With the average cost of tuition at a private college close to $40,000 per year, it’s no surprise that many students will take out student loans to pay for their education. These student loans come in all shapes and sizes: federal or private, subsidized or unsubsidized, cosigned or not.
Most federal student loans do not require a credit check and can be borrowed without a cosigner. While the majority of students who take out private loans have a cosigner to guarantee the loan, that’s not an option for everyone. A cosigner — generally a family member or close friend — is someone who guarantees they will pay back your student loan if, for some reason, you can’t.
If you don’t have enough established credit to qualify for a private student loan on your own, turning to a cosigner, if possible, may also help you get approved at a better interest rate. However, not everyone has someone to cosign their student loans, and that’s okay too. There are plenty of ways to potentially qualify for both private and federal student loans without a cosigner. Here’s what you need to know.
Purpose of Adding a Cosigner
There are two main reasons why adding a cosigner to a private student loan may make sense — one is to improve your chances of being approved for a loan and the other is to potentially help secure a more competitive interest rate.
If you’re applying for student loans, you may not have a long credit history yet. To lenders, a lack of credit history can be seen as risky because you haven’t proved how well you can manage your financial obligations. You might need a cosigner to convince a lender to give you a student loan, since having a cosigner with more financial security or a better credit history reduces risk to the lender.
A cosigner with a strong credit history may also help you get approved for a loan with a lower interest rate, which could help reduce the amount of money you pay in interest over the life of the loan.
A cosigner will need to share their financial information with the lender, so it’s a good idea to make sure that your cosigner has plenty of time to get their documents in order and discuss loan applications with you.
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Can You Get a Federal Student Loan Without a Cosigner?
The short answer is yes. The first step in qualifying for a federal financial aid package is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) .
You’ll submit your financial information and, if you’re a dependent student, your parents’ information too. Depending on your financial need, you’ll then be offered a combination of federal student loans — including subsidized and unsubsidized Direct or PLUS Loans — and work-study programs.
Federal student loans typically do not require a cosigner, nor a credit check, and they often have competitive interest rates. Direct PLUS Loans , which are primarily offered to parents and graduate or professional students, however, do require a credit check.
You’ll want to keep in mind that there are limits on how much you can take out in federal loans. For example, dependent students whose parents are unable to obtain PLUS Loans cannot take out more than $9,500 as a first-year undergrad. And, no more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans. For more information on loan limits, check here . Because of these limits, students may look for additional sources of funding.
💡 Quick Tip: You’ll make no payments on some private student loans for six months after graduation.
Can You Get a Private Student Loan Without a Cosigner?
Yes, it is possible to get a private student loan without a cosigner, but you will likely need to have an established credit history or be willing to pay a higher interest rate.
To qualify for a private student loan, which are available from banks, credit unions, and online lenders, you generally have to be age 18 or older, a U.S. resident, and enrolled in school at least part time. Additionally, certain lenders may only approve loans if you are enrolled at schools that meet their criteria, which can vary from lender to lender.
To qualify for a private student loan without a cosigner, you typically must meet certain credit requirements. This often includes at least two years of established credit history, a credit score in the “good” range (670-739), and a certain minimum amount of income.
Some private lenders will provide student loans without a cosigner even if you have a limited credit history or income. However, you will almost definitely pay a higher interest rate.
If you know you’re going to need a student loan without a cosigner, one option is to start building your credit as early as you can. There are several ways to begin building credit. One is to be added as an authorized user on a credit card held by someone (usually a parent) with good credit. If you’re over 21, you might consider applying for a low-limit credit card. This type of credit card can help keep you from going overboard on spending, while still allowing you to establish credit.
💡 Quick Tip: It’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and federal student loans before committing to them.
Why It Can Help to Have a Cosigner on a Private Student Loan
Having a cosigner on a private student loan can help you qualify for a loan you might not otherwise be able to get. In addition, it can help you get approved for a larger loan amount, as well as lower rates and fees.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that having a cosigner is not necessarily a permanent situation. Some lenders will “release” a cosigner from a loan after the primary borrower meets certain requirements, like a certain number of payments and a credit check.
