Student loans and student debt are garnering a lot of attention these days, as the total amount of student debt in our country edges toward $1 trillion, affecting the wallets of more than 37 million loan-holders. In Washington, Senator Elizabeth Warren has recently introduced legislation to lower the interest charged on Federal Student loans, and President Obama made a proposal in his 2013 State of the Union address: to “change the Higher Education Act so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.”

But what you don’t see in this ongoing conversation might be just as interesting, or even more so:

  • In the approximately $110 billion in loans distributed in 2010, $100 billion (or about 91%) are in federal loans, with rules and interest rates set by Congress and the Department of Education.
  • Of the remaining $10 billion in private student loans, more than 70% of that is held under one company: Sallie Mae. Like its famed relatives Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae once was a government entity which has spun off into the private sector, but many still consider it to be a government institution, and trust it as such.
  • Unlike other types of loans, you cannot refinance your student loans when rates improve. You can consolidate your loans, but you can only consolidate federal loans once, and you cannot un-consolidate them.
  • Cosigners matter! In my company, more than 90% of undergraduate student loans need a cosigner to be approved because most students do not have enough credit history or income to meet eligibility requirements on their own. And your cosigner’s credit score may help you get a lower interest rate on your loans.
  • A cosigner can be released from a loan under certain circumstances, such as when the student has made a certain number of consecutive, on-time payments in full, and meets credit criteria, but these circumstances vary depending on the lender and the type of loan.
  • Student loan forgiveness can be limited.  Always understand the circumstances under which forgiveness is available.
  • There is no one right answer for financing college. What works for your best friend may not work for you. This is your first step to a true college experience: you have to do your own work to find out which options are available to you, and what makes the most sense for your specific situation.

There is no doubt that a college degree is a valuable asset, but with the cost of college continuing to rise, paying for that degree is something that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Dana Fulton is a marketing consultant for Wells Fargo Education Financial Services, and she received her Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Today she spends her spare time in the house she rebuilt with her husband, raising two small daughters that inspire her to do meaningful work and save as much as she can for their upcoming college years.