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Student Loans: 5 loans you should know about


If you are like 70% of students out there, you may need to borrow for college.

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 Check out these top options for students and parents and remember, limit the amount you borrow as much as possible! 

1. The Federal Stafford Loan. This is the best borrowing option for students. Stafford loans come in two varieties. Subsidized loans offer interest paid by the government while the student is in school. This type is only available to undergraduate students whose families prove financial need. Students are responsible for paying all interest on unsubsidized loans. Unsubsidized loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students. New this year, the rates on these loans are set annually and are fixed for the life of the life. Undergraduate students will receive a rate of 3.86% for the 2013/14 academic year, regardless of whether the loan is subsidized or unsubsidized. (Compared to 3.4% for subsidized loans and 6.8% for unsubsidized loans for the 2012/13 academic year). Graduate students will get a rate of 5.41% this year, compared to 6.8% last year. All options have a 1.051% default fee which is deducted from the total amount sent to the school. To be eligible for a Federal Stafford Loan, a student must complete a FAFSA. Extensive deferment and forbearance options are available. While these loans offer the best rates and most flexibility for students, there are borrowing limits (see below) so often times, families need to look beyond the Federal Stafford Loan to meet their borrowing needs. 

Annual Federal Stafford Loan Limits:  
Dependent Students
Independent Students
Year in School
Subsidized Limit
Total Limit
Subsidized Limit
Total Limit
Third– Fifth
Grad Students

2. Federal Perkins Loan. Many fewer students qualify for a Federal Perkins Loan than a Federal Stafford Loan. These loans are awarded based on financial need and are only available at schools that have a funds for the Perkins program. You must apply for financial aid and complete the FAFSA to be considered for a Perkins loan. If you qualify and the school awards you one, it will be included in your financial aid award letter. You may be awarded up to $5,500 a year if you are an undergraduate and $8,000 a year if you are graduate student. The standard repayment term on a Perkins loan is 10 years and they offer a low fixed rate of 5%. Many deferment and forbearance options are available on Perkins loans. 

3. RISLA Student Loan. The RISLA Student Loan is a fixed rate state-based loan. This loan is available to Rhode Island residents, no matter where the student chooses to attend school, and to any student from outside of Rhode Island that attends an eligible college or university in the State of Rhode Island. The RISLA Student Loan comes in two different repayment options. The immediate repayment option is the best deal and offers a low fixed rate of 5.39% (5.39% APR) and no origination fees. It has a 10 year repayment period. The deferred option has a rate of 7.49% (view APR and disclosures) and has a 4% origination fee that can be waived if the student completes a financial literacy tutorial on RISLA.com. Students who complete an eligible internship can qualify for a $2,000 loan forgiveness on their RISLA Student Loan and income based repayment is available to borrowers who land upon financial hardship. 

4. RISLA Parent Loan. Much like the RISLA Student Loan, the RISLA Parent Loan offers a low fixed rate of 5.39% and zero origination fees. However, this loan - unlike the RISLA Student Loan - is exclusively in the parent name and the student is not obligated on the debt. The standard repayment term is 10 years and the loan enters repayment after the final disbursement is sent to the school. 

5. Federal PLUS Loan. The Federal PLUS Loan offers parents and graduate students a fixed rate of 6.41% and a 4.204% origination fee. There is a deferment option on this loan that allows parents or students to delay payments until the student graduates. The standard repayment term is 10 years but repayment may be extended depending on the loan balance or if the borrower decides to consolidate the debt. Some schools include this loan in the financial aid award package but this loan is not awarded based on need. 

Before you borrow, remember to carefully compare rates and terms on education loans and be sure to fully understand your obligations. 

Federal Student Loan Interest Rate Changes


You may have heard in the news this week that a bill was passed to change federal student loan interest rates. Prior to July 1, 2013, the Federal Stafford Loan rate was set at 3.4% fixed for subsidized loans (loans under which the government pays the interest while the student is in school) and 6.8% for unsubsidized loans. PLUS Loans were set at a fixed rate of 7.9%. On July 1, the unsubsidized Stafford rate of 3.4% was set to increase to 6.8% if Congress did not act.

