9 Best Student Loans for Bad Credit

·14 min read

Content provided by Credible. Although we do promote products from our partner lenders who compensate us for our services, all opinions are our own.

This article first appeared on the Credible blog.

Having poor or thin credit can be a major obstacle when you need to borrow money — for example, you might have a hard time getting approved for a private student loan. But you still have some options available.

Here are Credible’s partner lenders that offer student loans for bad credit. Keep in mind that while some of these lenders have high required minimum credit scores, you might be able to qualify if you apply with a creditworthy cosigner. Credible makes it easy to compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders.

1. Ascent

Ascent offers student loans from $2,001 to $200,000 — though keep in mind that the maximum loan amount will depend on whether your credit is tested or not. You can choose from a variety of loan terms ranging from five to 20 years.

Plus, if you graduate within five years of taking out an Ascent loan and sign up for automatic payments, you could get a 1% cashback graduation reward.

Pros

  • Options available for students who don’t have a cosigner or credit history

  • 0.25% to 2.00% autopay discount

  • Cosigner release offered (after 24 months)

Cons

  • Limited repayment term options for fixed-rate loans

  • Non-cosigned options not available to freshman and sophomores

  • Cosigner release not available for international students

2. Citizens

With Citizens, you might be able to borrow $1,000 up to your school’s cost of attendance (aggregate limits might apply). While Citizens has a high minimum credit score requirement, you might qualify if you apply with a creditworthy cosigner.

Additionally, if you already have an account with Citizens, you could get a 0.25% rate discount — plus another 0.25% off if you sign up for automatic payments.

Pros

  • 0.25% autopay discount

  • 0.25% loyalty discount

  • Loans available for both students and parents

Cons

  • Only three repayment terms available

  • Long cosigner release period (36 months)

  • Cosigner release not available for parent loans

3. College Ave

College Ave offers student loans from $1,000 up to your school-certified cost of attendance (minus any other financial aid you’ve received). You can also get 0.25% off your rate if you sign up for automatic payments.

Pros

  • 0.25% autopay discount

  • $150 cashback reward on Career Loan with Success Rewards if you complete your course of study

  • Variety of repayment terms available

Cons

  • Long cosigner release period (applications not accepted until more than half of your scheduled repayment period has passed)

  • Minimum credit score and credit score requirements not disclosed

  • Parent loans don’t come with a grace period

4. Custom Choice

The Custom Choice Loan is available from $1,000 to $99,999 annually ($180,000 aggregate limit) with a three- or five-year term. If you graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree, you could get a 2% principal reduction on your loan.

Pros

  • 0.25% autopay discount

  • 2% principal reduction if you graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree

  • Can use loan funds to cover past-due balances

Cons

  • Doesn’t disclose minimum income requirements

  • Does not disclose minimum credit score

  • Not available in Arizona, Iowa, or Wisconsin

5. EDvestinU

With EDvestinU, you can borrow $1,000 up to your school’s cost of attendance — though keep in mind that an aggregate $200,000 limit applies. Additionally, if you sign up for autopay, you could get a 0.50% rate discount — higher than the typical autopay discount offered by many other lenders.

Like Citizens Bank, EDvestinU has a high minimum credit score requirement. However, applying with a cosigner who has good to excellent credit could improve your chances of qualifying — even if you have poor credit.

Pros

  • 0.50% autopay discount

  • Can potentially cover your full cost of attendance

  • Deferment and forbearance options available

Cons

  • $30,000 minimum income required for student or cosigner

  • High minimum credit score

  • Long cosigner release period (36 months)

6. INvestEd

If you’re an Indiana resident or are attending an Indiana school, you might qualify for a student loan from INvestEd. You can borrow $1,001 up to your school’s cost of attendance (minus any other financial aid you’ve received) and can choose a repayment term from five to 15 years.

Pros

  • 2% principal reduction for students who graduate from their program within six years

  • 0.25% autopay discount

  • Competitive rates

Cons

  • Only available to borrowers who are Indiana residents or who are attending Indiana schools

  • Long cosigner release period (48 months)

  • Charges fees for late or returned payments

7. MEFA

MEFA loans are available to students attending public or nonprofit universities. These loans start at $1,500 for public school students or $2,000 for private school students and could cover your school’s cost of attendance (minus any other financial aid you’ve received).

