• Seek a federal student loan first.

• Never pay someone to do a scholarship or grant search for you or to help you fill out forms. Any public college financial-aid offices will do that for you for free, regardless of whether you plan to attend the institution.

• Parents and graduate students can take out federal PLUS loans to help fund college. If your parents are denied, contact a college's financial-aid office, because you might become eligible for higher unsubsidized Stafford loan limits.

• Try to make interest payments on your loan while in school. If you don't, the interest accrues and ends up adding more to the principal.

• If federal loans don't cover your costs, shop for an alternative, or private, student loan. Tips for wise borrowing:

1. Keep in mind interest rates on private loans are variable. Make sure you can afford monthly payments if/when interest rises.

2. Know your credit score. You can get a free credit report once a year through the Utah Division of Consumer Protection (www.consumerprotection.utah.gov). A score of at least 800 will get you the best rates.

3. Don't apply to more than three or four private lenders, as your credit score will take a small hit each application. Try one bank, one nonbank lender and the state loan agency to help find the best rates.

4. Get a credit-worthy person to co-sign on your loan, which can boost the credit score and lower the cost of the loan.

5. Ask questions. Make sure you won't be penalized for paying off your loan early. See if you can secure a lower interest rate by paying electronically, or lower the interest rate or fees if you pay interest while you're in school. Also check if you will be able to defer payments until you graduate.

6. Don't borrow more than what you think your starting salary would be once you graduate.

7. Keep your records. Advertised rates might not appear in loan documents you sign, and you want to be able to document promises made.

8. Check into loan forgiveness programs. FinAid.org lists several for volunteer or military service, working in a government or nonprofit job or practicing medicine in certain communities. Visit www.finaid.org/loans/forgiveness.phtml.


SOURCES: Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority; FinAid.org; SmartBorrowing.org; University of Utah and Utah State University financial aid offices; Minnesota Attorney General's Office.