Your child gets into college — maybe even their top choice — and you are thrilled. There's just one problem: you don't have enough saved up. You want to help pay for their education but can't afford to. What options do you have?

Of course you can encourage your child to apply for scholarships and grants to help offset the cost of school. But what can you do if you still can't afford college?

Federal vs. Private

There are two types of student loans available: federal student loans administered by the US Department of Education and private student loans offered by financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. Your child should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply for financial aid, including federal student loans. Federal student loans come with flexible repayment plans but there are limits to how much you can borrow.

Private student loans can help cover any additional costs not covered by savings, grants, scholarships and federal student loans. Typically, there are fewer repayment options than federal student loans; however, private student loans can cover the cost of attendance minus financial aid received. On the plus side, many private loans tend to have no origination fees, whereas federal student loans do. Learn more about Discover undergraduate student loans.

Who Should Take Out Student Loans?

Taking out a federal student loan is a way many young people can pay for college without needing a credit check. For most federal and private student loans, the student is the primary borrower.

You may need to cosign for your child to help them qualify for a private student loan, since those are based on credit. Cosigning may also help them get a lower interest rate. Being a cosigner means you are legally responsible for the loan if the borrower doesn't make payments.

There are some instances where a parent can borrow money for their child's education. For example, parents can apply for a Direct Parent PLUS loan, which allows them to take out a loan in their name to pay for their child's college. To apply, the student must submit the FAFSA and then the parent completes the application for a Parent PLUS loan according to the school's preferred process. Parent PLUS loan borrowers with an adverse credit history may need an endorser.

It's important to note that parents who choose Parent PLUS loans are required to start paying back the loan once it is fully disbursed; however, parents can request a deferment. This differs from other federal student loans where the repayment period typically begins six months after graduation.

While taking out a Parent PLUS loan can seem like a great way to help your child pay for college, the loan is in your name and cannot be transferred to your child unless you refinance through a private lender. You will be responsible for the payment throughout the life of the loan and your child is not legally responsible for any payments. Parent PLUS loans also have higher interest rates and fees than other types of federal student loans. As a parent, it's possible to help your child with student loan repayment and assist them in other ways financially without taking on student loans for them solely in your name.

Regardless of which option you choose, it's important to know who is responsible for repaying the loan, as well as understand the interest rates, fees and repayment plans. Before deciding, compare student loan options to find the best fit for you.

Talking with Your Child

If you've exhausted all of your resources after your child has applied for grants and scholarships and you still don't have enough for tuition, student loans might be the right option.

In most cases, a student loan will be in the child's name, so it's important to talk about this responsibility with them. Look at the cost of tuition and the types of student loans available. Go over potential monthly payments and discuss how interest might impact the total cost of the loan. Decide together what might be the best financially for your family.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.

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