How to Borrow Responsibly
August 25, 2023
In this article we will cover the two types of loans that are available for students and offer a step by step guide on how to apply for them.
As you prepare for ministry, it isn’t always possible to pay out of pocket or raise the funds needed for tuition, books, and living expenses. While the goal should be to minimize the debt you take into ministry, sometimes a loan may be required to assist along the way. We encourage you to seek out other funding options as much as possible if this is your circumstance. Our article on overcoming financial barriers to seminary offers a good starting point for consideration. However, if a loan is necessary as a last resort, you will want to give careful consideration and only borrow what you need and only as you need it.
Through the generosity of our donors, Westminster has been able to offer scholarships and matching grants to nearly every residential student. Thanks to these gifts, along with the fundraising efforts of our students, only 6% of our student body had to borrow a student loan in 2022, and the majority of students who did borrow only borrowed to cover tuition. This responsible borrowing has meant that our current loan cohort default rate is 0%. For reference, the national cohort default rate for federal student loans is currently 2.3%.
Two Types of Student Loans
There are two types of loans for students: federal loans and private student loans. Both types of loans have competitive rates and terms, so you are encouraged to look into both options to see what is best for you. The financial aid office is more than happy to walk through both options with you.
Applying for a Private Student Loan
It is up to the student to choose their lender when choosing private school loans. Westminster does not have a preferred lender and will work with the lender of your choice. Loans have different terms and payment options and most likely will be dependent on a credit check. You will want to check out interest rates, fees, deferment options and payback options to make sure these loans will work for you. Visit ElmSelect’s website to see what lenders our students have used recently.
Applying for a Federal Loan
Because Westminster is a graduate school and does not offer an undergraduate degree, the only Title IV aid that a WTS student is eligible for is a federal loan. Applying for student loans may seem daunting. However, with our step-by-step guide, you won't miss a beat– and you'll have the process done before you know it!
Turn around times on loan applications are relatively quick when applying for a loan at the start of a term. However, once everything is submitted it can take up to a week for the FAFSA and Loan information to be transmitted to us electronically and for us to turn it around with a loan amount on your account for you to accept. Please plan accordingly with invoice due dates.
If you are borrowing a federal loan, you will need to be at least half-time in your program. Please note that the MAC is not eligible for federal student loans at this time.
Applying for Federal Loans, Step by Step
Be sure to complete EACH step below to apply for a loan.
Step 1: Please review the Department of Education’s website to learn about the different types of loans, how much to borrow, how to manage your loan and repay successfully, and the consequences of default.
Step 2: Complete the Westminster Theological Seminary Loan Request Form online. Students can receive a maximum of $20,500 per academic year in direct unsubsidized loans from the government. While $20,500 is the maximum the student can borrow in an academic year, it will be up to the student to determine how much they borrow and submit a loan request form with this amount.
As you prepare for ministry, it is good to keep in mind that you will want to take as little debt into ministry as possible. What you borrow today may become a shackle tomorrow. With that in mind, it may be helpful to use an online loan calculator as you consider how much to borrow. These calculators help estimate your payment after you are done with school so you understand the implications of your loan request on your post school budget.
Step 3: Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid online.
Please note that you will use tax information for two years prior to the academic year you are applying for (for the 2023-24 FAFSA, use your 2021 tax data) at present.
Step 4: Submit tax information in one of three ways:
Electronically transfer your filed Federal Tax Return information to the FAFSA using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool online;
Submit a Tax Return Transcript obtainable from the IRS’ Get Transcript website;
If you did not file taxes for that appropriate year, please submit a Verification of Non-Tax Filing to the Financial Aid Office (obtainable on the same website).
Step 5: If this is your first time receiving or applying for a loan with Westminster, please complete a Master Promissory Note for your specific loan:
- Direct Unsubsidized Loan: Complete the Master Promissory Note for Direct Loans.
- GraduatePLUS Loan borrowers: Complete the Master Promissory Note for GraduatePLUS Loans if you are seeking additional loan funds in excess of the total amount allowable from a Direct Unsubsidized loan. Graduate PLUS Loans also require a PLUS Loan application and a credit check.
Step 6: If this is your first time receiving or applying for a loan with Westminster, please complete Entrance Counseling online.
Step 7: Complete the Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement (helpful but not mandatory)
Step 8: After completing all of the steps above, Westminster’s financial aid team will process your request and notify you to visit your Populi financial page to view the loan(s) offered and accept or change the amount.
While debt is ideally to be avoided and Westminster has gone to great lengths to alleviate the need for loans through scholarships and fundraising, if you do need to borrow to attend seminary, doing so carefully and responsibly is a must. We encourage you to exhaust all options to avoid borrowing before pursuing a loan. However, when it is necessary, deciding what type of loan you are going to take and following the step by step guide above will allow you to navigate these issues with wisdom and care. If you have any questions about loans, the process of applying for them, or further inquiries, our financial aid team is happy to discuss these things with you.
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