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The student loan application process and processing time can vary significantly between federal and private student loans. It’s important to know when your loan will be disbursed so you can pay your tuition bill on time.
So how long does it takes to get a student loan?
Federal student loans are usually disbursed before the first day of school starts, while private loans can take anywhere from two weeks to two months.
The student loan process can be confusing, especially if you’re a first-time borrower. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you understand the basics of how fast you can get student loans, how long it takes, and what steps are involved.
Getting started with student loans
The first step is to decide on a lender. You can do this by comparing different lenders’ interest rates and repayment terms, as well as their customer service reviews. Make sure to look at both private lenders and government-backed loans.
Next, determine how much money you need by looking at your financial aid award letter from your school. Then compare that amount against how much you can borrow through federal student loans and private lenders—this will help you figure out which type is best for your situation based on interest rate and repayment plan options.
You’ll also need to check with your school’s financial aid office to make sure that they have enough funds available for all students who want them (they may have already reached their maximum funding limit). Once everything checks out with them and with other lenders, go ahead and apply!
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how fast do student loans come in
Your lender will send you a welcome letter, which will instruct you on how to complete the final paperwork and disbursement process. You’ll need to submit a few documents, including your signed promissory note and a copy of your acceptance letter from your school.
After you’ve completed this paperwork and sent it back, your lender will disburse the funds to your school. The amount of time this takes varies based on the lender and your school, but don’t expect to receive your money until at least 10 weeks after you’ve been approved for a loan.
when do i get student loans
How Long Does It Take To Get A Student Loan?
Regardless of where you are in your college journey, securing financial aid in a timely manner can help you reduce money worries and allow you to focus on your studies.
The College Board’s 2021 Trends in College Pricing and Financial Aid report revealed that full-time undergraduate students received an average of $3,780 in federal student loans for the 2020-21 academic year. However, these students likely filled out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and supplied other required documents long before federal loan funds were disbursed to their school.
Like the steps needed to apply to college, requesting federal student loans is also a multistep process. When applying for federal student aid, expect to wait several months before everything is finalized.
Here are the key steps involved to get federal loans and how long each stage takes:
1. Complete and Submit the FAFSA
Timeline: Less than one hour
Filling out the FAFSA is the first step in applying for federal aid like scholarships and grants, and it also determines whether you’re eligible for federal student loans.
The application process can take less than one hour to complete. To complete it, you’ll need a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, which will also be used later in the student loan process. It’s also helpful to gather the essential documents you’ll need to reference, including tax returns, Social Security numbers (SSNs) and other financial documents.
Once you’ve completed the form, submit it electronically or by mail by the appropriate deadline. Applications for the upcoming academic year are available each year starting on October 1 of the preceding year. For example, the 2022-23 FAFSA became available on Oct. 1, 2021.
States and schools each have their own FAFSA submission deadlines. State deadlines are available on the Student Aid website; ask your school about its deadline for student aid. While the application window for the FAFSA is often quite long, it pays to submit it as close to the Oct. 1 opening date as possible. Some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so you could miss out on some forms of aid if you delay.
2. Wait for Your FAFSA to Be Processed
Timeline: Three to 10 days
After submitting your FAFSA, the Department of Education will review your application. If you submitted the FAFSA online, expect a processing time of three to five business days. Mail-in FAFSAs can take seven to 10 business days to process.
Upon reviewing your FAFSA, the Department of Education will email your Student Aid Report (SAR), if you provided an email address. Students who didn’t provide an email address will receive their SAR by mail. Your SAR will also be sent to your selected schools for review.
3. Review Your Financial Aid Award Package
Timeline: Varies; one or more months
The duration it takes each school to process and evaluate your SAR varies. However, colleges typically send eligible students their financial aid award package around the same time that college acceptance letters are released. Contact your college’s financial aid office for more information.
4. Complete Student Loan Entrance Counseling
Timeline: 30 minutes
If you qualify for federal student loans and choose to accept all or a portion of it, you’ll need to complete student loan entrance counseling on the Federal Student Aid site. Entrance counseling informs you about how your federal loan works, the terms and conditions of your debt and what your rights are as a borrower.
You can’t save your place during the counseling session, so make sure you’ve reserved enough time to complete it in one sitting.
5. Sign the Master Promissory Note
Timeline: Less than 30 minutes
The final step is signing the Master Promissory Note, which is your official contract and signed assurance that you’ll repay your loan. It also outlines the terms and conditions that are specific to your federal loans.
After signing your promissory note, the federal loan is disbursed directly to your school so it can be applied toward tuition and fees. Any remaining amount will be disbursed to you, but when you receive leftover funds is up to your school. You may receive the money up to 10 days before the semester starts, but in some cases it may take up to 30 days after the start of the term.
What About Private Student Loans?
If you must borrow student loans, consider prioritizing federal student loans first. Federal loans offer borrower-friendly benefits like income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, loan forgiveness and extended deferment and forbearance options.
If you’ve reached your federal borrowing cap and need to borrow money from a private lender, expect varying timelines from the application step through funding. Often, you can check your private student loan rates and receive an application decision within minutes or days. For example, applying for a Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan takes roughly 10 minutes to apply and receive a decision.
After you’re approved for a loan, you’ll need to complete some final paperwork before the lender will disburse your money. Disbursement times vary based on the lender and your school, but expect up to 10 weeks to receive the private loan funds after your application is approved.
Be aware that most private lenders disburse loan funds directly to your school, which then sends any leftover funds to you. However, some private lenders will send you the money directly to put toward education costs. Speak to your lender to clarify what you should expect.
How to Check the Status of Your Loan
You can check the status of your federal loan application at FAFSA.gov after logging into your account. If you’re curious about the status of your federal loan disbursement, contact your school’s financial aid office for more information.
To check the status of a private student loan, reach out to your lender directly for an update. Some lenders might provide the option of checking your loan status through its website or by speaking with a representative.
When Should I Apply for Student Loans?
Since student loan applications take time to process—and delays can happen—it’s best to start the process early. For federal student loans, this means completing and submitting your FAFSA as close to the Oct. 1 opening date as possible.
For private student loans, consider applying after you’ve received your financial aid award packages from the schools you’re considering. This will help you better understand any funding gaps and how much money you might need to borrow from private lenders. Based on the application and funding timeline discussed above, consider applying for private loans at least two months before tuition is due.
The process of getting student loans is pretty simple, but you need to be prepared to jump through a few hoops.
First, you’ll apply for a federal loan. Then you can apply for state loans if you qualify for them. Your school might also have its own loans that you can apply for. You’ll have to fill out paperwork and make sure your financial situation meets certain requirements (like having good credit).
After that, it’s simply a matter of waiting until your loan is approved and deposited into your account!