A state-run student loan program now carries a 3.5 percent variable interest rate -- down from 4.0 percent.

The Minnesota SELF Loan program, which also offers a fixed rate of 7.25 percent, is a borrowing option that many college students don't hear much about.

Because of new federal rules, fewer students are taking out these loans, according to a news release from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, which runs the self-supporting loan program.

In 2011, more than 16,000 Minnesota students borrowed $85 million through SELF. That's down from 2009, when $125 million was loaned to 24,700 students.

That's probably due to federal rules meant to protect students from unscrupulous private lenders. Now, most colleges and universities don't include SELF in the financial aid "packages" they build for students. More about that here.

SELF charges no origination, processing or insurance fees; requires a co-signer but is made in the student's name; works for a wide range of post-secondary programs; and features a historically low interest rate that is the same for every borrower, rather than dependent on personal credit scores.