If you’re looking for a way to finance your education but have a bad credit history–or little to no credit, it can sometimes be tough to get the loans that you need.
Each year, thousands of students are put into this position, but many of them eventually find a way to fund their education.
The truth is that financing education, even though still a risk for lenders, is generally something that many companies see as being a smart investment for all kinds of students.
If you’ve been denied or you’re worried about how you’ll get the money you need for college, here are some tips for what you can do to make sure your dreams don’t get squashed by your credit score.
1. Take advantage of federal student loans first
Many students don’t realize that they’re eligible to receive funds through the Federal Direct loan program, financed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Students are eligible to receive between $5,500 and $12,500 per year in direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans for undergraduate degrees, and up to $20,500 per year toward a graduate degree.
Students with demonstrated financial need may also be eligible to receive additional funds through the Federal Perkins loan program, which offers an additional $5,500 per year for undergrads and $8,000 per year for grad students.
And these programs don’t require a credit check, so bad credit won’t be an issue.
Because these loans are backed by the federal government and insured, they don’t require any specific credit criteria and are available to all students who are enrolled at an accredited college or university.
The Federal PLUS loan program for independent students, graduate students, and parents of dependent undergrads, will require a credit check, although it’s likely that their credit requirements are less stringent than many those used by most private lenders. (The PLUS website states that borrowers must have, “no adverse credit history,” which may make them a good option for students with little or no credit, but no derogatory marks.)
2. Research loans with local/regional banks and credit unions
Many major banks and student loan lenders have very strict underwriting criteria that dictate who qualifies for a loan, what rates they receive, and how much they can borrow.
Local and regional credit unions also have underwriting guidelines that they use when issuing loans, but they are generally known as being more flexible to meet the needs of their community and their members.
This may be a benefit to you, if you have limited or bad credit history, as you may be able to qualify for a loan through one of these smaller lenders when you would not have qualified at a larger institution.
The website LendKey is an incredibly useful free resource, which can help you find and compare not-for-profit lenders that offer student loans in your area. It can save you the time and hassle of having to go to each bank or credit union separately to learn about their available loans.
3. Find lenders that do alternative credit checks
Another option for borrowers struggling to get approved for a student loan is to find a lender that offers alternative credit checks.
An increasing number of new lenders–especially those that operate only online–are creating new and innovative ways to determine creditworthiness.
These lenders will still evaluate your credit history, but they are likely to consider in a broader range of factors–like academic performance, future job prospects, and other measures–when making lending decisions.
One such lender is Earnest, but they only offer student loan refinancing at this time.
4. Get around bad credit with a cosigner
This may be more easily said than done, but having a creditworthy cosigner can help you secure a loan if your credit history is less than perfect.
In most cases, your cosigner could be anyone from a friend to a parent or grandparent.
It’s very important to consider this option carefully and take the obligation very seriously. Anyone who cosigns for your student loan will be equally liable for your debt as you are, so be sure that you can and will repay your loans before involving someone else and possibly risking their credit.
5. Appeal the decision
Did you apply for a loan and got denied?
Well, that may not necessarily be the last word. Some lenders will approve or deny credit through an automated review process and may allow you to appeal or request a manual consideration by one of their loan specialists.
This option may be a long shot–there aren’t very good statistics on how often it’s successful–but, if your back is up against the wall and you need to figure out a way to finance your education, it can’t hurt to ask.