6 Alternatives to Emergency Student Loans

By Julia Califano · December 12, 2023 · 8 minute read

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6 Alternatives to Emergency Student Loans

You thought you had your college costs covered. Then something unexpected happened — a sudden job loss, unplanned expense, family emergency — and now you’re short on funds and wondering how you’ll make ends meet.

Fortunately, some schools offer emergency student loans to help students rebound from a financial set-back and manage the unexpected. While these tend to be smaller amounts, an emergency loan can help you get through a rough financial patch, allowing you to stay in school and complete your degree.

However, not every college and university offers emergency student loans, and those that do may have limited funds for emergency student loans and varying eligibility requirements.

Here are key things to know about emergency or fast student loans, plus other ways to access quick funds when you hit a set-back or unexpected college expense.

The Basics of Emergency Student Loans

The term emergency student loan generally refers to a loan offered to actively enrolled students in dire financial situations, typically by colleges and universities. If you have experienced an unexpected financial hardship, whether due to a job loss, a death in the family, or any life circumstance that results in immediate financial need, you may be eligible to apply.

Emergency loans are generally disbursed and repaid on rapid schedules. Repayment terms may be as short as 30 to 90 days. The amount you can borrow varies by school but the cap is typically between $500 to $1,500. Some emergency student loans are interest-free, while others charge a low interest rate.

Typically, you cannot use an emergency student loan to cover your tuition for the semester. However, you can use it to cover other expenses, like food, housing, childcare, and medical expenses.

đź’ˇ Quick Tip: Get flexible terms and competitive rates when you refinance your student loan with SoFi.

How to Get Emergency Student Loans

If you need an emergency or instant student loan, a good first step is to contact your school’s financial aid office. If your school offers emergency loans, you will likely need to:

•   Find out if you are eligible. You’ll want to check your school’s eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify before you go through the application process.

•   Fill out the emergency student loan application. You may be able to do this online or you might need to do it in person at the financial aid office. You’ll likely need to have your student ID and enrollment information. Your school may also ask for documentation of your financial emergency before it will approve the loan.

•   Make a plan to repay your loan on time. You may need to repay the loan within just a few months, so you’ll want to determine how you will make those payments. If you miss a payment, the school might charge fees and/or hold your academic records.

Are Emergency Student Loans a Good Idea?

While emergency student loans can be helpful, they may not be the right solution for everyone. For one, the loan might not offer enough money to help you out. For another, schools typically have strict qualification criteria for emergency student loans. For example, you typically need to have experienced an unexpected event that triggered a dire and sudden financial need, such as:

•   Loss of a parent

•   Dismissal from a job or unexpected reduction in income

•   Natural disaster

•   Significant crime or theft

Also keep in mind that an emergency loan is still a loan, so you’ll want to make sure you can handle more debt before you tap a fast student loan. Also be sure you can manage the short repayment period. Having a loan go into default may jeopardize your education and your eligibility for future financial aid. In other words, it’s a good idea to establish a plan before you borrow money.

Emergency Student Loan Alternatives

Emergency student loans can be a great resource for some students. However, they aren’t right for everyone. You may not qualify for your school’s emergency student loan program. Or, you might need a larger sum of money or a longer repayment timeline. Also, not all schools offer emergency loans. Luckily, there are other options on the table to help you through a cash crunch during college. Here are five you may want to explore.

1. Unused Federal Student Loans

If you’ve already submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) but turned down some or all of the federal student loans you were offered, there is good news: It’s possible to change your mind. Once you have filed a FAFSA, you are allowed to accept the funds at any time during the academic year.

For example, you might have been offered $5,000 in federal loans but only claimed $2,000 of that money. If you find yourself in financial hardship later in the academic year, you could still claim the unused portion of federal student aid. You can use federal student loans to cover tuition as well as living expenses. Your financial aid office can help you figure out if this is an option for you.

