Loan Terms You'll Need to Know

Click on each green bar below for the definition of each loan term.



The student or parent who signs a promissory note and agrees to repay a loan. Borrowers are legally responsible for repayment of their loan(s).


The addition of unpaid interest to a loan’s principal balance (original amount borrowed). Unless a loan is subsidized, you’re responsible for paying the interest during all periods, starting from the date of the first loan disbursement. You can choose either to pay it as it accrues (while you’re in school or during a grace period) or let it accrue and be added to the principal balance when you begin repayment. If you allow interest to be capitalized, the total amount you repay over the life of your loan will be greater than if you paid the interest as it accrued.


An individual who has the same responsibilities for repayment of a loan as the student borrower has; a cosigner is equally liable for the debt.

Cosigner release

The ability to relieve a cosigner of their loan obligation after specific criteria set by the lender is met.

Credit bureau or consumer reporting agency

An agency that gathers and stores credit information on a consumer’s creditworthiness. If a credit report is needed for a loan application, a credit bureau produces a report based on the gathered data. If the application is accepted and a loan is disbursed, the lender also reports back to credit bureaus the amount an individual borrowed and whether the individual makes payments on time. The three largest bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

CSS Profile®

An additional financial aid application (administered by the College Board) that some colleges require in order to determine eligibility for the college’s grant or scholarship money.


The status that results when a loan is not paid back as promised according to the terms and conditions of the credit agreement/promissory note. Upon default, loans are submitted to a guaranty agency, a collection agency, or the federal government for collection. The loan balance is due, in full, at the time of default.


Entitlement to postpone payments when the borrower meets specific eligibility requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education.

Direct loans

Federal loans for students and PLUS loans for parents, obtained through a student’s college and repaid to the federal government.

  • Direct Subsidized loans—loans for eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need (as determined by the FAFSA). Interest does not accrue while you’re in school, in grace period, or in deferment.
  • Direct Unsubsidized loans—loans made to eligible undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, regardless of financial need. Interest does accrue while you’re in school, in grace period, or in deferment; unpaid interest is then added to the principal balance.
  • Direct PLUS loans—loans for graduate students or for the parent (biological, adoptive, or in some cases, stepparent) of a dependent undergraduate student enrolled at least half time at an eligible school. Interest accrues from the first disbursement, and unpaid interest is added to the principal balance.

Loans can have fees, either when the loan is made or when repayment starts, and you may end up being charged higher fees than the ones you saw advertised. Some lenders won’t provide complete details about their fees until after you’ve applied. 

The most common fee is an origination fee, which is charged when you take out a loan. Look for no or low origination fees.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

The federal application that all students must complete in order to be considered for financial aid, including education loans from the federal government and state grants from VSAC. Colleges also require this form for determination of their own financial aid.

Financial aid offer

A communication (e-mail or letter) that each college sends to inform a student of their financial aid eligibility.

Fixed interest rate

A rate that remains the same over the life of the loan.


A period of time during which the borrower is permitted temporarily to stop making payments or reduce the amount of each payment. The borrower is liable for the interest that accrues on the loan during forbearance. Some forbearances are entitlements for eligible borrowers; others are granted solely at the discretion of the lender.

Grace period

The time after school enrollment ends and before loan repayment begins. Federal Direct student loans have a one-time, six-month grace period.


Outright gifts of money generally awarded based on a family’s level of financial need. Grants are provided by the federal government, by your college, or by the state you live in. Vermont residents should apply for a Vermont grant through MyVSAC or call 800-882-4166 for a paper application.

Income-based repayment (IBR)

One of several long-term repayment plan options for borrowers of federal education loans; your monthly loan payments are limited to a percentage of your annual income (includes spouse’s income, if applicable). Monthly payments are adjusted annually based on changes in income and family size.

Income-sensitive repayment

An arrangement in which a monthly payment amount is based on a borrower’s income and amount of education loan debt.

Interest rate

The fee a borrower pays for the use of money that’s borrowed.


A bank or student loan company that lends money to students and parents.

Master Promissory Note (MPN)

A legal document in which you promise to repay your loan(s), along with interest and fees, to the
U.S. Department of Education. It also explains the terms and conditions of your loan(s).

On-time payment

A payment made within a required timeframe established by the lender.

Principal balance

The amount of money still owed on a loan, not including accrued interest or future interest.

Private loans

Also known as alternative loans, these loans go by all sorts of brand names, depending on the lender. Families can use these loans to cover college costs that remain after having borrowed federal student loans. These loans are most often provided by nonprofit state agencies like VSAC, by your college, or by commercial lenders such as large national banks, online-only lenders, credit card companies, or credit unions.

Repayment disclosure statement

A fact sheet that shows the repayment terms of a loan. It is typically sent to a borrower when the loan is taken out and/or at the beginning of repayment.

Repayment period

The span of time during which a borrower must make regular payments of principal and interest. The repayment period begins either immediately following the final disbursement of the loan funds or following the loan’s grace period, whichever is applicable.


Gifts of money that do not need to be repaid. They’re provided by any group, individual, or organization that wants to offer financial support to students who are furthering their education or training. You must apply for scholarships and compete with other students who apply. By taking time to apply for scholarships, you may be able to reduce your out-of-pocket costs for college.

Teaser interest rate

An advertised interest rate that’s based on an exceptionally high credit rating. Either few borrowers actually receive this rate, or it is a very low variable rate that increases, with no maximum.

Variable interest rate

An interest rate that changes periodically in response to market conditions.


Jobs offered by colleges, usually in offices or departments on campus, to provide students with income up to a specific dollar amount each semester.

VSAC education loans

VSAC’s fixed-rate education loans available for parents and students to cover additional education costs not covered by federal Direct student loans. Compare our rates with federal PLUS.

  • VSAC’s parent loan—a fixed-rate loan for parents helping to finance their student’s undergraduate or graduate education. Parent is the borrower.
  • VSAC’s student loan—a fixed-rate loan for students who need additional financing for undergraduate or graduate education. Student is the borrower, with a cosigner (often a parent). Cosigner release may be available to qualified borrowers.


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