Common Student Loan Mistakes to Avoid

Alden Wicker

When it comes to student loans, a common refrain we hear from LearnVesters is, “I wish someone had told me …”

So, now we are telling you. The student loan system can be exasperating, confusing and just plain mystifying. Plus, even your own parents, all-knowing beings that they are, probably don’t know any more than you do. High school counselors aren’t infallible either.

Whether you’re planning to take out loans, you’re in school or you’ve graduated and your payments are about to kick in, we’ve gathered up the mistakes that can cost you money and cause you grief.

When You’re Taking Out Loans

1. Not Pursuing Grants, Scholarships and Financial Aid

What we mean: Make sure to first fill out your FAFSA form, even if you think you might not get any money, and go after as many grants and scholarships as you can before you turn to student loans.

Why: What if someone said, “Hey, you’re so smart, I’m giving you $50,000!” That’s what grants, scholarships and financial aid are, essentially. Yes, it can take a bit of work to find them, fill out the paperwork and apply. But man, what other job would pay $5,000-100,000 just for a couple hours or days of filling out paperwork and writing an essay? (Not the one you get after college when you have to pay your loans back, that’s for sure.) While financial aid isn’t free money, it can help you manage your education expenses.

Help to avoid it: The first step is to fill out a FAFSA form. You can get started looking for grants and scholarships by using a free service (or two) that helps you search for grants and scholarships, like FastWeb,,, and Sallie Mae’s The College Answer.

Already made this mistake? You can still get scholarships and grants, even when you’ve already entered school, from small prizes for academic performance, to larger grants and scholarships found through the above search services geared to current students. If you secure one or more, consider using the money you save to pay off your student loan earlier, or see if you can have your scholarship or grant applied directly to your loan. And you can fill out a FAFSA every year you’re enrolled, so you can always apply for the next school year.

2. Discounting the Value of a Cheaper or Community College Education

What we mean: You might have the perfect college in mind, and it might be private and/or located in a different state. But don’t get so caught up in dreaming that you ignore the subsidized education in front of you!

Why: Many in-state schools have excellent reputations. (In fact, a number appear in U.S. News and World Report’s Best College Rankings.) And let’s put it this way: Say you expect to get paid $10,000 more a year (or $8,000 more after taxes) if you go to a brand-name school instead of your in-state option. But when you graduate, you may be paying $800 a month, or $9,600 a year to pay back your student loans. That’s a bad deal.

Help to avoid it: If you’re bent on graduating with a degree from your dream school, but it will mean going into serious debt, you should consider completing your first two years at an in-state school or community college, then transfer and finish up your degree at the school with the marine biology program. After all, even if you want a college with a specialized program, you would still probably spend the first two years getting general education credits out of the way. You could even spend those first two years saving up and working on your GPA so you’re better able to afford those last two years with savings and scholarships.

Already made this mistake? Check with your college to see if they will accept credits from summer classes you can take at your local community college or state university.

3. Taking Out Private Loans

What we mean: Don’t get your loan from a bank, non-profit organization or Sallie Mae when federal student loans are available. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, more than 54% of private student loan borrowers don’t exhaust their federal loan options, and many don’t even try to get federal loans at all.

Why: Private student loans usually offer fewer protections and options to students. The interest rates can be higher, or variable, which means they can go up. (Rates are really low right now, which means they probably will go up.) After you graduate, if you can’t find a job or you find only a low-paying one, private lenders can refuse to adjust your payments to accommodate your situation. With federal loans on the other hand, you can typically change your payment plan so it takes into account your financial situation, or defer your loans, so you can avoid default. (You don’t want to default.)

Help to avoid it: If you’ve maxed out your scholarships, grants and federal loans, and you still need more money to pay for college, it’s time to consider looking at a more affordable school or consider taking on a job while you’re in school to make up that gap.

Already made this mistake? Prioritize paying off your private loans ahead of federal loans, try to make interest payments while you’re still in school (work-study or a part-time job could be a great idea) and if you need to take out any more loans, turn to federal loans first!

And that brings us to …

4. Asking Your Parents to Co-Sign Your Loan

What we mean: If you decide to take out a private loan, you will probably have to get a co-signer on it. This is someone–probably your parent–who agrees to cover the loan if you cannot pay. Most federal loans don’t require a co-signer, but private lenders will usually want to see someone with a credit history sign the paperwork.

Why: If you and your parent think she could cover your payments if you can’t (and she is prepared to), then by all means, have her sign the paperwork. The problem comes when a parent co-signs your loans, you’re unable to pay when you graduate, and your parent can’t pay either. Then you’ve put your parent in a situation where she is probably being harassed by debt collectors, potentially ruining her credit as well as yours.

