Apply for federal student loans before private student loans
Many federal student loans are given out by the U.S. government and don’t require a credit check (though federal loans for parents do). In order to apply for federal student loans, you need to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA is your ticket to grants, work-study funds, and loans.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than $150 billion in federal student aid is given out to help students pay for college and career school each year.
Some federal student aid is given out on a first-come-first-served basis. Make sure you submit your FAFSA as early as you can each year (usually October 1).
Make FAFSA.gov your go-to source for all things FAFSA and fill it out each year of college.
Apply for a private student loan with a creditworthy cosigner
Unlike federal student loans, private student loans come from banks and credit unions—and they do require a credit check.
If you’re a high school or college student with a limited credit history, a private student loan lender may not approve your application. Don’t take it personally! If you look at it from their point of view, there’s not much proof that you’ll be able to repay a loan on time—especially if you don’t have a regular salary or other financial assets.
Consider applying with a creditworthy cosigner, an individual with strong credit who can take responsibility for the student loan with you. Cosigners are usually parents, but they don’t have to be. Your cosigner doesn’t even need to be related to you.
When asking someone to cosign a loan for you, make sure you both understand what it means. A cosigner isn’t just adding their name to a piece of paper—they’re signing a legal agreement that makes them equally responsible for repaying the loan.
You and your cosigner need to be clear on who’s going to make the loan payments each month. If it’s you, and you fall behind on your payments, your cosigner’s credit score will be affected.
Being a cosigner is a serious commitment, but it doesn’t need to be a lifelong one. Many private student loan lenders let you release your cosigner after you’ve proved you can repay your loan responsibly with a certain number of on-time payments.
Consider a parent loan
Despite the name, parent loans aren’t just for parents (confusing, I know). They’re for creditworthy adults who want to pay for a student’s education. In this case, the creditworthy individual isn’t a cosigner—they’re the primary borrower.
The good news is that parent loans are meant to cover education costs, so they generally have lower interest rates compared to other types of loans, like personal loans.
If you’re lucky enough to have an adult in your life who’s willing and able contribute to your education, this could be one way for them to do it.