July 1 came and went and Congress was unable to reach an agreement to keep the rates at 3.4%. Meanwhile, many new bills were introduced that would change the way interest rates are set for Stafford loans and PLUS loans. This week, one of those bills (HR 1911) was passed by both the House and Senate. It's now waiting for the President's signature and is likely to be signed.

The new rates on Stafford and PLUS loans will be market based rates and retroactive effective July 1, 2013. Rates will be set annually based on the 10-year Treasury note plus a markup and will be fixed for the life of the loan. For undergraduate Stafford loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized, the markup will be 2.05%. For graduate Stafford loans, the markup is 3.6% and for PLUS loans, it's 4.6%. Interest rates would be capped at 8.25% for undergraduate students, 9.5%t for graduate students, and 10.5% for PLUS borrowers.

So what does this mean for students? The good news is that it means lower rates on Stafford this year. The bad news is that as the economy improves, rates are likely to go higher.  

My college borrowing story


Like most college students, I was convinced I was going to be making the big bucks after graduation. I wanted to work in advertising and to be frank, I never looked up earnings for people in that career. I pictured Hollywood's portrayal of a cool, collected and well-paid advertising executive, and I thought that would be me. I reasoned that I was attending a great school (an Ivy League school, even) and that if my starting annual salary wasn't at least as much as one year's worth of tuition, then what was the point?

As generous as my financial aid package was, it required me - and my parents - to borrow in order to afford our Expected Family Contribution. I maxed out my Stafford Loans, and for my first three years my parents met the rest of the burden by taking on PLUS loans. My fourth year, my parents and I joined up to get a state-based college loan, so I had some more investment in my education. The deal was they would make the payments on the loan until I could afford it on my own.

My last year of college, I spent a good deal of time in the Career Services office. During one particular appointment, my career advisor told me that my expectations for a starting salary in the field of advertising were grossly unrealistic. I didn't believe her. I left my appointment feeling angry, thinking I was going to proove the advisor wrong.

I didn't.

Sure enough, my first job out of college paid me more-or-less the average starting salary for an entry level job in the advertising field, and more than $20,000 less than what I unrealistically was hoping for/expecting.

Fortunately for me, I was living in a low cost city and with a few roommates, so my rent was reasonable. I graduated when student loans were still on a variable rate schedule and was able to consolidate them at the historic low rate. I chose a graduated repayment plan, that in the end would cost me much more in financing charges (and of course now I regret), but afforded me a much lower payment at the time. My parents were kind enough to continue paying on my state-based student loan until - years later - I was able to earn enough to take over the payments.

I got by but it was tough. I didn't save anything. I used my credit card when I shouldn't have, accruing even more debt. It took me years to pay off those credit cards and get back on track. It wasn't until 5 years after I consolidated my federal student loans that I even made a payment towards the principal balance, which meant every penny I paid for 60 months was just going towards interest!

I share this story as a warning that researching your career before you borrow is absolutely essential. Before you ever borrow a student loan, you should have a good handle on what you are interested in, what you can do with your skills, and how much money you will make in an entry level job in that field. This will allow you to develop a realistic picture of what your life will be like after you graduate with the debt load you plan to take on. 

To research careers and salaries, you can use the tools available on the RI Department of Labor and Training site and the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When it comes to paying for college, remember to always think of ways you can limit your borrowing, including getting a part time job, making your own coffee, and eating in the dining hall instead of ordering out. Remember to live like a college student now, so you don't have to live like one after you graduate.

How State-Based College Loans are Different.


College loans come in all shapes and sizes. Students should always explore their federal student loan options, including subsidized Stafford loans and Perkins loans, before turning elsewhere for borrowing for college. The subsidized Stafford loan offers the lowest rate (3.4%) and a low 1% default fee. The Perkins loan has a low rate of 5% and no fees. Awards for the Perkins loan, if available, are awarded by your school through your financial aid award letter.

Stafford loans also come in an unsubsidized option. The rate on these loans is 6.8% and borrowing limits do apply for all Stafford and Perkins loans.

So what happens if you are awarded the maximum amounts and you still need more money to pay your college bill? Searching for grants & scholarships to help fund your education, but they rarely will meet your entire need.

Your next option is a Federal PLUS loan, a private student loan or a state-based student loan. We will review how each of these options are different below.

