The Wall Street Journal‘s personal finance “tip of the week” is a good one:

Looking for loans to help you foot your college bills?

Don’t settle for private loans until you’ve exhausted all options for federal loans, which usually come with lower, fixed interest rates and more flexible payment plans. (Some government-backed loans are made through private lenders.)

Nearly two-thirds of undergraduate students who took out private loans in the 2007-08 school year could have taken out more generous federal loans, according to a study by the Project on Student Debt, a consumer group based in Berkeley, Calif.

Private loans often lack provisions for discharge if borrowers die, become disabled or if a school closes before you earn your degree, says Lauren Asher, president of the Project on Student Debt. Further, federal-loan plans include loan-forgiveness programs for graduates with low incomes and those who take certain public-sector jobs.

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Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.