Student Loans, Financial Aid Both Rise in 2009-10

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According to a new report by the College Board, both loans and other types of college financial aid rose in the 2009-10 academic year, although this increase in student aid was largely offset by rising college costs, which increased by about 6 percent.The College Board, in its annual “Trends in Student Aid” report, estimates that a total of $154.5 billion in student financial aid was distributed in 2009-10. Grants now comprise about 50 percent of student financial aid from all sources, both federal and private sector.In 2009-10, the average undergraduate student financial aid package was worth nearly $11,500. This figure includes more than $6,000 in grants and more than $4,800 in government-backed federal loans. Graduate students received slightly more financial assistance, on average, in the form of grants — nearly $6,400 — but also borrowed more heavily. The average graduate student took out more than $15,700 in graduate loans.GrantsCompared to student financial aid figures for 2008-09, grant aid to undergraduate students increased by 22 percent, while federal loans increased by 9 percent. The 2009-10 academic year also saw a 16-percent increase in the average federal Pell Grant award to $3,656, the largest one-year rise in the program’s history. Only about one-fourth of all Pell Grant recipients, however, qualified for the maximum grant amount of $5,350.Student LoansPrivate student loans — college loans issued by private lenders rather than by the federal government — represented about 8 percent of all loans in 2009-10, a decrease from 25 percent in 2006-07.Federal subsidized Stafford student loans made up about 35 percent of all loans in 2009-10, an increase from 31 percent in 2006-07. Unsubsidized federal Stafford student loans accounted for 42 percent of the combined federal and private student loans taken out in 2009-10, an increase of about 12 percent from 2006-07.Subsidized Stafford loans, which are available only to students who demonstrate financial need, are government-backed college loans on which the government will pay the interest while the student is in school or in a period of approved deferred payments. Unsubsidized Stafford loans are available to students regardless of financial need. Although students, as on a subsidized loan, may defer payments on a federal unsubsidized college loan while they’re in school or in certain other authorized circumstances, the student, not the government, will be responsible for paying all the interest that accrues on an unsubsidized loan during those periods of deferment.According to the College Board, about 65 percent of all undergraduate students in 2009-10 did not accept Stafford loans of any type. The majority of students who did accept Stafford college loans ended up taking out both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. The average Stafford student loan debt load in 2009-10 was $6,550.In 2008, Congress authorized increases in the maximum annual and lifetime federal lending limits for Stafford student loans. The expanded loan amounts were approved in part to discourage students from taking on the burden of private student loans, which tend to carry higher interest rates and fewer borrower protections than federal loans.Currently, dependent undergraduate students can borrow up to a maximum of $31,000 in Stafford college loans throughout their undergraduate college career. Independent undergraduates, as well as dependent undergraduates whose parents do not qualify for a federal parent loan, can borrow up to a maximum of $57,500 in Stafford college loans.Graduate students may also be awarded both subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford student loans, up to $20,500 a year and up to a total lifetime maximum of $138,500, including both their undergraduate and graduate Stafford loans.