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Student Loans

South Carolina Student Loans

Updated Jun 20, 2023   |   17-min read

Each year, more than 230,000 students attend college in South Carolina, with enrollment spanning private and public two- and four-year colleges, research institutions, and technical colleges. The University of South Carolina and Clemson University are the state’s largest public schools, followed by several smaller institutions. Each school has its own appeal to students—and its own price tag.

On average, tuition and fees for enrolled full-time students cost between $4,723 and $13,904 for in-state students and $8,923 and $36,020 for out-of-state students per academic year. These costs have led an estimated 14.3% of state residents to have outstanding student loan debt, with an average balance of $38,414.

Fortunately, there are numerous options for financing your education, including federal loans, private student loans, and state loans. This guide offers a closer look at how to find South Carolina student loans to pay for school.

In this guide:

Federal student loans in South Carolina

The U.S. Department of Education is a great place to begin when looking for student loans. Federal student loans offer several advantages to borrowers, including:

  • Lower rates: Federal student loans have low, fixed interest rates, which allows for predictability when planning a repayment budget.
  • Flexible repayment: Borrowers can choose from different repayment plans, including income-driven repayment options designed to fit individual budgets.
  • Loan forgiveness: Eligible borrowers working in certain professions who enroll in an income-driven repayment plan may be able to have some of their federal student debt forgiven.

You’ll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student loans. You can fill out the FAFSA online, and there’s no fee to do so. Whether you apply as a dependent or independent student will determine what type of financial information you need to provide.

If you’re a dependent student, you’ll provide your financial information and your parents’. If you’re an independent student, you’ll only need to share your financial information. Married couples also need to share their spouse’s financial details.

Federal loan types

South Carolina students have several federal student loan options to choose from, including:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: Direct Subsidized Loans are need-based loans for undergraduate students. While you’re enrolled in school, and during any deferment periods, the government pays the interest on your loans.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of financial need. However, the government does not pay the interest on these loans.
  • PLUS Loans: Parents of undergraduate students can take out PLUS loans in their name. Graduate students can also use them to pay for school. While there isn’t a specific credit requirement, you must not have an adverse credit history.

There are limits on how much funding you can receive from federal student loans. The annual and aggregate limits depend on your year of enrollment and dependency status.

YearDependent Students (except students whose parents cannot obtain PLUS loans)Independent Students (and dependent undergraduate students whose parents cannot obtain PLUS loans)
First-Year Undergraduate Annual Loan Limit$5,500—No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.$9,500—No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.
Second-Year Undergraduate Annual Loan Limit$6,500—No more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.$10,500—No more than $4,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.
Third Year and Beyond Undergraduate Annual Loan Limit$7,500 per year—No more than $5,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.$12,500—No more than $5,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.
Graduate or Professional Student Annual Loan LimitNot Applicable (all graduate and professional degree students are considered independent).$20,500 (unsubsidized only).
Subsidized and Unsubsidized Aggregate Loan Limit$31,000—No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.$57,500 for undergraduates—No more than $23,000 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

$138,500 for graduate or professional students—No more than $65,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans. The graduate aggregate limit includes all federal loans received for undergraduate study.

South Carolina students whose higher education costs exceed the amount they can take out in federal student loans may qualify for state-specific loan options to fill the gaps. There are several options for obtaining South Carolina student loans before turning to private banks and online lenders.

State-specific student loans in South Carolina

South Carolina Student Loan (SCSL) is a local, non-profit lender that works with South Carolina students and their parents, as well as students attending schools in the state, to help them meet their funding needs. In operation since 1973, SCSL offers private loans at low-interest rates to state residents and non-residents who enroll in South Carolina colleges.

SCSL’s mission is to “provide programs of financial assistance to eligible students to pursue their educational goals and become workforce ready.” The program is noteworthy for being the only non-profit educational lender in the state that offers private loans to students as well as state-funded loans for aspiring teachers.

There are two main options for SCSL borrowers: Palmetto Assistance Loans (PAL) and South Carolina loans for teachers.

