Featured Image For many families, student loans are just a fact of life. According to recent numbers, the average cost of college tuition and fees per year breaks down like this: Private college $33,480 Public universities $9,650 — state residents $24,930 — out-of-state residents 529 Plans and long-term savings accounts can help cover costs, but with those sky-high costs, many parents look to student loans for additional financial help. As you start to explore student loans, keep these four important things in mind: 1. Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a must for families who need help paying for college. Filling out the FAFSA makes students eligible for grants and scholarships, as well as federal student loans. Visit the FAFSA website to fill out the relatively simple application, and check important deadline information. 2. Choose federal over private loans. If you have the option to choose, it’s almost always smarter to go with a federal over a private student loan. Federal loans have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options. Typically, private loans come with higher rates and require a co-signer, which puts an additional person on the hook (probably the parent) if the student can’t keep up with payments. 3. Consider Parent PLUS loans. If you want to help your child pay for college, you might consider a Parent PLUS loan. One of the biggest differences between it and other student loans is it requires a credit check. To be eligible, your child needs to complete the FAFSA. 4. The best bet for eliminating student loans? Pay them back. While student loan forgiveness programs technically still exist, their future is uncertain. Additionally, student loans are notoriously hard to discharge in bankruptcy. In fact, they can only be eliminated in the event of death or permanent disability. So if your child takes out a student loan, make sure he or she is committed to paying it back. Content provided by BALANCE.