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How to get a student loan without a parent

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High school student sits on the floor with homework
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While some parents can help their children with the costs of higher education, others aren’t able to foot the bill or provide their financial details when applying for federal aid. Getting a student loan without your parents’ information or credit history may be difficult, but it is possible.

Independent students and some dependent students can take out federal student loans without parental help. Borrowers can also look into private student loans, which may or may not require a credit history. Here’s a rundown on how to take out student loans without parents so you can get help paying for your college education.

How to get federal student loans without a parent

Students interested in student loans should start with borrowing federal student loans first, because these loans have borrower protections and don’t come with the same credit requirements as private loans.

To apply for a federal student loan, you’ll first need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. Your answers to questions on the FAFSA form determine your dependency status, which influences whether you can take out a student loan without a parent and how much you can borrow.

How to tell if you’re a dependent or independent student

If you’re a dependent student, the U.S. Department of Education typically evaluates your financial aid based on your income and your parents’ income, even if your parents won’t financially contribute to your college education.

All graduate and professional degree-seeking students are considered independent, while undergraduate students must fit the eligibility requirements outlined by the Department of Education. You may be considered an independent student — and won’t need to include your parents’ income details — if you fit one or more of these requirements:

  • You’re at least 24 years old on Jan. 1 of the year you’re applying for financial aid.
  • You’re married or separated.
  • You’re working on a master’s degree or doctorate program.
  • You’re a veteran of the U.S. armed forces or you’re on active duty for purposes other than training.
  • You have children or dependents who receive more than half of their support from you during the award year.
  • Since you turned 13, both of your parents are deceased, you were in foster care or you were a dependent or ward of the court.
  • A court has determined that you’re an emancipated minor, or someone other than your parent or stepparent has legal guardianship of you.
  • You’re experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

How to apply for federal student loans as an independent student

To get an independent student loan, you’ll need to provide financial information for only yourself on the FAFSA form. This is the best way to get a student loan without a parent. You’ll need the following documents when filling out the form as an independent student:

  • Social Security card.
  • State-issued ID, such as a driver’s license.
  • Most recent W-2 forms.
  • Most recent federal income tax return.
  • Most recent bank statements.

How to apply for federal student loans as a dependent student

Dependent students will need to submit the documents above and include paperwork for their parents’ income, too. If you’re missing these details, however, you still have options. While you must fill out the FAFSA form to receive federal financial aid, in some cases you may be able to apply without your parents’ information. Here are your two possible options:

  • Request a dependency override. You can ask the Department of Education to consider you an independent student based on an unusual circumstance, such as an abusive family environment. The department approves these requests on a case-by-case basis and requires documentation.
  • Fill out the FAFSA without your parents. If your parents are unable or unwilling to provide their information and you can’t claim a dependency override, you can choose this option on the FAFSA: “I am unable to provide information about my parent(s).”

In both of these cases, contact your financial aid office after submitting the FAFSA. The financial aid office will determine your dependency status and what aid you qualify for.

How to get private student loans without a parent

If federal student loans, scholarships and grants won’t cover all of your education costs, private student loans can be a good option for filling in the gaps. Private student loans often require borrowers to either have an established credit history or add a co-signer to the loan. That makes it more difficult to be approved, but you have a few options.

Ask another relative to co-sign the loan

If your parents won’t co-sign a private student loan, you can ask another relative or a trusted friend to sign the loan documents. Eligibility requirements vary depending on the lender and the loan you want to take out, but generally the co-signer will need income and a good credit score to qualify. Keep in mind: The co-signer is agreeing to take over the loan payments if you fall behind, so they’ll need to have enough room in their budget for this possibility.

Find a lender that doesn’t require a co-signer

Some private lenders don’t require a co-signer for borrowers with thin credit history, instead considering factors like academic merit or future potential income.  For instance, Ascent and Funding U cater to students without a co-signer and offer private student loans to borrowers based on factors such as GPA, school, program, graduation date and major.

Increase your credit score

Some larger lenders may accept students without a co-signer if they have strong credit and a steady income. If you’re new to credit or your credit score could use a boost, here are some steps you can take to improve it:

  • Get a credit card. You may qualify for a student credit card if you have income or someone willing to co-sign the card agreement. Using the card responsibly — keeping the balance low and making on-time payments — will help you start building healthy credit. If you already have a credit card and a good score, consider taking out another card to increase your credit limit while keeping your credit use low.
  • Become an authorized user. If you don’t qualify for a credit card yet, consider asking a friend or relative with excellent credit to add you to their account as an authorized user. Their positive credit use will be reported on your credit reports, too, which can help increase your own credit score. Just make sure you’re on top of your payments, as any missed payments on your part will negatively impact their score.
  • Add alternative data to your credit report. You can add your rent or utility bills to your credit reports, and the on-time payments may boost your credit score.

Should you get a student loan without a parent?

Even if you can take out a student loan without your parents, you might face extra challenges. You may have difficulty qualifying for a federal student loan without your parents unless you’re considered an independent student. With private student loans, you’ll have to go through extra steps to qualify without a co-signer. You’ll also likely pay higher interest rates because the loan is riskier for the lender, and you may struggle with payments if your income is low.

However, while it may be more difficult to get approved without a parent, a student loan can help you finance your degree. This, in turn, can open career and salary advancement opportunities and help you build credit along the way. To make the best decision for you, figure out which loans you qualify for, weigh the pros and cons and craft a repayment plan before taking out a student loan without a parent.

Written by
Kim Porter
Contributing writer
Kim Porter is a former contributor to Bankrate, a personal finance expert who loves talking budgets, credit cards and student loans. Porter writes for publications such as U.S. News & World Report, Credit Karma and Reviewed.com. When she's not writing or reading, you can usually find her planning a trip or training for her next race.
Edited by
Student loans editor