If you get to campus and find out you have a payment gap that you didn’t expect, you can get a last-minute student loan or other financial aid to fill it. Here’s how.
Stay on top of your payment status
Keeping track of your financial status with your school can help you avoid the last-minute payment scramble.
Before each semester and academic year, log on to your college’s financial aid portal or contact the financial aid office to make sure your payments are up to date. You’ll usually see the status of any awards or loans, along with any communication from the financial aid office.
When to take a student loan
You probably already submitted a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Before you take any loans, make sure you have accepted all grants, scholarships and work-study. You don’t have to repay these types of aid.
If you need loans because you didn’t get enough financial aid, contact your school to ask about the process for appealing your aid offer. You may need to submit a financial aid appeal letter and correct or update your FAFSA.
If you need a student loan quickly, you have three main options:
1. Borrow up to the federal direct loan limit
Before you consider other loan sources, make sure you’re borrowing as much as you can in federal direct student loans. They tend to have lower rates than private student loan options and don’t require a co-signer or credit to qualify. They also offer income-driven repayment and other flexible payment options, plus the opportunity to qualify for loan forgiveness.
The maximum amount of federal student loans you can borrow each year will depend on your loan type and status as a dependent or independent student. If you’re a typical dependent student, here’s your limit each year:
First year: $5,500 overall; $3,500 subsidized.
Second year: $6,600 overall; $4,500 subsidized.
Third year and up: $7,500 overall; $5,500 subsidized.
Take out as much in subsidized student loans as you can — it’s a cheaper option because it doesn’t collect interest while you’re in college. Then, borrow the maximum in unsubsidized student loans.
2. Explore emergency aid
If you’re experiencing an unexpected event — like a parent’s job loss or a health crisis — you may qualify for emergency financial aid from your college. Contact your college’s financial aid office to find out what emergency aid programs are offered, such as grants, vouchers, scholarships and loans.
The most common emergency aid option will likely be loans: Nearly two-thirds of colleges report offering an emergency loan program, according to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.
You can use this type of aid, just like regular aid, for most education-related expenses. This includes tuition, fees, room and board, books, supplies and transportation.
You may also inquire about the type of payment plan the school offers to spread out payments throughout the semester or year.
3. Compare private student loan options
You can apply for a private student loan at any time from a bank, credit union or online lender. To qualify, you’ll typically need a credit score of at least 680 and a steady income, or a co-signer who does. Borrowers with bad or no credit have a few options, as do those who don’t have a co-signer.
Each school has its own due dates for payment, but it’s usually a few days before classes begin. If you’ve already passed the payment due date and you’re getting a private loan, there may be a delay between applying, approval and disbursement. Contact your lender to find out the average application approval times and how quickly your loan will be disbursed. And keep your financial aid office informed of your plans for payment.
Compare private student loan options to get the best rates.