You also may consider refinancing your loan once you’re out of school, which will then be a way to have the loan in your own name. It can be a good idea to talk through what your cosigner expects and anticipates for the life of the loan, so that you’re both on the same page.
What is the Minimum Credit Score for a Student Loan?
If you apply for a federal student loan, your credit score won’t be a factor, since a credit check is not even part of the application process. However, private student loans often require a credit score of at least 670 to get a loan without a cosigner.
The exact qualification criteria will vary from lender to lender but, generally, the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to qualify and obtain a competitive interest rate for a private student loan.
Before you apply for a private student loan, you may want to get copies of your credit reports (available free at AnnualCreditReport.com ) and check your credit score to get a sense of where you may stand in the eyes of a lender. You also can check your credit report for any errors, which could bring down your score.
Who is Eligible for Student Loans That Don’t Require Cosigners?
Federal student loans don’t require a cosigner. There are also some private student loans that don’t require a cosigner, though you typically need to meet certain credit and income requirements.
You may be able to check your private student loan eligibility before you apply for a loan without a cosigner. This triggers what’s known as a “soft” credit check. A soft credit check does not affect your credit score, but can give you an approximate idea of whether or not you’ll be approved for a loan and what the interest rate on the loan may be.
Keep in mind, though, that your loan won’t be finalized until you apply for the loan. At this point, a hard credit check will be performed and final approval decisions will come through. But checking loan eligibility is one way to know whether or not a lender may consider your application without a cosigner.
What are Your Options If You Can’t Get a Student Loan Without a Cosigner?
If you can’t get a student loan without a cosigner and you don’t have someone who can be your cosigner, don’t panic. There are other potential paths forward depending on your goals and your circumstances:
• Take a gap year. Some students take a year off to build credit, grow their income, and reapply once they feel their finances are on more secure footing.
• Consider a less expensive school. Some students who can’t get a cosigner decide to go to a community college and take core credit courses. They may also work during this time. Then, when they feel their finances are on more secure footing, they transfer to their intended school to finish their degree.
• Rethink your education priorities. If you can’t get a cosigner and are having trouble shouldering loans on your loan, you may recalibrate your educational goals and consider different degree programs or institutions that may have a less expensive price tag. It can be helpful to talk to people who work in your future career field — they may have thoughts on how you can save money on education or may have tips for alternate paths toward the job you want.
• Talk with your financial aid office. Chances are, your financial aid office has seen similar situations and may have ideas. They may also be able to connect you with other funding opportunities, as well as students who have independently financed their education.
Other Ways to Help Finance Your Education
Besides taking out federal student loans or private student loans without a cosigner, there are a few other options to help finance your education.
There are many grants and scholarships available, including need-based grants and merit-based grants (grants available for students who reach a certain level of academic excellence) that you do not need to repay. You can search for scholarships online to see if there are any you might qualify for. You might also ask your high school’s college counselor or selected college’s financial aid office for information on any scholarships or grants you may be eligible for.
You might also consider working while you’re in school. Some students find they can manage a job alongside their studies, while others find that it’s challenging to find a balance. There is no “right” way to pay for your education. Some students may take a year or more off to save up for school, and then focus full-time on school. Talking to graduates can help you see different pathways and that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to financing an education.
Applying for a private student loan with a cosigner can help a potential borrower secure a more competitive interest rate or preferable loan terms. This is because the cosigner provides additional security for the lender — if the primary borrower runs into any issues repaying the loan, the cosigner is responsible.
Federal student loans, aside from Direct PLUS loans, do not require a credit check or cosigner. If you find that your federal loans aren’t going to cover your education, a private student loan may help. And, some private lenders will offer student loans without a cosigner. Just keep in mind that private student loans lack the borrower protections offered by federal student loans.
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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