For many students, private student loans are a key to paying for college.

They can supplement what you or your family have saved and what you receive in grants, scholarships, and federal student loans. While deciding to take out a private student loan may seem like a big decision, that’s actually just the first in a series of big student loan decisions. There are lenders to choose from, rates to decide between and repayment plans to select. To be sure you have the information you need to make those choices, read what these current and former college students wish they knew before selecting their private student loans.

1. Know When Payments Begin

“Find out how long your grace period is for each of your loans. It may not be the same for each loan. I was unclear about my first payment date for one of my loans, so I accidentally missed my first payment by a couple of months.”

— Alexandra Dombroski, Hofstra University

2. Make Payments Early

“Throughout my education, I focused on making payments toward my federal loans. I wish I would have done the same for my private loans, not realizing at the time how much that could have helped me postgrad. By paying back small amounts throughout college, you can set yourself up for a manageable future.”

— Adeline Ania Hocine, Columbia College Chicago

3. Understand Your Options

“I wish I would’ve understood interest rates and repayment plans a lot better. The whole process of selecting how you wanted to structure the loans and repayment [seemed] kind of like, ‘Take it or leave [it],’ when in reality, there were [multiple] options.”

— Nate Jensen, Purdue University

4. Understand Interest Rates

“I wish I had done more research on how interest rates are calculated and how greatly they affect how much you will end up having to pay back when the time comes to start making student loan payments.”

— Abbie Long, University of Kentucky

5. Ask About Rewards

“I didn’t know that the private sectors [offered] any kind of rewards or bonuses for good grades.”

— Nate Jensen, Purdue University

6. Borrow Only What You Need

“I wish I would have been more mindful of the amount I was eligible for from my private loans versus how much of that amount I actually needed for school [and living] expenses. It can be really easy to succumb to the idea of having more. I think that as a student, it’s easy to forget that a loan is only borrowed, especially when it’s stretched out over a four-year period. It’s important to remember that while you might have more now, that’s also more that you’ll have to pay back later.”

— Adeline Ania Hocine, Columbia College Chicago

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