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Student Loan Cosigners: Do You Need One?

Most of the time, you don't need a cosigner for a student loan, especially if you're considering federal loans. For private student loans, a creditworthy cosigner can help you qualify for a student loan or score a lower interest rate. But having one isn't always necessary, especially if you can meet credit score requirements on your own.

Do you need a cosigner for student loans?

If you're taking out student loans to pay for college, you might need the help of a cosigner to qualify. Federal student loans don't generally require a cosigner, except in some particular circumstances. But if you need funding beyond federal aid to cover your educational expenses, private lenders often require cosigners when applying for student loans.

Federal student loans

All eligible students can apply for federal financial aid. Federal student loans generally don’t require or allow the use of a cosigner when applying for loans since most federal loan borrowers aren't subject to a credit check during the application process. Federal loans that don't require a cosigner include:

  • Subsidized federal Direct Loans
  • Unsubsidized federal Direct Loans
  • Federal Direct Consolidation Loans

There are exceptions to this rule, though. The U.S. Department of Education performs a credit check when students or parents apply for a Direct PLUS Loan. If the credit check reveals an adverse credit history, you might be required to have an endorser, the federal government's version of a cosigner, to qualify for federal aid.

An endorser is an eligible individual who takes on financial responsibility to repay your Direct PLUS Loan if you cannot make monthly loan payments. If you're a parent taking out a Parent PLUS Loan for your child, you can’t use your child as the endorser on the loan.

Private student loans

You can qualify for a private student loan with no cosigner if you meet a lender's credit score and other eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, most college students either don't earn enough income or haven't had enough time to build up their credit scores to meet underwriting standards with most lenders.

Most private lenders rely on traditional underwriting standards, like FICO credit scores, payment history and income requirements, to determine a borrower's creditworthiness. It's also how they set interest rates and repayment terms. If you don't meet those standards, it's unlikely that a lender will take on the financial risk of offering you a loan.

Many private lenders allow students to apply for loans using a cosigner. Like an endorser, a cosigner commits to taking on the remaining student loan debt if the borrower can’t repay the loan. Cosigners must meet credit and income requirements for you to get approved for private student loans. Underwriting standards vary between lenders, but you or your cosigner must most likely have good to excellent credit to be approved for a loan.

When you don’t need a cosigner

You might find lenders that make exceptions for select students, particularly juniors and seniors closer to graduating. Depending on the lender, they might approve you for a private student loan of a lesser loan amount ($20,000 or less). There's no guarantee that you'll get approved in these circumstances, but it might be worth exploring if you only need access to a smaller loan amount.

Can you release a cosigner from your loan?

Some lenders offer a cosigner release, which releases the student loan cosigner from financial obligations related to the loan. Typically, the borrower must meet specific requirements before they can request a cosigner release, such as making a set number of consecutive on-time monthly payments.

Check with your lender to see if a cosigner release is available before applying for a private student loan.

How to get a student loan without a parent

It's possible to qualify for federal student aid without a parent, but it depends on your dependency status. The first step to qualifying for financial aid is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

If you're a dependent student, the U.S. Department of Education determines your eligibility for aid based on your parent's income and your income. Only your income is evaluated when you're an independent student. Most college students are considered dependent students.

To qualify as an independent student during the 2022-2023 award year, you must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Born before Jan. 1, 1999
  • Married
  • A graduate or professional student
  • A veteran
  • A member of the armed forces
  • An orphan
  • A ward of the court
  • Someone with legal dependents other than a spouse
  • An emancipated minor
  • Someone who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

It's also possible to get a private student loan without a parent. Qualifying requires one of the following scenarios:

  • Apply with a cosigner who isn't a parent.
  • Find a private lender that doesn't require a cosigner.
  • Meet credit and income requirements on your own.

Although getting student loans without a parent isn’t impossible, it's often a bigger challenge.

How to get a student loan without a cosigner

You don't necessarily need a cosigner to get a student loan. First, exhaust all federal financial aid options. Federal student loans come with several protections, like forbearance, loan deferment, loan forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

Also, federal loans don't carry the credit requirements found with private student loans. There are several loan options available for undergraduate and graduate students. Some private lenders offer student loans without a cosigner, including:

  • Sallie Mae
  • Ascent
  • Citizens
  • College Ave

You still need to meet credit and other requirements to qualify for a private loan.

Applying for a student loans

Using a cosigner for a student loan isn't necessarily bad, especially if you have a creditworthy cosigner that can help you score a lower interest rate. If you use a cosigner, make sure it's someone you have a good relationship with, like a family member, friend or mentor. There needs to be mutual trust because of the financial implications. Make sure you're financially able to manage the debt and make monthly loan payments on time.

If you take out private loans to cover education expenses not covered by federal loans, you can always refinance them later. Refinancing your student loans allows you to qualify for better repayment terms, lower interest rates, and save considerable money over the life of your loan. Refinancing federal loans turns them into private loans, which means you'll lose access to federal borrower protections. Only refinance federal student loans if you're 100% sure you don't need access to those protections.

Lender Name Lender Offer Learn more
Sallie Mae
Sallie Mae private student loans
Competitive interest rates.
Fixed 4.50 - 15.49% APR
Variable 5.37 - 15.70% APR
Check eligibility in two minutes.
Fixed 4.39 - 16.49% APR
Variable 5.62 - 16.85% APR
Ascent Logo
Large autopay discounts.
Fixed 4.29 - 16.66% APR
Variable 6.23 - 16.59% APR