Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

1
ESB Professional/Shutterstock
Bankrate Logo

Why you can trust Bankrate

While we adhere to strict , this post may contain references to products from our partners. Here's an explanation for .

Borrowing a student loan with bad credit can often be a challenge, but it is possible. If you have bad credit, federal student loans are a great place to start, but you can also look into getting a co-signer or finding a lender that uses other factors to determine your eligibility. Here’s how to start.

Options for student loans with bad credit

When you’re shopping for educational loans, any options you review will fit into one of two categories: federal student loans or private student loans. As a borrower with bad credit, you’ll encounter different benefits and drawbacks with each loan type.

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are a form of education financing that’s funded through the U.S. Department of Education. You can use the proceeds from federal student loans to help cover expenses such as:

  • Tuition.
  • Fees.
  • Books.
  • Room and board.

If you have credit problems, federal student loans are typically the best place to start. Most federal student loans do not require a credit check to qualify for financing, so bad credit won’t be an obstacle in most cases. PLUS loans are the one exception; these loans will check your credit, although they’re only looking for an adverse credit history and don’t have minimum credit score requirements.

Federal student loans do feature borrowing caps. As a result, these loans might not be sufficient to cover all of your educational costs.

Private student loans

Private student loans are a type of education financing that’s available through private lenders. Online lenders, banks, credit unions and even colleges and universities themselves may offer private student loans.

With a private student loan, the lender will almost always check your credit as part of the application review process. When you have bad credit, securing a private student loan may be a challenge. Bad credit can also impact the interest rate and loan terms a lender offers you — potentially making it more expensive to borrow money if you qualify for financing.

Many private student loan lenders will require you to have a minimum score in the mid- to high 600s to qualify for financing. However, the lender may allow you to apply for a private student loan with a co-signer if you are worried that you won’t be eligible on your own. Just keep in mind that co-signing for student loans comes with its own drawbacks, such as the risk of credit score damage for your loved one.

Most of all, it’s important to conduct your own research if you’re considering a private student loan for bad credit. Comparing offers from multiple lenders has the potential to save you money on interest rates, especially with bad-credit student loans. Over time, those savings could add up to a significant amount of cash.

How to improve your credit score before applying for a private student loan

Because your credit plays a key role in the approval process, it’s wise to make sure that your credit score is in the best shape possible before applying for a new private student loan. Better credit may improve your approval odds and could help you secure better rates and terms when you borrow money.

Here are four steps you can take if you want to improve your credit.

  1. Check your three credit reports. As you review your credit reports, make a list of any information that seems inaccurate and any negative items you need to address. You can claim a free copy of each of your three credit reports weekly at AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. Dispute credit errors. Millions of Americans have errors on their credit reports. Some credit reporting mistakes have the potential to damage your credit score. If you discover errors on your credit report, it’s wise to dispute them right away.
  3. Lower your credit card utilization. A high balance-to-limit ratio on your credit cards can be bad for your credit score, even if you make your payments on time. You can lower your credit utilization rate (and likely save money in interest) by paying down your credit card balances. A credit limit increase is another out-of-the-box way that could help you to lower your credit utilization if you can’t afford to pay off all of your balances at once.
  4. Establish positive credit. If your credit report is thin, adding some new positive accounts to it might benefit you over time. Keep in mind that you may want to start with accounts you’re likely to qualify for despite having bad credit or no credit. Secured credit cards or credit builder loans may be worth considering here.

The bottom line

Can you get a student loan with bad credit? There’s a good possibility that you can, and your best bet is starting with federal student loans. But if you need private student loans to help finance your education, bad credit could make borrowing money more difficult and more costly.

Focus on improving your credit as much as possible before you apply for financing. And remember, if you decide to accept an interest rate that you’re not thrilled about now, you can always refinance your student loans in the future.

Learn more:

Written by
Michelle Black
Contributing writer
Michelle Lambright Black is a credit expert with over 19 years of experience, a freelance writer and a certified credit expert witness. In addition to writing for Bankrate, Michelle's work is featured with numerous publications including FICO, Experian, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and Reader’s Digest, among others.
Edited by
Student loans editor