The Federal PLUS Loan is a fixed rate loan in the parent's name (grad students can also pursue a PLUS loan). The student has no obligation on this loan, unless they make an individual agreement with their parents. The rate is 7.9% and there is a 4% fee for all borrowers. The biggest benefit of these loans is the flexible payment options. You can defer your payments while the student is in school (although this means you will end up paying a lot more in finance charges in the long run) and there are countless deferment and forbearance programs if you are in a sticky financial situation, for example, if there is a job loss or illness in the family.

State-based loans are provided through non-profit, state affiliated lenders. These loans are typically fixed rate loans and may or may not have fees. They have varying deferment and forbearance provisions, dependent upon the lender. Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, sponsor of the College Planning Center of Rhode Island, offers two repayment options. RISLA offers state-based student loansThe immediate repayment option has a low fixed rate of 6.39% and zero origination fees. The deferred repayment option has a fixed rate of 7.39% and a 0-4% orignation fee. Any borrower can qualifty for the zero origination fee on the deferred loan by taking an online financial literacy test within the year the loan is borrowed. You may also qualify if your high school offered a mandatory (and approved by RISLA) financial literacy course.

Typically, state-based loans are available to residents of the state in which the agency serves, or to students from outside of that state who come to the state to enroll in a college there. For example, if you are from New Jersey and you go to college in Rhode Island, you may qualify for RISLA's state-based loans. Likewise, if you live in Providence, RI, whether you go to school in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, or Hawaii, you can apply for this loan.

Lastly, there are private student loans. These loans are offered by banks and nationwide student lenders such as Sallie Mae and Discover. Some of these businesses offer fixed rates but most of the offerings are variable rate. In either case, most programs offer tiered pricing. Tiered pricing means the rate that you receive, whether it is on a fixed rate or variable rate product, is based on your credit score. It may be the credit score of the student, the coborrower, or some combination. Every bank determines their own criteria. When applying for a private student loan, be very aware that the advertised low rate may not be what you qualify for, unless you have outstanding credit.Also, make sure to pay attention to disclosures, terms and conditions. Deferment and forbearance options may be very limited.

How to minimize college loan debt - Part II


Part I of this series encouraged students to borrow only what they need and keep their borrowing in line with their career choice. Below are some additional techniques to help students minimize the amount they borrow for college. Some of these require a lot of foresight and need to be done prior to applying for college. As with the tips in Part I, these tips may require you to make some sacrifices - but these short term compromises will have a very long term payoff.

Earn college credit while in high school.

Does your high school allow you to enroll in courses at a local college while earning your high school degree? Some high schools offer these programs, which allow you to earn both college and high school credits at the same time. This could potentially mean it will take you less time to graduate from college. If this option isn't available to you, keep in mindMinimize College Debt II many colleges also accept certain test scores on AP exams for college credit. Look into each individual college's policy. By earning credits before you enroll, it can potentially reduce the amount of time it will take to finish your degree and therefore the amount you may need to borrow.

Enroll at a community college for your first two years.

If you are planning on pursuing a bachelor's degree or higher, you may want to consider enrolling at a community college for your first two years, especially if you are unsure of what you want to study or what career you aim to pursue. Some students don't find this option as glamorous as perhaps, living in the big city, or attending the state flagship university, but community colleges provide great value. Community colleges are typically much less expensive than public or private four year schools. However, before you pursue this option, make sure you understand which credits can be transferred to other schools and which schools will accept them before you make your final decision.

Fill out the FAFSA by your school’s deadline.

In order to make sure you receive all of the financial aid you are eligible for, including federal and institutional grants (“free money”), make sure you complete your FAFSA and any other required financial aid forms by the school’s specified deadline. Missing a deadline could mean you miss out of opportunities to receive free money or cheaper loans.

Apply for scholarships.

Scholarships are not only available through your school. Private scholarships are available to just about every type of student. Local scholarships tend to be smaller but are a lot easier to get. A few scholarships can add up to pay for books and living expenses and can significantly  reduce your borrowing needs. Before you borrow, may sure you explore your free money options first. Start your search here.

Budget for a lower cost of living.

A good way to reduce the amount you need to borrow is to create a monthly budget. Be realistic. Remember to live like a college student now, so you don't have to after you graduate.

