Federal student loans don’t require credit history or a co-signer. They’re the most easily accessible and the most flexible when it’s time to repay, so use them first.
But to afford college, many students need more money than the federal government will provide. Banks, credit unions and online lenders will make loans to undergrads but generally require credit history, which means most students need someone with good credit to co-sign.
If you don’t have access to a co-signer, look into the small number of private lenders that don’t require one. You’ll pay higher interest rates as a result.
- Take out federal student loans first. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to get access to federal loans, grants and scholarships. Federal loans should be your first stop: They offer lower interest rates and come with income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs.
- Build credit before you apply for a private student loan. While undergrads generally don’t have the credit history required to get a loan in their own names, graduate students over age 21 might. You’ll have the best shot at a private loan with competitive interest rates if your credit score is 690 or above. Strengthen it before applying for a loan by fixing errors on your credit report, paying all bills on time and using as little of your credit limit as possible.
- Compare loan features. When shopping for a private loan without a co-signer, compare offers to get the lowest interest rate you qualify for. Note whether the lender will postpone payments in case you have difficulty affording them, and for how long. Find out if there are origination, prepayment or late fees, and how easily you can reach the lender by phone, email or live chat if you encounter a billing or customer service issue.
- Opt for a fixed interest rate. Given the choice, a fixed interest rate is a safer bet than a variable interest rate. It won’t increase over time.
- Keep an eye on the bottom line. Use a student loan calculator to see what kind of payment you’ll face after borrowing for multiple years.
6. Consider refinancing in the future. Once you’re out of school and have built a credit profile, you may be able to refinance private loans to a lower interest rate. You’ll generally need solid income, a credit score of 690 or higher and a history of on-time debt payments.
Top student loans without a co-signer 2018
NerdWallet rating: 5.0 / 5.0
4.45% for undergrads
6% for graduate students
Federal loans review
NerdWallet rating: 4.5 / 5.0
|Fixed: 6.35% - 15.18%|
Variable: 4.61% - 13.36%
Independent loan review
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0
|Fixed: 7.52% - 13.63%|
Student loans without a co-signer details
Federal direct student loan
- Eligibility: Any U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen who fills out the FAFSA can get a federal direct student loan. Subsidized loans are available only to students who demonstrate financial need.
- Loan term: 10 to 25 years
- Loan amount: Up to $31,000 total throughout college for undergrads who receive financial support from their parents; up to $57,500 total for undergraduates who do not.
- Repayment options: Four income-driven repayment plans; payment postponement for up to three years if you’re unemployed; no interest accrues for subsidized loans while in school and during periods of deferment
- Grace period: 6 months
How it stands out: Federal direct loans offer generous repayment flexibility and among the lowest fixed interest rates you’ll find.
Ascent Independent student loan
- Eligibility: Available to juniors, seniors or graduate students without income, credit history or a co-signer. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify.
- Loan term: 5, 12 or 15 years (15-year term available for variable-rate loans only)
- Loan amount: $1,000 to $200,000 total throughout school
- Repayment options: In-school interest-only (pay the interest that accrues while you’re in school), deferred (start making full payments six months after leaving school) and flat fee (pay $25 per month while in school)
- Grace period: 6 months for deferred repayment option only
How it stands out: Instead of focusing on credit, Ascent evaluates your application based on factors like earning potential, major and attendance in school. You’ll receive up to 24 months of forbearance if you have trouble making payments, during which interest will continue to accrue.
MPOWER student loan
- Eligibility: Available to juniors, seniors or graduate students, particularly international students or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.
- Loan term: 10 years
- Loan amount: $2,001 to $50,000 total
- Repayment options: Make interest-only payments while in school and during the grace period, then full payments for 10 years
- Grace period: 6 months
How it stands out: While MPOWER’s interest rates are relatively high, the lender offers a rare option: student loans to international students without co-signers. You’ll be evaluated based on earning potential and positive payment history on your credit report, though not on your score.