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This article first appeared on the Credible blog.
If you’re looking for financial aid to help pay for your education, you might wonder how long it takes to get a student loan. The entire process — loan application, approval, and disbursement — depends on whether you get a federal student loan or private student loan. But knowing the rough timeline to expect will help you figure out when to apply for your student loans.
You can get started with Credible. It’s easy to compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders when you use Credible.
How long does it take to get federal student loans?
From start to finish, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to get federal student loans and then to receive any extra money as a check or direct deposit from your school.
If you want federal student loans, you’ll need to start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once you’ve completed your application, it could take anywhere from three to five days to process.
After your application is processed, your Student Aid Report (SAR) is sent to the schools you listed on your FAFSA. You should typically receive a financial aid award letter from your school within three weeks of submitting your FAFSA — but keep in mind that each school’s process for this is different. If you haven’t heard from your school after three weeks, it’s a good idea to contact the financial aid office.
Federal student loans are typically disbursed at the start of each term. If there are funds left over after paying for your tuition, fees, and student housing, most colleges will refund the remaining balance to you within a couple of weeks of receiving your loan funds. Keep in mind that some schools add a 30-day delay to this as an added protection for first-time borrowers.
How long does it take to get private student loans?
From the time you submit your application until you receive funds, plan on around three weeks to get a private student loan in the best-case scenario — or up to two to three months in case of delays.
Private student loan lenders have their own rules for approving loan applications. Most of them want the application and disbursement process to be as quick and easy as possible. In many cases, you can get funds faster from private student loans than federal loans.
It’s a good idea to shop around and consider as many private student loan lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. Credible makes this easy — you can compare rates from Credible’s partner lenders in two minutes.
Once you submit your application, you could be approved for a private student loan in as little as a few minutes. But if your application requires further review, it could take up to two weeks before the lender lets you know whether you’ve been approved (or if there are other conditions you need to meet first).
Most private student loans must be certified by your school before being disbursed. This might add another couple of weeks to the process. Once the loan is certified, the lender will send funds to the school. This can take anywhere from two weeks to two months. Also expect to wait another week or two before the school will give you any leftover money to use for rent, books, or other living expenses.
How do I check on my loan status?
When you apply for a student loan, you might want to keep an eye on your loan status along the way.
Here’s how to check on your loan status:
Federal student loans: To check your FAFSA status, you can log into your FAFSA account and look at the “My FAFSA” page. If your federal loans have been approved, check with your loan servicer for the disbursement status. If you need help or have questions, you can always call or email your financial aid office for up-to-date information, too.
Private student loans: For private student loans, contact the lender to check the loan status. Keep in mind that as you’re applying for private student loans, it’s a good idea to compare as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you. With Credible, you can easily see rates from multiple lenders in as little as three minutes — without affecting your credit score.
Whether you’re the borrower or cosigner, Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple private student loan providers without affecting your credit score.
There are generally no restrictions on how you spend your student loan money, as long as it’s being used for your education and living expenses while in school. But remember that you have to pay it back, so borrow only what you really need. If you end up not needing some of your student loans, you can always pay the extra amount back right away instead of having to pay back later.
About the author: Eric Rosenberg is an expert on personal finance. His work has been featured at Business Insider, Investopedia, The Balance, The Huffington Post, MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Mint.com and more.