Ever wonder how student loans actually work? Most of us have them, but there’s more than meets the eye.

Secondary education has become increasingly important for young professionals and increasingly expensive over the last couple of decades. As a result, it has become imperative that students understand the student loan process which seemingly becomes more complicated with time.

In short, there are federal loans and private loans. Federal loans are provided by the US Department of Education through federal funding in the form of Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized loans, Perkins loans, PLUS loans, or Consolidation loans. Students apply for these federal loans by filling out a FAFSA form for student aid application, which allows you access to scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and other financial assistance along with federal loans if needed. Federal student loans provide a fixed interest rate (varies based on the type and when it is granted) and depending on the type of loan you receive the government might pay interest that accrues until you graduate. All of these federal loans generally include a 6 month grace period to allow students to get on their feet after graduating before making loan payments.

If you have a federal government loan, there are various service providers that manage your loan account and act on behalf of the government to collect payments after graduation. With federal government loans, there are numerous repayment options based on an individual’s financial situation, but the standard plan defaults to a 10-year repayment plan in equal monthly installments. The federal government also has numerous options to forgive, cancel, forego or delay student loan payments based on a number of programs. For example, by enrolling in the Student Loan Forgiveness program as a ten-year employee of qualified, not for profit organizations, you can apply to have your loans completely forgiven. Additionally, the federal government usually reduces your interest rate by 0.25% by consolidating all your loans and setting up automatic payments through your service provider.

If you are unable to qualify for student loans or need additional funds that the government will not provide, additional private loans are your only option through a private loan application (but should be used as a last resort). A number of private companies and banks provide loans to students similar to a car loan or mortgage. In general, these loans have higher interest rates compared to federal loans and they can have either fixed or variable interest rates. It is generally a good idea to try and get a cosigner (backer of your loan) for these types of loans in order to reduce your interest rates. Usually, these loans are higher interest and can be variable with lesser terms compared to federal government loans, as private companies see college students with no income as highly risky borrowers. Additionally, private loans rarely have flexible repayment options, forgiveness options, grace periods, or interest rate payment forgiveness.

Understanding the student loan process is the first step in saying BYE to your student loan problems and hello to your financial freedom!