In 2018, college graduates who left with student loans owed an average of $29,800. Paying that back is intimidating enough before adding in the growing interest over 10 years.
When you add interest, borrowers are on the hook for thousands — or tens of thousands — more in student loan debt. Fortunately, interest-free student loans do exist. They’re not easy to find — or simple to get — but they are absolutely worth a look.
Here’s what you need to know:
Benefits of interest-free student loans
How to find no-interest student loans
What to expect from interest-free student loans
How to qualify for interest-free student loans
The FAFSA imperative
Drawbacks of no-interest student loans
No-interest student loans have to be repaid just like traditional federal or private student loans. However, the APRs in Student Loan Hero’s private loan marketplace as of May 24, 2019, go as high as 13.99%. Such a high rate could cause your loan balance to balloon, so interest-free student loans could help you save thousands.
For example, assume you had $29,800 in student loans on a 10-year repayment term at an APR of 13.99%. Your monthly payment would be $463. By the time you repaid the loan in full, you’d repay a total of $55,502. Thanks to your interest rate, you’d pay $25,702 in interest alone.
By contrast, if you had $29,800 in no-interest student loans and repaid them over 10 years, your monthly payment would be just $248.33. Even better, you’d pay only what you borrowed.
Like scholarships and grants, no-interest student loans are typically offered by nonprofit organizations, government agencies and private companies. The best way to discover no-interest student loans is to check with the following:
- High school guidance counselors
- College financial aid offices
- Local chambers of commerce
- Rotary clubs
- Local nonprofits
- State education departments
- Fraternities or sororities
- Religious organizations
Many interest-free student loans are limited to residents of certain geographic regions, which is why it helps to start your search close to home. Others, though, are open to pretty much anyone (provided you are a U.S. citizen). Here are some places to start your search.
Foundations offering interest-free loans for students
Bill Raskob Foundation
You can get a no-interest student loan from the Bill Raskob Foundation if you are a U.S. citizen enrolled at an accredited school for the upcoming year. Undergraduates in their freshman year are not eligible.
Abe and Annie Seibel Foundation
Interest-free student loans are available from the Abe and Annie Seibel Foundation to students who are U.S. citizens and meet the following requirements:
- Texas resident who graduated from a high school in the state
- Enrolled full time at an accredited Texas college while working toward your first bachelor’s degree
- Graduated in the top 10% of their class or with an SAT score of at least 1,100 or an ACT score of at least 23
- Must have a college GPA of at least 3.0
The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis
The Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis provides interest-free loans for students who are:
- From the St. Louis metropolitan region
- Attending an accredited, nonprofit postsecondary institution
- Majoring in anything except ministry
Your financial aid office
Many foundations exist to assist students at a local level. Stop by your school’s financial aid office to see what opportunities may be available to you.
For example, at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, you can access interest-free student loans through the Charles E. Schell Foundation Student Loan Program. Other programs can be found at both community and four-year colleges across the country.
Associations offering interest-free loans for students
Military Officers Association of America
To qualify for a no-interest loan from the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), you must be the child of an active duty, former or retired military officer eligible for MOAA membership or a child of active duty, Reserve, National Guard or retired enlisted military personnel.
Other requirements include:
- You are younger than 24. The maximum age is higher — up to five years — if you served in the military before completing college
- You have a high school GPA of at least 3.0
- You are not attending a U.S. military academy or academy prep school
- Your parent is a current, dues-paying MOAA member or enrolled and up to date with dues for MOAA’s Voices program if they were enlisted
- You are registered or promise to register for the Selective Service System if you are male
International Association of Jewish Free Loans
The International Association of Jewish Free Loans (IAJFL) is a collaboration between the Jewish Free Loan Association and the Hebrew Free Loan Association. These associations issue interest-free loans for a variety of purposes, including higher education.
Each branch serves its local geographical area and has its own underwriting requirements. These are no-interest student loans that are issued regardless of religion at about one-third of IAJFL branches in the U.S.
