming percentage of families agree that investing in their student’s future by earning a college degree will create more opportunities, and are willing to stretch financially to make it happen.

Families where the student is the first to attend college, often called first-generation families, are more likely to face additional financial barriers when it comes to accessing and completing their education.

Two-thirds of first-generation households, for example, earn less than $100,000 annually, compared to just 22% of those families with a parent who attended college. Just 35% of first-generation families feel confident about paying for college and, 44% are unaware of resources available to help them plan and pay for college.

For families looking to understand the breakdown of college costs, Sallie Mae® offers a free college planning calculator. It allows students to enter savings, scholarships, grants and loans and see the full cost of attending a school, and helps students identify the right school within their budget and responsibly assess college costs.

3. Understanding Financial Aid Packages Can be Challenging

While families may be generally familiar with financial aid, there’s confusion about individual components of financial aid packages. In fact, nearly four in ten families (37%) are not aware of what information is included in financial aid offers from colleges and universities.

Moreover, 42% agree they need help planning to pay for college, with 43% believing there are too few resources to help pay for education and 40% feeling that the available options are overwhelming.

4. Too Many Families Skip The FAFSA

Although nearly three quarters of families have heard of FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, only 62% plan to submit it.

First-generation families are even less likely to submit the form (32%), even though almost half agree an increase in Pell Grants and need-based financial aid would help them pay for college. Even fewer families—20%—feel equipped to complete the application.

Nearly a third of families believe the FAFSA is a waste of time if parents make “too much” money to qualify for financial assistance. The government bases the need for aid on various factors, so it’s crucial for all families to fill out the application no matter what their financial situation looks like.

Failing to complete the FAFSA can mean students and families could miss out on thousands of dollars in free money like scholarships and grants or federal financial aid. 

5. Confusion Over Availability of Scholarships

Scholarships are available for a wide range students and interests — vegans, left-handers, Pokémon players, and Star Trek fans — but nearly half of families believe scholarships are only for star athletes or those with the best grades.

Unlike loans, scholarships do not have to be paid back, making them a vital tool for making college more affordable and minimizing debt. All students and families can use Sallie Mae’s free scholarship search tool to access more than six million scholarships, worth up to $30 billion. Students enter their interests and hobbies and receive a report of scholarships they may be eligible for, simplifying the search process.

Whether borrowing a federal or private student loan, Sallie Mae® is here to help any and all students and their families confidently navigate the college planning and payment process. Our goal is to set more students up for long-term success.

Our suite of free tools — available to all students and families — is available at salliemae.com/college-planning

New Report: Families Believe in Value of College, but Lack Understanding About Funding Their Education

Financial Literacy

Sallie Mae’s tools aim to demystify the process

Eight in 10 college-bound high school juniors and seniors (81%) view higher education as a path to better opportunities, but only 42% feel confident about financing that education, according “College Confidence: What America Knows About Paying for College,” the latest national study from Sallie Mae and Ipsos, a market research company.

The study examines what college-bound students and their parents understand about financial aid, the FAFSA®, scholarships, and student loans. The research results are based on an online survey Ipsos conducted, in English, with 550 parents of high school juniors or seniors planning on attending college and 585 college-bound juniors or seniors.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Nearly three-quarters of families (74%) have started thinking about how they will cover the cost of higher education by the time their child is a high school junior but fewer than half (44%) are very or somewhat familiar with the FAFSA – the gateway to billions of dollars in scholarships, grants, and federal financial aid.
  • Just 62% of families plan to complete the FAFSA; 29% feeling it’s a waste of time if the family makes too much money.
  • Nearly half of families (45%) believe scholarships are only available for students with exceptional grades or abilities.
  • Half of families (54%) are familiar with financial aid offers but 37% of them don’t know what information is included in those offers.
  • Nearly half (47%) of college-bound families are planning to borrow to pay for college, but many are unclear on what types of aid needs to be paid back. Less than half of college-bound families correctly identified direct subsidized loans (47%), direct unsubsidized loans (46%), and the Parent PLUS loans (41%) as money that needs to be repaid.
  • Only 18% of college-bound families agree that the amount families actually pay is lower than the price advertised by the school.

  • First-generation college families need additional support as they navigate the financial aid process. Only 35% of first-generation families feel very or somewhat confident about it, compared to 54% of experienced families. Critically, while 42% of first-generation families indicate more Pell Grants and need-based financial aid would help them, only 32% definitely plan to submit the FAFSA®.

To help fill these confidence gaps, Sallie Mae offers a variety of free tools and resources to help families make informed decisions about college.  At salliemae.com/college-planning, they can find tools to calculate college costs, view average financial aid packages from universities around the country, and discover scholarships for all kinds of students. The company also recently acquired Nitro College, putting even more free tools and resources in the hands of students and families. The goal of these tools is to help students and families better understand college costs and encourage them to maximize all options before considering a responsible private student loan.

To learn more, visit salliemae.com/college-planning.

Report: Overwhelming Majority of Private Loan Customers Making Regular Payments Again, Defaults at Record Lows

Financial Literacy

The private student loan market has stabilized and returned to pre-pandemic norms, according to a new report from MeasureOne, a consumer analytics company.

The study found that the overwhelming majority of students and families are once again making regular payments, despite the continued economic impacts of the pandemic. More than 98% of private student loans are successfully repaid. The report also concluded fewer students and families are relying on customer relief programs, which became popular options early in the pandemic.

As of June 2021, private student loans — which are fully underwritten to assess creditworthiness and ability to repay — make up 7.61% of the $1.7 trillion student loan market. The remaining 92%, or $1.59 trillion in student loans, are federal student loans made by the federal government.

