Direct Unsubsidized Loans: How to Apply

Summary: Direct Unsubsidized Loans (sometimes called Unsubsidized Stafford Loans) are federal student loans borrowed through the Direct Loans program that offer undergraduate and graduate students a low, fixed interest rate and flexible repayment terms. Demonstrated financial need is not required to qualify. Students are responsible for paying all of the interest that adds up, until the loan balance is paid off.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans (sometimes called Unsubsidized Stafford Loans) are low-cost, fixed-rate federal student loans available to both undergraduate and graduate students. Financial need is not required, so even students from wealthier families can borrow Direct Unsubsidized Loans.

Key benefits:

  • Fixed interest rate of 4.29% for undergraduate students for the 2015-2016 academic year
  • Fixed interest rate of 5.84% for graduate students for the 2015-2016 academic year
  • No payments while enrolled in school
  • Eligibility not based on demonstrated financial need or credit
  • Multiple repayment plans (including income-based) available

How to Apply for a Direct Unsubsidized Loan

  1. Complete the FAFSA or Renewal FAFSA (for returning students) at FAFSA.ed.gov.
  2. Receive your financial aid award letter by mail or email from your school's financial aid office. This letter will summarize your available financial aid, including Direct Subsidized Loans (if eligible) and Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
  3. Contact your financial aid office to accept the financial aid, including student loans.
  4. Sign any associated paperwork, such as the Master Promissory Note (MPN).

Eligibility

Most students who qualify for federal aid are eligible to take out a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Your family’s financial circumstances do not matter. Even wealthy families can qualify.

Required:

  • U.S. citizen, national, or eligible non-citizen
  • Have received a high school diploma or the equivalent (e.g., GED)
  • Enrolled at least half-time in an eligible degree or certificate program
  • Not in default on any existing federal student loans
  • Meet general eligibility requirements for federal student aid

Not Required:

  • Credit check
  • Cosigner
  • Separate loan application

Interest Rates and Fees

The interest rates on Direct Unsubsidized Loans are fixed and do not change over the life of the loan.

Every year on July 1, interest rates are reset based on current market rates. The interest rates are based on the 10-year Treasury rate (determined each year by the final auction prior to June 1) plus a fix margin (see table).

Type of Direct Unsbusidized Loan Interest Rate Formula Interest Rate Cap Current Interest Rate (2015-2016)
Undergraduate Students 10-Year Treasury + 2.05% 8.25% 4.29%
Graduate Students 10-Year Treasury + 3.6%  9.5% 5.84%

The interest on a Direct Unsubsidized Loan starts to add up (accrue) from the date the loan is first disbursed. If you don’t pay the interest as it accrues, it will be capitalized (added to the loan balance), increasing the size of the loan.

The current fee on Direct Loans is 1.068%. Fees are deducted from each loan disbursement. You can ask the college financial aid office to increase the loan amount to cover the fees, up to the annual loan limit.

Loan Limits: How Much You Can Borrow

The amount you can borrow from the Direct Loans program is subject to annual and aggregate loan limits:

  • Annual limits specify how much you can borrow each academic year.
  • Aggregate limits (also called cumulative limits) specify how much you can borrow through the loan program.

View a larger version of the Annual Borrowing Limits chart.

Direct Loans — Annual Borrowing Limits

Direct Loans Annual Borrowing Limits Bar Chart

View a larger version of the Aggregate Borrowing Limits chart.

Direct Loans — Aggregate (Cumulative) Borrowing Limits

Direct Loans Aggregate Borrowing Limits Bar Chart

How can I get my loan limits increased?

Dependency Override

If you have unusual family circumstances (such as a parent in prison), contact your school’s financial aid office and ask for a dependency override to get independent student limits.

Parent PLUS Loan Denial

If your parent is denied for a Parent PLUS Loan, you become eligible for the same loan limits as independent students. Contact your school’s financial aid office for details.

Loan limits are also capped at the college’s annual cost of attendance.

The cost of attendance includes:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Transportation
  • Miscellaneous personal expenses

How Loan Funds are Distributed

If you are a first-time Direct Loans borrower, you will be required to attend entrance counseling before your loan funds are sent to your school (disbursed). Some schools require in-person counseling, but many offer online counseling. You will learn about the loan terms and requirements during the counseling session.

You will also be required to sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN) before the loans can be disbursed.

The Direct Loan program sends the funds to your school to be credited to your student account. In most cases, the loan will be sent (disbursed) in at least two installments.

Special reminder: There is typically a 30-day delay in disbursing student loans to first-time, first-year borrowers.

Loan funds are credited to your account in this order:

  1. Tuition and fees
  2. Room and board (if you are living in college-owned student housing)
  3. Other school charges (with your permission)

If any loan funds remain in your account, the credit balance will be refunded to you by check, cash, debit card, or electronic funds transfer (EFT) to your bank account. Remember, the refund must be used to pay for your direct and indirect education expenses, such as textbooks, supplies, and equipment.

In-School Deferment and Grace Period

While you are enrolled in school at least half-time, your Direct Loans will be placed into deferment, which means you don’t have to make any payments. In addition, you don’t have to make payments during the 6-month grace period after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment status.

The interest on your Direct Unsubsidized Loans will start to accrue (add up) as soon as all of the loan funds are sent to your school. Even though you aren’t making any payments, interest is still adding up.

Repayment

The standard repayment term on Direct Loans is 10 years. However, you can qualify for a longer repayment term if you consolidate the loans or have more than $30,000 in federal student loans.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are eligible for all of the different repayment plans offered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Eligible repayment plans:

Recommendations

  1. File the FAFSA every year to maintain eligibility for student aid.
  2. Apply for grants and scholarships.
  3. Borrow Direct Subsidized Loans (if eligible) first. Then, take out Direct Unsubsidized Loans. If you have borrowed the maximum and still can’t pay all of your costs, consider other loans.
  4. Compare the costs and benefits of Parent PLUS Loans and private student loans. If you have a creditworthy cosigner, you may get a lower interest rate with a private student loan.
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