When you take out any type of loan, you typically pay interest. This is the cost of borrowing money from a lender. The interest you pay for many student loans starts growing from the day the funds are released and continues until you’ve fully paid off the loan. This is why you pay more for most student loans than the amount you originally borrowed.
No-interest loans or interest-free loans, also known as scholarship loans, don’t charge any interest, so you only pay back exactly what you borrowed. They are typically offered by nonprofit organizations, state governments, and universities.
While these loans are relatively rare, and amounts tend to lower than other types of student loans, no-interest student loans do exist and may be worth looking into for the potential savings. Read on to learn how interest-free student loans work and where to find them.
What Is a No-Interest Student Loan?
Interest-free student loans are loans that do not accrue interest. Unlike grants and scholarships, the loan amount must be repaid. Because there are no interest charges, however, the amount repaid by the borrower remains the same as the original amount borrowed. Traditional student loans, whether federal or private, all come with interest rates that are either fixed or variable.
The interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and are set annually by Congress. For the 2023-2024 school year, the interest rate on Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loans for undergraduates is 5.50%, the rate on Direct Unsubsidized Loans for graduate and professional students is 7.05%, and the rate on Direct PLUS Loans for graduate students, professional students, and parents is 8.05%.
While federal student loan rates are the same for every borrower, private student loan rates range based on the lender, the type of interest rate (fixed or variable), and the borrower’s credit score. Interest on private loans can run anywhere from 4.42% to 16.99% APR.
Whatever the interest rate on a student loan, you will end up paying more than you borrow. No-interest student loans can be an attractive alternative. Here are some places to look for interest-free loans:
• Schools Some colleges and universities offer no-interest loans for current students to cover emergency expenses.
• States You may be able to find an interest-free student loan through your state’s education agency. For example, Massachusetts offers students who demonstrate financial need and attend a qualifying school in Massachusetts a no-interest loan for up to $4,000 each academic year.
• Nonprofit organizations Some foundations and nonprofits offer no-interest student loans. These loans can be set up in different ways. In some cases, you can get a small loan amount; in others, the organization will pay your remaining cost of attendance. Some are awarded based on merit, while others are awarded based on financial need.
💡 Quick Tip: Make no payments on SoFi private student loans for six months after graduation.
Applying for Interest-Free Student Loans
The application process for most interest-free loans resembles the application process for grants or scholarships more closely than a traditional loan application.
It’s a good idea to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), even if you want to focus on loans without interest. Some interest-free loans use the FAFSA to determine financial need. And while federal loans generally accrue interest, they typically have lower rates than private student loans. Federal student loans also come with benefits, such as income-based repayment and forgiveness programs, that private student loans and no-interest loans may not offer.
Interest-free student loans are often local and state-based, rather than national. They may require proof of residency in a certain state. Some may also have an essay requirement, as well academic requirements, and might even require an interview.
The process is usually more intense than a regular student loan because funds are limited. Some state agencies and philanthropic organizations use the term “scholarship loan” to refer to interest-free loans. Scholarship loans may also be repaid through public service.
Keep in mind though that those organizations are still separate from the government, and do not offer the same repayment plans as the loans offered through the U.S. Department of Education.
Subsidized Loans: No Interest Until After Graduation
Interest-free loans are relatively rare, so it’s possible that students will still need to rely on federal student aid. There are two types of federal Direct Loans available to undergraduate students: subsidized and unsubsidized.
Subsidized loans are available to undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest accruing on the loans while you’re in school, during your six-month grace period, and when your loans are in deferment.
On the other hand, unsubsidized student loans are available to undergraduate and graduate students, and they don’t require that students demonstrate need in order to qualify. Interest accrues while you’re in school, and during grace periods, deferment, or forbearance — and you’re responsible for paying the interest.
Federal student loans also offer a few different payment plans, including income-driven repayment plans, so that borrowers can find the option that works best for them. There are also borrower protections like deferment or forbearance that can act as a safety net for borrowers who find themselves facing financial difficulties down the road.
💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.
No-interest student loans, sometimes called scholarship loans or interest-free loans, are loans awarded to students that do not accrue interest at all. While not common, there are some nonprofits, state agencies, schools, corporations, and religious organizations that offer interest-free loans to students.
In case you’re not able to find or qualify for a no-interest loan, it’s a good idea to fill out the FAFSA to access other forms of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans.
Sometimes, financial aid and scholarships don’t provide enough funding to pay for college. In that case, you might want to look into private student loans. While private student loans can be helpful tools when it comes to paying for college, they do not have the same borrower protections as federal student loans, so you generally only want to consider them after all other aid options have been reviewed.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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