Best Personal Loans for College Students

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Contributor, Benzinga
August 28, 2023

Federal and private student loans are the traditional route to fund your education and living expenses, but a personal loan can provide funding coverage anywhere you still fall short.

Use Benzinga’s list of the best personal loans for college students to find lenders and loan comparison services to help you get the cash you need. These options can supplement your current student loan or help you with a range of expenses and emergencies.

The Best Personal Loans for College Students

Best for Emergency Loans: Avant

Avant is a lender students can turn to when they must access needed cash. When you apply with Avant, you can complete the entire process online, pay a low origination fee, never worry about a prepayment fee and manage your loan online. 

The website is easy to view even on a mobile device, and your business can take advantage of:

  • No collateral, unsecured financing
  • An online loan eligibility calculator
  • Loans that could be as high as $35,000
  • A range of loan terms that suit your situation

With a great customer service team and available funding for any number of situations, you can turn to Avant when it’s time to finance emergencies, unexpected expenses, etc. You can get the money you need right now, move on with your life and remain on the path to financial freedom.

Pros

  • Because this platform is unsecured, you have fewer worries about how it will be approved or managed
  • You can learn more about your loan options before even applying

Cons

  • While Avant doesn’t require collateral, there’s no guarantee that you will get the lowest, rates, payments or longest terms
  • Some customers might feel as though the loan values offered are not high enough

Best for Home Improvement Loans: Upgrade

Upgrade is a great place for students to get a fast approval as it markets your loan to its many partners. You can choose from a wide range of terms and values, but you will notice that the loans you’re offered could be quite diverse depending on how much the lender wants to charge.

Even though Upgrade doesn’t lend to you directly, it ensures that you have the best experience and find the funding you’ve been looking for. This is especially helpful because every student is looking for a different type of loan depending on where they are in their journey: applying, internships, etc.

Because you’re a college student, you can use the funds you borrow for any purpose, and you can work out repayment, refinancing and other issues with your lender. If you need additional support, however, you can always reach back out to Upgrade for help.

Pros

  • This platform can help more than just students
  • You can refresh the loan options you see to find all the options that might be out there

Cons

  • Remember that Upgrade is not your lender, which may make for quite a difference in customer support

Best for Comparing Lenders: Credible

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    Credible Operations, Inc. NMLS# 1681276, “Credible.” Not available in all states. 

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    Prequalified rates are based on the information you provide and a soft credit inquiry. Receiving prequalified rates does not guarantee that the Lender will extend you an offer of credit. You are not yet approved for a loan or a specific rate. All credit decisions, including loan approval, if any, are determined by Lenders, in their sole discretion. Rates and terms are subject to change without notice. Rates from Lenders may differ from prequalified rates due to factors which may include, but are not limited to: (i) changes in your personal credit circumstances; (ii) additional information in your hard credit pull and/or additional information you provide (or are unable to provide) to the Lender during the underwriting process; and/or (iii) changes in APRs (e.g., an increase in the rate index between the time of prequalification and the time of application or loan closing. (Or, if the loan option is a variable rate loan, then the interest rate index used to set the APR is subject to increases or decreases at any time). Lenders reserve the right to change or withdraw the prequalified rates at any time.

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    Requesting prequalified rates on Credible is free and doesn’t affect your credit score. However, applying for or closing a loan will involve a hard credit pull that impacts your credit score and closing a loan will result in costs to you.

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Credible is a loan aggregator that brings together all the best deals so that you can choose the best loan for college students of all ages. The platform puts you in touch with:

  • A massive range of loan values, terms and rates
  • A customer service team that can help you make wise choices
  • A large segment of lenders who can help your business

Remember, when you work with a company like Credible, you need to make sure you understand how much the lender you choose can charge in your state. Yes, you can reach back out Credible for help, but you will ultimately pay the lender and deal with their terms. If you ever want to refinance a loan, you can come back to Credible to find another create option.

This is a good place for students to start because you need equipment, supplies, extra cash, etc. Plus, you can use these loans to supplement financing you’ve already obtained.

Pros

  • You can choose from personal or business loans, depending on the specifics of the situation
  • Credible makes it possible for you to see many loan products that are curated for both your situation and your location

Cons

  • Remember that not all customizable loan values and terms are available to everyone

Best for Flexible Lending Criteria: NetCredit

NetCredit is a good place for students to turn when they have very little credit or, perhaps, they’ve experienced some struggles with credit in the past. You can get approved in funded in just a few days, and there are no prepayment fees.

However, you should make sure you know if NetCredit is offered in your state because the platform is not available in CO, CT, IA, ME, MD, NV, NH, NH, NY, NC, PA, VT, VA, WV and DC.

You can check your chances of pre-approval with a soft credit pull, but interest rates could be high depending on your credit score. The firm also offers:

  • Low origination fees
  • Nominal late fees
  • A wide range of loan terms and values

Consider NetCredit when you want to get going in the right direction or need cash for a specific emergency or issue.

