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By Jamie Young
Jamie Young is a Credible authority on personal finance. Her work has appeared on Time, CBS News, Huffington Post, Business Insider, AOL, MSN, and more.
Matt Carter is a writer, editor and student loan authority for Credible. His work has been featured by CNBC, CNN Money, Consumer Reports, Money, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Yahoo Finance and more.
Updated February 16, 2021
Yes, you can still take out both federal and private student loans during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you need to borrow money to pay for school, it’s generally a good idea to start with federal student loans before turning to private student loans to help fill any gaps.
To apply for federal student loans: You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Also keep in mind that families whose income has been affected by the pandemic might be eligible for additional federal, state, or school-based financial aid. Contact your school’s financial aid office to see what resources are available to you.
If you decide to apply for private student loans, be sure to consider as many lenders as possible to find the right loan for you.
Private student loans are provided by private lenders — banks, credit unions, and online lenders. You can use private loans to pay for education costs and living expenses, which might not be covered by your federal education loans. Interest rates and terms on private student loans can vary, depending on your financial situation, credit history, and the lender you choose.
You can use private student loans to pay for education-related costs and living expenses, which might not be covered by your federal school loans. Some uses include:
Typically, you want to exhaust all your more affordable federal loan options before turning to private loans. But keep in mind, private loans have competitive rates when compared to some of the more expensive federal loan options like PLUS loans.
Here are a few notable differences between the two:
Learn More: Federal vs. Private Student Loans
With a private student loan, you’re eligible to borrow up to 100% of what your school says it costs to enroll and attend classes (the “cost of attendance”), minus other financial aid and loans you’ve already received.
How much you can actually borrow will vary by lender and can include annual or cumulative borrowing limits. Other private lender criteria that can affect how much you can borrow might include your credit history, the credit quality of your co-signer, your school’s certified cost of attendance, the degree you’re earning, and more.
Learn More: What Are Student Loan Limits?
You can apply for private student loans at any time, since there’s no deadline tied to them (like filling out the FAFSA for federal loans). But it’s still a good idea to apply for private loans as soon as you know you’ll need them to cover education costs.
Although it varies depending on the lender and your school, it can sometimes take 3 to 5 weeks for you to receive the funds. So, give yourself some time and apply sooner rather than later.
Each lender has different requirements when it comes to qualifying for a private student loan. But typically you must:
Learn More: How to Qualify for a Student Loan
To get a private student loan, lenders typically look for a credit score of 670 or above. If your score is much worse than that, though, don’t panic. Applying with a creditworthy co-signer can help you get the loan you need.
Learn More: Credit Score Needed to Take Out a Student Loan
You can get a student loan with bad credit, but not necessarily on your own. While federal loans don’t require a credit check, private student loans do. Many students don’t qualify for private loans on their own because they don’t have a credit history or they have bad credit. If that’s your situation, you may need to add a co-signer to qualify for a private loan.
Private student loans require a credit application that examines income, employment, and a credit report. The lower your credit score, the higher the risk for the lender, which translates into higher interest rates. One way to get approved for a loan with a lower rate can be to add a creditworthy co-signer to your loan application.
Learn More: How to Find a Co-signer
It depends, but in most cases, yes. You don’t have to add a co-signer unless you’re under the age of majority in your state (usually between 18 and 21). But if you have a limited or poor credit history, a lender may require you to add a creditworthy co-signer to balance out their risk on the loan.
Plus, more than 90% of private student loans taken out by undergraduate students are co-signed. Even if you’re a graduate student and don’t need one, adding a co-signer with good credit can improve your chances of qualifying for a private student loan at a lower rate.
Credible even makes it easy to compare co-signers to see which co-signer can help get you the best rate.
Learn More: Getting Student Loans Without a Co-signer
With most lenders, you can usually begin making payments as soon as you want to. You can even pay your loan off completely without penalty. But the good news is, you typically don’t need to make monthly payments while in school. You usually have until 6 months after you graduate — though there are a couple lenders that don’t give you this grace period.
Most private lenders offer flexible repayment options, too, that include interest-only repayment options, deferral options, and more. Just make sure you ask your lender about the different loan repayment plans before you agree to take on the loan.
Most lenders offer an autopay discount. This means that if you sign up to have your monthly payments automatically deducted from your savings or checking account, you can get a discount on your interest rate. This discount typically only applies when you’re actively making payments. So when you’re in periods of deferment or forbearance, your interest rate will be accruing at the higher, non-discounted rate.
Learn More: How to Start Paying Back Your Student Loans
Credible makes it easy to compare rates, terms, fees, and benefits on private student loans for undergraduate students, grad students, medical students, and law students. Just fill out one form to request prequalified rates from all of our partner lenders (instead of one form per lender). The best part is it’s completely free and won’t affect your credit.
You can also check out our lender reviews for more information:
Learn More: The Best Private Student Loans