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Best student loans for bad credit or no credit: May 2022

As of May 22, 2022
Bankrate's ranking of student loan lenders for bad credit evaluates interest rates, fees, term lengths and features to help you compare companies side by side. The resources below can also guide you through the process of applying for a loan with bad credit and how to get the best possible rates.
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INCOME BASED REPAYMENT

INCOME SHARE AGREEMENT

4.5

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

4.64- 14.52%

Loan Amount

$3k- $20k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

Not disclosed

Income Based Repayment - No Cosigner Required

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Income Share Agreement

Income shares range start as low as 1% of income over a 5 year period.

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The Bankrate guide to choosing the right student loan with bad or no credit

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At Bankrate, our mission is to empower you to make smarter financial decisions. We’ve been comparing and surveying financial institutions for more than 40 years to help you find the right products for your situation. Our award-winning editorial team follows strict guidelines to ensure the content is not influenced by advertisers. Additionally, our content is thoroughly reported and vigorously edited to ensure accuracy.

When shopping for student loans you can use to pay for school, look for a competitive interest rate, repayment terms that meet your needs and minimal fees. Loan details presented here are current as of March 24, 2022. Check the lenders’ websites for more current information. The top lenders listed below are selected based on factors such as student loan interest rates, loan amounts, fees, credit requirements and broad availability. To learn more about how we selected lenders, see our methodology section above.

How to shop for a student loan with bad credit or no credit

If you're searching for a student loan with bad credit or no credit, start with the following steps:

      1. Calculate how much you need. Your cost of attendance will determine which lenders and types of loans you look for. Federal student loans typically have lower loan limits than private student loans, so you may need to combine multiple loan types.
      2. Fill out the FAFSA. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines what type of federal aid you may be eligible for, and it's also required if you want access to federal student loans.
      3. Compare rates and terms. If you have poor credit, your best bet is applying for a federal student loan. Where private student loans from individual lenders tend to apply restrictive eligibility requirements, most federal student loans don’t even require a credit check. However, if you're considering private loans, compare rates from multiple lenders to see which offers you the best deal.
      4. Consider a co-signer. If you have no credit history or your credit score is on the poor side, you should also look into getting a co-signer for your loan. Having a co-signer with a good credit score can improve your chances of being approved for the student loan funds you need, and it may also get you a better interest rate and better loan terms.
Compare bad- or no-credit student loan rates in May 2022
LENDER CURRENT APR RANGE LOAN TERMS MIN. LOAN AMOUNT MAX. LOAN AMOUNT BEST FOR
Federal student loans 3.73% to 6.28% fixed Standard repayment is 10 years None $7,500 annually for dependent undergraduates, $12,500 annually for independent undergraduates and 100% total cost of attendance for graduate students Overall student loans
Earnest 0.94% to 11.44% variable, 3.24% to 12.78% fixed (with autopay) Not specified $1,000 100% total cost of attendance Flexible repayment options
Ascent 1.64% to 11.45% variable, 4.78% to 14.52% fixed (with autopay) 5 to 20 years $2,001 $200,000 Student loans without a co-signer
Sallie Mae 1.62% to 11.73% variable, 3.75% to 12.85% fixed (with autopay) 10 to 20 years $1,000 100% total cost of attendance Student loans with a co-signer
Credible 1.09% to 11.98% variable, 3.52% to 14.08% fixed (with autopay) 5 to 20 years Varies Varies Loan comparison

Best overall

Federal Student Loans

Federal Student Loans

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Check with studentaid.gov

Min. credit score:
None
Fixed APR From:
3.73% –6.28%
Loan amount:
$1,000–$500,000
Term lengths:
10 to 10 years
Min. annual income:
$0
Overview: Most federal student loans don’t require a credit check, so these loans are easily the best option for students with poor credit or no credit history. Federal student loans also come with competitive interest rates, and you may choose from a variety of repayment options.

Why federal student loans are best overall: Federal student loans are available to every borrower, regardless of creditworthiness or financial health. Plus, each type of federal loan offers the same interest rate to all borrowers, so you'll know what your rate will be before applying.

Best for flexible repayment options

Min. credit score:
650
Fixed APR From:
3.24%
Loan amount:
$1,000–$350,000
Term lengths:
5 to 20 years
Min. annual income:
$35,000
Overview: Earnest is a unique private student loan company based on the fact that it considers factors other than your credit score during the application process — although a minimum credit score of 650 is still required to be a borrower or a co-signer. Better yet, Earnest lets you choose among flexible repayment options to suit your needs. For instance, you can skip one payment every 12 months if your loan is in good standing. That payment will be added to the end of your loan, but it's a convenient feature if you need some breathing room one month.

