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?
U.S. News selects the Best Loan Companies by evaluating affordability, borrower eligibility criteria and customer service. Those with the highest overall scores are considered the best lenders.
To calculate each score, we use data about the lender and its loan offerings, giving greater weight to factors that matter most to borrowers. The scoring factors for private student loan providers are customer service ratings, fixed APR, variable APR, loan product availability, minimum and maximum loan terms, minimum and maximum loan amounts, minimum FICO score, and online features.
The weight each scoring factor receives is based on a nationwide survey on what borrowers look for in a lender.
To receive a rating, lenders must offer qualifying loans nationwide and have a good reputation within the industry. Read more about our methodology.
Find the Best Student Loans for You
Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, among other educational needs. Congress started Sallie Mae in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity that serviced student loans. The lender went private in 2004 and today provides a range of student loan products. Additionally, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products and other tools to help families plan and pay for college, including a credit card that earns bonus cash back to help you pay off any student loan.
Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to college and graduate students, as well as student loan refinancing. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.
SoFi is an online lender founded by Stanford business school students in 2011. Originally focused on student loan refinancing, the San Francisco-based company added private student loans in 2019. Choose from undergraduate, graduate, law or MBA, health profession, or parent loans with no fees.
Ascent Funding is an online lender offering undergraduate and graduate student loans for those with or without a co-signer at more than 2,200 eligible schools nationwide. Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status – aka “Dreamers” – may apply for an Ascent loan. Ascent Funding was founded in 2015 and is based in San Diego.
LendKey’s digital platform connects borrowers who need private student loans or refinancing loans with credit unions and community banks. Since 2009, LendKey has helped more than 135,000 people by funding $5 billion in loans. The company offers fixed- and variable-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
Citizens Bank was founded in the late 1800s in Rhode Island. Today, it’s one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S. Branches are concentrated in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.
Founded in 2014, Purefy is a student loan refinance rate comparison site, and it also originates refinanced student and parent loans via a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. As a rate comparison tool, Purefy shares interest rates and terms from lending partners, including Earnest, ISL Education Lending and College Ave. This lender review will focus on the loan refinancing options Purefy and PenFed offer together.
Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan program offered by Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank since 2015. The company provides private student loans and refinancing options for private and federal student loans.
Sparrow, founded in 2020, is an online marketplace where students and parents can fill out a single application to see whether they qualify for loan offers from a variety of lenders. Although Sparrow is not a lender, the free service allows you to compare rates across lending partners. Sparrow is also available to international students.
MPower Financing offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students within two years of earning a degree or starting a one- or two-year program at an eligible U.S. or Canadian school. The lender specializes in working with international students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
Private student loans are approved based on your creditworthiness, but many undergraduate students don’t have an established credit history, payment history or steady income. Even if you do, a lack of credit or income could result in loan offers with high interest rates. Still, there are some lenders willing to loan to students with a thin credit history and without a co-signer.
International students studying in the U.S. may have trouble finding a student loan without a co-signer. Some options do exist, such as loans offered through MPower Financing and Prodigy Finance – the latter of which specializes in loans for international master’s students – but many other lenders require that international students have a creditworthy co-signer.
A co-signer is someone with stronger credit, such as a trusted relative, 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. If the loan goes into delinquency or default, both parties will face financial consequences. 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.
Find the Student Loan That’s Right for You
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.
Here’s how to get a student loan without a co-signer:
- Find student loan companies that do not require a co-signer. If you haven’t established credit, some lenders will partly judge eligibility based on academic performance.
- Compare student loan offers. Lenders generally 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.
- Apply. Upload your verification documents, which likely include identification, your financial aid award and your tuition bill.
- Sign and approve. Sign your final loan documents. Once you sign, before the school year starts, money will be disbursed to your school.
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.
Although securing a co-signer for your student loan provides certain advantages, it’s important to weigh the possible positive and negative results of obtaining a loan on your own.
- Increased borrowing access for some students. Not everyone has a trusted friend or relative with good credit who is willing to act as a co-signer.
- You assume sole responsibility. Getting a loan without a co-signer means no one other than yourself is burdened to repay it.
- You may qualify for less. Without a co-signer, you’ll probably be offered a lower loan amount.
- You’ll pay more. If you have a limited credit history or income, you may still qualify for a loan, but you will most certainly pay a higher interest rate without a co-signer.
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 most undergraduate federal student loans don’t require co-signers.
Federal student loans may offer a much lower interest rate because eligibility 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.
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.
Here are factors to consider when choosing a student loan with no 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 by lender and typically range 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 payment could make it more affordable in your monthly budget. However, a longer repayment term results in higher borrowing costs over time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Other loan costs and discounts. It’s important to consider loan fees you may need to pay, including application, origination and late fees. But understand your options for saving money as well. Some lenders offer an interest rate reduction when borrowers enroll in automatic payments, and some may factor the automatic payment discount into their published rates. Lenders 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 typically 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 while you’re in school at least half-time. 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, and interest typically accrues during deferment and forbearance periods. Lenders may also offer other hardship options, such as a temporary interest rate reduction or monthly payment reduction.
- Customer service ratings. Read student loan reviews and ratings before you commit. You can find student loan reviews online and browse comparisons and recommendations for some of the top private student lenders.
If you have bad credit, you may still qualify for a student loan, but you should carefully weigh all your options before applying. Consider the impact that taking out a loan will have on your already low credit score if you are approved. Applying with a co-signer may improve your chances of getting a loan and securing a more favorable interest rate.
Students with no credit history may qualify for student loans without a co-signer in some instances. For these students, some lenders consider factors such as GPA, graduation date, program and cost of attendance when determining loan eligibility.
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. Here are a few strategies to consider:
- Attend a less expensive school. 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. “The path for low-income students is lower-cost state schools, living at home and working while at school,” says Brad Baldridge, certified financial planner and college funding consultant, as well as owner and chief podcaster of “Taming The High Cost of College.”
- 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 Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com. 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.
- Consider alternative financing. Kantrowitz encourages students who have hit their annual loan limit to ask their parents to borrow from the federal Parent Direct PLUS loan program. Other parent borrowing options, such as private parent loans and home equity loans, may help some families bridge the college financing gap, depending on their circumstances.
- 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. Depending on the college or university policy, you may be able to maintain your admission at the school the following year and have a year to get your financial affairs in order.
Credible is a loan comparison marketplace that allows would-be borrowers to shop around for loans that meet their needs – including mortgages, mortgage refinancing, student loans, student loan refinancing and personal loans. The company was founded in 2013 in San Francisco as a tool to empower borrowers to shop rates and products.
Best for fixed APR
The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.
Best for no 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. Loans of up to 100% of education costs with fixed or variable rates are available.
Best for small loan amounts
EDvestinU is the nonprofit student loan lending and refinancing organization of the New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corp. Undergraduate and graduate loans and student loan consolidation are available to borrowers with both fixed and variable rates available in select states and Puerto Rico.
Best for online service
London-based Prodigy Finance offers postgraduate student loans for qualified borrowers from about 150 countries who plan to study as international students at one of more than 850 schools across 18 countries. Students from the United Kingdom can also get loans from Prodigy Finance to study domestically. Since its founding in 2007, Prodigy Finance has provided funding to more than 20,000 students.
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