JELF provides “last dollar” loans, allowing students to borrow with no interest for the final dollars needed to pay their expenses. Students apply to JELF after applying for all other student loans and scholarships for which they qualify. Further, since different schools have different costs associated, students have already made their school choice before JELF can determine how much they still need.
For these reasons, JELF applicants must fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and plan to accept all financial aid for which they qualify, including the Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans . This loan, which is awarded to anyone who completes FAFSA, is a low interest (as opposed to high interest or 0% interest like JELF) student loan with a set amount per year of school.
JELF’s “last dollar” loans are designed to provide under $8,000 annually, with a $4,500 average loan. Since each student’s need is personally determined based on that student’s true last dollar need, there is no ‘set amount.’
There is no application fee to apply for a JELF loan. Our loans are totally free — no fee and no interest! The only thing a recipient will ever pay back is the money they actually borrow.
JELF serves students who identify as Jewish, which is represented by either lineage or conversion. Applicants are given the opportunity to explain their religious identification in their application.
All students must be seeking a degree and registered full-time at a U.S.-accredited college, university or CTE (Career & Technical Education) Program / vocational school.
Students must have legal residence in JELF’s five-state region (FL, GA, NC, SC, VA, excluding metro DC).
There is no age cap to apply for a loan, though the majority of loan recipients are between the ages of 18 – 25.
Each JELF recipient must demonstrate need through financial documentation and details provided during the personal interview.
JELF serves students from the five-state region of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia (excluding metro DC). This five-state region was formed through JELF’s inception as the Hebrew Orphans’ Home (HOH) in 1889, which served B’nai B’rith District #5, the same five-state area JELF continues to serve today.
To qualify, students must provide proof of residency for at least one (1) year immediately preceding the application deadline. JELF verifies a student’s legal address through legal documents, including driver’s license and tax return. While students must prove legal residency within the five-state region, they may attend any U.S.-accredited school.
If you are looking for a Hebrew or Jewish Free Loan agency outside JELF’s five states, most of them are listed through the International Association of Jewish Free Loans.
JELF funds students to attend the U.S.-accredited school of their choice.
JELF applicants must be full-time students attending a university, graduate or vocational program leading to a degree or professional certificate. JELF welcomes applications from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as students who are pursuing a CTE (Career & Technical Education) Program or vocational school.
JELF loans are based on financial need, not a student’s GPA. In order to be eligible (or stay eligible) for funding, all loan recipients must prove to be in good academic standing each semester.
JELF loans are open to students attending U.S.-accredited universities, vocational or CTE (Career & Technical Education) programs. If a school is eligible for FAFSA, it also meets JELF’s criteria. While most universities outside the U.S. are not FAFSA-eligible, JELF has funded students to attend several schools and programs outside the U.S. such as the American Medical Program at Tel Aviv University in Israel which is accredited through NYU. In order to find out if a school qualifies for support through FAFSA, please contact the individual university or program.
The purpose of the personal interview, which involves both the student as well as their cosigner(s), is to learn even more about the applicant and their need. Financial data, such as tax returns, only tell a piece of the story and this information is often over one year old. This in-person or video interview will cover personal questions about the student’s selected educational program, professional aspirations, family dynamics, current financial situation including possible debts, extenuating expenses and more. Click here for more details or to prepare for a JELF interview.
JELF interviews are conducted with the utmost of confidentiality. In most cases, the Local JELF Administrator (LJA) is not an employee of JELF but rather a social worker or like-minded professional contracted through a local Jewish agency. LJAs serve as part of the intake process only and are not involved in funding decisions. After the interview, all of the information is presented anonymously to JELF’s Loan Review Committee along with a summary of the application.
This is not a problem! As long as an applicant has legal residency within JELF’s five-state region, JELF is happy to consider them. Many applicants come from smaller Jewish communities around the region and we will work to ensure that a Local JELF Administrator (LJA) is assigned to each student regardless of their location. Please contact JELF’s Central Office for further assistance.
Once awarded a JELF loan, both the student and their cosigner(s) must sign a Promissory Note accepting and agreeing to the amount. Once JELF has a fully executed Promissory Notes, JELF will deposit the student’s loan through an ACH (automatic bank deposit) after bank account verification. If awarded funds for the full academic year, the borrower will receive half of their loan award in August and the other half in December (assuming they remain in “good academic standing”.
Yes. When filling out the application, most applicants do not yet know their total financial resources. If a student feels that they no longer need to borrow funds from JELF after being awarded their loan, they do not have to accept the loan. Further, JELF appreciates a student or family kindly withdrawing their application from consideration as soon as they discover they no longer need the loan. Students can always reapply for subsequent school years as needed, should they discover a gap in funding.
