If you’ve dropped out of college but are still carrying student loan debt, you have a number of repayment options, depending on your income and credit profile. Some private lenders may allow you to refinance your federal student loan, but others definitely will not.
College dropout rates indicate that up to 32.9% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program, according to EducationData.org. If anyone hopes that not graduating gets them off the hook for paying back a student loan, the answer is a resounding no. The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) department spells it out on its website for those repaying federal student loans:
“Your federal student loans can’t be canceled or forgiven because you didn’t get the education or job you expected or you didn’t complete your education (unless you couldn’t complete your education because your school closed).”
Why is that? Lenders believe that not having a degree can pose difficulties in getting a high-earning job. College dropouts make an average of 32.6% less income than bachelor’s degree holders. And some data show that college dropouts are four times as likely to default on their loans compared to graduating counterparts.
Can You Refinance Student Loans Without a Degree?
Student loan refinancing allows you to pay off federal student loans with a private one carrying different terms. For some borrowers, this new loan might come with a lower interest rate or lower monthly payment than their existing debt, particularly if they have a strong credit and employment history.
However, many private lenders won’t allow you to refinance your student loans if you haven’t graduated. SoFi and some other lenders require that you have at least an associate degree from a Title IV accredited school in order to be eligible for refinancing.
Title IV schools are eligible to process federal student aid under the Higher Education Act. You can verify whether the institution you attended is a Title IV school on the federal student aid website.
Even though some of the most popular lenders require you to have a degree, that doesn’t mean you can’t refinance student loans if you did not graduate. There are some financial institutions that may offer refinancing to borrowers who dropped out.
💡 Quick Tip: Some student loan refinance lenders offer no fees, saving borrowers money.
Federal Student Loan Consolidation Without a Degree
There are other solutions to easing your burden. If you have more than one federal student loan, not having a degree doesn’t stop you from being able to combine them through a Direct Consolidation Loan. Doing so can be beneficial because it allows you to make just one payment every month instead of many, potentially with multiple loan servicers. That can make things simpler for you and make it more likely that you’ll remember to pay your loans on time.
Another reason to consolidate is that you could qualify for a lower monthly payment by extending the term of the loan (though you’d pay more interest over the life of the loan). Also, by consolidating, loans that wouldn’t otherwise qualify might become eligible for income-driven repayment plans or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Should I Consolidate Student Loans
Consolidation isn’t for everyone, however. As we mentioned above, extending the term of the loan means interest will have more time to stack up. Plus, if you’ve already been making payments under an income-driven repayment plan or toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you could lose credit for those payments and have to start over.
You can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan as soon as you leave school or are enrolled less than half-time. You’d submit an application through StudentLoans.gov. If your loans are still in the grace period, you can ask for the consolidation to be delayed so that it’s closer to the end of that period. If you receive the loan, you’ll need to start repaying it 60 days after it’s paid out.
💡 Quick Tip: Federal parent PLUS loans might be a good candidate for refinancing to a lower rate.
Repayment Options for Federal Student Loans
Federal student loan repayment was put on pause in March 2020 due to Covid-19 hardships. The pause ended in October 2023. If you are focused on dealing with your federal student loans, it’s vital to know that the Department of Education has focused on strengthening its income-driven repayment options.
Any Direct Loan borrowers can apply to the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan, introduced in 2023. (SAVE replaces the REPAYE program.) Your monthly payments will be 10% of discretionary income, possibly lowering to 5% in 2024 when SAVE has been fully implemented. You can learn more about SAVE, and apply through its portal, on the FSA site.
For those really struggling to make any payments, the “On-Ramp Program” is in effect through Sept. 30, 2024. This prevents the worst consequences of missed, late, or partial payments, including negative credit reporting for delinquent payments for 12 months. However, payments are still due, and interest will continue to accrue.
You can also apply for forbearance or deferment, temporarily pausing your payments and providing more predictability when you must resume repaying. Keep in mind that forbearance and deferment have financial pros and cons.
Refinancing Your Student Loans
Now or in the future, you may be able to apply for student loan refinancing. You can check your rates with several lenders (using a soft credit check, if possible) to compare rates and terms and see what you might prequalify for.
If you decide to complete a full application, the lender may ask for information like your Social Security Number, outstanding loans and repayment history, income, and employment history. They typically complete a credit check to find out your FICO® Score and look for any red flags, like a history of missed payments, student loan default, eviction, or bankruptcy.
Those who don’t initially qualify for refinancing, or get a favorable rate, can try reapplying with a cosigner — someone who guarantees to repay the loan if the primary borrower can’t.
If you feel you need a cosigner, one with strong credit history and a solid income and employment history (among other financial factors) could help you qualify. If you do use a cosigner, remember that if you default, any missed payments on your end may damage their credit.
It’s important to bear in mind with refinancing that, if approved, you would lose out on several options. These include:
• Access to temporary loan payment relief through approved periods (deferment or forbearance) when you do not have to make payments because of financial hardship, continuing your education, or military service.
• No interest accumulation on subsidized student loans during periods when payments are deferred.
• Access to repayment plans based on your income that provide loan forgiveness once you have been in repayment for 20 or 25 years.
Recommended: Refinancing Student Debt With a Cosigner
Taking Control of Your Student Loans
Not completing your college degree or stopping and starting over an extended period is far from uncommon. However, It can be frustrating to carry a student loan balance for a degree you don’t have.
Unfortunately, SoFi does not offer student loan refinancing to borrowers who don’t have at least an associate degree, but some lenders do. Plus there are other options, such as applying for income-driven repayment and exploring other federal programs to help with loans.
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.
Can I get a loan without a degree?
Yes, it’s possible to get student loans without a degree — if you are currently enrolled in school. The federal student loan program offers student loans to qualifying borrowers who are attending eligible institutions. Students may also look into private student loans.
Can you refinance student loans without a job?
Refinancing student loans without a job may be more challenging than if you are able to show a record of stable employment. However, lenders evaluate a variety of factors when making lending decisions including employment history, income, credit score, among other factors. The lender is trying to evaluate whether you are able to repay the loan. If you are able to show other sources of income — outside of a traditional job — it may be possible to refinance your student loans.
Do you need to graduate to refinance student loans?
In many cases, yes, you do need to graduate before you can refinance student loans. Many private lenders won’t allow you to refinance your student loans if you haven’t graduated. Though, there are some lenders that are willing to refinance student loans for borrowers who did not graduate.
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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
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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