Palmetto Assistance Loans (PAL)

Palmetto Assistance Loans can be used to pay for tuition, room and board, fees, and necessary supplies, such as a new laptop. Students can also use the money to pay for transportation if they don’t live on campus.

SCSL offers Palmetto Assistance Loans with no origination or application fees. All loans have a fixed interest rate, starting as low as 4.25% as of May 23, 2022, which includes a 0.25% rate discount for students who enroll in autopay. The minimum loan is $2,000, but students can borrow up to the cost of attendance, less any other financial aid received.

Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school to qualify for the PAL program. Eligible schools include public and private colleges and universities in the U.S. eligible to participate in federal student aid programs. There’s an exception to this rule for students enrolled at Charleston School of Law.

Borrowers must be South Carolina residents or out-of-state students attending an eligible school in the state. That’s one of the unique features of PAL. In addition to meeting those requirements, borrowers must:

  • Maintain good academic standing
  • Not be incarcerated
  • Be creditworthy
  • Not be delinquent on other educational loans
  • Be a United States citizen or permanent resident

As with other private loans, Palmetto Assistance Loans require a cosigner. This stipulation applies to borrowers under 24 and/or those with a limited credit history. A cosigner can be a parent, guardian, or relative.

Interest rates for these loans range from 4.25% to 9.73%. Those figures include the autopay rate discount mentioned previously. Here’s more detail on interest rates, fees, and repayment for these South Carolina student loans:

  • Rate type: Fixed
  • Fees: No origination or application fees
  • Repayment terms: 10 – 15 years
  • In-school repayment: Not required
  • Grace period: Six-month grace period begins the day after the student drops to less than half-time enrollment status
  • Aggregate loan limit: $150,000 for the borrower and cosigner

Loans for South Carolina teachers

In addition to Palmetto Assistance Loans, SCSL also offers student loans for aspiring teachers. It’s the only program of its kind in the state, and it’s designed to encourage students to pursue careers in education in South Carolina schools.

Eligible borrowers may be able to have some of their loans forgiven in exchange for teaching in under-served communities in the state. Loan rates are low and are tied to Direct Stafford Loan interest rates. Specifically, borrowers pay an interest rate equal to the Direct Stafford Loan rate charged for Unsubsidized Loans to undergraduate students, plus 2%. Rates do not exceed 8.25%.

There are three South Carolina student loan options for future educators: SC Teachers Loans, SC Career Changers Loans, and the SC Program for Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) Loans.

SC Teachers Loans

SC Teachers Loans are funded by the state and have the unique feature of being eligible for loan forgiveness. This program is open to newly enrolled students and current teachers who want to earn certifications in subject areas other than those they’re already certified in.

To qualify for the SC Teachers Loan program, students must:

  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents
  • Reside in South Carolina
  • Be enrolled in and making satisfactory academic progress at an approved school on at least a half-time basis
  • Be enrolled in a teacher education program or be planning to enroll

There are also some academic requirements students need to meet. First-year students must have ranked in the top 40% of their class and have an SAT or ACT score equal to or greater than the South Carolina average for their year of high school graduation. They must also have a grade point average of 2.75 on a 4.0 scale.

Enrolled undergraduates must also have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75 on a 4.0 scale and have passed the Praxis Core. Students who took their SAT or ACT after 2016 and earned a score of 1,100 or greater or 22 or greater, respectively, are exempt from the Praxis requirement. Graduate students who have completed at least one term must have a GPA of 3.5 or better on a 4.0 scale.

First- and second-year students can borrow up to $2,500 per year through the SC Teachers Loan. The annual limit increases to $7,500 for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. The aggregate maximum loan limit for undergraduate and graduate students is $27,500.

Teachers who take out these student loans in South Carolina are eligible for forgiveness when certain requirements are met. The loan is forgiven at 20% or $3,000, whichever is greater, for each full year you teach in a South Carolina public school in a critical subject or critical geographic area. If you meet both of those requirements, the loan forgiveness rate rises to 33 ⅓% or $5,000 per year, whichever is greater.

