Refinancing student loans is a Catch-22. On the one hand, it can allow you to save money on interest, choose a more desirable payment structure and generally improve your financial health. At the same time, your ability to qualify for refinancing is directly tied to how healthy your finances already are.
For low-income borrowers, that can be a frustrating reality. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways for borrowers with low income to improve their chances of qualifying for a refinance.
Income requirements for student loans
Many lenders have minimum income requirements for refinancing, which means that they won’t accept borrowers with incomes below a certain threshold. Some companies solely focus on borrowers with high incomes, like physicians and lawyers, while others provide student loan refinancing for a wider range of salaries.
Most companies don’t publicly list their income standards; some simply state that you’ll need to have “sufficient income” or be able to demonstrate “consistent income.” In most cases, you’ll likely need to pass the $20,000 threshold; Citizens Bank requires an annual income of at least $24,000, while Education Loan Finance requires at least $35,000.
How to refinance student loans with a low income
Refinancing your student loans can shave a big chunk off your monthly payment and reduce the total interest paid over the life of the loan. And when you have a low income, finding ways to minimize loan costs can go a long way.
Here are the best strategies to increase your chances of being approved for student loan refinancing.
Get a co-signer
If you have a low income, one of the best ways to improve your odds of approval is to apply with a co-signer. A co-signer is someone with a good credit score and steady income who agrees to take on responsibility for a loan if the primary borrower defaults.
Lenders are more likely to approve borrowers with a co-signer, because they have a backup option in case the primary borrower defaults. Even if you can qualify for student loan refinancing without a co-signer, you may get a lower interest rate if you add a co-signer with stronger finances.
Asking someone to co-sign on a loan — especially if you have a long repayment term — is a huge favor. The loan will appear on the co-signer’s credit report and could affect their ability to qualify for their own loans, and any late payments will impact the co-signer’s credit score. However, you can also request to remove your co-signer after a few years of payments with most companies, once you’ve had a chance to increase your income.
Compare multiple lenders
Every lender has its own set of income, credit score, debt-to-income and loan balance requirements. If you’re rejected by one lender, don’t assume that will be the case with every lender.
Start by applying with lenders that already accept low-income borrowers or those that consider many variables outside of income. You can prequalify with many lenders to get an idea of whether you qualify, and what rates you’ll be offered, without going through a hard credit check.
Improve your credit score
If you have a low income, you’ll have a better chance of qualifying for a loan with a good credit score. Most lenders require a credit score in the mid-600s or higher. If your score is below 650, you’ll find it difficult to qualify for refinancing, especially with a low income.
The first step is checking your credit score with your credit card company or one of the major credit bureaus, then getting a copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure that there aren’t any mistakes bringing down your score.
If your credit score is lower than you expected, do an audit of your finances. Your debt payment history is the most important factor in your score, so set calendar reminders or set up autopay if you have a streak of late payments. You should also try to pay off as much debt as possible before applying for a refinance, since a high credit utilization ratio can also lower your score.
If you’re denied a student loan refinance because of low income, you can always reapply later when your income has improved. If your credit score increases during that time, that may also help your case. You may also be able to appeal your case if you don’t have one steady stream of income but can prove that you earn money in other ways.
Lenders that will refinance student loans with a low income
There are several lenders that allow borrowers with low incomes to qualify for student loan refinancing. Here are the top lenders that will lend to borrowers with low incomes:
- Citizens Bank: Requires a minimum annual income of $24,000.
- Education Loan Finance: Requires a minimum annual income of $35,000.
- Laurel Road: Accepts borrowers who are still in school but who have a signed contract or letter of employment.
- Nelnet Bank: Requires a minimum annual income of $36,000.
- PenFed Credit Union: Requires a minimum annual income of $42,000 for loans of less than $150,000 and $50,000 for loans of more than $150,000.
- SoFi: Accepts borrowers who are not employed but who have an offer of employment to start within the next 90 days.
If you have a low income, you might think that refinancing student loans is impossible. However, there are multiple lenders that will do business with low-income borrowers. Even if you’re offered a high rate now because of your income, you can always choose to refinance again once you’ve established more credit or have increased your annual earnings.