When it comes to paying for college, borrowers in the state of Florida are in the top 10 in terms of holding the least student loan debt. The average student loan debt per borrower was about $12,915. No matter what your debt level when you graduate, any amount of debt can overload your budget when it’s time to start repaying your loans.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of funding options for students in Florida, some of which can reduce your need to borrow – or potentially let you borrow at competitive rates. Students should be proactive and ensure they submit the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) on time and as early as possible, without errors. It’s also important to start the search for scholarships and grants early to ensure you have the best chance for getting approved for funds that do not have to be repaid.

State-Based Student Loans in Florida

Some states offer student loans in Florida that students can use in place of or in addition to federal student loans. If a student plans to use loans to pay for school, sometimes federal options are the best place to start because they do provide flexible repayment terms. However, once federal student loan sources have been exhausted, there are state-based options. Sometimes these state-based loans have lower rates and fees than the Federal PLUS Loan.

As for Florida, it does not have its own state-based student loan program, but students can find options from local banks and credit unions. Here are a few examples.

Central Credit Union of Florida

Central Credit Union of Florida offers a Student Flex Loan for a rate starting at 4.75% APR up to $1,000 and a monthly payment of $30. You must be a member of the credit union. Approval is based on creditworthiness.

USF Federal Credit Union

USF Federal Credit Union offers private student loans to cover tuition and personal loans to cover other educational expenses, like books. Its private student loans offer competitive rates, flexible repayment options, no origination or prepayment fees, and 24/7 customer service. Its personal loans have a low fixed interest rate with a borrowing limit of $25,000.

Florida College Scholarships

Scholarships are considered gift aid and they don’t need to be repaid. Students should consider spending the time to find their best scholarship fit. Start looking for scholarships as early as possible, ensure you’re clear on deadlines, and complete the application fully before submitting it.

Scholarships are a great way to reduce student loan debt. Here are some college scholarships available in Florida:

The Bright Futures Academic Scholarship

The Bright Futures Academic Scholarship is a program offered through Florida State University. This is a lottery-funded scholarship for students in Florida. Students apply by submitting the FAFSA no later than Aug. 31 after high school graduation. There are certain GPA and high school course requirements.

The Ethics in Business Scholarship Program

The Ethics in Business Scholarship Program sponsored by the Florida Department of Education is available to undergraduate students who enroll at certain private Florida colleges and universities. The deadline is Dec. 31. The award amounts vary.

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The Barbara L. Frye Scholarship

The Barbara L. Frye Scholarship is available to graduating high school seniors and college students who are going to pursue a career in journalism. The applicant must attend a Florida college or university or be a graduate of a Florida high school. The award is $2,000 annually.

The Rick and Sherry Murray Medical Futures Scholarship

The Rick and Sherry Murray Medical Futures Scholarship is offered by the ALS Association chapter in Florida. This is for students who have had a family member diagnosed with ALS who are pursuing a medically-related degree or certificate program.

The American Legion Department of Florida Scholarship

The American Legion Department of Florida Scholarship offers awards from $2,750 to medical school or nursing school students.  Applicants and their parents must be legal residents in Florida. Applicant must also be a direct decedent of a veteran, whether alive or deceased.

Florida Grants for College

Another form of gift funding is a grant. There are federal and state grants, and also grants offered through private organizations. Grants don’t have to be repaid, but applicants may be required to show financial need, whereas that’s not always the case with scholarships. Most grants require you to complete the FAFSA.

Some Florida grants for college include the following.

The Access to Better Learning and Education Grant Program

The Access to Better Learning and Education Grant Program provides tuition assistance to Florida undergraduates. The application procedures are set by the school or institution the student is attending. Applicants must be Florida residents, and they must enroll in a minimum of 12 credit hours per term. There are GPA requirements.

The First-Generation Matching Grant

The First-Generation Matching Grant is a need-based grant for resident, undergraduate, and degree-seeking students. It’s available at Florida state universities and colleges. Students must complete the FAFSA to determine eligibility.

The Florida Student Assistance Grant Program

The Florida Student Assistance Grant Program is also need-based for undergraduate students. There are different versions of this grant, based on where a student is attending school.

How to Get Financial Aid for School

The first step any student should take is completing the FAFSA. It can be a good idea to fill out this form even if you don’t believe you’ll use federal student aid because the form is used by many colleges and is often needed to apply for scholarships and grants. The FAFSA is also used when students apply for work-study jobs. It’s important to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after it opens, and the date for that is Oct. 1.

Eligibility for financial aid is based on what’s called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), as well as what year the student is in school and the cost of attendance at the school. Financial aid staff determines the cost of attendance (COA) at a school. Then, the Expected Family Contribution is calculated, and the EFC is subtracted from the COA to determine how much need-based student aid you can receive.

For aid that isn’t need-based, a school will subtract any financial aid already awarded from the cost of attendance.