College Bills 101: Class in session

Written by
Sabina Haskell

July 10, 2020


Learn about loans

Students planning on college or training in the fall have much to navigate, especially this year as schools and training programs continue to adjust their plans. But whether students will be on campus or online, there’s a “to do” that is just ahead: Paying the fall semester tuition bill, as well as any other costs.

For many students (and parents), that means taking out an education loan to cover gaps between your financial aid and what’s due. Most Vermont families (nearly 7 out of 10, in fact) need to borrow to help foot the bill. So you’re not alone.

At VSAC we understand that paying for college, and student loans in particular, can be complicated. There’s a lot to consider, and we want to help make it easier. Our goal is to help students and parents better understand the details — and choices — so they borrow only what they need and minimize their cost of borrowing.

What to know before you borrow

Simply put, education loans are money that you borrow that must be paid back, with interest, over usually a term of 10 or 15 years.

There are two main types of education loans: federal loans and non-federal loans.

types of loans


Know more. Borrow less.

Remember, all loans are borrowed money that need to be repaid with interest. It’s important to compare all of your loan options and understand the costs and terms. You get to decide whether to accept some or all (or none) of the loan amounts offered in the student’s financial aid offer. Think carefully about how much you really need before you borrow.

If you’re facing a college bill for the fall, this list can help you confidently take the right steps (and not miss anything):

  1. Find your bill and your deadline: Depending on your school, the deadline for paying the fall semester bill may be as early as August 1. Colleges typically send an email to the student, not the parent, that a payment is due, with a link to an online portal to view the statement and pay online. Late fees can be costly, so plan now to be sure you’ll pay the bill on time.
  2. Confirm your financial aid “credits.” Your financial aid notification specifies what you would receive in grants and scholarships (that is, free “gift” aid that doesn’t have to be paid back). If a grant or scholarship you received is not listed, check with the financial aid office on how that will be applied and any steps you need to take. Will you receive work-study funds? Find out how those will be paid to you.

IMPORTANT: If your financial situation has changed, especially due to COVID-19, you may be able to get additional free aid. If you haven’t applied for free federal aid or a Vermont grant, you still have time. Go to for more information on how to appeal your financial aid or apply for a Vermont grant.

  1. Compare education loans. If you need an education loan to help pay the bill, choosing the right one for your situation can help you minimize your costs of borrowing. 
    • Accept the maximum offered in federal Direct student loans (loans taken in the student’s name). Then pause and compare all other loans that may be available from other lenders, including nonprofit lenders such as VSAC. Consider interest rates, fees, and repayment options and how they will impact what you will ultimately pay. Get the full rundown of what to consider and learn how to compare at
    • While federal loans for students offer favorable rates and repayment terms, the federal PLUS loan for parents (which may be listed on your financial aid notification) can have a higher rate than many other lenders. Compare all your loan options before simply “checking the box” for PLUS on your financial aid offer.
    • Vermont students and families have access to VSAC’s student and parent loans for undergraduate and graduate education. For the 2020-2021 academic year, VSAC is pleased to offer loans with a fixed rate as low as 3.99% APRour lowest fixed rate ever. VSAC education loans can be used by Vermont residents going to programs anywhere in the U.S. or internationally AND for any students attending a Vermont school. If you’ve already maximized available federal Direct student loans, a VSAC loan may be your lowest-cost option.

Still have questions or need more information? Contact us — that’s why we’re here. Call to speak with a Vermont-based counselor Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 800-226-1029; or send us an email to