How to Get Emergency Student Loans at the Last Minute

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Emergency student loans are available to those who find themselves suddenly cash-strapped, whether due to a job loss, a death in the family or some other event that spurs immediate financial need.

Also sometimes referred to as instant or quick student loans, they may be available from your school and are generally disbursed and repaid on rapid schedules, sometimes with borrower-friendly interest rates and fees.

Whether you’re on a crunched timeframe or have some leeway before borrowing, there are resources available out there that can fill in the gap so you can keep pursuing your degree. If you have an emergency student loan in mind, here are three things to know:

How to start if you need a quick student loan

When you’re facing hardship and might need emergency aid, the first thing you should do is head to your school’s financial aid office and speak to the financial aid administrator.

This person typically is an expert on the types of emergency aid you can get at your school and in your specific situation. A financial aid administrator will know what aid is available and can help you work through your options, including instant student loans. These can come from several sources, such as:

  • Your college or university
  • The state in which you attend college
  • Educational nonprofits or foundations
  • Federal aid programs
  • Private lending options

Your aid officer can help you…

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  • Quickly identify your best emergency aid options for which you meet eligibility requirements
  • Explain each program and options
  • Offer support as you apply for them

You can also do your part and research options ahead of time. The more you know, the more quickly you and your financial aid officer can find and enact a smart solution to get the emergency student loans or aid you need.

Are emergency student loans a good idea?

While emergency student loans can be helpful, they’re not for everyone.

Before you apply for aid, you’ll want to think about the following factors:

  • Are you eligible? Not all schools offer emergency aid, and if they do, there could be eligibility requirements. In addition, emergency loans may not offer enough money to help you out.
  • Will you be able to repay the loan? An emergency loan is still a loan, so carefully consider whether you really need debt. If you can’t pay it back on time, it can jeopardize your education — you may be subject to late fees, plus risk being denied registration for classes. In other words, make sure you have a plan to repay if you take out a loan.
  • Can you afford the costs involved? The good news is that some emergency student loans don’t charge interest, unlike other types of personal and student loans. However, you could pay a service or loan origination fee, so check before proceeding to see whether it’s something you can really afford.

How to get emergency student loans and other quick funds

Knowing the different kinds of aid available can help you turn in an application and get the funds you urgently need. Here’s an overview of three ways to get emergency student loans.

1. Claim federal student loans
2. Check out emergency student loan programs
3. Consider private student loans

1. Claim federal student loans

First, you’ll want to check your federal aid award package. After you filed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the Federal Student Aid Office evaluated your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and approved certain kinds and amounts of financial aid — including student loans.

If you log into your student account with your college, you can navigate to your financial account section that outlines your aid award. You can see if there are any unused student loans or other aid you can claim. A financial aid administrator can also help you find out if you have unused federal aid.

In most cases, you’ll be able to borrow student loans up to the federal student loan limits or your cost of attendance (after other aid is applied), whichever is lower. Here are limits for common types of federal loans:

  • Undergraduate Direct loan limits are as high as $7,500 a year for dependent students or $12,500 for independent students.
  • Graduate Direct loan limits are $20,500 a year (unsubsidized only) for independent students.
  • PLUS loans are available to parents and graduate students to borrow up to the cost of attendance, after all other aid is applied.

Because you’ve already been approved for these student loans, you can quickly claim this unused aid and get funds disbursed to your student account. You can also talk to your parents about applying for a Parent PLUS loan to help cover costs.

2. Check out emergency student loan programs

Emergency student loans are the most commonly used and offered form of institutional emergency aid, according to an analysis of emergency aid by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) in 2016, the most recent data available. The report says nearly 3 out of 4 public four-year colleges have an emergency student loan program, according to survey respondents.

Each college has its own program setup for emergency loans. Make sure you understand your college’s specific emergency student loan program. Here are the key factors to look at, along with some sample options offered at various schools of Dec. 12, 2020:

  • Borrowing limit: These quick student loans typically come with limits on how much you can borrow. For instance, Georgia Tech offers institutional emergency loans of up to $1,500.
  • Repayment period: As emergency aid, these loans are usually intended to provide quick cash to students in need, and they require fast repayment as well. California Polytechnic State University’s emergency student loans, for example, require full repayment within 90 days.
  • Interest rate: Some emergency student loans are interest-free, while others are not. For example, as of Duke University offers an emergency loan that has a 3.5% interest rate.
  • Service charge: Emergency student loans often carry a small processing or service charge, typically a percentage of the loan amount or a small flat fee. For example, the University of Nevada charges a $20 service fee for each emergency loan.