Since you’ve already been approved for the loan, funding time will likely be much faster compared to the regular waiting time for federal aid. It shouldn’t take more than 14 days to receive the funds.

If you’ve had a major change in your financial situation, such as a job loss or the passing of a parent, you may want to resubmit your FAFSA to reflect your new situation. Depending on the changes, you might qualify for more aid.

2. University Grants and Scholarships

Some colleges and universities offer emergency aid in other forms besides loans. Emergency grants and scholarships work in a similar way to emergency student loans in that they’re meant to help cover unexpected financial hardships. However, unlike loans, grants don’t have to be repaid.

For example, some schools offer completion scholarships or grants, which can forgive a portion or all of the outstanding balance that might otherwise keep a student from advancing or graduating. Other schools have voucher programs to help with specific on-campus costs like books and dining hall meals.

You’ll need to get in touch with your financial aid office to see if you qualify for any emergency assistance grants, scholarships, or vouchers under your circumstances. The school may require proof of hardship or emergency.

Recommended: Finding Free Money for College

3. Private Student Loans

If you’ve tapped all of your federal aid options, you might turn to private student loans to help cover emergency expenses. These are loans offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

Private student loans typically come with higher interest rates than federal student loans and don’t offer the same borrower protections (like forbearance and forgiveness programs). However, you can often borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance with a private student loan, giving you more borrowing power than you can get with the federal government. Depending on the lender, you may be able to take advantage of quick student loan approval and disbursement and use the money to pay for your emergency expenses.

Some lenders send the money straight to the school and, once tuition is covered, the school will typically give you the remainder of the loan to cover living expenses. In other cases, lenders will send the funds to you to make the appropriate payments.

4. Tuition Payment Extension

If you’re not sure you can pay your tuition on time due to a sudden emergency, it’s worth asking your financial aid office if they provide temporary payment extensions or payment plans.

Some colleges may be willing to grant you an extension on paying your tuition. For example, they might offer an emergency deferment plan which allows enrolled students to postpone payments through a specific date, such as the 90th day of the term. This might give you a bit of extra breathing room in your budget.

You might also explore tuition payment plans. Many schools allow you to spread out your tuition into affordable monthly or bi-monthly payments. Typically, schools don’t charge interest on thes plans. However, when exploring this alternative, it’s a good idea to ask about any fees or interest charges that might apply.

5. Food Pantries

The cost of food is high these days, and this may be particularly burdensome during an emergency. Your school may have an on-campus food pantry that can help reduce your expenses until you’re back on your feet. Also keep in mind that local churches and other charitable organizations in your area may also offer food at no cost to those in need. Feeding America is a helpful resource to find food banks near you.These food pantries can provide basics like canned foods, pastas, dried breakfast items and more.

đź’ˇ Quick Tip: Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

Where Can You Look for Other Forms of Emergency Student Aid and Assistance?

Outside of emergency student loans and grants, colleges and universities often offer additional resources that can help with unplanned costs during an emergency. You might find on-campus support in the form of housing opportunities, bus passes, or food pantries. Even if your school doesn’t offer emergency assistance directly, a financial aid administrator may know of off-campus organizations that will offer support.

You might also explore assistance from alumni-funded foundations or other nonprofit scholarships or grants that can provide emergency assistance. For example, the UNCF offers a “Just-in-time” emergency grant of up to $1,000 for students at risk of dropping out of college due to a financial hardship (like medical bills, a car repair, or a trip home to help a sick parent). Students must complete an online application form and show proof of financial hardship.

After You Graduate

If you took out federal or private student loans during college to cover expenses (both planned and unplanned) and you’re now in the repayment stage, you might want to look into refinancing. When you refinance your student loans, a lender pays off your existing loans with a new one, ideally at a lower interest rate. That can potentially save you money in the long run — and from the first payment you make.

Just keep in mind that if you refinance federal student loans with a private lender you forfeit federal protections, such as income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs.

Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.

Check out what kind of rates and terms you can get in just a few minutes.

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If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.

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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.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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