Guide to the College Access Loan: Interest Rates, Applying, and More

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 1/10/20

Offered by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the College Access Loan (CAL) is a program that offers an alternative form of aid to Texas residents seeking higher education at an in-state school.

Often, federal financial aid is not enough to cover the entire cost of attendance (COA) at college. The CAL program can help students with financial need afford the expense of post-secondary education.

The CAL program is an alternative education loan for eligible Texas residents accepted and enrolled in a Texas school program to earn an associate, bachelor’s, graduate, or higher degree, as well as those enrolled in a certification or an approved alternative educator certification program.

The College Access Loan can help potential students afford in-state schooling if they are a Texas resident with financial need.

College Access Loan (CAL) Program

If you are a Texas resident and unable to afford the cost of attendance (COA) at a Texas institution of higher learning, you may be able to use the CAL as an alternative education loan.

An alternative education loan can help you pay for tuition, school fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and other living expenses and costs associated with attending college. The CAL program has more favorable terms than most private lenders offer. It can be used in conjunction with federal financial aid, as well.

Aside from state residency, to be eligible for the CAL program you must:

  • Be accepted and enrolled at least half-time as a student at an eligible Texas school that ends with an associate, bachelor’s, graduate, or higher degree (or completion of an approved alternative educator certification program).
  • Meet and maintain satisfactory academic progress as required by the school.
  • Obtain a favorable credit evaluation (a score of 650 or higher), have never defaulted on an education loan, have a minimum of four credit tradelines, and have no public record of bankruptcy or tax liens, or
  • Use a credit-worthy co-signer who is not your spouse, is at least 21 years old, has a steady income, and can obtain a favorable credit evaluation.

You can receive from $100 up to the entire cost of attendance at your school, minus any federal financial aid you qualify for. The CAL loan amount is determined by your financial need, your school’s COA, and any federal financial aid you are eligible to receive. As an approved borrower, you will not have to pay a loan origination fee.

Interest Rates and Repayment Terms

The average interest rate for student loans in the United States is currently 5.08%.  

Federal direct subsidized loans, for loans disbursed after July 1, 2019, and before July 1, 2020, have a fixed interest rate of 4.53%. Private student loans range between an average of 3.95% APR to 14.28% APR for variable and fixed interest rate loans. 

The College Access Loan has a fixed interest rate of 5.20%, which is very competitive. There is a six-month grace period from the date you leave school or fall below half-time student status before you have to start repayment on your loan.

Repayment terms are as follows:

  • For a loan with a principal balance of less than $30,000, there is up to a 10-year repayment period with a minimum monthly payment of $50.
  • For a loan with a principal balance of more than $30,000, you can obtain a repayment period of 20 years.
  • Flexible repayment terms, such as income-sensitive and graduated repayment plans, as well as possible postponements of payments, are open to eligible borrowers as needed.
  • The loan will never be sold to another lender.

Applying for the College Access Loan

Before applying for an alternative education loan like the CAL, you will first need to fill out and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form determines how much federal financial aid you are eligible for. You may be able to obtain federal student grants and/or loans. 

You should always check into federal options first. The FAFSA will determine your expected family contribution (EFC) to decide how much and which forms of federal aid may be open to you.

When considering the loan amount they will offer, the CAL will take into account any federal financial aid you are eligible for. Whatever federal aid you qualify for will be subtracted from the cost of attendance before your CAL is paid out. Even if you choose not to use federal funds, the amounts are still considered and taken out of the total disbursement amount of the CAL.

To apply for a College Access Loan, you need to have all the valid documentation, including credit and financial information on hand. You can apply and sign online if you have a valid Texas driver’s license or a valid Texas identification card through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). 

You need to create a login to complete the process online. A credit check and self-certification is part of the application process, and the credit report is good for up to 90 days after applying.

If you need a co-signer, you will also need their information and signature. If you use a credit or debit card, there is an administrative fee to do so.

Using Your College Access Loan Funds

The College Access Loan can be used at any eligible institution of higher learning located within Texas. This includes both public and private nonprofit schools, as well as junior colleges.

The financial aid office at your school can let you know if they participate in the CAL program. They can also help you apply and determine how much aid you can and should use.

Once you apply for the CAL program, your school will be notified. They will then certify the cost of attendance and loan amount.

After your school has certified your College Access Loan, the THECB will send you a loan approval disclosure in the mail. You need to accept this, which you can do electronically by logging back into your account. Typically, you will receive your loan funds within two weeks of acceptance.

Your CAL funds will be disbursed directly to the school (usually twice per year) to pay for school fees and tuition. If you live on campus in a dorm, it can also cover room and board.

Generally, after all tuition and fees are paid to the school, any remaining funds will be distributed to you directly to pay for books, supplies, and any additional expenses. If you have off-campus housing, you may use these funds to pay for room and board yourself.