Help to avoid it: It’s best to avoid private loans altogether if possible, especially if your parent can’t afford to make payments of $500 to $1,500 a month when you graduate.

Already made this mistake? Prioritize making your payments on time and in full, so you don’t damage your co-signer’s credit.

5. Failing to Do the Math

What we mean: Before you take out a student loan, you should calculate what your payments will look like out of college, especially against the kind of salary you expect to make when you graduate.

Why: If you get out of school and realize then that your student loan payments are high, you could be forced to give up your ideal career to either get something more lucrative/soul-sucking, or have to move in with your parents and let job opportunities in the city of your choice pass you by while you pay off your loans.

Help to avoid it: A good rule of thumb to consider: Don’t take out more student loans than you expect to make your first year out of college.  For example: If want to work in marketing after college using your business major and get a starting salary of $40,000, don’t take out more than $40,000 in loans. If you’re studying to work in finance, $75,000 could be appropriate. And if you’re studying to be an artist or actor, well … try to get some robust scholarships.

You should also get wise about what your monthly student loan payments will be out of school. $800 or $1,000 per month? Not uncommon. Use this student loan calculator to find out what yours might be before you commit to a loan.

Already made this mistake? Do the math today! If you are chastened by what your student loan payments will be, you can consider either getting a part-time job to start paying them off now and avoid taking out more, or switch direction with your major.

6. Not Reading or Losing Your Documents

What we mean: You should receive at least one Master Promissory Note (MPN) for signing. It’s a binding legal document by which you agree to repay your loan or loans. You could have one that covers all your loans, or one for each separate loan.

Why: It includes a Borrower’s Rights and Responsibilities statement that explains the terms and conditions of the loans you received. In other words, all that important stuff you should know.

Help to avoid it: Make sure you read your MPN carefully, now and before you make any decisions regarding your loans, like putting them in deferment or deciding on a payment plan. Keep it in a safe place, because you’ll probably need to refer to it when you have to start paying back your loans. You might also consider copying it and uploading it to a cloud storage service like Evernote or Google Docs, so you can access it online.

Already made this mistake? Go here to retrieve a copy, then read it from top to bottom!

When You’re in School

1. Using Loans for Living Expenses

What we mean: You might have the option of taking out a student loan that is larger than your tuition so you can pay for living expenses.

Why: This can be an expensive option, because you are being charged interest for doing so. Your loans are big enough without having them cover pizza and spring break trips, too!

Help to avoid it: Look into participating in your college’s work-study program, or getting a part-time job to cover living expenses.

Already made this mistake? It’s not too late to bring in extra income. Consider picking up a part-time job or freelancing gigs to pay for your living expenses and also to start paying off the loans you took out already.

2. Waiting to Pay Your Unsubsidized Loans Until You Graduate

What we mean: An unsubsidized loan is one in which the government does not pay for your interest while you’re in school. That means if you don’t pay anything while you’re in school, your loan is growing even while you study.

Why: If you make your interest payments while you’re in school, you’ll probably save a bundle. For example, if you pay just $50 a month, you could save yourself more than $1,000 in interest expense on a typical $15,000 loan.

Help to avoid it: Again, try to pick up part-time work or work study to make your interest payments while you’re in school.

Already made this mistake? It’s not the end of the world, you’ll just have to pay a little more. But you can start paying interest now to save.

When Payments Are Due

1. Paying Just the Minimum if You Can Afford More

What we mean: It’s OK to pay the minimums if you are aggressively working toward financial goals like building an emergency fund, paying off credit card debt and getting on track for retirement, or if you have a really tight budget. But don’t pay the minimums just so you can have more disposable income for going out on the weekends.

Why: That can be an expensive choice. While many student loans–federal especially–have lower interest rates compared to credit card debt, they still have interest, which is accumulating while you pay the minimums. You’re also delaying the moment when you will finally be free of your student loan debt!

Help to avoid it: If you have more income to send to your student loan payments, you can either send in more money than the minimum, or even get in touch with your lender and restructure your payment plan so that the monthly payments are higher and the payoff period shorter.

Already made this mistake? Re-evaluate your budget and start paying more for your loans today. It also can help to calculate how long it will take you to pay off your loans if you just pay the minimum, versus if you increase your payments.

2. Choosing the Wrong Payment Plan

What we mean: If you don’t do anything before payments kick in, you’ll typically be automatically enrolled in the standard payment plan: set payments of at least $50 a month for ten years or less. This is just fine if you can afford it–the standard payment plan means you’ll pay less in interest. But if you have federal loans, you have several options for your payment plan.