No, applicants do not request a specific dollar amount. To determine a student’s need, JELF subtracts a student’s total financial resources (including state, school and federal aid as well as possible family contribution) from the total cost to attend school for that academic year.
JELF also compiles a summary of each student’s need using a combination of the FAFSA Submission Summary, applicant and/or parents’ tax returns and the additional financial information provided on the loan application and during the personal interview.
Since financial circumstances and school selected / living costs can all change from year to year, JELF loan reviewers evaluate all loan information and supporting documents annually.
JELF takes both the total cost of the student’s education as well as the family’s total resources into account. We have found that defining need is very personal and different for different families – based not only on household income but also the number of individuals in a household, as well as a medley of other factors related to health or employment that may directly alter what funds exist for a student’s higher education.
Learn more here about JELF’s process for determining each applicant’s loan amount.
JELF loans are awarded directly to the student, not their family or the school they are attending. If a student applies for funding for the full academic year, JELF divides the loan into two equal payments, one at the beginning of the school year and the second in mid-to-late December. It is up to each student to determine how they best need to utilize these funds throughout the semester.
No, JELF does not require Parent PLUS loans. However, if a student’s gap is considerably larger than JELF’s average loan size that school year, JELF may advise a student or family that they need more financial aid before JELF can assist, as JELF loans are ‘last dollar,’ typically covering everything from food to books and healthcare and more.
At JELF, the difference between a dependent and independent student depends on whether the student is relying on any parental support.
- Dependent student – Typically under the age of 25 and is claimed on parents’ income tax form(s) for the previous year.
- Independent student – Typically 25 or older. If under 25, must not be claimed on parents’ income tax form and cannot receive any parental support. If a student is independent and under 25, JELF will require further verification.
A cosigner is someone willing to be legally responsible for a borrower’s repayment if the borrower defaults. While JELF does not charge interest or any fees, we are responsible for ensuring that every dollar loaned is repaid in full. JELF therefore requires a cosigner for each loan made.
All JELF loan recipients must have at least one valid cosigner who resides in the U.S., can provide tax returns, W-2s, and a government-issued photo ID and is not an applicant’s spouse.
While typically a parent, legal guardian or relative, there are other examples of cosigner relationships. All cosigners must complete JELF’s cosigner form (at the appropriate time and after receiving email instructions to do so), including all required documentation.
JELF keeps the identities of its applicants as confidential as possible. Only the appropriate JELF staff and Local JELF Administrator (LJA) who interviews the applicant and cosigner will know that someone has applied for a loan.
We are very sensitive to the issues that cause individuals to seek financial assistance, and therefore ensure our privacy of applicants and cosigners by assigning each application a non-identifying code. Neither JELF loan reviewers or other staff members have access to an applicant’s name or gender.
JELF never sells (or gives) lists of loan applicants to outside parties and will only disclose the name of a recipient with the recipient’s permission.
JELF prioritizes the security of all information throughout the application process. All data collected from students and cosigners is transmitted via our secure email platform and stored on our private, secure server and CRM software. We diligently maintain the confidentiality of your information during its use and promptly delete it when no longer needed. In our six decades of handling educational loans, JELF has never experienced a data breach. If any breach were ever suspected, affected parties would be promptly notified.
Repayment of a JELF loan begins either six (6) months after the student’s final graduation, after a student has terminated their course of study or if a student’s status has changed to part-time. For example, if a student graduates in May or June, their first payment will be due January 1 of the following year. JELF does not ask for repayment from full-time student so students can defer repayment if they choose to continue their studies.
After a six month reprieve to get situated and find employment, recipients have eight (8) years to pay off their loan (although many pay off well before that time!).
JELF’s repayment scale is graduated, meaning that repayments start small and gradually increase over the eight-year period, helping to stay manageable throughout the time. Of course, JELF loans never accrue interest so whatever a student borrows to JELF is what they will pay back! We believe that our 99% repayment rate is the best measure of our success and appreciate each recipient’s diligent payback.
JELF’s repayment program is graduated, meaning that payments are smaller right out of school when income is likely to be at its smallest.
Years 1 and 2 – 5% of the total amount borrowed
Years 3 and 4 – 10% of the total amount borrowed
Years 5 and 6 – 15% of the total amount borrowed
Years 7 and 8 – 20% of the total amount borrowed
All repayers are welcome to accelerate repayment as much as they would like. By paying back early, JELF can help even more students in need. There is no penalty for paying off a loan early.
Borrowers can easily set up monthly payments to JELF from their banks through ACH, which allows funds to move from one bank account to other through a central clearing house.