Loan forgiveness is designed to encourage people to pursue careers in teaching in South Carolina. The idea is that it can help improve the quality of education across the state, leading to a more educated, better-prepared workforce. Applications for the SC Teachers Loan must be resubmitted each year.

SC Career Changers Loans

The SC Career Changers Loan program is similar to SC Teacher Loans regarding its purpose, eligibility requirements, and opportunities for forgiveness. The difference is that this loan is designed for South Carolina residents who are interested in changing careers to become teachers.

The basic eligibility requirements for SC Career Changers Loans are the same as those for SC Teacher Loans. There are, however, two key differences:

  • You must have possessed a baccalaureate degree for at least three years (this requirement is waived for people who work as instructional assistants in South Carolina public schools)
  • You must have been employed full-time for at least three years

Academic requirements are waived for the first year you apply for the SC Career Changers program. SCSL allows career changers to borrow up to $15,000 per year, with a total aggregate limit of $60,000.

The same forgiveness rates that apply to SC Teacher Loans apply to Career Changers Loans. If you have not been teaching for the full academic year when you apply for forgiveness, you must have at least 76 days of teaching recorded to be considered eligible.

SC Program for Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE) Loans

South Carolina teachers (and teachers all over the U.S.) typically need certification before taking command of a classroom. This certification usually comes through a teacher education program, but there’s a different option available for those in South Carolina who may have had other careers previously.

The PACE Program provides certification to people who have degrees but have not been through teacher education. Individuals can qualify for PACE if they:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited college
  • Major in an approved PACE certification field
  • Did not student teach in a traditional teacher preparation program
  • Achieved a passing score on the appropriate ETS Praxis subject area assessment
  • Successfully pass a background check completed by the FBI and SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division)

The SC Program of Alternative Certification for Educators loan provides funding to individuals who qualify for PACE. These loans reimburse students for expenses incurred while enrolled in PACE, with a maximum loan amount of $750 per year and a $5,000 aggregate limit. Loan forgiveness is available for PACE recipients who teach in the same year they receive funding.

Private student loans in South Carolina

Students who’ve exhausted their federal student aid options and don’t qualify for state-based programs or do but still need funding may consider private student loans. The private student loans listed below may interest those seeking South Carolina student loans.

Each lender has its own specific set of qualifying criteria, though they generally cover the same areas. While credit scores don’t play a part in federal student loan approval, they can influence your eligibility for private student loans. Getting a cosigner could help increase your chances of approval and allow you to qualify for lower interest rates.

Here are four online lenders that offer private student loans in South Carolina.

College Ave

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, parents, and career training
  • You choose your repayment plan and term
  • The application can be completed in as little as 3 minutes

College Ave offers private student loans for undergraduates, graduate students, and parents, as well as student loan refinancing options. The company was founded in 2014 by former Sallie Mae executives to simplify and streamline the student loan process.

The online application process is quick and easy, taking about three minutes to complete. If approved, College Ave offers flexible repayment options with repayment terms lasting five to 15 years.

The minimum loan offered is $1,000, and the maximum amount you can borrow is up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance, less any other financial aid received.

Here’s some information about College Ave’s undergraduate student loan:

  • Variable rates: 1.19% – 11.98% APR
  • Fixed rates: 3.49% – 12.99% APR
  • Loan amount: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% automatic payment discount
  • Fees: Late payment fee of 5% of the unpaid amount or $25, whichever is less
  • Cosigner release: After 24 on-time payments
  • In-school repayment: Full principal and interest, interest-only, flat $25, or deferred payment
  • Grace period: Six months but can be extended up to another six months

Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and career training
  • Cosigners can be released after 12 consecutive on-time monthly payments

Sallie Mae originated as a servicer of federal student loans in the 1970s. Today, Sallie Mae offers students loans, college planning, credit cards, and savings accounts.

Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as students seeking career training. A cosigner is not explicitly required, though it is recommended for students with limited credit history.

The minimum loan amount is $1,000, while the maximum loan is the school-certified cost of attendance, less any other aid received. With Multi-Year Advantage, returning undergraduate students with a cosigner have a 95% approval rate for a future loan.