Why: If you’re struggling with payments, you can choose another option with lower monthly payments. Here’s the catch: If you choose another payment plan, especially the graduated payment plan (extended repayment will cost you more than graduated because it’s over a longer time period), you will pay much more in interest over the life of the loan. So think carefully about the payment plan that is best for you–whatever you decide could be a $10,000 choice.

Help to avoid it: Be realistic about your budget, decide how much you can afford, and get in touch with your lender about your options. Learn more about payment plans here.

Already made this mistake? Get in touch with your lender today about your options.

3. Putting Your Unsubsidized Loans Into Deferment or Forbearance When You Don’t Need To

What we mean: Deferment and forbearance can be life savers when you are struggling to find a job or can only find a low-paying job at the moment. They allow you to put your payments off until your financial situation changes. However, this option should only be taken if you absolutely need it.

Why: If you have unsubsidized loans, interest will accumulate during deferment and be capitalized–tacked on the principle of the loan. All loans–unsubsidized or not–will accumulate interest if they are in forbearance. That means higher payments when your payments start up again.

Help to avoid it: Consider a different payment plan or getting extra income before you delay your loans. If you do decide to put your loans into deferment or forbearance, try to at least pay the interest.

Already made this mistake? Contact your lender and see about taking your loans out of deferment or forbearance, if you can afford it. At the very least, start making interest payments so the balance of your loan doesn’t grow.


LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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    Unrealistic advice. If your parents make too much money, you are likely to get zero grants. federal loans cover around $5500 for the year. The cheapest of state schools cost about $16k in just tuition alone, not including room&board, meal plans, and other fees. Not taking out private loans is unrealistic if parents are not paying out of pocket. Getting a job to pay potentially several grand a month is not possible on mimimum wage jobs that a student can really only be part time or else you’ll fail out.

    • frustrated parent

      I so agree. I have a son who has gone to community college and lived at home also worked part time. All sounds great except….. Now that he needs to finish, he needs to spend all his time studying and not working. Lives with a roomate now , parents moved farther from school so living with parents is not an option. Now, because he has finished more than 60% at the community college he cant get any funding! NONE zip NADA. sonow what , They say parents make too much money but honestly we are not living on credit , or help from the govt. I guess that means our family cant get the same education that others can because we choose to live within our means. This system is flawed and College is overated. Not to mention , online classes while living in a dorm ???? REALLY??? Mandatory ??? That is what people pay expenses room and board for is for online classes?
      Not to mention (not racists but) If you want to teach ,,,,, SPEAK GOOD ENGLISH! He had to drop 2 math classes because the instructor couldnt speak good english . Soooo Frustrating !

      • Aquaria

        BS. You get the student loan, regardless of income, moron.

        If you don’t get the money, it’s because:

        1) You or your son didn’t fill out the FAFSA form in time to qualify for the loans.

        2) Your kid is over the three year limit for community college funding. It doesn’t matter how many hours he’s completed (or not). If he’s taken student loans for three years for a community college, he can’t get anymore after that third year.

        Fill out the forms, or complete the schooling in a reasonable time frame.

        If you don’t, you have only yourself to blame for not getting the loans anymore.

      • Aquaria

        As for the mandatory courses–every reputable college has those you moronic turnip with legs.




        A college degree is not an entitlement. You have to earn it, and the only way you earn it is to meet the expectations of the college–i.e., take the classes your college requires for someone to qualify for a degree from that institution. You meet those expectations, or you don’t get the degree.

        What are you too stupid to understand about that?

      • Frustrated Student ^

        I feel like you don’t exactly speak the best of English. I’ve taken plenty of math and programming classes with instructors with very heavy accents and it only takes about a week to fully understand what they are saying at the worst. (Also, when you say “not to be racist, but”, I take it as you are about to say something racist.) :)

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  • David M Moyes

    i live in USA i applied for a loan of 100000usd some weeks ago from a scam pretend to be a loan lender,they rip me off the sum of 2000usd and they ran away from me and i was totally confuse in life luckily a good friend of my from New Jersey Mrs Donna Greci testify how she was rescued from a God sent loan lender who rescue her and gave her the loan amount of 20000usd so she gave the email i also contact him he did a nice thing for me and my family and loaned me the loan amount of 20000usd he is real and God will bless him so good should contact him on ,please do not email anyone in this website because they are scams they pretend to be loan lenders they rip people of their hard earned money the USA Attorney General Of Police are searching for this guys in the internet right now so dont email this guys please they will rip you off like they did to me..