Pros

  • Fees are fairly low and competitive, meaning that you’re spending less overall on this loan
  • You can choose from several different types of loans or terms, depending on your financial situation
  • If you have no credit, there are options to suit those in your position

Cons

  • There are several states where you cannot get the funding you need

Best for $0 Origination Fee: LightStream

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    *AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Excellent credit required for lowest rate. Rates vary by loan purpose.

LightStream, like many of its competitors, offers students:

  • No collateral loans
  • No late fees
  • The possibility of same-day funding
  • An online application 
  • A quality mobile app

This layout makes it easier for you to access the cash you need so that you’re not worried about extra expenses, especially because you’re retired and are likely living on a low income. 

There are no monthly service fees and no origination fees when you borrow with LightStream. Plus, the company is highly rated by both Benzinga and the BBB—meaning retirees can rest easy knowing this platform is legitimate and performs well. As the best of the $0 origination fee loan programs, you can choose from a vast range of terms and loan values. Also, it’s easy to reach out to the customer service team for more information on your application, loan balance or repayment.

Pros

  • If you need immediate cash, that is a possibility
  • Low fees make it easier to pay off these loans in the future

Cons

  • There’s no guarantee that you will qualify, and you should assume that you might not get the loan value or terms you were looking for

What to Look for in Personal Loans for College Students

College is expensive. Life is expensive. Food insecurity happens. And when you’re a student, you’re focusing on your studies, not on making ends meet. This is why it's so common for students to need outside financial support, whether from a relative, loans, another arm of a student loan lender, other aid or all of the above.

It's always best to exhaust your federal loan options before moving to other resources. Federal loans are typically low, fixed-rate loans with flexible repayment plans and deferment periods. Yes, you could reach out to a cosigner and jump right into personal loans, but your student status gives you options that can make your life easier in the future. You should also look into residency loans that allow you some forbearance or forgiveness in the future.

You can apply for federal loans via the Free for Application for Federal Aid (FAFSA) form. But you may not be eligible if you’ve reached your federal aid cap or your program isn’t eligible for federal aid. If that’s the case, take a look at personal loans with differing repayment terms and spending power.

Personal loans can also offer low, fixed rates, especially if you’re a relatively older student with a good credit history. If you don’t have the best credit, services like BadCreditLoans.com can connect you to lenders who will still work with you. These loans are available in amounts up to $10,000 and can be a solid alternative to private student loans, which usually require that you or a cosigner have good credit.

A personal loan from a lender like Boro can also be ideal for college expenses. These are small loans up to $2,000 can be paid off in shorter amounts of time. These can help cover costs like books or a laptop without adding to your long-term debt load. If you repay these loans as agreed, it will also establish you as a trustworthy borrower and reflect positively on your credit report.

Take a look at the loan comparison among some of our recommended lending services. Remember, the credit score requirement and repayment options for each lender will be different and are subject to change. But, a quality lender will offer a soft credit inquiry, no prepayment penalty and options for everyone from a graduate student working on their dissertation to an undergraduate in their first year.

  • securely through SoFi Personal Loans's website
    securely through SoFi Personal Loans's website
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    Fixed rates from 8.99% APR to 29.99% APR reflect the 0.25% autopay interest rate discount and a 0.25% direct deposit interest rate discount. SoFi rate ranges are current as of 02/06/2024 and are subject to change without notice. The average of SoFi Personal Loans funded in 2022 was around $30K. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed and will depend on the term you select, evaluation of your creditworthiness, income, and a variety of other factors. Loan amounts range from $5,000– $100,000. The APR is the cost of credit as a yearly rate and reflects both your interest rate and an origination fee of 0%-7%, which will be deducted from any loan proceeds you receive.

    Autopay: The SoFi 0.25% autopay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. Autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi.

    Direct Deposit Discount: To be eligible to potentially receive an additional (0.25%) interest rate reduction for setting up direct deposit with a SoFi Checking and Savings account offered by SoFi Bank, N.A. or eligible cash management account offered by SoFi Securities, LLC (“Direct Deposit Account”), you must have an open Direct Deposit Account within 30 days of the funding of your Loan. Once eligible, you will receive this discount during periods in which you have enabled payroll direct deposits of at least $1,000/month to a Direct Deposit Account in accordance with SoFi’s reasonable procedures and requirements to be determined at SoFi’s sole discretion. This discount will be lost during periods in which SoFi determines you have turned off direct deposits to your Direct Deposit Account. You are not required to enroll in direct deposits to receive a Loan.

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  • securely through Figure Personal Loan's website
    securely through Figure Personal Loan's website
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    *AutoPay discount is only available prior to loan funding. Rates without AutoPay are 0.50% points higher. Excellent credit required for lowest rate. Rates vary by loan purpose.

