Although community college is often much cheaper than a traditional four-year university, it can still get expensive. Scholarships and grants are the best first step if you need help paying for community college, but you can also turn to student loans.
Here are the best student loans to help finance your community college education:
- Federal direct loan
- Citizens Bank
- Sally Mae
7 Best Student Loans for Community College
Federal direct loan
Federal student loans should always be your first choice when it comes to funding your community college career. Unlike private student loans, eligibility and interest rates aren’t based on creditworthiness or track record, and you get benefits that private lenders don’t offer.
For community college, you have two options: subsidized direct loans and unsubsidized direct loans. Subsidized loans are available to students who demonstrate financial need, and interest is paid by the government while you are in school. Unsubsidized loans, on the other hand, earn interest while you are in school, although they are available to all students.
The main downside to these loans is that you will have a loan cap of $5,500 to $12,500 each year, depending on your dependent status and year of study. You will also have to pay loan fees when disbursing.
As long as you are pursuing a bachelor’s degree at an eligible school, you may qualify for a SoFi student loan. SoFi is known for its many member benefits, such as an unemployment protection program, a discount on ACT/SAT prep classes, and one-on-one coaching to help your future job search.
SoFi offers private student loans at low rates, no fees, and four repayment term options. You can also qualify for one of these loans even if you are only dating part time.
Just be aware that borrowers (or their co-signers) will need to be employed or have sufficient income, though SoFi doesn’t specify its minimum income or credit score requirements. During your studies, you will need to maintain satisfactory academic progress.
Ascent offers three types of student loans for undergraduates, giving borrowers in a variety of financial situations plenty of options:
- Co-signed based on credits: Students apply with a co-signer. Approval is based on your creditworthiness and that of your co-signer.
- Non-Cosigned Credit-Based: Students apply without a cosigner. You must have at least two years of credit history and approval is based on your creditworthiness.
- Not co-signed based on results: Juniors and seniors can apply without a co-signer. Approval is based on your school, field of study, and potential future salary.
There are some pretty significant benefits to borrowing with Ascent; it offers deferment and forbearance options, low loan amounts and rewards for members. However, it has a lower loan cap than many of its competitors, with an overall total of $200,000, and its outcome-based loan only has two term options.
Citizens Bank offers loans to students who are enrolled at least half-time in a degree program. It stands out for its multi-year approval program, which saves borrowers from having to submit a full application every school year. After your initial application, you can only perform a soft credit check for subsequent fund years.
In addition to an automatic payment discount, Citizens Bank is offering a 0.25% discount for borrowers who already have an eligible Citizens Bank account – such as a checking account, car loan, credit card or student loan. Combined, these discounts can significantly reduce already low interest rates.
Before you apply, consider your priorities regarding your interest rate and monthly payment. Citizens Bank only has fixed interest rates for their student loans, so you’ll be locked into your rate for the duration of your loan.
Serious student loans are available for students pursuing full-time studies at a four-year Title IV institution. These loans come with a plethora of benefits, like a nine-month grace period and the ability to skip a payment every 12 months.
Earnest also has some of the lowest starting interest rates in the industry, and borrowers can subscribe up to the full cost of participation.
A downside to Earnest is its eligibility requirements: you or your co-signer must have a credit score of at least 650, at least three years of good credit history, and a minimum annual income of $35,000. Also keep in mind that if you take advantage of the skip payment feature, your skipped payment will be added at the end of your repayment period.
While most lenders require you to be enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program with at least half-time status, Sallie Mae offers loans to students enrolled less than half-time, students pursuing an associate’s degree , to students earning a certificate at a degree-granting school and Suite.
You can cover up to 100% of your school fees with Sallie Mae, and as little as $1,000, making this lender one of the most flexible when it comes to loan amounts.
Sallie Mae has a few downsides. For one thing, it doesn’t disclose many eligibility requirements, and you won’t be able to determine your eligibility without a thorough credit check. This is compounded by the fact that Sallie Mae has relatively high APR caps, so you could be offered an expensive loan if you have poor credit.
CommonBond offers undergraduate loans ranging from $2,000 to the total cost of attendance, with a lifetime borrowing limit of $500,000. You can choose from four repayment options while you’re in school: a full deferral, a fixed monthly payment of $25, interest-only payments, or full monthly payments. This gives you much more flexibility to reduce your loan balance or reduce your interest paid over time.
CommonBond also has a generous tolerance. If you are having financial difficulties, you can request a payment deferral for up to 24 months over the term of the loan.
Keep in mind that if you’re borrowing as an undergraduate, you’ll need to use a co-signer with CommonBond — although you can request a co-signer release after two years of on-time payments. CommonBond’s grace period is also shorter than many other lenders, lasting just six months.
How to Find the Best Community College Loan
The best student loan for college students is almost always a federal student loan. If your community college is eligible for federal aid, request as much money as possible from the federal government before turning to private lenders.
If you need private student loans, compare a few private lenders to find the best rates and terms for your financial situation. Each private student lender has their own eligibility criteria and will assess your finances differently. Get prequalified to see exactly what you qualify for.
Many lenders will fund any type of four-year degree program, although some only work with specific schools. Community colleges can be harder to find on lenders’ approved school lists, so check that your program is included when comparing lenders. You can often find a list of approved schools at the beginning of a lender’s prequalification form.
Ultimately, the best loan for you is one that can offer you an affordable monthly payment and reasonable terms. You can prioritize APR, refund terms, or hassle protections, but also keep an eye out for special promotions or unique features.