Why Earnest is best for flexible repayment options: While Earnest doesn't disclose its repayment terms, it claims that you can choose the term that's best for your budget. Plus, if you run into financial hardship, you can skip one monthly payment and pay the amount at the end of your loan term.

Best for student loans without a co-signer

Min. credit score:
Not disclosed
Fixed APR From:
4.64% –14.52%
Loan amount:
$3,000–$20,000
Term lengths:
5 to 20 years
Min. annual income:
$0
Overview: Among Ascent's student loan options is a unique non-co-signed student loan, which takes into account your school, program, graduation date and other factors. Ascent claims that these loans are based on your future income, so you may be able to qualify if you're in a high-earning field of study. Borrowers can also apply for undergraduate and graduate loans with a co-signer, which opens up lower rates.

Why Ascent is best for borrowers without a co-signer: Ascent is one of only a few lenders with a loan option that approves borrowers based on things like predicted future income and field of study rather than credit score, so a co-signer may not be needed.

Best for student loans with a co-signer

Min. credit score:
Not disclosed
Fixed APR From:
3.75%
Loan amount:
$1,000–$500,000
Term lengths:
10 to 15 years
Min. annual income:
$0
Overview: While Sallie Mae doesn’t disclose a minimum credit score for its student loans, it does have extremely low rates that could be attainable if you have a co-signer with good credit.

Why Sallie Mae is best for borrowers with a co-signer: Sallie Mae's low interest rates, large loan amounts and multiple educational resources make Sallie Mae an ideal student loan for borrowers whose co-signers can help them qualify.

Best loan comparison site

Credible

Credible

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Apply on partner site

Min. credit score:
Not disclosed
Fixed APR From:
3.52%
Loan amount:
$1,000–$350,000
Term lengths:
5 to 20 years
Min. annual income:
$0
Overview: Credible is a loan comparison site, meaning you can enter your information once and see loan offers from multiple sources in one place. This means that Credible itself doesn’t have any minimum credit score requirements, but you’ll be able to gauge your ability to qualify across multiple student lenders, including bad-credit student loan lenders, in one place.

Why Credible is the best loan comparison site: While borrowers will still need to do research on each individual lender before applying, Credible's single application process saves time and money by allowing borrowers to see if they prequalify for multiple loans at once.

Federal vs. private student loans

Borrowers with poor credit can choose between federal and private student loans. Federal student loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education and set one fixed rate for all borrowers. They also don't have a minimum credit score requirement, so they're the first place to turn if you have a spotty credit history.

Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions and online lenders. Unlike some federal student loans, they often allow you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance at your school, though you won't have the benefit of income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs. Private student loans offer a wider range of interest rates that are based on your credit score. 

Here are some of the key differences between federal and private student loans:

PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS
Maximum loan amount Depends on lender (may be up to 100% total cost of attendance) $7,500 annually for dependent undergraduates, $12,500 annually for independent undergraduates and 100% total cost of attendance for graduates
Interest rates 0.94% to 11.98% variable, 2.99% to 13.65% fixed (with autopay) 3.73% to 6.28% fixed
Fees Varies by lender; often no fees Origination fee of 1.057% to 4.228%
Benefits High loan limits, low interest rates, the choice between fixed and variable rates Access to income-driven repayment plans, long deferments and forbearances, no credit check required for most loans
Drawbacks High rates for bad credit, limited forbearance options, no federal benefits Lower loan limits, limited repayment terms
Qualification requirements Depends on lender; often requires good credit or a creditworthy co-signer Meet basic eligibility criteria

Applying for a student loan with a co-signer

A co-signer is a creditworthy friend or family member who takes on the responsibility of the loan with the borrower. Their creditworthiness can make it easier for the primary borrower to get approved for the loan and qualify for lower interest rates. The downside is that the co-signer is responsible for paying the loan if the primary borrower misses payments, and delinquency could affect the co-signer's credit score.

Many lenders have the option for co-signer release, which allows the borrower to release the co-signer from their obligation after a certain number of on-time payments are made.