Pros

  • Might be able to defer payments for up to five years

  • No fees

  • Three repayment plans available

Cons

  • No discounts

  • Cosigner release only available to undergraduates who took out a 15-year loan; deferred payments; and made consecutive, on-time payments for 48 months

  • Variable rates not offered

8. Payoff

If you’re planning to consolidate high-interest credit card debt, Payoff could be a good option — its personal loans can be used only for this purpose. You can borrow $5,000 to $40,000 with repayment terms from two to five years.

Pros

  • Free FICO score updates

  • If you lose your job, Payoff will work with you on payments

  • Offers scientific personality, stress, and cash flow assessments to help you get a better understanding of your personal finances

Cons

  • Longer loan approval period

  • Origination fees from 0% to 5%

  • Not available in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, or Ohio

9. Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae offers student loans from $1,000 up to your school’s cost of attendance with repayment terms from 10 to 15 years. If you take out a Sallie Mae loan for a graduate or professional program, you could get a 0.50% interest rate reduction by making interest-only payments while you’re in school.

Additionally, any borrower can get 0.25% off their rate by signing up for automatic payments.

Pros

  • Cosigner release offered after just 12 months

  • 0.25% autopay discount

  • 0.50% interest rate discount for graduate and professional students who make interest-only payments while in school

Cons

  • Doesn’t disclose minimum income and credit score requirements

  • Forbearance available for only 12 months over the life of the loan

  • If you want to refinance Sallie Mae loans in the future, you’ll have to work with another lender

With Credible, you can compare actual rates from multiple lenders in minutes, without affecting your credit.

Other student loan lenders to consider

Here are several other private student loan lenders to consider. Keep in mind that because the lenders listed below aren’t Credible partners, so you won’t be able to use Credible to compare them.

Methodology

Credible evaluated loan and lender data points in 10 categories to identify the “best companies” for private student loans. Credible’s editors looked at interest rates, repayment terms, repayment options, fees, discounts, and customer service availability offered by 15 lenders. They also considered each company’s eligibility, cosigner release options, whether the minimum credit score is available publicly, and whether consumers could request rates with a soft credit check. Credible receives compensation from its lender partners when a user of the Credible platform closes a loan with the lender.

How to get a student loan with bad credit

If you’re ready to take out a private student loan, follow these four steps:

  1. Fill out FAFSA. Be sure to start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school will use your FAFSA results to determine whether you’re eligible for federal student loans and other federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants.

  2. Apply for scholarships and grants. Unlike student loans, college scholarships and grants don’t have to be repaid — which makes them a great way to pay for school. There are no limits to how many scholarships and grants you can get, so it’s a good idea to apply for as many as you can. You might also qualify for school-based scholarships depending on your FAFSA information.

  3. Take out federal student loans. You’ll also need to fill out the FAFSA to apply for federal student loans. These loans are generally a good place to start if you need to borrow money for school — mainly because they come with federal benefits and protections, such as access to income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs. Additionally, most federal loans don’t require a credit check, which could make them a great choice if you have bad credit.

  4. Consider private student loans to fill in the gaps. After you’ve exhausted your scholarship, grant, and federal student loan options, private student loans could help fill any financial gaps left over. Before you take out a private student loan, be sure to consider as many lenders as you can to find the right loan for you.

Adding a cosigner may get your application approved

You’ll typically need good to excellent credit to be eligible for a private student loan, which could make it hard to qualify if you have bad credit. If you’re struggling to get approved, consider applying with a creditworthy cosigner to improve your chances.

Even if you don’t need a cosigner to qualify, having one could get you a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own — which could save you money on your student loan.

For example: Say you take out a $15,000 student loan with a 10.46% interest rate and five-year repayment term. With these terms, you’d end up paying $4,327 in interest with a total cost of $19,326. However, if you applied with a cosigner and were able to qualify for a five-year loan with an 8.17% interest rate, you’d pay $3,322 in interest with a total cost of $18,322 — saving you $1,004 in comparison.

No matter if you have a cosigner or not, be sure to consider how much a student loan will cost you in the future. This way, you can prepare for any added expenses.

You can find out how much you’ll owe over the life of your federal or private student loans using a student loan calculator.

How to find a cosigner

A cosigner can be anyone with good credit — such as a parent, another relative, or a trusted friend — who is willing to share responsibility for the loan. Just keep in mind that this means they’ll be on the hook if you can’t make your payments.

Asking someone to cosign a loan and put their credit on the line is a big deal, so it’s important to prepare before you make the request. Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Have a plan. It’s a good idea to make a plan for how you’ll handle your loan if you’re approved with your cosigner’s help. This should include when you’ll be making payments and what happens in case you can’t make a payment on time.

