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Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner? - A Guide

By Kayla McCormack · April 13, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Do I Need a Student Loan Cosigner? - A Guide

Having a cosigner on a student loan is a bit like a letter of recommendation to get into college. A cosigner can reassure the bank or lender that the applicant is capable of repaying the loan. Their financial history serves as an endorsement for the primary applicant’s financial inexperience.

But a cosigner is not always required for student loans, such as with most federal student loans. Depending on a student’s financial history, employment, and what type of loans they’re applying for, the likelihood of requiring a cosigner will vary. Read on to learn more about what a cosigner is and when it may make sense to add one to your student loan application. This article will also discuss some of the risks involved with being a cosigner, and some tips on how to ask someone to be a cosigner on a student loan.

What Is a Student Loan Cosigner?

A cosigner is a person who agrees to repay the loan if a borrower defaults or is otherwise unable to pay their debt. Adding a cosigner to a student loan application could help the primary borrower secure a lower interest rate, depending on the cosigner’s financial and credit history.

When a cosigner takes on a student loan with the borrower, they’re assuming equal responsibility to repay the loan.

Any negative actions on the loan, such as a late payment or defaulting, could harm the borrower’s credit, and if the cosigner becomes the primary after a default and then also defaults, it could harm their credit as well.

Factors That Determine Whether a Cosigner Is Needed on a Private Student Loan

Before deciding whether a student might need a cosigner on a private student loan, the first step is generally to fill out the Free Application Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). This will determine how much aid the student will receive, and help the student and their family determine how much of a gap they’ll need to fill with other sources of funding.

Once all other options are exhausted, students could look into private student loans and consider a cosigner. When considering a cosigner, there are a lot of factors to evaluate such as the type of loan you’ll be applying for and factors including your credit history, credit score, income and any history of missed payments. Continue reading for a more in-depth discussion on factors that may influence whether a student borrower might need to add a cosigner to their loan application.

1. What Type of Student Loans Are Being Considered?

The type of loans a person is applying for may affect their need for a cosigner.

Federal Student Loans

For the most part, federal loans do not require a credit check or a cosigner. The federal loan types that do not require a cosigner include:

•   Direct Subsidized Loans

•   Direct Unsubsidized Loans

•   Direct Consolidation Loans

The exception is a Direct PLUS Loan, which does require a credit check. Borrowers interested in a Direct PLUS Loan may need an endorser for the same reasons they may need a cosigner for a private student loan: if their credit history and other financial factors are lacking.

A Direct PLUS Loan can help graduate students and parents of undergraduate students pay for the entire cost of school attendance, minus any other financial aid. Direct PLUS Loans are the only federal student loans that look at an applicant’s credit history, thus the potential need for an endorser.

An endorser is the equivalent of a cosigner — they agree to repay the Direct PLUS Loan if the borrower defaults or is delinquent on payments.

Private Student Loans

If an applicant doesn’t meet the lending requirements on their own, they might need a cosigner to obtain any private student loan. To qualify for a private student loan, applicants typically have to check more boxes regarding financial history than they would for a federal student loan.

According to a report by MeasureOne , 92% of private undergraduate student loans and nearly 66% of private graduate student loans originated in the 2021-2022 school year had a cosigner. Based on this, it is more likely than not that a student will add a cosigner on their private student loan application.

Both Federal and Private Student Loans

Once a student has a full understanding of the financial aid they qualify for after submitting their FAFSA, they can determine if federal student loans and other federal aid like scholarships and grants will cover the cost of their education or if they need to supplement the amount with a private student loan. While the borrower might not need a cosigner for federal loans, they might require one for private student loans they might take out.

2. Is the Student an Undergraduate or Graduate Student?

The necessity of a cosigner may vary depending on whether a person is applying for graduate or undergraduate private student loans.

Undergraduate Student

Undergraduates are generally more likely to need a cosigner on their private student loans. That’s because undergraduates typically haven’t established a lengthy credit history. Without an established credit history, there is no track record for lenders to evaluate. In addition, undergrads might not have a steady income, which can also affect whether they are approved for a loan without a cosigner.

Graduate Student

The type of schooling a person is pursuing won’t have an impact on the need for a cosigner. However, a person’s credit history and income will still factor into the decision.

3. How Does a Borrower’s Credit Score Factor into the Decision?

Most private lenders will look at an applicant’s credit score (among other factors) to determine eligibility. Having a lower credit score may make it more challenging to get a loan without a cosigner.

FICO® Scores (the most common credit scores used by lenders and financial institutions) range between 300 and 850. If a person wants to check their score, many websites offer free credit scores or credit score monitoring (just be sure to read terms and conditions carefully).

It’s possible to get a free credit report annually from AnnualCreditReport.com. It is important to note that this is not the only site where someone can request a free credit report. For example, they can get their credit report directly through the credit bureaus or on other online sites.

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual lender to consider the credit score and other financial factors before approving a loan, and every lender has different criteria.

4. How Long Is the Student’s Credit History?

A person’s credit history gives lenders a sense of their ability to pay on time, or ability to pay off debt in full. The length of a person’s credit history makes up about 15% of their FICO® Score.