Here’s some information about Sallie Mae’s undergraduate student loan:

  • Variable rates: 1.62% – 11.73% APR
  • Fixed rates: 3.75% – 12.85% APR
  • Loan amount: $1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5 – 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% automatic payment discount
  • Fees: No prepayment fees or origination fees
  • Cosigner release: After 12 on-time monthly payments
  • In-school repayment: Interest-only repayment, fixed payment, or deferred repayment
  • Grace period: Six months


Editorial Selection: Best for Eligibility

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and career training
  • Receive 1% cash back upon proof of graduation
  • Prequalify without impacting your credit

Ascent has been offering private student loans since 2016 and uniquely serves a variety of borrowers. Loans are available for undergraduate and graduate students, international students, and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) recipients. Students can also apply for consumer loans to pay for eligible tech bootcamps.

Cosigners are not required for all borrowers. Students who have at least two years of credit history and a gross annual income of $24,000 may qualify without a cosigner if they can provide proof of income and meet a monthly debt-to-income (DTI) ratio guideline. Juniors and seniors can also apply without a cosigner if they meet GPA and outcome-based requirements.

The minimum loan amount is $2,001, while the aggregate loan limit for undergraduates is $200,000. Loan terms range from five to 15 years.

Here are some details about Ascent’s undergraduate cosigned student loan:

  • Variable rates: 1.64% 9.23% APR
  • Fixed rates: 4.78%12.76% APR
  • Loan amount: $2,001 – $200,000
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 1% automatic debit discount for non-cosigned outcomes-based loan options; all credit-based loans are eligible for a 0.25% discount
  • Fees: No application, origination, or disbursement fees; no prepayment penalties
  • Cosigner release: After 12 on-time payments
  • In-school repayment: Interest-only payment
  • Grace period: Start payments up to nine months after leaving school


Editorial Selection: Best Good Grades Reward

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, post-grads, and parents
  • Get a cash reward for your good grades on each new student loan
  • No fees

Discover offers several financial products, including checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and private student loans. Residency loans and bar exam loans are also available for students finishing up medical school and law school.

Discover student loans can be used to pay up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance. You can get rewarded with cash for earning good grades. Loan terms are extended up to 15 years, which is similar to other private lenders.

  • Variable rates: 1.79% – 11.24% APR
  • Fixed rates: 4.49% 13.34% APR
  • Loan amount: $1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment term: 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% automatic payment discount
  • Fees: No application, origination, or late fees
  • Cosigner release: Not available 
  • In-school repayment: Deferred, fixed, or interest-only
  • Grace period: Six months

Federal loans, state loans, and private loans can help pay for college costs if you’re attending a South Carolina school or are a state resident enrolling outside the Palmetto State. The price tag for higher education will be different for everyone, depending on their choice of school, which can influence where they decide to pursue a degree.

Taking these next steps can help you choose the right South Carolina student loan to meet your needs:

  • Estimate your costs: When determining which loans to apply for, it helps to have an estimate of what obtaining a degree might cost. Comparing tuition, fees, room and board, and other costs at South Carolina schools you’re interested in can help you calculate how much you may need to borrow.
  • Complete the FAFSA: If you’re interested in securing federal aid, you’ll need to fill out the FAFSA ahead of the annual deadline.
  • Check eligibility for South Carolina student loans: Palmetto Assistance Loans could help you pay for school if you meet the requirements. You could also consider SC Teacher Loans if you plan to major in education.
  • Compare private loans: Private loan rates, fees, and terms are different with every lender. Comparing rates and loan terms online can make it easier to narrow down the lenders that are the best fit.
  • Consider pre-approval: If a lender offers the option of getting pre-approved, you might do so to see what loan rates you qualify for. Be sure to ask whether preapproval will affect your credit scores.
  • Recruit a cosigner: Enlisting the help of a cosigner can make it easier to get approved for loans. The stronger their credit score is, the more likely you are to qualify for favorable rates.