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

As of November 29, 2021
Bankrate's rankings 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 SHARE AGREEMENT

4.3

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.50%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.13%

with AutoPay
Term10-15yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.99%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-15yr

4.4

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.94%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.94%

with AutoPay
Term5-15yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.99%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.5

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.23%

Variable APR From

1.03%

Term5-15yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.20%

Variable APR From

1.20%

Term5-15yr
Fixed APR From

2.91%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.50%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.13%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

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 Sept. 21, 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

LENDER 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 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 Starting at 0.99% variable and 2.99% fixed (with autopay)* Not specified $1,000 100% total cost of attendance Flexible repayment options
Ascent Non-Cosigned: 4.08% to 11.33% variable, 5.65% to 12.95% fixed (with autopay) 5 to 20 years $2,001 $200,000 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 $1,000 100% total cost of attendance Student loans with a co-signer
Credible 0.99% to 11.98% variable, 2.91% to 12.99% fixed (with autopay) 5 to 20 years Varies Varies Loan comparison

Summary: Student loans for bad or no credit in November 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.
 

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.
 

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. 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 AnnualCreditReport.com.

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.

Federal student loans: Best overall

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%

Earnest: Best for flexible repayment options

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 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%

Ascent: Best for student loans without a co-signer

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. 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: 4.08% to 11.33% (with autopay) Fixed: 5.65% to 12.95% (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. Some non-co-signed loans require a GPA of at least 2.9.
FEES:
None

Sallie Mae: Best overall

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. 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:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
FEES:
Late fee: 5% or $25; Returned check fee: Up to $20

Credible: Best loan comparison site

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: Credible does the work of comparing multiple student loan quotes for you. There are also no origination fees and no service fees.

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, which may impose its own fees or application requirements.

LENDER:
Credible
APR:
Variable: 0.99% to 11.98% (with autopay) Fixed: 2.91% to 12.99% (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

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 0.99% to 11.98% variable, 2.99% to 12.99% 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

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 and qualify 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 Jan. 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 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.

Instead of widespread student loan forgiveness, the administration has been concentrating its efforts on improving existing student loan forgiveness programs, like total and permanent disability discharge and borrower defense to repayment. Through these programs, billions of dollars' worth of student loan debt has been forgiven this 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%
If your major doesn’t have a high return on investment and you’re struggling to make loan payments, refinancing could help you avoid falling behind. You can use a loan calculator to determine what term length and interest rate would get you the best monthly payment relative to your income.
 

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. Some have more flexible eligibility requirements, while others offer loans designed for borrowers without co-signers. These unique loans may use your academic performance or future earning potential to determine your eligibility and rates.