Established by an Act of Congress in 1965 and started in 1966, the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) is a partnership program between the federal government and private lenders and an umbrella program which includes Stafford loans, student PLUS loans and Perkins loans. Since it started more than half a trillion dollars have been disbursed through this program.
Funds for the program are provided by a network of independent banks, credit unions and other financial institutions and lenders are generally happy to make money available in what would normally be considered a high risk area of lending because loans are to a large degree (although not totally) underwritten by the federal government. In about five percent of cases private guarantors do become involved with defaulted loans and are able to make application to the federal government for at least partial reimbursement.
The vast majority of funds are used for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans. In the case of subsidized loans the federal government pays the interest on loans while students are attending full-time courses (and for up to six months after graduation), while in the case of unsubsidized loans students are responsible for paying the interest due on their loans. Interest is not however normally paid on unsubsidized loans while a student is attending full-time education (and again for up to six months after graduation) but is added to the loan.
The other program with attracts major funding is the student PLUS loans program which is designed to allow parents to take out loans on behalf of their children. This program was extended in 2006 and is now also available to professional and graduate students. The student PLUS loans program is becoming an increasingly important part of college funding these days.
Applications to the Federal Family Education Loan Program are normally made using a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) application form which is submitted to the loans officer at the college for which the student has been accepted. Applications are then examined and loans granted on the basis of the information provided and the availability of funds for disbursement.
Loans are normally disbursed at least twice each year (depending upon the academic timetable followed by the college) and it is common for the bulk of each loan to be paid directly to the college to cover tuition and other fees, with the balance then being paid over to the student or parent, less fees.
In most, but certainly not all cases, a fee of about 4% is payable which is made up of a 3% administration, or 'originating', fee and a 1% insurance fee. It is not uncommon however for higher fees to be charged and so it is important to ask about the fee structure and, if necessary, to shop around when applying for student loans.