JELF does not accept credit cards for student repayments (we’d lose a percentage — don’t charge any interest to begin with!). Further, payment by credit card would essentially turn a student’s non-interest bearing debt into interest-bearing debt.
Yes, sometimes individuals want to help a borrower by repaying all or some of their loan! Setting up a one-time ACH payment will allow an individual to make a gift towards a borrower’s balance. A one-time payment towards repayment can also be made anonymously.
A celebration of course!
The recipient will receive their final promissory note stamped “Paid in Full” and will then join the ranks of JELF’s Alumni!
Eventually JELF hopes former borrowers will also join JELF’s “Full Circle Society,” a giving society of individuals who, like them, received JELF loans, paid them off in full – and are now in a position to give back to JELF, helping future generations.
Dollars at Work
Yes, JELF is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, therefore all monetary donations to JELF are tax deductible to the full extent of the law. Certain donations in which a donor receives a good or service (such as food at an event) in return for a donation are not tax deductible or may only be partially deductible. Please consult with your tax advisor if you have questions about a deduction.
All donations to JELF are used to help deserving Jewish students pursue higher education. A small portion of these funds are used to meet our operating expenses. Each year JELF’s Board of Director and Finance Committee allocate a specific dollar amount to be lent based on JELF’s income for the prior fiscal year. Since our admissions process for students is cyclical (vs. rolling), it is imperative that we plan accordingly in order to best ration our limited funds.
If a donation is made in honor or memory of someone and you chose to notify them via email, an email will be sent automatically through JELF’s donor form. If a donor opts to have JELF mail a card, JELF will send it within 1 – 3 business days. If you believe that an individual may not have received notification, please let us know and we will be glad to assist.
JELF has over 1,000 donors annually. Individuals from Atlanta make up a large percentage of overall donors, but JELF also receives a wide range of donations from around its five-state region and outside of its boundaries, especially through its alumni. Donors from South Florida currently make up approximately 15% of the total amount raised. Former recipients comprise 10% of the overall donor base, a number which continues to grow each year.
While the average gift is $1,100 per constituent, many donors contribute far more and far less each year. Some donors choose to lock in their gift through monthly or quarterly payments and other donors Sponsor a Student by committing to their gift over a four-year period.
JELF services students throughout a five-state region (FL, GA, NC, SC, VA, excluding metro DC).
The two largest markets for student applicants are split between Atlanta and South Florida, which includes Miami-Dade, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca and Palm Beach. However, students from all over JELF’s region receive JELF loans, including Tampa, Raleigh, Greensboro, Charlotte, Charleston, Jacksonville, Orlando and Richmond (just to name a few!). Many students also come from areas that have very small Jewish communities where they are the only recipient in their vicinity (e.g. Macon, GA, Spartanburg, SC, Wilmington, NC, etc.).
Regardless of where students originate, over 90% relocate for their higher education, which includes over 170 different colleges and universities across the U.S. This results in hundreds of “JELFies” across the northeast, midwest and west coast in addition to our southeastern states.
Loan allocation decisions are made through an anonymous and confidential process and led by volunteer reviewers, who are JELF board members and donors. All of JELF’s applications are reviewed individually which means that different students receive different loans amounts from JELF based on their personal situation and financial story.
Interest free lending is our mission! Funding for JELF’s mission comes from three sources:
■ Repayments from student borrowers, which are currently recycling at a 99% repayment rate (and have been since 2007!)
■ Fundraising from donors and Jewish community supporters who care about our cause and believe in giving back to support Jewish students with their higher education
■ Principal and earnings from JELF’s investment fund, which originated through the sale of the Hebrew Orphans’ Home in the 1970s
JELF is always working to increase its brand awareness to ensure that all Jewish students and families who need our assistance know that we exist. With over 4,000 marketing contacts, including Jewish agencies, synagogues, Jewish Federations, JCCs, JFS/JFCS organizations, Jewish youth groups, Hillel, Chabad and more, our media team is always looking to build new connections. We appreciate whenever people help us by sharing information about JELF to help reach our target audience.
JELF also concentrate marketing efforts outside the Jewish community – in public high schools and through college counselors, universities, graduate and technical programs across the U.S. If you know are interested in helping, please let us know through our Contact Us form.
JELF is always working to improve its engagement efforts with those who received our loans at any point. Our current alumni efforts are steered by JELF’s Alumni Committee who meet quarterly to discuss how to best engage recipients who are able to give back and currently living around the world.
JELF continues to offer opportunities for former recipients to share meaningful feedback through surveys, one on one discussion and of course, by submitting their JELFie, a short story or video that we can share with others. Additionally, JELF’s alumni page offers opportunities to get involved, career guidance opportunities, ways to give back and more!