Length of credit history is determined by Average Age of Accounts (AAoA). Lenders take the lifespan of a person’s accounts and divide by the number of accounts that person holds. A potential borrower can determine this number by figuring out how long they’ve had each account in their credit history, then dividing by the number of accounts.

The real sweet spot for credit history comes at the seven-year mark. From that point, early negative marks on account might’ve faded away. It shows lenders that a borrower can pay loans and maintain accounts over time.

There are a number of factors at play in lending decisions, but a short credit history could mean that adding a cosigner is beneficial.

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5. What Is the Student’s Employment Status?

Lenders want to be sure that you can repay your debts, so they’ll generally also evaluate an applicant’s income.

Employed Full-Time

Generally, if a person is employed full time at a salaried job, it shows lenders they have the capability to repay the loan they’re borrowing. Lending requirements vary based on the lender, but having an established income history may help an applicant avoid needing a cosigner.

Employed Part-Time

While part-time employment can still be beneficial for a loan application, it’s possible that a cosigner might help boost the application. The applicant’s debt-to-income ratio will come into play — that is, how much debt a person owes (credit cards, rent, other bills) divided by the income they earn before taxes and other deductions.

Of course, all lender requirements vary, but significant, consistent income can factor into whether the applicant will still need a cosigner.

Only a Student (Not Employed)

If an applicant is not employed, lenders may be more inclined to approve a loan if there’s a cosigner who is able to show stable income.

6. Has the Student Declared Bankruptcy?

Lenders can and do consider all aspects of a person’s financial history before granting a loan, bankruptcy included. Declaring bankruptcy negatively affects a person’s credit score, which private lenders pay close attention to with a loan application. A bankruptcy filing can stay on a person’s credit history for a decade.

Bankruptcy filings can affect a credit score in a number of ways, and depending on how long ago it took place, the effects on a person’s score will vary.

7. Has the Student Defaulted on a Loan?

The terms of each loan are different, but after a period of nonpayment, the loan enters default. Defaulting on a loan stays with a person’s credit history for at least seven years and typically negatively affects their credit score.

If a person has defaulted on a previous loan, they’ll likely need a cosigner on their student loan to potentially bolster their lendability.

8. Has the Student Ever Missed a Payment?

On-time payments each month can help show lenders that a person is a responsible borrower. Missing payments or consistently making late payments can have a negative impact on a person’s credit score. Payment history accounts for approximately 35% of an individual’s FICO® Score.

Consistently missing payments that have affected a person’s FICO® Score might cause a potential lender to require a cosigner. It could also cause concern for a potential cosigner, so students might want to keep that in mind.

A solid history of on-time payments shows a lender that a person is a responsible candidate for a loan and might not need a cosigner.

Choosing a Cosigner

As stated near the beginning of this post, the majority of private student loan borrowers have a cosigner. But not all cosigners are built the same, and choosing the right person to cosign a loan could be as important as the terms of the loan itself.

A cosigner should not only have a strong financial history, but also a strong relationship with the applicant. A cosigner might be a parent or blood relation, but it doesn’t have to be. A cosigner ideally has a stable financial history and a relationship to the applicant where they feel comfortable discussing money.

Asking Someone to Be a Cosigner

There’s a common misconception that cosigning on a loan is as easy as signing a contract, but it actually means more than that. When a person asks someone to be their cosigner, they shouldn’t shy away from discussing the challenging topic.

It may make sense to talk about worst-case scenarios with a cosigner, let them know it would be their responsibility to take on the payments if the borrower defaults. Discuss how the borrower could repay the cosigner in the event that the borrower can’t make payments.

Risks of Cosigning

Beyond the worst-case-scenario discussion, cosigners should know the additional risks they take on when cosigning a student loan:

•   Credit score. Cosigning a loan will affect a person’s credit score, since they’re taking on the debt as well. Even if the borrower makes on-time payments and doesn’t default, the cosigner will see a change in their credit score by taking on the additional debt. It could potentially benefit their score.

•   Liability. If the borrower defaults on the loan, it becomes the cosigner’s responsibility to pay for it. A lender can come to collect from the cosigner, seizing assets and garnishing paychecks to cover missed payments.

However, the cosigner doesn’t need to stay tied to the loan forever. Private student loans may have a cosigner release policy in place. After a duration of on-time payments and additional paperwork, a lender may release the cosigner from the loan, leaving the borrower on their own.

It might sound easy, but a cosigner release isn’t a guarantee and not all private loans will offer this option. Read the terms of your loan carefully to understand the requirements for cosigner release.

The Takeaway

Like every college application, each loan application is a little different. Certain aspects of a person’s credit history or employment might make them more compelling to a lender. Other elements, like late payments or a limited credit history, might make a person less compelling to lend to.

Adding a cosigner to a private student loan is common and can improve a person’s chance of approval, sometimes even with a lower interest rate than if they applied on their own.

If a student has exhausted all of their federal student loan options, private student loans could be an option worth considering.

SoFi offers private student loans with no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. Plus, SoFi offers flexible repayment options to help students find the loan that fits their budget.

Learn more about private student loans with SoFi.


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