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What You Need to Know About That ‘Master Promissory Note’ For School

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The majority of students borrow loans to pay for college these days, but many of them may not fully understand the terms and conditions of their debt when they sign on the dotted line. Given all the rules and jargon involved, it can be easy to get confused. But if there’s one document you should pay close attention to, it’s your Master Promissory Note for school loans.

Here we’ll take a closer look at school promissory notes and how they can clear up any questions you have about your student loans. Specifically, we’ll examine…

What is a Master Promissory Note?

When you borrow from the federal government to obtain student loans, you promise to pay that loan back — with interest and fees. This is a legal promise made by signing the Master Promissory Note.

As your school promissory note will explain, you’re obligated to pay back your loan even if you leave school early or can’t find a job after graduation. The only exception would be if your school closed, violated state law or met another condition that would qualify you for student loan discharge, which, while rare, does happen on occasion. In most cases, however, you’re on the hook for repaying your debt, and your Master Promissory Note is the contract that contains that agreement.

Whether you are an undergraduate or graduate/professional student, you will sign a Master Promissory Note. There is one version of the Master Promissory Note for Direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans, and another for Direct PLUS loans.

What details can you find on your promissory note?

Your Master Promissory Note will explain items including:

  • How your interest will be calculated and how fees are charged
  • Annual loan limits
  • The items for which you can use your loan (room, board, tuition, books, etc.)
  • How your loan will be dispersed
  • Your options for repayment plans
  • Under which conditions you might get a lower interest rate

After you sign the note, you will find out specific details including the amount, interest rate and fees of your loan in a disclosure statement.

Pay attention to the details on your Master Promissory Note so you understand what’s expected of you when paying back your loan, and which repayment plan might work best for you — for example, the standard repayment plan, the graduated repayment plan or the extended repayment plan. You must choose a repayment plan, or you will automatically be put into a standard plan.

Some questions to consider as you read the Master Promissory Note:

  • Might you be able to get a lower interest rate (for example, if you are a military member)?
  • What will happen if you default on your loan?
  • What if you eventually need to be granted a deferment or forbearance?

You will get the answers to these questions and more within the note. Read carefully and make sure you fully understand your options before signing.

When do you sign your Master Promissory Note?

You’ll need to sign your Master Promissory Note before you receive any disbursement of your student loans. If you discover you’ve borrowed too much when you receive your exact loan amount, you do have a window of time during which you can return your loan, even if you’ve already signed the promissory note.

You can typically sign just one promissory note for multiple subsidized or unsubsidized loans, and it will be good for up to 10 years, as long as your school does not require that you sign a new note each year. One exception is if you borrow a PLUS loan with an endorser to boost your creditworthiness. In this situation, you can only receive one loan for each promissory note. If you choose to borrow another PLUS loan in the future, you’ll need to sign a new promissory note.

Your parent doesn’t have to sign the Master Promissory Note unless they are taking out a parent PLUS loan on your behalf.

If you’re not sure whether you need a new promissory note when borrowing a student loan, contact your school’s financial aid office for guidance. Even if you don’t reach out, the office should get in touch with you about completing any outstanding paperwork for your loans.

Using the Master Promissory Note to get your student loan

You can sign your Master Promissory Note online at Expect the process to take about 30 minutes, per the Federal Student Aid site.

First, you’ll sign in with your Federal Student Aid ID and provide personal information about yourself and your school.

Master Promissory Note Example

Next, you’ll provide information for two references. Your references must have known you for at least three years and have different addresses, both of which must be in the U.S.

Federal Student Aid asks for these references in case they can’t get a hold of you. If you stop paying your student loan and answering calls, collectors may contact your references to track you down.

Federal Student Aid References Example

Finally, you can read over the contract to familiarize yourself with what it is you’re signing. After reviewing this language, you’ll electronically sign and submit your Master Promissory Note.

The above is a Master Promissory Note for direct subsidized or unsubsidized loans. By clicking here, you can see a version of the Master Promissory Note for PLUS loans.

Student loans can be helpful, but avoid borrowing too much

By keeping borrowing to a minimum and educating yourself on your debt, you’ll be off to a strong start in managing your finances. Even if you are able to borrow a large amount, you want to be careful not to borrow too much.

One way to reduce the amount you borrow in student loans is to apply far and wide for scholarships and grants. These are great options because you typically do not have to pay the money back.

You might also work a part-time job during college to bring in extra income. While you don’t want to take time and energy away from your studies, earning some spending money could mean you don’t have to take on as much debt.

Once you’ve determined how much you should borrow, make sure you understand the details of your student loans. You can use our student loan calculator to estimate your future monthly payments and how much you’ll spend on interest.


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