Around 70 percent of college students rely on student loans to pay at least part of their educational costs, according to CNBC. This means before you start college, you’ll likely need to figure out how to get student loans. And, depending upon whether your parents can help, it could also mean figuring out how to get student loans without co-signer support.
Often, parents help with the process of getting educational loans by co-signing to make it easier for their child to obtain money to cover university tuition, fees, and expenses.
“More than 90 percent of private student loans to undergraduate students and more than 75 percent of private student loans to graduate students require a creditworthy co-signer, which is usually the parent,” said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and VP of strategy at Cappex. Other parents take out Parent PLUS loans directly.
But getting help from your parents isn’t always an option. Even when it is, it’s not necessarily the best choice for you and your family. Here’s how to take out student loans without parents.
How to get student loans without a co-signer
When you take out student loans, there are two primary options available to you: Federal loans and private loans.
Federal loans should usually be the first choice as you decide how to take out a student loan, as their repayment plans provide a great deal more flexibility. That flexibility includes options such as income-driven repayment plans, forbearance and deferment, and federal forgiveness programs.
Private student loans, on the other hand, don’t offer these same benefits. While some private student loan lenders offer hardship options for those who experience unemployment or similar financial emergencies, these options vary per lender. That’s why you should only use private student loans to back up or supplement your education costs.
The vast majority of loans are federal loans, with MeasureOne reporting that private loans accounted for approximately $102 billion of the $1.36 trillion student loan market in the 2015-16 academic year.
Federal student loans: How to take out a student loan
The first step to getting federal student loans is the same for everyone: Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
To do this, you will need cooperation from your parents if you’re a dependent.
“If a dependent student’s parents refuse to file the FAFSA and have severed all relationships with the student, the student can still get Federal Stafford loans, but not any other forms of financial aid,” Kantrowitz said.
For most students whose parents help fill out the FAFSA, the involvement of parents doesn’t mean you can’t get student loans without a co-signer. All it means is that your parents’ income will be taken into consideration when deciding how much federal student aid you qualify for.
Keep in mind, “aid” means two things in this context: Student loans (which you do have to pay back) and grants (which you don’t have to pay back).
Still, if you don’t want to include your parents’ information on the FAFSA, see if you’re eligible to declare “independent student” status. You can do this through your college’s financial aid office. That will allow you to fill out the FAFSA using your information, not your family’s.
Once the FAFSA is complete, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) several days to several weeks later. This sums up the information you filled out on your forms. Double-check and make sure all the information on the report is correct.
After that, you’ll receive an award letter (electronically or by mail) from your school telling you how much aid you qualify for. When exactly this happens varies per school.
If you qualify for loans in your name, your parents aren’t obligated to repay your federal loans, even when their income is included in your FAFSA. They can, however, take out Parent PLUS loans, which will be their responsibility to pay back.
Types of federal loans
There are many different types of federal loans you could get without a parent co-signer that you should consider as you research how to take out a student loan. The U.S. Department of Education lists options that require neither a credit check nor a co-signer, including:
- Direct Subsidized Loans. Undergraduates can obtain these loans — also called Subsidized Stafford Loans — to pay for a career school or college. Students must demonstrate financial need.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans. These loans — also called Unsubsidized Stafford Loans — are available to undergraduates, graduate students, and professional students. Showing financial need is not required.
- Direct PLUS Loans. These loans are available only to graduate or professional students. While parents of undergraduates can take Parent PLUS Loans, undergraduate students do not qualify for PLUS loans.
- Perkins Loans. These are school-based loans for undergraduate and graduate students. Students must show exceptional financial need.
If the amount you qualified for is not enough to cover your tuition, that’s where private student loans come into play.
Private student loans without a co-signer
Private student loans don’t require a FAFSA form, but rather individual applications for each lender you’re interested in borrowing from.
As a student with limited or no income and credit history, it’s not always easy to get private student loans without your parent’s help. According to Kantrowitz, private student loans typically require student applicants to have a creditworthy co-signer.
Even so, it doesn’t hurt to try. Below are a few top private student loan lenders:
None of these lenders charge application fees, which means you could apply for more than one without incurring a large cost. But if you do, make sure to do so in a short period.
Rate shopping will have less of an impact on your credit score if you keep it between 14 to 45 days.
Student loans, no co-signer? How difficult is it to get approved?
Getting private student loans without a co-signer can be easier said than done.
“The key to qualifying for a private student loan on your own, besides having a good job, is to have a high credit score. This means paying all your debts on time, by the due date, for an extended period of time,” said Kantrowitz. He added that missing even one payment could ruin your credit score.
What credit score do you need to get private student loans without a co-signer? For most loans, you’ll need a credit score in the mid-600s to qualify, but you’ll qualify for better rates if your score is around 720 or higher.
As a new college student, you probably haven’t had time to build up your credit. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done – but it might mean delaying your education if you have no other way to pay for school.
You may also have other options if any of your family members are willing to help out. “A student might also qualify for a private student loan without their parents help by using someone other than their parents as a co-signer, such as an aunt or uncle,“ suggested Kantrowitz
But, if you can’t find a co-signer, there’s hope: There are ways to start building credit now so you can become eligible for private student loans without a co-signer as fast as possible.
How to continue your education when you can’t afford full-time tuition
Delaying your education might not be an option for you. If you can’t figure out how to get a student loan without a co-signer, check out a few options to get the ball rolling on your education while you work to build credit:
- Find a full-time job and take one or two night classes. You can earn credits and increase your income, which will help you get approved for student loans without a co-signer.
- Find a part-time or full-time job with a company that offers tuition reimbursement. You can earn money and credits, as well as tuition money you won’t have to repay.
- Contact your school about work-study programs. These programs enable students to work for money that will go toward their tuition.
- Exhaust every scholarship opportunity you can think of. This not only includes academic scholarships, but also those based on your specific interests, talents, heritage, and even area of study.
If you already have begun your education and currently owe student loans, delaying your education could be risky even if you can’t figure out how to take out a student loan, especially if there is a chance you will not return to college.
Around 45 percent of people no longer in college but who have outstanding student loan debt say college was not worth the cost, according to Consumer Reports. Approximately 38 percent of the debtors upset about their loans didn’t graduate.
Money is a prime reason for students to drop out, according to USA Today, and students who don’t graduate are four times as likely to default on loans as those who graduate. High default rates show why it is so important to try to find a way to continue funding your education.
Take your education into your own hands
Sometimes federal student loans just aren’t enough. And if you can’t get a co-signer on private loans, figuring out how to take out student loans without parents via other methods is key.
Figuring out how to take out student loans may be the first of many obstacles you’ll face in your adult life. And it’s crucial to remember that many obstacles like this aren’t instantly solved. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
If you stay the course through sustainable strategies, then you can achieve your goals.
Shannon Insler contributed to this article.
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