How to Take Out Student Loans Without a Cosigner

You want to take out a student loan, but without using a cosigner. You’ve come to the right place.

We’ll cut to the chase and give you a few options, and then we’ll fill in the details and offer up some thoughts on how to do it. It’s frankly easier to get student loans when you have a cosigner nearby, ready, and willing. But if that’s not an option, we’ll give it that… ahem… old college try.

Federal Student Loans Without a Cosigner

If you want to apply for federal student loans without a cosigner, you have two main options:

  • Direct subsidized loans: These loans come from the U.S. Department of Education and are available to undergraduate students with financial need. How much you can borrow is determined by your school. These are pretty much the best student loans you can get, because the government pays the interest on them while you’re in college (as long as you’re taking at least a half load of classes each semester) and for the first six months after you graduate.
  • Direct unsubsidized loans: Undergraduate and graduate students can get one of these loans. In this case, the federal government won’t pay your interest, so it will accrue while you’re in school. But direct unsubsidized loans do come with some benefits and protections, including options for income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness, and forbearance.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: Yes, we said you have two options, and we’re giving you a third. Well, that’s because PLUS loans are an option for the parents of students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. Why are we mentioning them? Mostly, just so you know what options are out there. Once again, the Department of Education is the lender, and your parents will need good credit to qualify. However, if they don’t, they may still have some options for getting the loan — like obtaining their own co-signer and completing credit counseling.

Private Student Loans Without a Cosigner

There are a lot of private student loan options for you here, and too many to spell them all out, but here are a couple of lenders you may want to consider.

Discover Student Loans

Yes, Discover isn’t just a credit card. It could be your private student loan lender as well. You can roll your eyes, but the rates are competitive with other loans. In other words, you’re not going to be stuck with the same rate as a credit card. Variable rates have an APR as low as 4.49%, at the time of this writing, and if you’d prefer fixed rates, those can go as low as 5.99%.

What also makes Discover worth considering is that if you maintain a 3.0 grade point average or better, you can get a 1% cash reward of the disbursed principal balance on your student loans.

But can you take out a Discover Student Loan without a cosigner? Yes… and no. In other words, if you have a credit history, and it’s good, you can probably qualify without a cosigner. If you’re an 18-year-old freshman with no credit whatsoever, you’ll probably need a cosigner.

Credible

As we mentioned, there are a lot of student loans out there, which is why you may want to try out Credible and see if you can find some private loans that won’t require you to have a cosigner. It’s a student loan marketplace, where you can search and compare loan offers from different lenders. Fill out one form (it takes about two minutes) that will show you instantly which lenders you qualify for and at what rates.

You’ll find numerous loans here, from lenders like Citizens Bank, Sallie Mae, SunTrust, and the aforementioned Discover Student Loans, to name a few. The loan rates currently range from as low as 4.20% variable and 4.50% fixed APR. It’s a free site, and using it won’t affect your credit score, so it’s worth a try.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Getting a Student Loan Cosigner

Asking somebody to cosign your student loan has its advantages. Having parents or a guardian cosign your student loans makes it far easier to access financial aid, and if the cosigner has good credit, you’d likely benefit from a lower interest rate than you could get on your own.

But there are disadvantages, too, mostly for the cosigner. If you don’t pay those student loans, your parent or guardian is on the hook, and your relationship could suffer if you can’t pay off your loans. Even if things do turn out well in the end, you could end up feeling guilty that you had to draw your cosigner into your financial drama. This all depends, of course, on your relationship with your cosigner – it may be that that cosigning a student loan won’t weaken your bond at all.

How to Take Out Student Loans Without a Cosigner

OK, so we gave you some suggestions several paragraphs ago, but let’s drill deeper. If you want student loans without a cosigner…

First, apply for every scholarship and grant you can find. That’s because it’s free money, and obviously you want to first see how much free money you can get before you start putting yourself in debt. The dream, of course, is to be given enough money that you don’t have to take out any student loan. A more realistic hope is that you’ll at least find some scholarships and grants that will reduce what you’ll have to borrow.

Kendra Feigert, director of financial aid at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., suggests that high school students check with their guidance office for local scholarships, but also devote some time to national scholarship searches. She says there are a lot of websites that allow you to search for grants and scholarships, including Fastweb.com, CollegeBoard.com and ScholarshipExperts.com.

