Students and parents applying for student loans are catching a bit of a break from banks and from Congress, which sets rates on federal student loans every summer.

Federal student loans first disbursed after July 1, 2016, and before July 1, 2017, are about half a percentage point cheaper than loans issued in the 2015-16 period. The rate for direct loans for undergraduates (subsidized and unsubsidized) is 3.76 percent, down from 4.29 percent last year. Plus loans for parents and graduate students are now 6.31 percent (formerly 6.84 percent) and direct unsubsidized loans for grad students are 5.31 percent (formerly 5.84 percent). Subsidized loans are need-based, unsubsidized loans aren’t.

Borrowers can in part thank Brexit, which has driven lower rates across the U.S., says Brendan Coughlin, president of Consumer Lending at Citizens Bank, a leader in student loans. Although “interest rates broadly are very good for consumers looking to take out debt,” he says, “I don’t think it changes what I’d advise a family to do.”

Families should start paying for school with free money (scholarships and aid), next maximize subsidized federal student loans and then, if necessary, select a Plus loan, an unsubsidized federal loan or a private loan, he says. “Really learn about all the products,” he says. “Apply for them -- they’re free to apply for -- and then you can make a decision with some counsel from some experts.”

“The best rates available through traditional private student loans are still, by the order of magnitude of a couple hundred basic points, better than federal unsubsidized student loans,” says Coughlin. But federal student loans typically offer more protections for borrowers, he says, including income-based repayment and loan forgiveness for some public-sector employees. Families must figure out what they value more, he says.

Another consideration is whether to use student loans or parent loans. Some parents don’t want to have their children burdened by loans while others, he says, “want them to have some skin in the game.”

Coughlin encourages parents to consider Citizens’ private Parent Plus loans, which he says guarantee a better rate than federal Parent Plus loans and don’t sport their 4 percent origination fee, or any fees. “If you’re not approved, no harm, no foul,” he says. “Your federal loan is still available to you.” The industry is also seen a flurry of activity as other traditional student lenders enter the parent-loan space, he says.

Banks can change student-loan rates frequently but the federal government can’t reset these rates again until next summer. Since it’s hard to predict which way rates are headed in this volatile environment, he tells families, “Make sure that you go in eyes wide open and do your homework.”

Another private-loan consideration is whether to opt for a fixed rate or a lower variable rate.  “This is also a very personal family decision around risk and return,” says Coughlin. However, he adds, “If you’re the typical undergraduate student who thinks you’re going to pay this back over 10 years, it is worth locking it in at historically low interest rates versus rolling the dice, in my opinion.”

Millennials currently repaying student loans should consider refinancing them. Citizens Bank is saving borrowers who’ve refinanced these loans an average $147 a month on payments and about 1.5 percentage points on their APR, says Coughlin. Many of them have swapped variable-rate loans for fixed-rate loans, he adds.

“It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these folks and it’s an act-now type of message,” he says. “If [rates] go lower, it’s not going to be game-changing lower,” he says, “but it could be game-changing higher six, nine, 12 months from now.”