Getting Student Loans Without a Co-Signer

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You can get student financial aid options without a co-signer, including scholarships, grants and federal student loans. But if you need private student loans without a co-signer, your options will be limited. This guide explains how to find private student loan providers and financial aid options when you don’t have a co-signer.

  • Do you need a co-signer for a student loan?
  • How can you get a student loan without a co-signer?
  • What is the minimum credit score for a student loan?
  • Where can you get a student loan without a co-signer?

Best Student Loans Without a Co-Signer

Methodology: U.S. News selected national student loan companies for this guide based on consumer ratings and availability of products.

Best for online service

SoFi is an online lender that has provided more than 375,000 borrowers with over $30 billion in refinanced student loans, including undergraduate, graduate and parent loans. The company has expanded from refinancing in all 50 states to also offer its own undergraduate, graduate and parent loans.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A

Best Features

  • Refinances all types of student loans

  • Allows borrowers to complete the lending process entirely online

  • Provides loan terms from five to 20 years

  • Charges no late, origination or application fees

See full profile

Best for customer service

Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a national student loan refinancing program for federal and private student loans from Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank. Undergraduate, graduate and parent loans can be refinanced, as well as loans for MBA programs, and for law, dental and medical school.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Sets no maximum loan amount

  • Refinances all types of student loans

  • Approves some borrowers with up to 50% debt-to-income ratios

See full profile

Best for instant approval

College Ave Student Loans offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans to borrowers in all 50 states. The lender specializes in simple student loan applications with instant decisions.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, international, law, MBA, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Provides loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

  • Allows full, interest-only, flat or deferred payment options

  • Charges no origination or prepayment fees on student loans

See full profile

Best for minimal fees

Discover Bank has been operating for more than 100 years, and since 2010, it has offered private student loans to students attending more than 2,400 colleges and universities. Fixed or variable-rate loans are available to cover up to 100% of school-certified costs.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, international, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Makes loans as small as $1,000 to help families bridge the gap between financial aid and out-of-pocket college expenses

  • Accepts co-signers to help students qualify for lower interest rates

  • Charges no origination, application or late fees

See full profile

Best for fair credit

Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as refinance loans. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms from the company, founded in 2013, to fund up to the full cost of their education.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 650
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Charges no origination, application or late fees

  • Allows borrowers to choose a monthly payment and a repayment period

  • Permits co-signers on undergraduate or graduate student loans

See full profile

Best for flexible loan terms

U-fi offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate programs as well as refinancing loans to borrowers in 49 states. The lender specializes in flexible repayment options.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers repayment terms of up to 25 years

  • Provides an interest rate discount for automatic payments

  • Allows full, interest-only or deferred payment options

See full profile

Best for ACH discount

PNC was chartered in 1845 and operates in all 50 states. The bank offers student loan refinancing, with both fixed and variable rates, and neither application nor origination fees.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers a range of loans for undergraduate, graduate and professional education

  • Makes loans as little as $1,000 in all 50 states

  • Provides interest-rate discounts for automatic payments from a checking or savings account

See full profile

Do You Need a Co-Signer for a Student Loan?

Private student loans are approved based on your creditworthiness, so if you don’t have well-established credit, you might need a co-signer to help out.

A co-signer is someone with stronger credit who agrees to share responsibility for repaying a loan. If you don’t repay your student loan according to the terms, the co-signer must step in. This decreases the risk for student loan providers, making it easier for students to obtain a loan. Often, parents act as co-signers for student loans – but not always.

“Parents aren’t required to pay for college,” says Brad Baldridge, certified financial planner and college funding consultant, as well as owner and chief podcaster of “Taming The High Cost of College.” “But if they don’t help, the result is it might be near impossible for the student to figure it out.”

If you don’t have someone to co-sign your student loan, you still may be able to get money for school. Scholarships and grants don’t require a co-signer, and they don’t have to be paid back. Eligibility for federal student loans does not depend on your income or credit, so a co-signer isn’t needed.

“Students should start with free money first,” says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com. “Search for scholarships. Then, if they must borrow, they should borrow federal loans.”

How Can You Get a Student Loan Without a Co-Signer?

The simplest way to get a student loan without a co-signer is to build your credit and maintain a steady income. Private student loan companies will use these factors to approve your loan. But many undergraduate students don’t have an established credit history, payment history or steady income, which can make it difficult to qualify for a private student loan on your own. And if you do, a lack of credit or income could result in loan offers with high interest rates.

Here are some common private student loan eligibility criteria:

  • U.S. citizenship or national or permanent resident alien status.
  • An approved school or enrollment level, such as at least half-time enrollment in a four-year program.
  • Age, generally the age someone legally becomes an adult in your state.
  • Credit history, usually at least two years of established credit history verified by a credit check.
  • Credit score, usually in the good credit score range.
  • Income requirements, generally based on your debt-to-income ratio after taking out the loan.

How Do Federal Student Loans Work?

Scholarships and grants are preferable to loans, but if you need to borrow money, federal student loans are the best option. This is especially true if you don’t have a co-signer, as undergraduate federal student loans don’t require co-signers.

Federal student loans may offer a much lower interest rate because the rate isn’t based on your credit score or income. They also offer a variety of repayment plans, student loan forgiveness programs and hardship options that can make it easier to repay the loan. However, some private student loans offer different repayment plans and hardship options, which vary by lender.

If you’re applying for federal student aid, a few types of direct federal student loans are available:

  • Direct subsidized loans
  • Direct unsubsidized loans
  • Direct PLUS loans

All students receive the same fixed interest rate on federal student loans, regardless of income and credit. You can receive a 0.25% interest rate discount if you sign up to make automatic monthly payments from a bank account.

Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is a requirement for federal student loans, grants and work-study awards. Some state- and school-based aid also depends on your FAFSA, and you may need to submit it to qualify for scholarships or grants.

Where Can You Get a Private Student Loan Without a Co-Signer?

Many banks, credit unions and online lenders offer private student loans, so you should compare your loan options. The research you do now could help you find a private student loan without a co-signer and snag a lower interest rate or better benefits, which could save you money in the future.

Consider these key areas when comparing private student loans that don’t require a co-signer:

Types of private student loans. Lenders may offer different types of private student loans, such as undergraduate, graduate, professional degree or parent loans.

Different loan terms. Your loan’s term is how many years you have to repay the debt. Loan term lengths vary typically from five to 20 years. Short-term loans may have a lower interest rate but require a higher monthly payment. Even if a longer-term loan requires a higher interest rate, the lower monthly payment could make it more affordable.

Eligibility requirements. Consider the lender’s minimum credit score, income and employment requirements. If you can’t qualify for a loan on your own, try another lender.

Interest rate. Your interest rate greatly influences the cost of borrowing, so try to get the lowest interest rate possible. The lowest advertised rate may only be available to the most creditworthy student loan borrowers. If you have no co-signer or have a limited credit history and income, you might not receive the low interest rate in the lender’s published interest rates range.

You may be able to get either a fixed interest rate or variable interest rate private student loan. Variable-rate loans tend to offer a lower interest rate at first, but your interest rate is tied to a benchmark rate. If the benchmark rate rises or falls, the interest rate on your loan, and your monthly payment, could change. If you can lock in a low interest rate on a fixed interest rate loan, you’ll save over time.

Some lenders let you check your loan eligibility and your approximate interest rate with a soft credit inquiry, which doesn’t hurt your credit. Get preapprovals from all the lenders you’re considering so you can compare offers.

Other loan costs and discounts. Also consider loan fees, including application, origination and late fees. You can potentially get a 0.25% to 0.5% interest rate reduction if you are a customer of the lender when you apply or a 0.25% interest rate reduction for automatic payments. Some student loans require automatic payments and factor the automatic payment discount into their published rates. They may offer other cost-savings benefits, such as a cash back reward if you maintain a good GPA.

Loan limits. Private student loans often have minimum and maximum loan amounts. The minimum amount is often about $1,000 to $5,000. The maximum could be your school-certified cost of attendance, minus the financial aid you’ve already received. However, the lender may calculate an aggregate maximum loan amount, based on the sum of your outstanding federal and private student loans.

Repayment plans. Private lenders could offer several student loan repayment plans. Your repayment terms may defer your payment completely until after you graduate or leave school, allow you to make interest-only payments while you’re in school, or require a fixed monthly payment (such as $25) while you’re in school. With the latter two options, your full principal and interest payments may start after you graduate or leave school.

Discharge and hardship options. A discharge benefit can cancel your debt if you die or are permanently disabled. Some lenders offer hardship options to student loan borrowers that let you put your loans into deferment or forbearance, periods when you don’t need to make payments. However, you start making payments on the loan once these periods are over. Lenders may also offer other hardship options, such as a temporary interest rate reduction or monthly payment reduction.

What Are Your Options if You Can’t Get a Student Loan Without a Co-Signer?

You’re not alone if you aren’t able to get approved for a private student loan without a co-signer. If your scholarships, grants and federal aid won’t cover your costs, you may need to take a step back.

Consider a less expensive school. You may have been admitted to your dream school, but if you can’t afford all the expenses, it may not be a good fit. Even if you can get a private loan to cover your gap in funding, the interest rate may be so high that you’ll wind up with a difficult-to-manage debt load after graduating.

“The path for low-income students is lower-cost state schools, living at home and working while at school,” says Baldridge. Re-evaluating your plans may not be ideal, but sometimes it’s the only way to make your finances add up.

Starting at a local community college is an inexpensive option. You may be able to get your general education requirements out of the way and then transfer to a four-year college or university to finish your degree.

Talk to the school’s financial aid office. If you’re looking for additional funds because of a change in your, or your family’s, financial situation, reach out to the school’s financial aid office. “Sometimes, colleges will make adjustments to the financial aid package when justified by special circumstances,” says Kantrowitz. You may qualify for additional loans, grants or work-study awards.

Cut back on educational expenses. If you’re close to having enough savings and financial aid to pay for school but still have a small gap to fill, you may be able to cut expenses rather than find more aid.

For example, you might be able to live with roommates and pay less for housing. You can save on textbook costs by buying used books, renting them or using free reference copies at the library. And some schools also have food banks.

Consider alternative financing. Home equity loans, personal loans and Parent PLUS loans are options for student loan borrowers. Kantrowitz encourages students who have hit their annual loan limit to ask their parents to borrow from the federal Parent Direct PLUS loan program.

Take a gap year to start building credit and savings. If you’ve been admitted to a school but can’t afford it, you could ask to take a gap year to work and build your finances. You’ll maintain your admission at the school the following year and have a year to get your financial affairs in order.

Your income could make you eligible for a secured credit card or credit-builder loan, which you could use to start building credit. If you get a credit card to build your credit, only use it for a small purchase every month, such as your phone bill or Netflix subscription, and be sure to pay the bill in full.

Advertising Disclosure: Some of the loan offers on this site are from companies
who are advertising clients of U.S. News. Advertising considerations may impact
where offers appear on the site but do not affect any editorial decisions,
such as which loan products we write about and how we evaluate them. This site
does not include all loan companies or all loan offers available in the marketplace.



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