How to improve your credit score for a student loan

If you don’t have a co-signer or you have some time before you need to apply for a student loan, it’s worth figuring out some ways to increase your credit score:

  • Pay all of your bills early or on time. Your payment history is the most important factor in determining your FICO Score. Late payments are detrimental to your credit health, but making on-time or early payments on all of your bills can boost your credit score over time.
  • Pay down other types of debt. The more debt you pay off, the lower your credit utilization, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO Score. If you have several types of debt, focus on high-interest debt and unsecured debt like credit cards first.
  • Get a new credit account. If you don’t have any credit history, sign up for a starter credit card. If you use your credit card to make small purchases and pay it off each month, you’ll build positive credit habits and your credit history at the same time.
  • Pay off accounts in default or collections. Consider paying off any late accounts prior to applying for a student loan. Collections accounts stay on your credit report for seven years, which could drastically reduce your chances of being approved for financing.
  • Dispute credit report errors. Mistakes can happen, which is why it's smart to regularly check your credit reports and dispute any errors that could be negatively affecting your credit score. You can check your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Student loan options for parents with bad credit

Parents with poor credit still have options to help finance their child's undergraduate or graduate degree. Parents should start first with a federal parent PLUS loan, which comes with some federal benefits and can cover up to the total cost of a child's education. Eligibility requirements for a parent PLUS loan are less stringent than those of private student loans, so parents with bad credit can still get approved; however, adverse credit history like defaults, foreclosure or bankruptcy will make it harder to qualify.

Parents can also look into private student loans. Many lenders have student loans designed for parents, many of which cover up to the full cost of a child's education and feature flexible repayment options. However, most private lenders have a minimum credit score requirement, so if you do go this route, look for lenders that accept borrowers with poor credit or those that take other factors into account. Parents can also apply for a loan with a creditworthy co-signer.

Student loans in the coronavirus pandemic

Like other financial products, student loans have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Interest rates are at near-record lows, making this a good time to take out a new loan or refinance old private loans.

While these interest rates are low, research is still important, says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. "Whether looking at federal or private student loans, meaning looking at loans offered by the government or business, potential applicants should do their homework when it comes to finding the lowest interest rates available." This is particularly important if you have bad credit, as some private lenders have tightened their credit requirements in response to the low-rate environment.

The federal government has introduced its own relief options for federal student loans, as well. Through August 31, 2022, borrowers with federal student loans are not required to make payments, and interest charges are waived.

President Biden's student loan forgiveness proposals

On the campaign trail, President Biden said that he would like to forgive $10,000 of student loan debt for all federal borrowers. Student loan forgiveness could potentially happen with either congressional approval or executive action, but widespread student loan forgiveness like Biden originally proposed is unlikely in the near future. Instead, the administration has been concentrating its efforts on improving existing student loan forgiveness programs, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and borrower defense to repayment. Through these programs, billions of dollars' worth of student loan debt has been forgiven over the past year.

Should you still make student loan payments while waiting for forgiveness?

Student loan forgiveness is not guaranteed; if you stop making your student loan payments in the hopes that your loans will one day be wiped away, you could be setting yourself up for financial trouble.

That said, there's little harm in taking advantage of administrative forbearance now, especially if you're having trouble paying other bills. Because federal student loan payments are not required, you could temporarily pause those payments and instead put the money toward your private loans, credit card debt, an emergency fund or day-to-day bills.

The most valuable college majors

While you should never make your college major decision based on cost alone, doing research about your potential return on investment can help you make an informed decision about paying for college. In a Bankrate study of the most valuable college majors, STEM degrees earned the top 25 spots, while arts degrees fell near the bottom.

With that said, the value of your degree ultimately depends on the cost of your classes, the need to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate and your personal fulfillment with your degree. It will be tougher to pay off student loans if you start your career with a low income, but your career choice could be worth it.

In terms of the raw numbers, these top five most valuable college majors could help steer your college decision:

Degree Median income Unemployment rate
1. Architectural Engineering $90,000 1.3%
2. Construction Services $80,000 1%
3. Computer Engineering $101,000 2.3%
4. Aerospace Engineering $100,000 1.9%
5. Transportation Sciences and Technologies $86,000 1.8%
FAQs about bad- or no-credit student loans

Next steps

When looking for a student loan with a poor credit score, start with federal student loans, which you can apply for by filling out the FAFSA. If you do need to take out private student loans, consider applying with a co-signer to increase your chances of getting approved and scoring a lower interest rate. The only way to guarantee the lowest rate for your situation is to shop around, so take the time to prequalify with a few lenders before moving forward.