Find the Right Student Loan

Last Updated May 13, 2009 6:16 PM EDT

In the weeks leading up to my daughter's high school graduation, student lenders started getting really chummy.

The lenders began sending me letters that oozed with the sort of soothing advice that parents crave.

Here was the gist of their messages: Halleluiah! You can borrow for college without filling out tortuous financial aid forms. You'll have more time to work on your summer tan if you just let the (fill-in-the-blank) lender do the heavy lifting. Need $20,000? How about $40,000? No problem. Really!

I would have rather kissed a boiling radiator than do business with these guys.

These lenders, without saying so in their marketing letters, were peddling private student loans. Among the options you'll face when deciding how to pay for college, private loans should be at the bottom of your list.

Maybe you already know that private loans are a dreadful alternative to federal loans such as the Stafford, PLUS and Perkins. But I've got to tell you that private lenders excel in confusing potential customers with their marketing messages. Sadly, many families don't know what kind of student loans they've got.

When families understand that federal student loans are better, they often choose them. Barnard College and Colorado State University proved that when they began contacting parents who were on the verge of taking out private loans before exhausting their federal options. Thanks to Bernard's wake-up calls, the volume of private student lending at that college plunged 73%. I wish more schools were that proactive.

If you start receiving mail from students lenders this summer don't be snookered. Learn more about borrowing responsibly for college by spending time at The Project on Student Debt and the Student Lending Analytics Blog.

Radiator image by Ryan Thomas, CC 2.0.