  2. Use teamwork. Go through the loan process with your cosigner so both of you will fully understand the terms you’re agreeing to.

  3. Know the risks. Make sure your cosigner understands the risks that come with cosigning a loan. While a cosigner can help you get approved with their good credit, they’ll be liable if you don’t make your payments. Missing payments will also damage your cosigner’s credit — as well as yours.

  4. Be open and honest. Be transparent when it comes to discussing the risks of cosigning a loan and what happens if you don’t make your payments.

How to improve your credit score

If you can wait to borrow for school, it might be a good idea to spend some time improving your credit first. Whether you’re a new borrower just starting to build your credit or someone with less-than-perfect credit, here are a few ways to potentially boost your score:

  • Become an authorized user: Ask someone you trust (such as a parent or relative) to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit card accounts. This could help raise your score as the owner of the account uses and pays off the card — without you even having to use the card yourself.

  • Report utility bills to credit bureaus: Services like Experian Boost will report various bills — such as for your phone, utilities, or streaming services — to the credit bureaus. This could improve your overall payment history, which might boost your credit score.

  • Dispute credit report errors: If there are errors in your credit reports, they could be dragging your credit score down. You can use a site like AnnualCreditReport.com to review your credit reports for free. If you find any errors, be sure to dispute them with the appropriate credit bureaus.

Frequently asked questions about bad credit student loans

Here are the answers to several commonly asked questions regarding student loans for bad credit:

What credit score do I need to get a student loan?

This will depend on the type of student loan as well as the lender. For example, most federal student loans don’t require a credit check, so you might qualify regardless of your credit score.

However, if you want to take out a Grad PLUS Loan or Parent PLUS Loan, you can’t have an adverse credit history.

For private student loans, the required credit score will depend on the lender. You’ll typically need good to excellent credit to qualify, which generally means a credit score of 700 or above. But keep in mind that some lenders will work with borrowers who have scores lower than this.

Can I get a student loan with bad credit?

Yes, you might be able to get a student loan even if you have bad credit, though your lender options might be limited.

Keep in mind that applying with a cosigner could make it easier to get approved even if you have poor or no credit. Having a cosigner might also get you a lower interest rate than you’d get on your own.

Do credit scores affect student loan rates?

While your credit score won’t affect federal student loan rates, it will impact the rates you qualify for from private lenders. Generally, the higher your credit score, the lower the rate you might get on a private student loan.

Also keep in mind that applying with a cosigner who has good credit could get you a lower interest rate.

Credible makes it easy to check your private student loan rates without affecting your credit.

How can I get a student loan with no credit check?

Unlike private student loans, most federal loans don’t require a credit check, including:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are available to undergraduate students with financial need. The government covers the interest that accrues on subsidized loans while you’re in school.

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans are available to both undergraduate and graduate students regardless of financial need. Unlike with subsidized loans, you’re responsible for all interest that accrues on unsubsidized loans.

To apply for federal student loans, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA.

What do I do if I can’t get approved for a student loan?

If you can’t get approved for a student loan, here are a few tips that might help:

  • Explore all of your lender options. Private student loans are available from a wide variety of lenders, including online lenders, banks, and credit unions. Be sure to compare as many lenders as you can to see if you can get approved.

  • Find a cosigner. Applying with a cosigner could greatly improve your chances of qualifying for a loan. Keep in mind that a cosigner doesn’t have to be a relative — it just needs to be someone you trust who has good credit.

  • Ask for help from family or friends. If you can’t qualify for a student loan, consider asking your family or friends for a loan to help cover your costs. For example, maybe they could pay for your college textbooks. Just be sure to repay the loan in a timely manner so you don’t strain your relationships.

  • Build your credit. While it might take some time, following good credit habits could help improve your credit enough to potentially qualify for a student loan in the future.

Can college students get loans without parents?

It depends on the type of student loan as well as whether you’re an independent or dependent student.

If you’re a dependent student, your parent’s income will likely play a role in determining what federal loans you can get as well as how much you can borrow. However, if you’re an independent student, you might be able to take out federal student loans regardless of your parent’s financial information.

As for private student loans, you technically don’t need your parents to qualify for a loan as long as you meet the lender’s eligibility requirements.

Even if you need a cosigner, remember that you can ask anyone to cosign a loan as long as they have good credit — just make sure they’re someone you trust.

About the author: Dori Zinn is a personal finance journalist with work featured in Huffington Post, Quartz, Wirecutter, Bankrate, and others. She loves helping people learn to be better with money.