Spend responsibly.

A slice of pizza here, cup of coffee there? How can this really make an impact on your borrowing? Take a look at the chart below.




Cost Per




5 x a week





4 x a month





4 packs a week




Vending machine snack

3 x a week









Get a part time or summer job.

Work part time during the school year and summer and use your earnings to pay for college costs, rather than spending them on clothes, gadgets or entertainment. Just remember, working part-time can be good for you, but working full time can sometimes be too much. If you aren't able to balance your studies and job, it could mean you are unable to finish school on time and need to pay for an extra year of tuition, and borrow more. Try not to work more than 10-25 hours a week if you are full time student.

Be wise with your credit cards.

Practicing responsibility and discipline with credit cards from the start is vital to establishing good credit and avoiding a heavy debt load post-graduation. Never use your credit card if you don't think you can pay off the balance quickly. Your credit card is not an additional source of income! This is one of the most important things to remember when you are in college. You may think putting spring break on your card is a good idea now, but when you ending paying back $4,000 instead of $2,000 after credit card interest, you may think again. Only use your credit card when necessary and pay your entire credit card balance off each month to avoid interest charges. Learn more about being smart with your credit card.

Don't "Get it Over With" When Signing for College Loans


Have you found that when it comes to paying for college, you just want to "get it over with?" While this may seem like a good idea at the time - quickly coming up with a method for paying the tuition bill before it is due - you may regret it later. Explore your options before signing on college loans.

The trouble is "getting it over with" sometimes leads us to make decisions that aren't always best for our family. When confronted with a $13,000 loan application that can help a student go to their dream college, it seems like everything is at stake. Why not just sign it, send it off to the school and make sure your tuition is paid? The reason is because there may be better options for your family that could save you thousands in the long run.

Rarely have we heard of a student or parent who isn't ready to get over with paying off their college loans. Some of those students and parents, unfortunately, could have been finished paying their debts earlier if they had put a little more effort into exploring the various options available, and making sure those options offered the rates, terms and flexibility that was right for their individual situation.

As the time comes to pay your tuition bill, remember that a little extra work now could save you a lot of money in the future, so rather than "getting it over with" when signing your college loan applications, make sure you know what else is available to you and if that option - or just finding a way to borrower less - could save you some cash.

A few important things to remember when borrowing for college:

  • Subsidized federal student loans are a great place to start when you have exhausted your grant and scholarships options and determined how much of your resources you can put into the college bill. The federal Stafford and Perkins loans both offer subsidized options and a lot of flexibility. The Perkins loan has a rate of 5%. The Stafford loan has a rate of 6.8% for the 2012/13 academic year. On a subsidized loan, the government covers your interest while the student is in school at least half-time.
  • Stafford loans also come in an unsubsidized option. Make sure you understand which you have been awarded in your financial aid award letters. You may be awarded a portion of both.
  • Stafford and Perkins loans have annual borrowing limits and few families find that these limits are enough to cover their entire college costs.
  • If you need additional loans, look into state-based student loans (Rhode Island offers one with a rate of 6.39%), the federal PLUS loan (offered through the US Dept of Ed and has a rate of 7.9%), and if you must, explore private student loans (typically variable rate loans based on an index plus a markup based on your credit.)
  • Remember, if you seek a private student loan with a variable rate, keep in mind rates are very low right now. When rates increase, so will your monthly payments. 

How much should I borrow for college?

As of 2010, the average American student borrowed more than $23,000 while obtaining a four year degree. Even at a low interest rate of 5 percent, you'd have to pay $244 per month for 10 years to erase those student loans. However, the question of exactly how much is okay to borrow for college is less dependent the amount of debt you may rack up, but more about how much money you'll make once you graduate.

Research Your Career

Deciding your future career goals is one way to explore the approximate amount of money you'll make once you graduate. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics and peruse various dont rush to borrow for collegeoccupations you're interested in making your career. They detail current average salary ranges for many different occupations. For example, racking up $50,000 might seem like a lot of debt, however, lawyers make a mean salary of about $129,000 per year. Conversely, racking up that same amount might prove prohibitive for a tax preparer who only has a mean salary of $37,000 per year. 

