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Student Loans

South Carolina Student Loans

For the 2022 – 2023 school year, average in-state tuition in South Carolina ranged from $5,387 at two-year colleges to $12,280 at public universities. Out-of-state tuition was roughly double these amounts.

Ideally, you’ll use scholarships and grants to cover school costs. When those free forms of financial aid aren’t enough, student loans can help make higher education attainable. We’ve reviewed the best student loans for South Carolina scholars. Keep reading for our top picks.

LenderRates (APR)
U.S. Department of Education5.50%
South Carolina state programs7.629% – 9.889%
College Ave4.39% – 16.85%
Sallie Mae4.50% – 16.70%
Ascent4.29%15.85%

Federal student loans in South Carolina

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

  • Fixed rates: Your federal loan rates won’t change, allowing for payment predictability and budget stability.
  • Flexible repayment: Borrowers can choose from several repayment plans, including income-driven repayment options designed to fit your personal financial circumstances.
  • Loan forgiveness: Eligible borrowers working in certain professions who enroll in an income-driven repayment plan may get some or all of their federal student debt forgiven.

You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student loans. You can fill out the FAFSA online for free. 

Whether you apply as an independent or dependent student will determine if you need to provide financial information for yourself alone or if you need to include your parents’ or spouse’s financial details as well.

Federal loan types

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

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These 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 unsubsidized 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.

The government limits how much funding you can take out in federal student loans. The table below shows what you can borrow each academic year, depending on your year of enrollment and dependency status:

Enrollment yearDependent studentsIndependent students
Freshmen$5,500$9,500
Sophomores$6,500$10,500
Juniors and beyond$7,500$12,500
Graduate and professional studentsN/A$20,500

In addition to these annual limits, federal borrowers are also subject to these aggregate limits:

  • Dependent undergraduates: $31,000
  • Independent undergraduates: $57,500
  • Graduate and professional students: $138,500, including federal loans taken out for undergraduate study

For undergraduate students, subsidized loans can only make up $23,000 of that $31,000 lifetime maximum. The subsidized loan threshold rises to $65,500 for graduate students.

State-specific student loans in South Carolina

If your tuition costs exceed your federal loan limit, you may qualify for state student loans.

The South Carolina Student Loan Corporation (SLC), for example, offers the following loan programs for current and prospective students:

  • Palmetto Assistance Loans (PAL)
  • Loans for South Carolina teachers
  • BOLD™ Career Pathways initiative

Palmetto Assistance Loans (PAL)

The SLC offers PAL loans to any student attending a South Carolina school, as well as to South Carolina residents studying in other states. You must be enrolled at least half-time to qualify.

PAL loans don’t come with any origination or application fees, and you can apply with or without a cosigner. 

Loans start at $2,500, though borrowers are limited to $150,000 in total PAL debt over their educational careers.

When it comes to repayment, you have several options:

  • In-school deferment (available to student borrowers only, not to parents)
  • Interest-only payments
  • $25/month flat payments
  • Full repayment 

Student borrowers who elect in-school deferment aren’t required to make payments until six months after leaving school or dropping below half-time status.

Loans for South Carolina teachers

In addition to PAL loans, the SLC extends student loans to aspiring teachers:

  • SC Teacher Loans are available to education majors pursuing initial certification or certification in a new field.
  • SC Career Changers Loans help bachelor’s-degree holders with three years of full-time, non-education work experience transition into teaching.
  • SC PACE Loans reimburse current teachers for costs associated with participation in the South Carolina Program of Alternative Certification in Education (PACE).

If you teach in a critical subject or geographic area, you may qualify to have the greater of 20% or $3,000 of your loan balance forgiven every year. These rates rise to “33 ⅓% or $5,000,” respectively, for educators who fulfill both the subject and geographic area requirements.

BOLD™ Career Pathways initiative

If you don’t qualify for credit-based loans or want to take on minimal debt, you could participate in the SLC’s BOLD™ Career Pathways initiative. Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill out a brief application once you’re within two years of graduation.
  2. Share your professional goals with your dedicated adviser.
  3. Get matched with a qualifying employer.
  4. Receive loan funds sent to your school on your behalf.
  5. Work for your matched employer in exchange for loan reimbursement once you graduate.

The program is primarily geared toward future healthcare professionals. (There’s even a special BOLD™ Career Pathways program for aspiring nursing educators.) However, students pursuing degrees in teaching, finance, and information technology are also encouraged to apply.

Private student loans in South Carolina

If you’ve exhausted your federal aid options or don’t qualify for state-based programs, you might consider private student loans. Based on our research, these four online lenders are among the best for private student loans in South Carolina.

Company
Best for…
Rating (0-5)
Best Overall
5.0
Best for Cosigners
4.8
Best for Deferred Payment
4.3

College Ave

Best Overall

5.0 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

College Ave offers both private student loans and student loan refinancing. With College Ave’s student loans, you can borrow as little as $1,000 or up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance (COA), less any other financial aid received.

