Paying for school can be challenging for students, especially as higher education costs continue to climb. While federal loans are available, along with grants and scholarships, some students may need to take out more than is available to them to pay for all of the living expenses associated with college.

Private student loans can provide some students an opportunity to cover those costs. It is important to know that the requirements for private student loans will vary depending on the lender, and that students will need to prepare themselves to qualify to meet the student loan requirements. Borrowers also need to know the rules on how they can use the funds before taking out the loan.

What to consider before applying for a private student loan

Before borrowing money to pay for school, it’s important to know the difference between your two main options: federal student loans and private student loans.

Federal loans vs. private student loans

There are a couple of key differences that you’ll want to consider when it comes to comparing federal loans and private loans, including:

  • Federal student loans don’t have a minimum credit score requirement. If you’re borrowing as an undergraduate, you won’t need to go through a credit check for federal loans. This makes federal loans more accessible for new borrowers.
  • Federal student loans have one fixed interest rate. With private loans, the lower your credit score, the higher interest rates you’ll pay — sometimes into the double digits. Interest rates are the same for all borrowers who apply for federal student loans, and the rate you receive on your loan will never change during your loan term.
  • Federal student loans come with borrower protections. Flexible repayment plans based on your income, generous hardship programs and loan forgiveness are a few of the perks exclusive to federal student loans. While private lenders may offer some hardship programs, the options aren’t nearly as robust.

Even though private student loan lenders offer attractive starting interest rates, federal student loans are best in most cases. When possible, it is best to leave private loans as an option to cover additional expenses because of the fluctuations in interest rates, stricter repayment requirements, and lack of forgiveness programs that may help to eliminate some of your repayment over time.

Other ways to finance a college education

While loans are the most common way to pay for college, given the often steep price tag that tuition carries, there are other options that you can pursue to cover at least some of the costs. Grants and scholarships are readily available through various organizations and are typically awarded based on merit or need. Many schools offer work-study programs that allow you to perform jobs on campus and earn toward your tuition payments. You also may be able to find an employer that will sponsor your ongoing education and cover at least some of the expenses.

How to compare lenders

Comparing the loans available to you is the best way to ensure you’re paying the least amount for your loan. Most lenders will offer preapproval and preliminary rates that will give you an idea of your interest rate and repayment plan before applying for the loan. Consider what your monthly repayment will be and the total cost of the loan over the life of it to determine what will work best for you.

Private student loan eligibility requirements

After applying for federal student loans, you may still need to cover leftover expenses with private student loans. When shopping for private loans, compare these factors among each lender:

  • How much you can borrow.
  • Whether you can invite a co-signer and if there’s a co-signer release.
  • The loan’s interest rate and fees.
  • The loan term, which influences the monthly payment and total cost of interest.
  • When you must start repayment.
  • Hardship programs, such as forbearance and deferment.

Before applying for a private student loan, check whether you meet the basic requirements. The five private student loan requirements below are the most common among lenders, although all lenders have different standards.


Private lenders typically start with the basics, so they’ll first require that you’re a student pursuing education. You’ll also need to attend an accredited school, which typically includes four-year colleges and sometimes two-year community colleges and trade schools.

Most lenders also require you to be enrolled at least half time at your school, but some lenders have private student loans specifically designed for part-time or career-training students.

How to prepare: If you’re not sure whether your school qualifies, ask the lender for a list of acceptable schools or ask about the specific school you’re interested in attending. Your school’s financial aid office can also give you tips on paying for your education.

Credit score

Private lenders typically check a borrower’s financial standing to help them analyze the risk they take by lending money. They’ll run a credit check to see how you’ve handled debt in the past.

It can be tough to qualify independently without a credit history or a limited one. Many lenders won’t advertise a specific minimum credit score, but a score in the mid-600s or higher can help you meet private student loan credit score requirements. As your credit score increases, you’ll have more borrowing options and may receive a lower interest rate.

How to prepare: If you don’t have the credit history to qualify for a private student loan, you might consider holding off on your application for a few months. Improve your credit to qualify for the loan and get a good interest rate. If you don’t have the time, you may need to apply with a co-signer who meets the lender’s credit requirements.


