Parents are not responsible for any federal student loans (Stafford and/or Perkins). However, they are responsible for the federal plus loans and any other alternative loans that require a co-signer.

In general, the student is solely responsible for repaying their federal educational loans. They do not need to get their parents to cosign their federal student loans, even if they are under age 18, as the “defense of infancy” does not apply to federal student loans.

The defense of infancy presumes that a minor is not able to enter into contracts, and considers any such contract to be void. There is an explicit exemption to this principle in the Higher Education Act with regard to federal student loans. However, lenders normally will require a cosigner on any type of private student loan.

If a student’s parents (or grandparents) want to help pay off their federal loan(s), they can have the student’s billing statements sent to their address. Likewise, if the student’s lender or loan servicer provides an electronic payment service, where the monthly payments are automatically deducted from a bank account, their parents can agree to have the payments deducted from their account, but the student’s parents are under no obligation to repay the loans. If they forget to pay the bill on time or decide to cancel the electronic payment agreement, the student will be held responsible for the payments, not them.

Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email

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