Criminal Justice Student Loans

Access Federal and Private Sources

Criminal justice degrees can prepare students for a number of different careers, including law enforcement officer (in a police department or sheriff’s office), corrections officer (in a place of imprisonment), probation and parole officers (who work with criminals after conviction or release), private investigator, or federal agent (in a branch like the FBI or ATF).

It’s interesting to see what the post-census predictions are for the occupational outlook of each job: for example, the hiring of police officers is expected to slow down while that for probation and corrections officers remains at the average. Examining those trends in detail will give you very useful hints about where to focus your criminal justice major.

If you can narrow your major studies to one particular field, you can take advantage of not only general student loan options but also targeted opportunities like the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, explained at the end of the page.

Federal Student Loans for Criminal Justice Studentscriminal justice student loans

Always choose federal loans first, because their interest rates are typically lower than those for private loans. The standard federal loans for college education include Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Perkins Loans.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans

The main difference between the Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans is that subsidized loans require financial need (unsubsidized loans do not), and subsidized loans have somewhat more favorable terms in order to help financially needy students. The government pays the interest on your subsidized loan during certain periods, while interest on an unsubsidized loan must always be paid by the student.

For both loans, your school’s financial aid office will calculate how much you need to borrow, subject to two limits: the annual limit and the overall lifetime limit. As of 2012, the interest rate on subsidized loans was 3.4% and on unsubsidized 6.8%. Both have a 1% origination fee, deducted from the loan proceeds.

Direct PLUS Loans

The Direct PLUS loans are designed for either graduate or professional students or parents of dependent undergraduates, and they do require a good credit history. If you do not pass the credit check but you find a cosigner with good credit (called an “endorser” for this purpose), you may still be eligible for a Direct PLUS loan. The 2012 interest rate for Direct PLUS is fixed at 7.9%, and the most you can borrow is your Cost Less Aid Amount, which is the difference between your cost of attendance and your other financial aid.

Perkins Loans

The Federal Perkins Loan Program (“Perkins Loans”) carries low interest (5% in 2012) because it’s intended for students who have exceptional financial need. And because your school rather than the federal government serves as the lender, all schools do not participate in the program. If you’re a student who fits that category of need and you want to use a Perkins loan, that should figure into your choice of schools. Currently, the program has about 1,700 participating schools.

Since the amount of each school’s Perkins lending fund depends on how much current borrowers repay, funds are limited. That means you should apply as early as possible to maximize your chances of receiving funding.

Private Loans: Make Them Work for a Criminal Justice Major

Private student loans should always be considered a last resort because they are designed for the lender’s benefit in terms of cost. The student receives few, if any, special considerations in the private market. But if you cannot complete your college funding in any other way, then by all means choose a private loan using great care and the best possible financial advice you can find.

Private loans that cover your Cost Less Aid Amount are called alternative or supplemental loans, and some schools will recommend a list of private lenders to students for that purpose. The department of higher education in the state where you attend school may also have such a list on its website.

A third choice is consulting a large national lender like Sallie Mae, which offers a loan product called the Smart Option Student Loan, or you can investigate student loans offered by your parents’ bank, because sometimes if a family has an existing banking relationship that can lower some loan costs.

Special Programs For Criminal Justice Professions

One example of this type of loan is the Michael Murphy and Carroll L. “Butch” Swartz programs instituted by the Alaska State Legislature, which are reserved for those planning careers in criminal justice.

Another is the John R. Justice (JRJ) Program offered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is part of the Department of Justice. JRJ allocates funds to states for the purpose of repaying student loans belonging to attorneys in exchange for service as a public prosecutor or defender. Since the funds are disbursed at the state level, anyone who wants to take advantage of JRJ should consult the state education authority to find out which agency administers the funds in your location.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program applies to certain public employees, including full-time law enforcement employees. If you make 120 payments after the start date of October 1, 2007 on your eligible federal student loans, and those payments are made during that full-time employment, you may qualify for forgiveness of your remaining loan balance.