Second, apply for federal student loans. Loans offered by the federal government generally don’t require a cosigner, whereas private student loans usually do — assuming you’re a high school student without a full-time job and little or no credit history to speak of.

That’s another perk of applying for federal student loans – you don’t need to have a credit history (except with PLUS loans). You’ll also typically get lower interest rates than on private student loans, and you’ll find that federal loans offer more flexibility when it comes time to pay them back, with options such as income-driven repayment plans.

You might even be able to get your federal student loans forgiven. This is rare, but if you’re a teacher in a low-income school, for instance, or you devote a decade to working in public service, you may be eligible to have your loan balance forgiven.

Anyway, you’re probably sensing an emerging theme here: Federal student loans are easier to qualify for without a cosigner, and financially easier to pay back than private loans. You’ll want to try that route first.

Get acquainted with the FAFSA. If you’ve been looking into financial aid for, say, at least five minutes, you’ve already heard of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). But in case you’re only in Minute Two of your research, here’s the lowdown: The FAFSA is an online form that you fill out, which will determine how much financial aid you’re eligible to receive from the federal government. Everyone who wants a federal student loan fills out the FAFSA.

And not to worry. The U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid offers more than $150 billion every year in loans, as well as grants and work-study funds. Most students are eligible to get something.

And the relatively good news is that you probably won’t walk away from FAFSA with too much debt, says Christopher Hanlon, director of financial aid at Albright College in Reading, Pa.

“There’s a misconception that large student debt is linked to federal financial aid programs,” he says. “In fact, the federal government goes to great lengths to be sure that debt is not overwhelming for student borrowers. Students eligible for the very maximum in undergraduate Federal Direct Stafford Student Loan will complete their undergraduate years with a student debt of $37,000. The great majority of students complete their undergraduate years with a total federal debt of $27,000.”

So why do so many people get stuck paying student loans until their retirement years? Well, plenty of students take out federal loans in addition to numerous private loans. And obviously your ability to pay off your student loans efficiently and relatively quickly often depends on what your career post-college is – and how quickly it takes you to find a career that’s well paying. Most new graduates don’t leave college making six figures (or deep into the five figures), and it’s always more lucrative to, say, own the restaurant than flipping burgers for the guy who owns the restaurant.

If you have to, you can apply for a private student loan. But it won’t be easy without a cosigner – which is the whole point of this piece – especially if you’re a high school junior or senior. Still, if this is a road you need to take – getting a private student loan without a cosigner – then you’ll want to start establishing your credit history.

The best way to do that is with a credit card. Some student credit cards are specifically geared toward young people trying to build their credit profile. But the Credit Card Act of 2009 made it hard to get a credit card without steady income. Some people have griped about that rule; as a (barely) survivor of a lot of credit card debt, I personally think this is a smart idea and makes a lot of sense. But, it does make it harder to apply for a credit card on your own if you’re a high school or college student.

So you may have to ask a parent or guardian to cosign a credit card for you while you build up a credit history, in order to eventually land a private student loan without a cosigner. I don’t like the irony there, either.

Anyway, if you do get a credit card with a parent or guardian as your cosigner (or if they add you to their card as an authorized user), from there, you’ll want to occasionally check your credit report and credit score to track your progress.

You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. There are three main credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – so if you ask for your annual report from each of them at four-month intervals, you can get a version of your credit report three times a year.

You might also want to visit CreditKarma.com, any time, and get free credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax. These are calculated using the VantageScore model instead of the more commonly used FICO model, and there are minor differences between the two, but if you want to get a decent sense of what your credit score is, it’s a perfectly good way to get started.

But, again, hopefully you can find enough money for college without getting a private student loan. As noted, it can be more challenging to work with a private lender if you’re struggling to pay off a loan — you won’t find any alternative repayment plans or loan forgiveness. And generally, private student loans are more expensive than federal loans and harder to get without a cosigner.

That said, we don’t want to make it sound like you should avoid private student loans as if it’s malware. They can definitely get the job done when it comes to borrowing money for school.

So if you want to get a student loan without a cosigner, try the federal student loan route first, and the private student loan trail second. And take heart: As you do all of this extensive research into student loans and financial aid, it’s probably very good practice for all of the research you’ll do when you finally get to college.

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