Organizations offering interest-free loans for students
Leo S. Rowe Pan American Fund
The Leo S. Rowe Pan American Fund, offered through the Organization of American States, serves a demographic that isn’t usually eligible for interest-free student loans in the U.S.: Citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean. Besides this requirement, students must also meet the following:
- Possess a student visa
- Study at an accredited postsecondary institution in the U.S.
- Plan on finishing their program of study within two years
Charitable trusts offering interest-free loans for students
Evalee C. Schwarz Charitable Trust for Education
To obtain an interest-free student loan from the Evalee C. Schwarz Charitable Trust for Education, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Attend a school in your home state
- Have test scores among the top 15% in the nation
- Qualify for grants via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Not seek a law degree
Colleges offering interest-free loans for students
Claremont McKenna College
Claremont McKenna College also issues interest-free student loans to students who qualify via its Office of Financial Aid.
State-specific programs offering interest-free loans for students
Massachusetts No Interest Loan Program
U.S. citizens or non-eligible citizens under Title IV who are residents of Massachusetts may qualify for the Massachusetts No Interest Loan Program if they meet the following requirements, among other things:
- Have filed their FAFSA
- Are seeking a certificate, associate degree or their first bachelor’s degree
- Register with the selective service if you’re a male student
- Demonstrate financial need
Central Scholarship (Maryland)
Central Scholarship is a Maryland-based nonprofit offering scholarships and interest-free student loans to students who meet the following requirements:
- Are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Are a Maryland resident or live within 200 miles of Baltimore
- Plan to attend an accredited U.S. college, community college or career school during the upcoming school year
- Have a GPA above 2.0
Every no-interest student loan comes with its own unique set of qualifications, but, generally, you could be expected to meet the following requirements:
- Financial need
- Completion of FAFSA
- U.S. citizenship
- Resident of a specific state
- High school graduate of a specific state
- Full-time enrollment at an accredited in-state school
- Specific field of study
- Solid academic record (e.g., GPA, class rank, test scores)
- Essay submission
- Personal interview
- Cosigner on the loan
Note that funds are very limited for interest-free student loans, so the sooner you apply the better.
With funds so limited, the organizations that offer no-interest student loans want to see that you have already done everything possible to pay for school in other ways. The FAFSA is an essential part of that process.
FAFSA deadlines vary by state, so make sure you submit it on time to get all the aid you’re eligible to receive.
As amazing as it sounds to pay no interest on a student loan, the benefit of saving money should be weighed against what you could be giving up.
Payments may be required before you graduate
When you have a federal student loan, you don’t have to start making payments until after you graduate. On the other hand, some no-interest student loans require that you start making payments while you’re still in school.
No federal protections
No-interest student loans don’t have the same protections you’ll get with a federal student loan. Ideally, you want to stay on the 10-year repayment plan, but if there comes a time when you just can’t make the monthly payment, the federal government gives you options.
Those options include income-driven repayment plans, as well as forbearance and deferment, that allow you to take a break from payments while you get your finances in order. You’ll miss out on all of that with an interest-free student loan.
Despite these minor drawbacks, interest-free student loans can help you save thousands over the length of your debt repayment. It’s a good idea to exhaust all your interest-free student loan, scholarship and grant opportunities to reduce how much you need to borrow.
Meredith Simonds and Kat Tretina contributed to this article.
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1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 9/24/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.
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3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
4 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
UNDERGRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.23% to 11.26% annual percentage rate (“APR”) (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.66% APR (with autopay). GRADUATE LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.13% to 11.37% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.77% to 11.73% APR (with autopay). MBA AND LAW SCHOOL LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.30% to 11.52% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.94% to 11.89% APR (with autopay). PARENT LOANS: Fixed rates from 4.60% to 10.76% APR (with autopay), variable rates from 1.87% to 11.16% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin and your APR may increase after origination if the LIBOR increases. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Lowest rates are reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. If approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, the repayment option you select, the term and amount of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Information current as of 10/20/2020. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. SoFi Lending Corp., licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. NMLS #1121636 (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org).
6 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.17% effective Sep 1, 2020 and may increase after consummation.