You can apply for a College Ave loan with or without a cosigner. If approved, you can take advantage of flexible repayment options with terms lasting five to 15 years, as well as cosigner release after 24 on-time payments.

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, parents, and career training
  • You choose your repayment plan and term
  • Application can be completed in as little as 3 minutes
Loan details
Rates (APR)4.39% – 16.85%
Loan amounts$1,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms5, 8, 10, or 15 Years

Sallie Mae

Best for Cosigners

4.8 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

As far as lenders go, Sallie Mae is a one-stop-shop. Alongside its student loans, this lender provides college planning resources and savings accounts. You can apply online and get a credit decision in about 10 minutes, so you’ll know right away if you’re approved.

Cosigners aren’t required, but they are recommended for students with limited credit history. With Sallie Mae’s Multi-Year Advantage, returning undergraduate students with a cosigner have a 95% approval rate for future loans.

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and career training
  • Repayment options include deferred, fixed, and interest-only 
  • Cosigners can be released after 12 consecutive on-time monthly payments
Loan details
Rates (APR)4.50% – 16.70%
Loan amounts$1,000 – 100% of costs
Repayment terms10 – 15 years

Ascent

Best for Deferred Payment

4.3 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

Ascent serves a variety of borrowers, from U.S. citizens and residents to international students and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) recipients. In addition to its traditional private student loans, Ascent funds consumer loans for eligible tech bootcamps as well.

Ascent loans are cosigner optional, provided you have at least two years of credit history and a gross annual income of $24,000. Juniors and seniors can also apply without a cosigner if they meet GPA and outcome-based requirements.

  • Student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and career training
  • Earn 1% cash back upon proof of graduation
  • Prequalify without affecting your credit
Loan details
Rates (APR)4.29%15.85%
Loan amounts$2,001 – $200,000
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years

What to know about student loans in South Carolina

During the 2021 – 2022 school year, South Carolina spent more in state grant funding and averaged more grant funding per student than any other state. 

Still, according to an Education Data Initiative analysis, the Palmetto State ranks seventh-highest for student loan debt. Student loan borrowers in South Carolina carry an average loan balance of $37,551, and 61% of South Carolinians with student loan debt owe more than $40,000. 

Since the average median entry-level salary for South Carolina grads is $34,823, we highly recommend being proactive when repaying your loans. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Pay toward your loans while you’re in school, even if no payments are due.
  • Divide your monthly payments into weekly or biweekly installments. 
  • If you have federal student loans, work with your servicer to set up an income-driven repayment plan.
  • Claim the federal student loan interest that you pay as a tax deduction (up to a specific amount each year—then use any tax refunds you receive to shave down your loan balance.

You don’t need to itemize to deduct your loan interest, either. You can combine it with several others to create a debt payoff plan that fits your goals and budget.

Be willing to revise your repayment blueprint over time, too. Adjusting as you go will help you stay on track and manage your debt.

Ask the expert

Erin Kinkade

CFP®

Going into college, if you know the field you want to enter, you can take advantage of benefits like employers paying for college directly and the geographical qualifying areas for teachers. If you don’t know yet, planning to repay student loans can be a little more challenging. I first recommend only borrowing what’s needed, paying while in school if you can, and begin repaying as soon as you graduate and seek employment. In all cases, build the pay-off into a planned budget and keep in contact with the lender to discuss payment options that fit your financial condition. 

Choose the right South Carolina student loan for you

The postsecondary price tag differs from student to student. Which school you choose, whether you live on or off campus, and even your level or field of study can all influence how much you pay.

Taking these steps can help you gauge your COA, evaluate lenders, and ultimately, determine which lender is the best fit for your situation:

  1. Complete the FAFSA: To secure federal or school-based aid, fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible. The sooner you submit your FAFSA, the sooner you’ll know if you need student loans.
  2. Estimate your costs: Research tuition, room and board, and other costs at colleges you’re considering. Weigh these costs against your financial aid award packages to calculate how much you need to borrow.
  3. Make a shortlist of lenders: Jot down which state loans and private lenders might be good fits. Note each one’s loan amounts, rates, fees, and terms.
  4. Recruit a cosigner: Enlisting the help of a cosigner can make it easier to get approved. The stronger their credit score is, the more likely you will qualify for favorable rates.
  5. Prequalify with as many lenders as possible: Prequalifying doesn’t impact your credit, but it will tell you what personalized rates you can expect with each lender.
  6. Compare your loan options: With your prequalified rates, sort your potential lenders from most to least affordable. If any lenders are close competitors, check out their perks and benefits, like whether they offer grace periods or cosigner release.

Tempted though you may be to take out a student loan as quickly as possible, don’t rush the process. Approaching your student loans with strategy and forethought helps ensure that you don’t just land any loan—you land the right loan for you.

Recap of South Carolina student loans

LenderRates (APR)
U.S. Department of Education5.50%
South Carolina state programs7.629% – 9.889%
College Ave4.39% – 16.85%
Sallie Mae4.50% – 16.70%
Ascent4.29%15.85%