Adult learners may have previous educational debt – whether a federal or private student loan or debt owed to a previous institution. Adults should consider additional educational debt carefully.

Federal Loan Programs

Federal direct student loans are an option for returning adult students. Applications are not subject to a credit check and may receive higher award amounts. As with all loans, you will have to pay back this money, with interest.

  • Benefits: If you need to take a loan, turn to a Federal Direct loan before any loans from private lenders. When compared to private educational loans, federal student loans come with unique benefits, including fixed interest rates, flexible repayment plans, and suspension (postponement) of payments.

  • Amount to Borrow: The maximum amount you borrow depends on your total costs and your year-in-school. Generally, the most you can borrow as an undergraduate student per year is $12,500. If eligible, $5,500 of that amount will be interest-free while you are in school. If you have borrowed previously, there is a cap on the total amount you can borrow, which is $57,500 for undergraduate students.

Loan Considerations

Before considering a student loan, think about the following questions:

  • What is my total student debt, including this new loan?

  • How long will it take to fully repay the loan?

  • What portion of my future income will go towards paying the debt, including all non-student loan debt?

If you decide to borrow a student loan, be sure to only take out the minimum amount needed, rather than accepting the maximum amount offered by the college. Use all forms of assistance (Veterans benefits, employer assistance, scholarships, special program funding, etc.) before deciding what amount you will borrow.

Past Educational Debts

Adults who have been to college before may carry past educational debts. You can overcome these challenges.

  • Grant Overpayment: If you were provided grant aid and did not complete credits for the coursework, you may owe a financial aid overpayment. Overpayments can lead to a tuition balance, a grant repayment requirement, or both. A collection agency can sometimes assume the outstanding debt, resulting in additional fees and interest charges. Touch base with your college to determine the debt owed and repayment options. Even if you do not plan to return to that college, this debt may prevent you from being offered further financial aid or from getting a transcript from the campus.
  • Suspend Student Loan Payments: Your payments for previous federal student loans can be suspended while you are a student at least half-time. Most likely, you will request the in-school deferment directly through your loan servicer—there is usually a form for you to fill out. Also, the federal government has provided six months of relief for student loan payments April through September 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. There will not be interest charges during this period. Outside of this period there are deferments available for financial hardships. Contact your loan servicer for options.

  • Loan Defaults: Being in loan default on a federal student loan will prevent you from borrowing additional loans and from receiving any federal or state financial aid. You can resolve your default through either loan rehabilitation or loan consolidation. Research your options and talk to your loan servicer about which option would best suit your needs. Collection activities will cease for federal student loans a period of time during COVID-19, however, the status of these loans may still hamper your ability to receive future financial aid. You may contact Washington’s Student Loan Advocate if you have questions or complaints at 833.881.0397 or

  • Miscellaneous Debts: Returning students may also have other educational liability. For example, there may be an outstanding parking fee, library fine, or unpaid tuition bill. Contact the campus – they may be able to work with you to resolve these issues before you return.


  • Draft an estimated budget of all your expenses and take into account your income and financial aid received.

  • Look into all resources before taking a student loan.

  • If you must borrow a student loan, choose a Federal Direct loan. Avoid borrowing private student loans.

  • Only borrow what is needed.

  • Don’t let a previous educational debt stop your education. Ask for help from your campus, your lender, your employer, and community organizations.

Ask the Campus

  • What paperwork is required to request a student loan? What paperwork can I expect after I request the loan?

  • How do I change the amount to reflect just the amount needed, rather than the maximum offered?

  • Do I have any financial aid, tuition, or student loan debts that will present an issue when I return?


  • If you have defaulted on a student loan, review your loan rehabilitation options.

  • To find out your loan servicer, login to My Student Aid.

  • Contact Washington’s Student Loan Advocate contact the Student Loan Advocate if you have questions or complaints at 833.881.0397 or email:

  • Student loan relief during COVID-19 (Student Loan Borrowers).

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