An emergency or sudden financial demand can leave you broke and needing more college funds at the last minute.
“You get to school and something has changed — maybe you’ve had an unfortunate death in the family, a job loss, or a similar emergency,” said Megan Coval, VP of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
Whatever the reason you need emergency student loans or financial aid, there is help available. This can help fill the gap in college funding or cover living expenses — and keep you in college and working toward a degree.
Here are your options for an emergency student loan and other urgent student aid.
First things first: Talk to your financial aid officer
When you’re facing hardship and might need emergency aid, head to your financial aid office. “In that instance, you need to talk to the financial aid administrator,” Coval said.
These financial aid administrators will be the experts on the 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 emergency student loans. These can come from several sources:
- 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 quickly identify the best emergency aid options for which you meet eligibility requirements. They can also explain each program and option, and offer support as you apply for emergency student loans or other aid.
Talking to someone at your college about your urgent need for financial aid is the best first step to get an emergency student loan. You can usually set up an appointment to meet with an officer about your situation, or you can try to walk into the financial aid office and request help without an appointment.
You can also do your part to 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.
3 ways to get emergency student loans
Knowing the different kinds of emergency student loans available can help you turn in an application and quickly get funds you urgently need. Here’s an overview of where you could get emergency student loans.
1. Claim federal student loans
First, you’ll want to check your federal aid award packaged. After you filed a FAFSA, the Federal Student Aid Office evaluated your need 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.
“If you did have that initial eligibility for student loans, the aid administrator can help you draw down on those loans,” Coval said.
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.
- 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.
- 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 aid and get funds disbursed to your student account. You can also talk to your parent about applying for a Parent PLUS loan to help cover costs.
2. Check out emergency student loan programs
“Emergency aid programs are becoming more and more prevalent” at the institutional level, Coval said. Through these funds, colleges can better assist students with acute financial needs.
While these programs are more common, they aren’t standard. “It’s different at each college and university,” Coval added. “Some schools offer [emergency] funds through loans, some schools offer it through grant dollars.”
Emergency student loans are the most commonly used and offered form of institutional emergency aid, according to a 2016 analysis of emergency aid by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). Three out of four public 4-year colleges have an emergency student loan program, for example.
Each college will have its own program set up for emergency loans, with different terms. Make sure you understand your college’s specific emergency student loan program, including the following:
- Borrowing limit: These emergency student loans typically come with limits on how much you can borrow. Georgia Tech offers institutional emergency loans of up to $1,500, for instance.
- Repayment period: As emergency aid, these loans are usually intended to provide quick cash to students in need, and require fast repayment as well. California Polytechnic State University’s emergency student loans require full repayment within 90 days.
- Interest: Some emergency student loans are interest-free, while others are not. For example, University of Nevada, Reno charges a 10 percent interest on its emergency university loans.
- Service charge: Emergency student loans often carry a small processing or service charge, usually equal to around one or two percent of the loan amount.
You’ll typically be required to complete an application for an institution emergency student loan. From there, the financial aid office will assess your eligibility for an institutional emergency loan.
3. Consider private student loans
Private lenders can be a source of last-minute student loans, as well. “Private student loans do serve a role in the educational financing world, and families should decide carefully if that could help them fund a piece of those unexpected costs,” Coval said.
Take the time to understand this option and decide if you should borrow private student loans. You should know that federal student loans come with extensive protections that private student loans lack, Coval pointed out. Additionally, private student loans can carry higher rates and fees, depending on the lender and your credit.
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 co-signer. Private student loans are only granted to creditworthy applicants, so you’ll need to fit that requirement or find a co-signer who does.
- Find reputable private lenders. The best private student loans 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 for your lender requests, such as proof of identity or income, for both you and your co-signer.
- Follow up with the lender and financial aid office. The lender will process your application and will also 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 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.
Other forms of emergency student aid and assistance
If you’re facing an emergency or have unexpectedly come up short on funds for college, emergency student loans are just one form of help you can pursue. There are several other programs and options you can use to find extra funds and give yourself more time to work through your situation.
Professional judgment review of federal aid
The financial aid administrator has the discretion to re-evaluate student aid packages on a case-by-case basis, through a process called professional judgment reviews. If they grant a professional judgment, the administrator may revise inputs on your FAFSA that could increase the financial aid for which you qualify.
“Make that call and explain: here’s what happened, and the state we were in when we filled out the form vs. today,” Coval said. For example, a student who has recently lost a parent might want to revise their FAFSA to exclude this parent’s income.
Emergency aid, grants, and scholarships
Even before turning to emergency student loans, you should consider using other forms of emergency aid. Many colleges offer help besides loans to students with emergency financial needs, according to the NASPA study. These 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 an outstanding balance that might otherwise keep a student from advancing or graduating.
- Grants to help students experience hardships, which might require proof of hardship or emergency.
- Food pantries so you 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 alumni-funded foundations or other non-profit scholarships or grants available to you that can provide emergency assistance. Ask your financial aid administrator for help finding these, and research on your own, to find opportunities.
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 payment plan.
Often, an administrator will have 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 handle the personal problems that usually come with an emergency. You can also request a payment plan to pay in installments, rather than all at once.
If you’re having trouble with living expenses, this tactic can also work there. If you know you’re going to be late on your rent, for instance, speak with your landlord about your situation and he might waive a late payment fee — and know not to post a “pay or vacate” notice on your door.
Additionally, look for other forms of non-educational financial assistance. You might qualify for food stamps or housing assistance, for instance, 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 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 to getting back on your feet and recovering from a difficult event in your life.
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