You’ll typically be required to complete an application for an institutional emergency student loan. Then, the financial aid office will assess your eligibility.

While emergency aid programs are common, they aren’t standard across all colleges, so this may not be an option for everyone.

3. Consider private student loans

Private lenders can also be a source of last-minute, quick student loans. Take the time to understand this option and decide if you should borrow private student loans.

Keep in mind that federal student loans come with extensive protections that private student loans lack. Additionally, private student loans can carry higher rates and fees, depending on the lender and your credit score.

Still, most private lenders will allow you to borrow student loans up to your cost of attendance. Here’s how to get emergency student loans from a private lender:

  • Have good credit or get a cosigner. Private student loans are only granted to creditworthy applicants, so you’ll need to fit that requirement or find a cosigner who does.
  • Find reputable private lenders. Some of the best private student loans typically offer low advertised interest rates and other favorable terms. If you’re facing an emergency that requires funds fast, contact lenders and ask how long they usually take to process student loan applications and disburse funds. A private student loan will do you no good if the money arrives too late.
  • Complete and submit a full student loan application. Provide documentation that your lender requests, such as proof of identity or income, for both you and your cosigner, if you have one.
  • Follow up with the lender and financial aid office. The lender will process your application and will need your financial aid office to certify your enrollment status and cost of attendance. Check in with both your lender and aid office to keep the loan application moving along.
  • Sign a promissory note and disburse funds. Lastly, you’ll sign a student loan agreement or master promissory note agreeing to all the terms of the loan. Then, your funds should shortly be sent to your student loan account or another financial account.

If you’re on the lookout for a truly quick student loan, consider the recommended timing of one reputable student loan lender, College Ave:

College Ave Student Loans’ recommended timetable for applications
Days before schoolSteps to take
90Estimate your financial need, find a cosigner
60Shop around with several lenders to find your best overall loan, get a cosigner commitment
30Apply for your preferred student loan
10Look out for confirmation that the funds are slated for arrival, wait for your first loan statement and (if applicable) prepare to make in-school loan payments

Where to look for other forms of emergency student aid and assistance

Emergency student loans are just one form of help. There are several other programs and options you can use to find extra funds and give yourself more time to work through your situation — here are three broad categories:

1. Professional judgment review of federal aid
2. Emergency aid, grants and scholarships
3. Bill extensions or payment plans

1. Professional judgment review of federal aid

The financial aid administrator has the discretion to re-evaluate or even negotiate student aid packages on a case-by-case basis through a process called professional judgment reviews. If the administrator grants a professional judgment, he or she may revise inputs on your FAFSA that could increase the financial aid for which you qualify. For example, a student who has recently lost a parent might want to revise his or her FAFSA to exclude this parent’s income.

2. Emergency aid, grants and scholarships

Many colleges offer help besides loans to students with emergency financial needs, according to the NASPA study. This could include:

  • Campus vouchers to help cover on-campus costs like books and dining hall meals.
  • 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.
  • Grants to help students experiencing hardships, which might require proof of hardship or emergency.
  • Food pantries to ensure students don’t have to go hungry.

Check with both your financial aid and student support offices, which oversee and administer most of these emergency aid programs.

Lastly, don’t forget about non-institutional and non-federal student aid. There might be funds from alumni-funded foundations or other nonprofit scholarships or grants that can provide emergency assistance. Ask your financial aid administrator for help and research on your own to find opportunities.

3. Bill extensions or payment plans

Sometimes, what you need most is just a little more time. Ask your financial aid office about extending payment deadlines or getting on a tuition payment plan.

An administrator typically has the authority and flexibility to grant you an extension on tuition payments or other bills. This can give you time to submit applications for grants or loans and deal with your personal emergency. You can also request a payment plan so you can make payments in installments to help with cash flow.

Additionally, look for other forms of noneducational financial assistance. You might qualify for food stamps or housing assistance, which can be a huge help in making ends meet during your hardship.

For college students facing a crisis, help is out there. Now is the time to tap into your college’s support system. Find, apply for and use all financial aid available to you. This will free up much-needed time, energy and money so you can get back on your feet.

Andrew Pentis and Sarah Li Cain contributed to this report.

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