Types of Personal Loans for College Students

You can generally think of personal loans as general use loans paid off in installment plans. But there are certain characteristics that individuate one type of personal loan from another, each of which has its benefits depending on your financial situation. 

Learn more about the most common personal loans to figure out which is best for you.

Secured Loans

If you’re approved for a secured loan, the lender is asking that you put up collateral to back the loan. This could be in the form of an asset like your home or car, or with a bank account. A lender may offer a secured loan if the loan is very large or if something in your credit history is perceived as troublesome but not necessarily a deal-breaker for a lender.

Because a secured loan reduces risk for the lender (your collateral could be seized if you default on your repayments), you take on more personal risk. Be sure you can meet the terms of the loan before you agree with it to avoid trouble.

Unsecured Loans

If you don’t have an asset to offer as collateral, look for unsecured loans. These are the preferable options for most borrowers, especially if the amount you need to borrow is relatively low. These loans are typically offered to borrowers with good credit that marks them as low-risk. 

Although you take on less personal risk in theory with these loans, the integrity of your credit is on the line. It is important to meet the terms of your loan so your credit score isn’t impacted negatively. This will ensure that you will save money by qualifying for low interest rates and favorable terms when using credit in the future.

Fixed-Rate vs Variable-Rate Loans

A loan with a fixed rate is usually preferable to a variable rate loan. Your interest rate remains static throughout the lifetime of your loan, so you know exactly how much the loan will cost you overall. The only real downside is that fixed rates can be higher than variable rates. Lenders issue high rates to ensure the loan is profitable for them. Monthly payments may be also higher.

A variable rate loan may be a better option if your circumstances require that you conserve cash now. A variable rate loan may have smaller monthly payments with a lower interest rate. This could be of interest to cash-strapped college students or people working full-time while going to school. 

Spending a little more on the loan may be worth the peace of mind of financial security throughout your education, especially if you think the investment in your education will net you a worthwhile return in the form of an income increase.

Personal Loan Requirements and Criteria

Reach out to a lender to find out their specific requirements, but use the following as a general guide for personal loan borrower requirements:

  • Your FICO credit score
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Delinquencies or negative remarks on your credit report
  • Credit utilization (your credit balance vs. your credit limit)
  • Open accounts with a positive standing (payments being made on time and the like)

A loan comparison service like Credible can also cut down time researching borrower requirements from individual lenders. By prequalifying, you can see which lenders’ standards you meet and go from there. 

Personal Loan Considerations

If you’re a college student who can’t get federal aid or are a non-traditional student ineligible for financial aid, a personal loan is a worthwhile consideration. Consider a personal loan an investment and weigh the financial return possible. 

Don’t take out a loan if it’ll cost you more than it was worth in the end. And if you’re not sure you’ll be making enough to pay the monthly payments while you’re still in school, it may not be your best bet. 

Be 100% positive you can meet the loan terms before agreeing to anything. Even 1 missed payment can negatively impact your credit score and prevent you from using credit in the future.

Always be sure to watch out for sketchy lenders, especially online. It’s best to use industry-vetted lenders like SmarterLoan.com

A loan comparison service such as Even will link you with lenders with established records of trustworthy lending. You’ll be able to view your individual offers and safely compare their rates and terms without hurting your credit report.

Personal Loans vs. Credit Cards

Personal loans and credit cards are both useful when you need access to more spending power, but 1 can be more beneficial than the other in certain situations.

If you’re looking to fund a large expense, a personal loan may be your best bet because it’s 1 lump sum payment. Because personal loans usually offer low-fixed rates, they are often a great way to consolidate debt under a lower interest rate as well. 

The personal loans from Payoff are a perfect example of this -- they’ll give you enough money to pay your debtors and you’ll pay 1 streamlined monthly payment instead of keeping track of several payments.

Credit cards are a revolving line of credit, while personal loans have a set repayment term. When you pay down your credit card balance each month, your available credit is increased by that amount.

A credit card is best for covering smaller daily or recurring expenses because they tend to have higher, variable rates, so you don’t want to get buried under high balances. Credit cards can help your credit by increasing your credit age (the average length of your positive credit relationships) if you keep them open and pay them off regularly.

Alternative Funding for College Students 

If you’re a student who needs an alternative to federal or private student loans, consider a personal loan. Determine your financial needs, and contact our recommended lenders or loan comparison services to explore your personal loan options today. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q

Should college students use personal loans to manage expenses?

A

Yes, college students can use personal loans to manage expenses, helping them complete their education and move forward into the workforce.

Q

Will college students have enough credit to get personal loans?

A

College students do not necessarily need credit to obtain personal loans because there are lenders that help those with little to no credit.

Q

Can college students use a cosigner for personal loans?

A

Every lender is different, but some might allow college students to use a cosigner to obtain loans. Just ask the lender before proceeding with an application.