Determine Future Needs

Since paying for student loans does not generally begin until after you've received your degree, many students do not take into account the future impact of having to pay those loans in correlation with other life expenses. For example, if you plan on moving to a major city after college, the cost of housing will be higher than if you live at home for a period of time. Aside from housing, take into account the cost of transportation, utilities, insurance and healthcare. The less amount of money you need to dedicate to those categories, the more you may be able to take in student loans. Create your budget here.

Take Only What You Need

The conventional wisdom regarding student loans is to borrow only what you need to complete your degree. For example, if you receive graduation gifts from family members or have a job, these monies should be used to pay for school related expenses first. Additional money should not be taken just to be stored in your bank account to use for recreational activities. Estimate your student loan payments.

All Loans Are Not Equal

Seek out federally subsidized loans such as Perkins or Stafford loans before taking loans from other sources such as high interest credit cards. State-based student loans can also over low interest rate and little or no orignation fees. Keep in mind variable rate loans don't have fixed monthly payments so the estimate you receive now won't necessarily be what you pay each month by the time you graudate.

7 Steps to Applying for College Financial Aid


Follow this simple step-by-step process to make sure you qualify for as much financial aid as possible.

Step 1: Apply for a PIN.

Apply for a PIN at www.pin.ed.gov. Your PIN will enable you to “sign” documents  electronically, access your Student Aid Report (SAR) online and make corrections to your FAFSA through the web. Both the parent and student must each apply for a PIN. If you have applied for aid in past years, you can reuse your pin.

Step 2: Submit the FAFSA.

You should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon after January 1 as possible. The FAFSA is used by all colleges to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and your eligibility for federal and state aid, including subsidized student loans. Most colleges also use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for institutional aid.

The FAFSA cannot be filed until after January 1st, but it must be completed and received prior to the college’s priority deadline date. The FAFSA must be filed for every year the student is in school. Submit your FAFSA online at fafsa.ed.gov. A FAFSA requires a signature from both a parent and the student applicant. To sign the online application, you must use your PIN (see Step 1).

Families are encouraged to file the FAFSA early even if they do not have all the necessary tax information required for the form. If necessary, this information can be estimated. You will have the opportunity to change or update information later in the financial aid process.

There is no fee involved in filing the FAFSA and all families are encouraged to apply regardless of their family circumstances. While the FAFSA form may seem long and complicated to fill out, free help is available through the College Planning Center of RI

Step 3: Submit the CSS/PROFILE and other financial aid forms, if applicable.

Some private independent colleges require you to file a CSS/PROFILE application or an institutional financial aid form to determine your eligibility for their own sources of financial aid. The PROFILE application can be completed as early as October and is only available online here. Make sure you understand if you need to file any additional forms and that you submit them by the school’s specified deadline.

Step 4: Apply for scholarships.

Millions of dollars in scholarships are available each year. Start your search online at www.rischolarships.org for local Rhode Island scholarships. Use tools like www.fastweb.com to search for national scholarships. Don't forget to check your guidance office and local library for more opportunities. Scholarships are a great way to help pay college tuition, books and living expenses and can reduce the amount you need to borrow. You should always maximize the amount of free money you use to pay for college before borrowing.

Keep in mind national scholarships are much more competitive and often times much harder to attain than local scholarships. Even though the awarded amounts on national scholarships may be higher, you most likely have a better chance of getting a scholarship from a local business or organization.

View a comprehensive list of scholarships and scholarship search tools here. 

Step 5: Review your Student Aid Report (SAR).

Approximately one month after filing the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Correct any mistakes on this form, update any changes in financial circumstances or add additional colleges where you would like your information to be sent.Need Comparison Graph Rev

The EFC information from on your SAR will be sent to the financial aid office at the colleges that you indicated on your FAFSA form. Each college then takes that amount and subtracts the EFC from their total cost of attendance. That figure is your family's demonstrated financial need for that particular college. Financial need will be different for each college you apply to because each college's total cost of education is different.

Step 6: Review your award letters.

Each college's financial aid office then determines what aid it has available to help meet your demonstrated financial need. Schools will aim to meet as much of your need as possible but not all schools can afford to meet 100% of your financial need. The financial aid office will put together a financial aid package or award letter for you. The aid may come in the form of grants, work study, scholarships, student loans and so on.

