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Student loan options for borrowers with bad credit

Your options to pay for school — even if you don't have a cosigner.

Bad credit is less of a roadblock to getting a student loan than other types of financing. If you’re able to cover all of your costs with federal loans, it might not affect your application at all. But you might have trouble getting private funding if your credit score is less than stellar.

What are my student loan options with bad credit?

You have two main options when it comes to getting a student loan with bad credit: federal loans and private loans with a creditworthy cosigner.

Federal loans

With most federal student loans, your credit score doesn’t affect your eligibility. Everyone who qualifies for a federal loan gets the same rates and fees, which Congress sets each year. Apply for a federal student loan and other federal aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Federal loans are typically the most affordable option out there — especially for bad-credit borrowers. The downside is that federal loans come with annual limits, sometimes as low as $5,500. If it doesn’t cover all of your tuition and fees, you might need to turn to private funding.

How can I get a PLUS Loan with bad credit?

It’s possible to get a Parent PLUS or Graduate PLUS loan with bad credit. While PLUS is the only federal program that considers your credit score, you can appeal your application. This involves filling out a form showing that there are circumstances outside of your control that have hurt your credit.

Another option is to bring on an endorser to help you qualify. Similar to a cosigner, an endorser must fill out part of your federal loan application and agree to repay your loan if you can’t.

With both choices, you’re required to complete credit counseling.

Private loans with a cosigner

Most private student loan providers require a credit score of 670 or higher. But you can typically bring on a cosigner with good credit to help you meet credit, income and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio (DTI) requirements.

If your cosigner has good enough credit, you might even qualify for a lower rate than what’s offered with federal loans. However, no private lender can offer all of the benefits that come with federal loans such as flexible student loan repayment plans, extensive deferment and forbearance options, and some student loan forgiveness programs.

Compare private student loans

Name Product APR Min. Credit Score Loan amount Loan Term
Sallie Mae® Smart Option Student Loan for Undergraduates
1.13% to 11.23%
Not stated
Starting at $1,000
5 to 15 years
Choose from over 8 different options for undergraduates, law students and more.
College Ave undergraduate student loans
0.99% to 11.98%
Not stated
Starting at $1,000
5 to 15 years
Rates start at 2.84% for residents of all 50 states.
Earnest Student Loans
Starting at 1.04% APR with autopay
Starting at $1,000
5 to 20 years
Undergrad and graduate financing with a nine-month grace period.
Discover undergraduate student loans
Variable APRs: 1.24% to 11.99%
Fixed APRs: 4.24% to 12.99%
Not stated
Starting at $1,000
Up to 15 years
Get cash back for good grades with this private student loan provider.

Compare up to 4 providers

How can I get a student loan with bad credit and no cosigner?

It’s possible to get a student loan with bad credit and no cosigner. However, your options are limited if you’ve maxed out your federal funding.

Some alternative student loan providers consider factors like your grades and standardized test scores rather than your credit history. These student loan options are often available to international students or borrowers with no credit score — though not always. For more information on what options you have read our guide on best student loans for bad credit.

How to get a student loan without a cosigner

Compare providers that don’t require a cosigner

ProviderLoan amountsAPR
Sixup$2,500 to $60,0006.89% to 9.89%Read review
Prodigy FinanceVaries7.53% to 12.03%Read review
Mpower$2,001 to $25,0007.52% to 14.98%Read review

5 tips to get a student loan with bad credit

  1. Apply for federal loans first. Federal loans typically come with lower rates and more flexible repayment terms than private loans — and most don’t require a cosigner.
  2. Get a cosigner for private loans. You have more options and likely will get a better deal if you apply with a cosigner with good credit than if you apply on your own.
  3. Work to build your credit. Consider taking out a credit builder loan or getting a secured credit card to improve your credit score. This can help you qualify for a better deal next year, cosigner release or refinance for lower rates in the future.
  4. Switch to a high-earning major. Lenders sometimes consider what you’re studying when you apply for student loans. Majors that have a higher starting income on average tend to get a better deal.
  5. Consider the total cost. Think about the monthly cost — both in school and out of school — as well as the total loan cost when deciding how much to borrow. If it doesn’t seem like something you’ll be able to afford after leaving school, look into alternatives.

Student loan alternatives that don’t consider credit

Traditional student loans aren’t the only way to pay for school. If you have bad credit and federal loans aren’t an option, you might want to consider one of these alternatives:

  • Federal grants and work-study programs. Grants and work-study programs allow you to fund your education with money you don’t have to repay. When you fill out the FAFSA, you’re also applying for other types of federal aid in addition to loans.
  • Private grants and scholarships. Some private organizations offer small amounts of funding that can help cover part of your educational costs — though you likely won’t be able get as much as you would with a loan.
  • Income-share agreements (ISAs). A few lenders and schools will swap tuition costs in exchange for a percentage of your income over a set number of years.
  • Crowdfunding. Working on a really exciting graduate project? Got a story to tell? You might be able to raise money for school from your social network and strangers by setting up a campaign on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or GoFundMe.

Bottom line

Getting a student loan with bad credit isn’t impossible. But it could be challenging if you need private student funding and don’t have a cosigner. If you’re struggling to pay for school, reach out to your financial aid office to explore your options.

Want to learn more about how it all works? Read our guide to student loans.

Frequently asked questions

What rates can I expect on student loans if I have bad credit?

It depends on the type of student loan you’re applying for and whether you have a cosigner. Federal student loans have the same rate for every borrower — though it varies by loan type.

With private student loans, rates typically start around 3% APR with a cosigner. If you don’t have a cosigner, you can expect interest rates to start higher — around 9% APR.

Read our article on student loan interest rates to learn more about what to expect.

How can I get a personal loan instead if I have bad credit?

You likely won’t be able to qualify for a personal loan with a competitive rate if you can’t qualify for a private student loan on your own.

However, some alternative loan providers like Boro offer personal loans for students and consider factors like your grades and test scores instead of your credit rating. These still tend to have higher rates than your typical student loans, but are less costly than bad-credit personal loans.

How do I take a cosigner off my loan without refinancing?

You can remove your cosigner from your loan if you qualify for cosigner release, which typically requires a strong-enough credit score and income to be eligible for the loan on your own. You also might be required to make a few years of repayments first. Learn more with our guide to student loan cosigner release.

Image source: Shutterstock

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