Best student loans for bad credit or no credit: September 2021

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The Bankrate guide to choosing the best bad-credit or no-credit student loans

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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 Aug. 5, 2021. 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.

Best bad- or no-credit student loans in 2021

Current APR Range
Loan Terms
Min. Loan Amount
Max. Loan Amount
Best For
Federal student loans
3.73% to 6.28%
Standard repayment is 10 years
$7,500 annually for dependent undergraduates, $12,500 annually for independent undergraduates and 100% total cost of attendance for graduate students
Overall student loans
Starting at 0.99% variable and 2.99% fixed (with autopay)
Not specified
100% total cost of attendance
Flexible repayment options
1.85% to 9.60% variable, 3.26% to 11.42% fixed (with autopay)
5 to 20 years
Student loans without a co-signer
Sallie Mae
1.13% to 11.64% variable, 3.5% to 12.6% fixed (with autopay)
10 to 20 years
100% total cost of attendance
Student loans with a co-signer
1.04% to 13.19% variable, 3.34% to 14.50% fixed (with autopay)
5 to 20 years
Loan comparison

Summary: Student loans for bad or no credit in September 2021

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

It is possible to get a student loan even if you have bad credit or no credit history. That said, it will be more difficult to qualify, and rates will be higher. Federal student loans are the easiest to qualify for, since most won't do a credit check and don't consider your credit score, and interest rates are the same for all borrowers. If you need to borrow private loans, you can look for lenders that have low credit score requirements, take other eligibility requirements into account or let you add a co-signer to your loan.

Details: Student loan rates for bad or no credit in 2021

While college loan lenders for bad credit can’t offer the best rates and terms, they do make it possible to borrow money you can use to pay for school. We compared the top loan options for bad credit to help you figure out which lender might work best for your needs and goals.

Best overall: Federal student loans

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.

Perks: Federal student loans come with federal protections like deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans that can lead to loan forgiveness after 20 to 25 years. Some federal student loans are also subsidized by the federal government, meaning that the government will pay your interest charges while you’re still in school.

What to watch out for: Federal student loans come with limits and may have higher interest rates than the lowest rates advertised by private student lenders. Also watch out for loan fees that are deducted from the total amount you receive from your loan.

Lender Federal student loans
APR 3.73% to 6.28%
Loan amounts Up to $7,500 annually for dependent undergraduates, up to $12,500 annually for independent undergraduates and up to 100% total cost of attendance for graduate students
Loan terms Standard repayment is 10 years, but repayment terms vary
Qualifications Borrowers must fill out the FAFSA, and some borrowers must go through a credit check
Fees Loan fee: 1.057% to 4.228%

Best for flexible repayment options: Earnest

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.

Perks: Student loans from Earnest don’t charge an origination fee, prepayment fee or late payment fee. Earnest also bases its rates on a variety of factors outside of your credit score.

What to watch out for: You or your co-signer will need a minimum credit score of 650 to qualify.

Lender Earnest
APR Variable: Starting at 0.99% (with autopay) Fixed: Starting at 2.99% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms Not specified
Qualifications Borrowers must attend an eligible four-year Title IV institution, have at least three years of credit history and have a minimum annual income of $35,000. A minimum credit score of 650 is required.
Fees Returned payment fee: Up to $8; Florida stamp tax: 0.35%

Best for student loans without a co-signer: Ascent

Overview: Among Ascent's student loan options is a unique non-co-signed student loans, which take 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. Check your personalized rates from Ascent today.

Perks: Ascent offers borrowers a 1 percent cash back reward upon graduation. You can also earn an autopay discount of 0.25 percent to 1 percent off your APR.

What to watch out for: Requirements vary by loan type; depending on the loan, you may be subject to income requirements, as well as a debt-to-income ratio limit and a minimum credit history.

Lender Ascent
APR Variable: 1.85% to 9.60% (with autopay) Fixed: 3.26% to 11.42% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $2,001 to $200,000
Loan terms 5 to 20 years
Qualifications Borrowers must be enrolled at least half time for most loans. Some loans require a minimum annual income of $24,000 and at least two years of credit history.
Fees None

Best for student loans with a co-signer: Sallie Mae

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. Having a co-signer may make it considerably easier to qualify for a student loan, and that’s especially true if you need access to private student loans for bad credit.