Remember, when your financial aid package arrives in the mail, read it over carefully. Decide if you want to accept any of or the entire award. Pay attention to instructions the school gives you. You may have to complete additional paperwork to fully accept the award. Accepting your award by the school’s specified deadline will safeguard it. However, if you feel that the award does not fully meet your financial needs or your needs have changed due to illness, unemployment or for some other reason, you can try appealing the award. Make sure to have documentation that supports your request. Many schools will take a second look at your package, if asked.

If you receive multiple financial aid packages, take note of which expenses are included in each school’s total cost of attendance when you compare. Also, pay attention to what kind of aid each school is offering your family. One school might meet a higher percentage of your need, but may do so with a greater proportion of loans. Sometimes, a school with a higher cost of attendance could end up costing your family less in the long run.

Your financial aid package may or may not cover your total financial need. If financial need is not entirely met, this unmet need is called a "gap." This means that resources must be found in order to meet the full cost of education. In many cases this will mean additional student and parent loans. Use our meeting college costs calculator to figure out how you will meet the difference.

Step 7: Apply for loans, if necessary.

Your school may include federal student loans on your award letter. If these loans are not listed on your award letter, you still may be eligible to borrow. To accept your federal loan awards, you will need to complete a Master Promissory Note.

If you decide to take out a private student or a state-based student loan, you will need to select a lender. Our guide can help you understand what questions you should ask your lender before borrowing.


When are Student Loans Necessary? Learn Ways to Pay Tuition Bills.


With college costs on the rise and exceeding $40,000 a year in some cases, college bills have become increasingly more difficult to pay. Often times, salary, assets and savings, including education plans, are not enough to cover your family’s contribution. Financial aid can help reduce the costs of college but families are still often left with a considerable bill to pay.

Ideally, you should attempt to get as much free money as possible before turning to loans to cover college costs. You may receive grants and/or scholarships in your financial aid package from your school but outside scholarships are also available to help families fund a higher education. Local scholarships are widely available and are often easier to obtain than national scholarships (visit RIScholarships.com to search local scholarships in RI). Girl in library WEB

Remember, scholarships are not just for straight-A students and exceptional athletes. Many scholarships are available to financially-needy students or to students with certain interests, students that belong to community or religious organizations, or are children of employees of a particular company.

Once you have exhausted your “free money” options, you might consider taking a look at a payment plan, parent or student education loan, or a home equity loan. Your individual situation will help determine which option is right for you.

For help determining how to meet your college bill, use our calculator.

15 Questions to Ask Before Borrowing a Student Loan


By now, you probably have been accepted to college and you know where you are going to go. But have you decided how you are going to pay for your education? As a rule, always take advantage of any available scholarships and grants, and pay what you can from salary and savings before turning to student loans.

If you do need student loans, federal Stafford and Perkins loans are often your best bets. You must be eligible for a Perkins loan or subsidized Stafford loan and your school will include it in your aid package if so. Any student that has submitted a FAFSA can apply for an unsubsidized Stafford loan. However, these federal student loan programs have annual borrowing limits.

If you still need to borrow more after exploring these options, you may want to consider looking into the Federal PLUS loan or a supplemental education loan. Remember to limit the amount you borrow! For every dollar you take out, you will have to pay back more than that dollar with interest. 

Before you borrow, always ask the lender: 

  1. What is the interest rate?
  2. Is the interest rate fixed or variable? (Variable rates can change monthly or annually until your loan is paid off.)
  3. Is the rate I receive based on my credit?
  4. Does the interest rate ever change? (Some loans have different rates while you are in school vs. after you graduate and start repaying your loan.)
  5. What are the fees? (repayment fees, origination fees, default fees, late payment fees, etc.)
  6. What is the loan term?
  7. What would my monthly payment be if I borrowed $X,XXX?
  8. When would my first payment be due?
  9. How are loan funds disbursed? (to you or the school?)
  10. What steps do I need to take to complete an application?
  11. How long does it take to process an application?
  12. Are there loan limits? Annual? Aggregate?
  13. Who is eligible for this loan?
  14. Do I need a cosigner?
  15. What deferment options are available to me?  
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