    conatct email on

  • Christian Coleman

    Hello every body in this site my Name is Christian Coleman and am from USA i want to testify how i was rescued by a loan company called standardbankloanfirm1, i have look for a loan of 35000 USD for over four months now to pay for my rent and pay for my child medication i feel in the hands of two online lenders that ate my money during the four months without giving me any loan instead i was scam by them and i never knew what to do, until one day i went to met a friend of my who i explained everything that has been happening to me now she felt bad for me and she remembered she had a friend who work in a loan company she contacted them and gave me their email at first i was not really interested because i told my self i will never look for a loan again because of what happened she encourage me and gave me hope to try them so i contacted them on their email without wasting time they responded back to me and asked for my details without stressing me i forward my details down to them and within the next 3 hours i received an alert from my bank about the loan i was so happy and i thanked my friend and thanked the loan company too so i quickly pay for my rent and my child medication also, am here to help for those who are looking for all type of loan there are still legit company outside there waiting to give you that loan you can contact the company now on their email.. and i want you all to also join me thank the company for this wonderful work and pray to God to bless them more.

  • mrs jane

    Good day ladies and gentle men am Mrs Lily Brown a God fearing and honest loan lender who can change your life from bad to Good i want you to understand the fact that i give my loans out in a low interest rate of 2%. Bad credit acceptable,The Terms and Conditions are very simple and considerate.You will never regret in this loan transaction because i will make you smile through out this transaction, because you where not born to be a loser my terms and conditions are very simple what are you waiting for asap why don’t you try Mrs Lily Brown loan company and be free from debts, Any interested clients should contact me Asap via Emai:( for further proceeds.

    Please fill the below application form and get back if interested and
    you will be glad of knowing a loan lender like Mrs Mrs Lily Brown


    1)Full Names:
    6)Marital Status:
    8)Phone Number:
    9)Monthly income:
    10)Loan Amount Needed:
    11)Loan Duration:
    12)Purpose of Loan:

    I will be looking forward to hear from you so as to proceed.

    Kind Regards
    Mrs Lily Brown

  • Revcoleman John

    To finance his quest for money.

    Private costly search for funding worth money for the project.
    Everywhere in the world we offer you a loan of € 50,000 to € 500,000 to
    all persons able to repay with interest by the type
    of interest is 2% per cent, for the amount requested.

    Purpose of loan: – Improvement of the living – Implementation of project: car, furniture, travel, companies etc ….
    Pas of proof required in view of sustaining any person in distress,
    this pluralistic view and international investment led him to a new type
    of investment that is credit / loan.

    Granted loan in the following areas:

    * Industry and food industry;
    * Rural Development
    * Basic infrastructure and modern infrastructure (roads, telecommunications, airports, ports, energy)
    * Telecommunications;
    * Transport, Hospitality and other services
    * Construction of house
    * Petroleum products
    * Purchase your of dream car
    * Creation of your company (Company) …….. etc.

    If is really in need of a loan try my
    contacted. I am at your disposal for all your problems
    Financial. For more information please contact us on
    our e-mail:

  • Lauren Travis

    Hello everyone!!!

    My name is MRS LAUREN TRAVIS A CITIZEN of USA. i have been scammed by 3 different Internet international lender, they all promise to give me a loan after making me pay several fees which yield nothing and amounted to no positive result. i lost my hard earn money and it was a total of 10,000USD. One day as i was browsing through the internet with tears on my eye i came across a testimony of man who was also scammed and eventually got linked to a legit loan company called ALVAROLOANCOMPANY where he finally got his loan, so i decided to contact the same loan company and then told them my story on how i have been scammed by 3 different lenders who did nothing but to course me more pain. I explain to the company by mail and all they told me was to cry no more because i will get my loan in their company and also i have made the right choice of contacting them. i filled the loan application form and proceeded with all that was requested of me and I was given a loan amount of $85,000 Dollars by this great Company (ALVAROLOANCOMPANY} managed by Mr.ALVARO AMARANTO and here i am today happy because ALVAROLOANCOMPANY has given me a loan so i made a vow to my self that i will keep testifying on the internet on how i got my loan. Do you need a loan urgently kindly and quickly contact ALVAROLOANCOMPANY now for your loan via
    Thank You All For Your Understanding,

    MRS.LAUREN TRAVIS……………………..

