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Can You Get a Student Loan With Bad Credit?

Securing a student loan with a bad credit history might seem unlikely, but there are options available. Some strategies are more straightforward than others.

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By Jennifer Calonia

Written by

Jennifer Calonia

Writer

Jennifer Calonia is a personal finance writer and editor who was born, raised, and currently resides in Los Angeles. She believes smart money management starts with making financial concepts and advice accessible to the everyday person.

Edited by Renee Fleck

Written by

Renee Fleck

Editor

Renee Fleck is a student loans editor with over five years of experience in digital content editing. Her work has been featured in Fast Company, Morning Brew, and Sidebar.io, among other online publications. She is fluent in Spanish and French and enjoys traveling to new places.

Updated November 11, 2023

Editorial disclosure: Our goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to improve your finances.

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College tuition is on the rise. The average tuition and fees at a public, four-year college is at $11,260 for state residents, and as high as $41,540 at a nonprofit four-year school, according to 2023 College Board data. Student loans can cover these costs when other financial aid is insufficient, but if you have bad credit, you might face some borrowing restrictions.

It’s still possible to get a student loan with bad credit, though. The federal Direct Loan Program offers options for securing a student loan despite a low credit score. But if you need a private student loan, you might need to meet additional criteria. Here’s a rundown on how to get a student loan when your credit isn’t perfect.

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

The short answer is yes. You might still be able to get a student loan with bad credit. 

Your credit score informs lenders about how well (or poorly) you’ve managed past and current credit responsibilities. 

A high credit score can not only help you get approved, but it also unlocks competitive interest rates, and sometimes more repayment term options to choose from. 

When your credit score is low, it’s usually a red flag to private lenders who might think you’ll have trouble repaying your loan on time. This poses a greater financial risk on the lender’s side. 

Typically, you need good credit to get approved for a private student loan. For FICO scores, a “good” credit score is at least 670. 

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Keep in mind:

Credit score requirements for student loans vary. Most federal student loans have no credit requirement, while private lenders set their own criteria to determine loan approvals, including requirements for bad credit.

Start with federal student loans

If you have a less-than-ideal credit score, consider federal student loans as a first option. A credit check generally isn’t part of the federal requirements for student loans, which is why maximizing your federal loan borrowing limit can be the best path forward in most situations.

Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, which are the most common types of federal student loans, are available to students regardless of their credit history. Both types are available to eligible undergraduate students, though subsidized loans are only offered to undergraduates who demonstrate financial need.

Graduate and professional students are ineligible for subsidized loans, but might qualify for unsubsidized Direct Loans. These loans have a fixed rate, and available repayment terms start at 10 years.

Submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you qualify for Direct Loans despite having bad credit.

Check out: How To Register for the FAFSA [2023]

Direct PLUS Loans for graduates, professionals, and parents

If subsidized or unsubsidized Direct Loans aren’t an option, graduate and professional students or parents of dependent undergraduates can explore Direct PLUS Loans.

PLUS loans require a credit check, but it doesn’t gauge your eligibility based on a minimum credit score. Instead, the Department of Education checks if you have an adverse credit history, like a bankruptcy, repossession, or foreclosure in the past five years, among other adverse credit outcomes.

If you do, you’ll need to secure an endorser (also known as a cosigner) with a clean credit record who agrees to repay the loan if you can’t. Otherwise, your only other option to move forward with a PLUS Loan is providing documentation proving that the adverse credit mark was a result of an extenuating circumstance.

In either situation, you’ll also need to undergo credit counseling for PLUS loan borrowers to get the loan.

Use a cosigner

When it comes to private student loans, some lenders may offer the option to include a cosigner on your loan agreement. A cosigner is an individual who meets the lender’s income and credit criteria, and agrees to take liability for any unpaid loan balance you fail to pay.

In leveraging a cosigner’s creditworthiness, you have a better chance at getting approved and securing a better interest rate and terms. Since this is a major responsibility, a cosigner is typically someone who has a close relationship to the primary borrower (for example, the student’s parent, spouse, grandparent, or older sibling).

Some lenders offer a cosigner release feature in their loan agreement. If your credit improves later on, this feature lets you remove your cosigner’s obligation from the debt. But you’ll need to meet the lender’s release requirements first.

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Keep in mind:

Not all private student lenders accept cosigners. Those that do might not offer cosigner release. Make sure expectations are clear between you and your potential cosigner for a smooth borrowing process.

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All APRs reflect autopay and loyalty discounts where available | LightStream disclosure | SoFi Disclosures | Read more about Rates and Terms

Look into bad-credit student loans

If you don’t have access to a willing cosigner, some private student loans are specifically designed for students with no or low credit. These loans operate similarly to a traditional private student loan, but might offer lower borrowing amounts, higher interest rates, or a shorter term.

When shopping around for bad-credit student loans, make sure you’re weighing details, like unique eligibility requirements, loan-related fees, deferment options (if any), and whether it offers flexible repayment (e.g. interest-only payments while in school).

Find Your Student Loan

Research alternative financing

Federal and private student loans are just one type of financial aid you can turn to. Alternative aid options to look into include: 

  • Grants. This kind of aid doesn’t typically have to be repaid. You can find these at the federal and state level, as well as through your school, private companies, and nonprofits.
  • Scholarships. This is another form of gift aid that awards students based on financial need or merit. You can get a scholarship for certain areas of study, communities, and interests and/or skills. 
  • Income-share agreements (ISAs). ISAs are a type of alternative loan that offers lump-sum financing upfront for school, which you’ll repay using a fixed percentage of your future salary for a certain number of years. 

Improve your credit before applying

If you still have several years of school ahead before graduating, it might be a good idea to start improving your credit record today. This could work in your favor the next time you need a loan. 

Your credit is impacted by multiple factors, but here are some of the most immediate and effective ways to improve it:

  • Repay debt on time. A large part of your FICO score — 35% — is calculated based on your payment history. This includes whether you’ve made the minimum monthly payment, on time, for your outstanding debts. Make sure that you’re paying off your student loans and other debts on time, and for the full amount due.
  • Lower unpaid debt balances. The amount of debt you have, such as credit card balances, can affect your student loan approval. If you lean on your credit too heavily, lenders might perceive you as a high-risk borrower who’s financially overextended. Before applying for a student loan with bad credit, consider paying down your other revolving debt. 
  • Review your credit report. Sometimes your credit score might be dragged down by a data reporting error on your credit report. For example, your score could be lowered if the report includes a defaulted debt that’s actually not yours. Request a copy of your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, and if you see a mistake on it, submit a dispute with each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Meet the expert:
Jennifer Calonia

Jennifer Calonia is a personal finance writer and editor who was born, raised, and currently resides in Los Angeles. She believes smart money management starts with making financial concepts and advice accessible to the everyday person.