Can You Get a Student Loan With Bad Credit?

Not all loans require good credit history. Learn more about your options and how student loans work

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to student loans. And applying for a student loan with bad credit can make things feel even more complicated. And you might be wondering if you can even get a student loan with bad credit. 

The good news is that for many federal student loans, credit isn’t a factor. But with private student loans and some federal loans, credit does matter. Here are some things to know about student loans and when credit comes into play.

Can You Get Federal Student Loans With Bad Credit? 

You can get a federal student loan if you have bad credit or no credit at all. In fact, most federal student loans don’t require any credit check. There are four primary types of federal student loans, and they all come from the Department of Education: 

  1. Direct Subsidized Loans: These loans are for undergraduate students with financial need. The government pays the interest on subsidized loans for certain periods of the loan. And they don’t require a credit check.
  2. Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Unsubsidized loans are available to undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Unlike with subsidized loans, borrowers are responsible for paying interest throughout the loan period. But you don’t have to show financial need or have your credit checked to get an unsubsidized loan.
  3. Direct PLUS Loans: PLUS loans are the only federal student loans that require a credit check. People with an adverse credit history may still qualify for them, but there may be extra requirements. PLUS loans typically have higher interest rates than other federal loans. They’re available to graduate students, professional students and parents of undergraduate students. 
  4. Direct Consolidated Loans: These loans let borrowers combine all their federal student loans into a single loan. This can help simplify payments and lower your monthly minimum. There’s no credit check to consolidate your federal loans. And the Department of Education says there’s no cost either. But there can be some drawbacks to consolidating student loans

Now that you know about the types of federal student loans, you might be curious about how to apply for student loans. There’s a lot to know about the application process, but the first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, called FAFSA® for short. 


Your FAFSA is used to help you get a financial aid offer from your school and to find other free aid like grants and scholarships. If you have questions, consider talking to an expert or reaching out to your school’s financial aid office for help.

Can You Get Private Student Loans With Bad Credit? 

With private student loans, credit scores matter. And while you can still get a school loan with bad credit or no credit, some private lenders may require a co-signer in those cases. 

A co-signer is ultimately responsible for the loan if you can’t pay. The better the co-signer’s credit score, the better the loan terms—like the interest rate—may be.

It’s important to know that if you make late payments or miss payments altogether, it could end up hurting both your credit and your co-signer’s credit, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). 

Before you commit to a private student loan, consider talking to an expert to get help comparing different types of student loans.

Federal Loans vs. Private Loans

Federal loans are the best option for most people, according to the CFPB. And the Department of Education also says to consider them first. 

Federal loans typically have lower interest rates than private loans. And federal loan interest rates are fixed, meaning they stay the same for the entire length of the loan. Private loan interest rates, on the other hand, might be variable. And variable interest rates can change.

Plus, federal interest rates are predetermined. So they aren’t based on your credit score. 

You also typically have more options when it comes to paying off federal student loans. Federal student loans may offer benefits like deferred payments, assistance with interest, income-based repayment plans, debt consolidation options and loan forgiveness. 

The CFPB recommends exhausting all federal aid options, including grants and scholarships, before considering private student loans. In fact, before private student loans are given out, borrowers must fill out a form to confirm they’re aware of all their options. 

The CFPB also says that if you do end up needing private student loans, it’s a good idea to shop around before committing.

Ways to Improve Your Credit Before You Apply

Credit is important, whether it ends up affecting your student loan options or not. 

So if you’re worried about how to get a student loan with bad credit, or you just want to start building good credit, here are a few things you might want to consider, according to the CFPB: 

  • Pay off debt. How much debt you have can affect your credit score. That includes debt from credit cards, car loans and more.
  • Make on-time payments. A history of late or missed payments could cause a dip in your credit score. Setting up reminders on your phone or computer can help you remember to make payments on time.
  • Keep credit utilization low. Your credit utilization ratio is a comparison between how much credit you’re using and how much credit you have available. The CFPB recommends keeping it below 30%. 
  • Become an authorized user. An authorized user is a person a cardholder has granted access to use their credit card account. If card activity is reported, using credit responsibly as an authorized user can help build or improve your credit. Being an authorized user can also help you establish credit if you don’t have a credit history yet. But keep in mind if that account is not used responsibly by the cardholder or the authorized user, that will reflect negatively on both.

Building credit takes time. These are just a few ways you can start to improve your credit. And if you’re curious about how student loans affect credit scores you can learn more about that, too. 

How Do I Check My Credit Score? 

Learning how to monitor your credit score regularly can help you know where you stand before you apply for student loans or other credit. It can also help you track your progress and make sure the information in your credit report is accurate.

One way to monitor your credit is by using CreditWise from Capital One. With CreditWise, you can access your TransUnion® credit report and weekly VantageScore® 3.0 credit score—without hurting your score. CreditWise is free for everyone. You don’t even have to be a Capital One customer to enroll.

You can also get free copies of your credit reports from each of the major credit bureaus by visiting

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models. It may not be the same model your lender uses, but it can be one accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion. Some monitoring and alerts may not be available to you if the information you enter at enrollment does not match the information in your credit file at (or you do not have a file at) one or more consumer reporting agencies.

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