In addition to credit requirements, lenders also typically have minimum income requirements. Sometimes, it can be as little as $24,000, but the higher your income, the better. Lenders typically ask for documentation showing your employment status and earnings and calculating your debt-to-income ratio to see how much of your monthly income goes toward debt.

How to prepare: If you don’t have the income to qualify, look for jobs you can take on while enrolled in school. Alternatively, you can apply with a co-signer willing to take on the responsibility of paying your student loans if you can’t.

Qualified expenses

Private student loans are designed to cover your cost of attendance, which usually includes:

  • Tuition and fees.
  • Housing expenses.
  • Transportation to and from school.
  • Meals.
  • Textbooks and supplies.

Your lender determines your cost of attendance by contacting your school’s financial aid office after you apply. The school will confirm the cost of attendance, certify the amount you’re asking to borrow and disclose other financial aid you’ve received.

How to prepare: While a private student loan can be a convenient way to cover expenses while you’re in school, it’s still money that will eventually need to be repaid. Consider paying for some of your costs with savings, income from a part-time job or college scholarships and grants. These options can minimize your postgraduation costs.

Age and citizenship

Most lenders also include a set of requirements surrounding age and citizenship status. An applicant usually needs to have a Social Security number and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Borrowers must also be at least 18 with a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED. Some states set the minimum age at 19.

How to prepare: If you don’t meet age requirements, ask the lender if you can qualify with an older co-signer. If you’re an international student, you may still be able to qualify for a private student loan with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen.

How to qualify for a private student loan if you have bad credit

If you’re new to credit or recovering from a setback in your credit history, you might not be in a good enough place to qualify for a private student loan on your own. Most lenders require applicants to have good credit, but you may be able to qualify even with bad credit.

Apply with a cosigner

One common way to get a student loan with bad credit is to apply with a cosigner who has good credit. A cosigner agrees to repay the loan if you can’t, so you share the responsibility for repayment. If you default on the loan, it’ll hurt both your credit score and your cosigner’s credit score.

Consider applying with a lender that has a low minimum credit score requirement

If you cannot find a cosigner, consider applying with a lender with a low minimum credit score requirement. For example, Earnest’s minimum credit score requirement is 650, though you’ll need an income of $35,000 to qualify. In addition, lenders like Ascent offer loans based on factors beyond credit, such as your major and GPA.

How to apply for a private student loan

If you’re ready to apply for a private student loan, take the steps below.

  1. Check your credit. Check your credit score to know whether you meet a lender’s minimum credit score requirement before you apply. That way, you’ll know if you need a co-signer or to find another lender.
  2. Shop around. Shop around and compare rates, terms and features across as many lenders as possible to find the best deal for you. You can get prequalified with each lender or use a loan aggregator like Credible.
  3. Submit a loan application. After you’ve found a lender that best matches your needs, submit an online loan application. You’ll provide information about yourself and your school, and you’ll also need to provide the necessary documentation for yourself and your co-signer, if applicable.
  4. Wait for disbursement. If your application is approved, the lender typically disburses your loan directly to your school. If there’s any money left over, you’ll receive a refund, which you can use for other eligible expenses.

The bottom line

Many private student loans require a minimum income or credit score, so borrowers should be prepared for a credit check and application process. They will also want to be sure that their school and enrollment qualify for private loans before borrowing. Many states also set a minimum age for borrowing these types of loans.

Students who are not eligible to borrow on their own may be able to do so with the help of a co-borrower. Many private loans must be used for specific types of expenses, so understanding how much is needed can be helpful before applying.

Comparing lenders, their rates, and terms is an important part of qualifying– and applying– for a private student loan. Companies can have different eligibility requirements and repayment terms, so knowing the nuances can save borrowers money in the long run. Consider all your options, including grants and scholarships, before agreeing to a loan.

Frequently asked questions

  • Private student loans generally have tougher eligibility requirements than federal loans. In addition to age, income, and credit score minimums, students must be enrolled at an eligible school and use funds for specific expenses. Students who do not qualify on their own to borrow private loans may be eligible with the help of a co-borrower on the application.
  • Different lenders have different borrowing requirements for private student loans. Before applying, ask your lender for eligibility information to see if you are likely to qualify.
  • Yes, most lenders will allow you to apply for a private student loan at any time of year. Your eligibility for a loan may depend on your enrollment status, so be mindful of your lender’s requirements.