  • Sue

    This article has some good tips but grants and federal loans do not cover all the cost of being a student. And taking on a job while in school is helpful but part time jobs can not cover living expenses. In the real world most people have to take out private loan to make it through college. I think the Alden needs a reality check before she throws out information. Please join the real world

  • Johnny Elvis


    Good day everyone, I am Mr Johnny Elvis by name, i am a citizen of new york USA, i have been looking forward for a genuine loan company for the past 2 months and all i got was group of scams who made me to trust them and at the end of the day, they duped me of $7000 without giving anything in return, all my hope was lost, i got confused and frustrated,i find it very difficult to feed my family, i never wanted to have anything to do with loan companies on net again, because i never trusted any loan company again since i was scammed, so i went to borrow some money from a friend, i told him all that happened and he said he can help me, that he knows a loan company that can help me, that he just got a loan from them, he directed me on how to apply for the loan, i did as he told me, i applied, though i never believed but i tried and to my greatest surprise my loan was granted to me within 24 hours, i could not believe, i am happy and rich again and i am thanking God that upon this scams all over the places a genuine company like this still exist, please i advise everyone out there who are in need of loan and can be reliable, trusted and capable of paying back at the due time of funds to contact ( ) or ( and be free from scams on the internet. they will never disappoint you.

  • Johanna

    Ummmmmm HOW is a part-time job and some nondescript “freelancing” supposed to cover a year’s worth of living expenses (rent+meals+transportation+other daily needs)? Most of us work full-time jobs our entire lives in order to do this very thing. I can’t imagine any living situation that could be paid in full every month by a full-time student working a part-time job.


    Do you need a loan? if YES contact us via email:

    Apply for a loan. I want you to know that we offer and kinds of loan with a low interested of 3% so we offer Personal Loans with very Minimal annual Interest rates as Low as 3%. We give out loans within the minimum range of 1000 to the maximum of 500,000,000. Our loans are well insured for maximum security is our priority. Contact us via Email:

    * Are you financially Squeezed?
    * Do you seek funds to pay off credits and debts
    * Do you seek finance to set up your own business?
    * Are you in need of private or business loans for various purposes?
    * Do you seek loans to carry out large projects
    * Do you seek funding for various other processes??

    My name is Mr. KAYDEN ITUA. We give loans out to those who are in need of loan and whom the bank has denied them from having loan, and we are legally backed up the government. I must let you know that in this company we give out the maximum satisfaction you will ever desire.Contact us via email:

    Company name: Kayden Joint Organization


  • Mr. Wells Fargo


    wells fargo bank plc Provides loan OFFER
    at a very low interest rate of 3%, we offer Personal
    loans, Debt Consolidation Loan, Venture Capital,
    Business Loan, Educational Loan, Home Loan, and
    Loan for any reason and urgent needs!. with a
    maximum duration of 30 years.

    Have you been turned down by your bank? Do you
    have bad credit? Do you have unpaid bills? Are you in
    debt? Do you need to set up a business? Worry no
    more as we are here to offer you a low interest loan.
    Our loan ranges from $5,000-USD (Five Thousand US
    dollars) to $50,000,000.00. ( FIFTY MILLION US DOLLARS ).
    $50, 000,000.00. (Fifty Million US dollars).

    We also
    lend in USA DOLLARS EURO and POUNDS !!


    Fill And Return The Loan Form Below !!!

    1. Your Full names:_______

    2. Contact address:_______

    3. Country Of Residence:______

    4. Loan Amount Required:________

    5. Duration:_____

    6. Gender:_____

    7. Occupation:________

    8. Monthly Income:_______

    9. Date Of Birth:________

    10.Telephone Number:_________

    Yours’ In Service,
    Mr. Wells Fargo

  • jessica Ben


    Loan Approval In 24 Hour!

    Are you looking for a loan to pay up your bill, or you are looking for a loan to stat up a business you are required to fill the information bellow.

    Name:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Address:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Country:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Occupation:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Loan Request_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Purpose of loan_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Loan Duration_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    Monthly Income:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    TELEPHONE:_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    LOAN DURATION_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    With this information your loan amount can be in process. you are to back to us as soon as possible.


    Best Regard
    Mr Davis


    We give out loans from the range of $9,00usd to $90,000,000 USD

    Our loans are well insured and maximum security is our priority,at an

    interest of 2% rate,

    We give out our Loan in USD($) and GBP(£) and any currency of your choice.

    Available Loans we offer are,

    * Personal Loans (Secure and Unsecured)

    * Business Loans (Secure and Unsecured)

    * Combination Loan

    * Consolidation Loan And Many More:

    Interested clients should please fill our application form below-


    PREFIX {MR.,MRS.,MS.,DR.,etc.}

    1)YOUR NAME……………….

    2)YOUR COUNTRY…………….



    5)PHONE NUMBER…………….

    6)MONTHLY INCOME…………..


    8)PURPOSE OF LOAN………….

    9)LOAN REQUEST…………….


    11)LOAN TERMS AND DURATION….Our company mailing contact box is




    EMAIL –