Perks: Sallie Mae student loans come with no origination fees and no prepayment penalties. Its undergraduate student loans also come with four free months of Chegg Study, and you can get a 0.25 percent discount off your rate if you sign up for autopay.

What to watch out for: If you have poor or fair credit and don't want to use a co-signer, you may have trouble being approved for a Sallie Mae loan.

Lender Sallie Mae
APR Variable: 1.13% to 11.64% (with autopay) Fixed: 3.5% to 12.6% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms 10 to 20 years
Qualifications Not specified
Fees Late fee: 5% or $25; Returned check fee: Up to $20

Best loan comparison site: Credible

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.

Perks: Instead of having to get student loan quotes from multiple lenders, Credible does the grunt work for you. There are also no origination fees, no service fees and no prepayment fees if you pay off your loan early.

What to watch out for: Credible is just a loan aggregator, so it does not extend loans itself. If you apply for a loan with Credible and you’re approved, you’ll be connected with a partner lender.

Lender Credible
APR Variable: 1.04% to 13.19% (with autopay) Fixed: 3.34% to 14.50% (with autopay)
Loan amounts Varies
Loan terms 5 to 20 years
Qualifications Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident and be at least 18 years old
Fees Varies

Student loan options for parents with bad credit

Parents with less-than-stellar 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.

How to improve your credit score for a student loan

If you don’t have a co-signer or you have some time to go 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 will be, 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. Finally, consider paying off any late accounts. According to Experian, collections accounts stay on your credit report for seven years, which could drastically reduce your chances of being approved for a student loan.
  • 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

Frequently asked questions about bad-credit or no-credit student loans

Can I get a student loan with no credit check?

Many federal student loans do not require a credit check, but most private lenders do. With that said, you can often see the rates and terms you're eligible for with only a soft credit check, which won't impact your credit score.

What credit score do I need for a student loan?

Many private student loan lenders do not disclose credit score requirements, but it's likely that you or your co-signer must have a credit score in the mid-600s to qualify. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be approved and the lower rates you'll receive.

Will applying for a bad-credit student loan impact my credit score?

Applying for a student loan could temporarily lower your credit score, since the lender will perform a hard credit check. However, you can prequalify with most lenders, which allows you to see what rates you're eligible for before going through the hard credit check. Any negative effects on your score should be temporary.

Can I get a student loan without a co-signer if I have bad or no credit?

If you don't have a co-signer, your best bet at finding funding is federal student loans, since most federal student loans don't require a credit check. The one exception is Direct PLUS Loans, but even then, the credit check only looks for an adverse credit history.

When it comes to private student loans, whether or not you can get approved without a co-signer depends on the lender. Use lenders' prequalification tools or check the minimum requirements to avoid multiple hard credit checks.

Federal vs. private student loans

If you don’t have a solid credit history, you still have options. You can get approved for both private and federal student loans with little or bad credit, but it's best to do your research before applying so you don't hurt your credit score down the road by applying for loans that you don't qualify for.

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
1.03% to 13.19% variable, 3% to 14.14% fixed (with autopay)
3.73% to 6.28% fixed
Varies by lender; often no fees
Origination fee of 1.057% to 4.228%
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
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

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 for lower interest rates. The downside is that the co-signer is equally as 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.

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, students should still do their research, 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 Sept. 30, 2021, borrowers with federal student loans are not required to make payments, and interest charges are waived.

President Biden's student loan forgiveness proposals

Since the campaign trail, President Biden has been vocal in his push for student loan forgiveness. Biden has mentioned two forms of forgiveness: one-time relief of $10,000 for all federal student loan borrowers and yearly $10,000 relief for federal student loan borrowers who participate in national or community service, up to five years total.

Student loan forgiveness could potentially happen with either congressional approval or executive action. However, because student loan forgiveness is not included in Biden's 2022 budget proposal, executive action is the more likely scenario – and Biden's authority to pursue that action is still under debate.

Regardless of what (if anything) is ultimately passed, borrowers who qualify for any type of student loan forgiveness will not be taxed on those amounts through the end of 2025.

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.