Flight School Loans

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What is a flight school loan?

Flight school loans most commonly come in the form of unsecured loans like personal loans.

It’s important to know the differences between a personal loan and a student loan. Student loans, especially those issued by the federal government, come with flexible repayment options and even allow students to defer payments if they re-enter school or have trouble making their payments.

There are no such protections for personal loans used for flight school.  With a personal loan, you’re borrowing from a private lender and you will have one monthly payment with a fixed or variable interest rate. Fixed rates are generally preferable as they won’t change with market fluctuations.

Depending on how much you borrow, it may take you several years to pay back your loan. If rates happen to spike while you’re still repaying your loan and you’ve taken out a loan with a variable rate, you’ll face higher interest charges. With a fixed rate loan, you can at least rest assured that your rate won’t change before you’ve finished paying off your debt.

Personal loan rates vary depending on a bunch of different factors, such as your credit score, amount of debt you already have, and your income. As of this writing, you can find fixed rates as low as 5.49 percent and as high as 35.99 percent.

What is a Personal Loan?

A personal loan, also called a signature loan, is an unsecured loan, which means you can borrow money with no collateral based on your credit. From consolidating debt to financing a purchase to improving your credit, people choose personal loans because interest rates are usually lower than credit cards, which can save you thousands of dollars.

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What to know about flight school before you borrow

Financing can be tricky

If you dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot, you might be interested in attending flight school. Before you take out a loan to pay for flight school, it’s important to know that most commercial pilots working for mainline carriers are required to have a bachelor’s degree.

That being said, some pilots may choose to obtain certificates through flight school in order to supplement their college degree or possibly become an instructor in their own right. Still others may want to work for regional airlines, become corporate charter pilots or head to the skies purely for recreation. For these latter purposes, you may not necessarily need a bachelor’s.

But funding flight school outside of college can be tricky. Because student loans are not readily available for flight school students, those pursuing this career will likely have to look at alternative options for financing.

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There are much tougher requirements to be a commercial airline pilot

Just to give you a taste of how tough it is to become a commercial pilot, consider this: Under 2013 FAA regulations, commercial pilots need to secure an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, which requires at least 1,500 flying hours. Previously, first officers were required to have only a commercial pilot certificate, which requires 250 hours of flight time, according to the FAA, or Federal Aviation Administration.

Those hours may be reduced if you have a degree or military experience.

The FAA has authorized dozens of institutions to offer the ATP certificate. You can find a list here.

While many flight schools offer training for private pilots and people aiming to become a flight instructor, they may not offer the crucial ATP certificate. So if becoming a commercial pilot is your goal, be sure to vet your program properly first and understand the requirements. Those requirements may not include attending a full-on flight school program, which can add tens of thousands of dollars to your education costs.  

Not all fight schools are the same

Flight school training courses typically last 12 months. Flight schools function more like trade schools than typical four-year or two-year institutions.  There are two main types of flight schools: Part 61 and Part 141.  (The different names refer to the parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations, of FARs, under which they operate.)

The biggest differences between the two are flexibility, funding opportunities for veterans, and oversight. Part 61 schools tend to be able to better accommodate part-time students, as they can arrange curriculum for individual student needs. Part 141 schools are more heavily regulated by the FAA, allow for Veterans Affairs reimbursement of tuition costs, and have lower flight-hour requirements — especially for those aiming for a commercial pilot’s license after they obtain their private pilot’s certification.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has resources to help you determine which option is best for you.

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Federal financial aid and private student loans

Federal aid

If you want to earn your B.A. and start the path to becoming a professional pilot, you’ll be able to find federal student loan funding so long as your school is approved for federal aid funding by the Department of Education.  

That can get tricky if you go to a flight trade school rather than a traditional four- or two-year institution. Under department regulations, a flight school program “must maintain current valid certification by the Federal Aviation Administration to be eligible” to issue federal aid funding to students.

In order to receive federal funding you’ll have to fill out a FAFSA in advance.

Private student loans

Should you not qualify for federal student aid, you may consider seeking out a loan from private lenders. Just keep in mind they may not come with the same perks as loans issued by the federal government, such as income-based repayment and deferment. Furthermore, some private lenders may not issue loans to students for flight school training unless they’re pursuing their education at a two- or four-year institution.

A handful of lenders offer flight school-specific financing options. As of this writing, AOPA offers loans up to $15,000 with interest rates of 9.49-15.24% APR for those with a credit score of 650 or above.

American Airlines Credit Union, which grants membership to airline professionals and their families, offers lines of credit for vocational training. These lines of credit extend to up to $40,000.

Under We fly, a program run by We Florida Financial Credit Union, qualified students are offered a fixed-rate line of credit for anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000.

 

Wherever you decide to pursue funding for your flight training, never stop at just one lender. Comparison shop by looking at interest rates and origination fees to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

While a select few schools do offer in-house financing, Sparks cautions against it as rates can be as high as 20%. You may be able to find a cheaper personal loan elsewhere.

Scholarships

Private scholarships are among the best ways to get money for flight school — mostly because you’ll never have to pay that money back!

You can start your scholarship search with these organizations:

Further scholarships may be available directly through your flight school.