As the leader in private student lending, Sallie Mae recommends families follow a three-step approach to financing their education:

  1. Start with money you won’t have to pay back. Supplement your college savings and income by maximizing scholarships, grants, and work-study.
  2. Explore federal student loans. We encourage students to explore federal student loan options by completing the FAFSA.
  3. Consider a responsible private student loan. Fill the gap between your available resources and the cost of college. We encourage students to evaluate all anticipated monthly loan payments, as well as how much the student expects to earn in the future, before considering a private student loan.

Sallie Mae is committed to helping students achieve their higher education goals. Through a free suite of tools and resources, including planning calculators, college comparison tools, scholarship searches, and FAFSA support, we help students and families maximize their options before borrowing. By providing the necessary resources to help students and families confidently navigate their higher education journey, Sallie Mae can set them up for a lifetime of success.

Read the full report here.

Why Scholarships are a Critical Tool for Families to Pay for College

Financial Literacy

Paying for college can be a complex, stressful process for American families. Yet, a new study finds students and families may be missing out on a key tool — scholarships — for reducing the amount they need to pay for higher education. According to Sallie Mae’s 2021 How America Pays for College report, 44% of families didn’t use scholarships.

More than three quarters (78%) of those families who didn’t use scholarships didn’t even apply for the funding options. Parents say they didn’t know of any scholarships in general or scholarships that their child would be eligible to receive. Students, though, say they didn’t apply because they didn’t think they’d win. They also point to the time and effort it takes to find scholarships and complete their applications.

Sallie Mae’s scholarships search tool aims to alleviate those burdens. Students fill out a one-time brief profile and are instantly connected with dozens of scholarships they’re eligible for based on various factors including field of study, location, hobbies, and interest. With millions of available scholarships (and therefore free money) up for grabs, there are opportunities for nearly every student. More than 24,000 American students found $67 million in scholarships to pay for college using Sallie Mae’s free scholarship search tool last year. 

The search tool connects students to more than 6 million scholarships that are designed for every kind of student including Star Trek fans, tall students, and those willing to wear a homemade duct tape gown to the prom, and are worth up to $30 billion in funds. There’s also a search tool for graduate students.

The goal of the search tool is to make it easier for students and their families to find and apply for relevant scholarships to reduce the amount they’ll need to borrow to pay for college.

“Every little bit counts. There are scholarships that are big and small, and you don’t necessarily need to be a sports star or a valedictorian to receive them,” said Sallie Mae’s Rick Castellano.

Don’t Leave Free Money on the Table

Applying for scholarships is the first step in Sallie Mae’s 1-2-3 approach to paying for college because they’re funds that never have to be paid back. 

“This is free money. Families should absolutely look for scholarships first, before taking out any loans,” said Castellano. “Every scholarship earned can help make college more affordable for students and families.”

With that in mind, Sallie Mae has its own scholarship program. Its Bridging the Dream Scholarship helps outstanding students from minority and other historically underserved communities attend college. 

Earlier this year, The Sallie Mae Fund expanded its program to support more students. In partnership with Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the Fund will award 75 $10,000 scholarships to high school seniors over the next three years, totaling $750,000.

“This scholarship helps to close racial gaps in higher education, making a more equitable system,” Castellano said. 

Families Continue to Value Higher Ed, but Miss Out on FAFSA, Scholarships

Financial Literacy

Students and families across the country continue to believe in the value of higher education, according to Sallie Mae® and Ipsos’ “How America Pays for College 2021” research report. Nine in ten believe college is an investment in the future, 89% believe a degree will create opportunities, and 81% believe graduates will earn more as a result of their degree.

Given the consensus surrounding the value of higher ed, it makes sense that families are prioritizing their plans for how to pay. More than half of families (58%) report having a plan to pay for all years of college, up from 44% just two years ago. Understanding how families are planning and paying for college helps Sallie Mae uncover more ways to bridge gaps in higher education financing, as well as point students and families to existing resources that could help them.

Here are three things we know about how students and families value, plan, and pay for college today — and how Sallie Mae is helping students make sense of it all.

While more families have a plan to pay, fewer are completing the FAFSA® 

The number of families filling out the FAFSA® continues to decline, which means more families are missing out on important federal financial aid opportunities. Just 68% of families filled out the FAFSA in the 2020-2021 academic year, the lowest level in the 14-year history of “How America Pays for College.”

Some of the most-cited reasons for not completing the FAFSA® include concerns about it feeling too complicated and the time required to complete it.  

More than half of families using scholarships – but majority of those who don’t have never applied

Scholarships are an effective way to lower the total cost of college — they covered 16% of all education costs last year — but many families are not taking advantage of these opportunities for free money. According to the report, 44% of families didn’t use scholarships to help pay for college. Of those who didn’t use scholarships, 74% didn’t apply. Many families say they don’t know what scholarships are available, and students said they didn’t have time to apply and didn’t think they’d be eligible to win.  

There is no shortage of scholarship opportunities out there, but finding the right ones can be tricky. Sallie Mae’s free scholarship search tool pools more than six million scholarships, worth up to $30 billion in funds. Students fill out a brief profile and are then matched to relevant scholarships based on various factors including field of study, location, hobbies and interests.

Last year, 24,000 students won a scholarship using Sallie Mae’s search tool, covering more than $67 million in college costs.

More families (56%) are making payments on student loans while in school.

The number of families making payments on loans while the student is in school is on the rise, up from 46% last year and 41% the year before. Making loan payments during school helps families save money long-term and lower the total cost of the loan.

To that end, Sallie Mae offers the choice between three in-school repayment plans — deferred payments, fixed monthly payments, and interest-only payments. While everyone’s financial situation is different, these options allow students and their families to make informed decisions about the best path for them.

Preparation is the key to both financial planning and academic success, which is why Sallie Mae is committed to providing students and families with the information and tools needed to be successful on both fronts.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid