Consumer Watch: Digging out from student loans

FRESNO, Calif.

Consumer Reports recommends getting government loans rather than loans from private lenders, such as banks. Government loans have advantages. You may have the right to a temporary deferment or a flexible repayment plan.

Students should only get loans from private lenders, including banks, as a last resort. Private lenders don't have to offer flexible repayment plans to students, and the loans may not come with fixed interest rates. So that can make them costlier, riskier, and harder to repay.

Other ways to minimize student debt:

---Consider attending a state school.

----Submit the federal loan application, called the FAFSA, as early as you can.

----Borrow only what you really need, not the amount you qualify for.

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is calling for changes in current law so that students get standardized, easy-to-read information about their financial aid options, including grants and scholarships, before they commit to loans. Also, students should have the right to refinance their loans as circumstances warrant. And private lenders should be required to offer flexible payment options, as the government now does.

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