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Parents’ Guide: How to Help Your Child Get Student Loans

Updated on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

As the fall semester approaches, many parents wonder how to get a student loan for their child. As a parent, you can help your child borrow loans on their own or borrow a parent student loan on their behalf.

Whether you’re going with option A, option B or both, here’s what you need to know about obtaining a loan for your child’s education.

How do I get a student loan for my child?

Here are three ways to help you get student loans for your child and what you need to know about each option.

1. Help your child fill out the FAFSA

One of the very first things you should do with your child is help them fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This not only unlocks potential grants and work-study opportunities for them, but also presents several federal loan options.

Helping your child fill out the application can ensure they’ll get the most money possible from the government. And if your child is considered a dependent, you would have to fill out a portion of the form anyway, stating your financial information, including income and assets.

With that information, the government could offer your child Direct unsubsidized or subsidized loans, which tend to have low rates. If your child hits their borrowing limits, you could also consider a Parent PLUS loan to fill in the gap.

2. Take out a Parent PLUS loan

If you’ve helped your child fill out the FAFSA and entered your own financial information, the next step to consider would be taking out a Parent PLUS loan if it is offered to you. Remember, there is no obligation on your part to do this; it’s just an option provided by the government.

Here are a few important things to know about the Parent PLUS loan:

  • You can take out an amount equivalent to the total cost of attendance, minus any other financial aid your child receives.
  • For the 2019-2020 academic year, it carried a fixed interest rate of 7.08% and an origination fee of 4.236%.
  • The government will run a credit check, so you can’t have an adverse credit history.
  • The loans are in your name, meaning it’s your responsibility to pay them back once they’re fully dispersed.
  • You can’t transfer the loan to your child unless you refinance with a private lender.

This is the only federal loan available to parents, and it can be taken out in addition to other federal loans your child might receive, such as Direct subsidized loans or Direct unsubsidized loans. That way you aren’t responsible for covering as much of your child’s education.

3. Consider private student loans

There are two basic types of loans you should know about when looking into how to get student loans for your child: federal and private. We covered your federal options above, so you should know what’s involved with private student loans as well.

Even if both you and your child received federal loan offers, and your child was awarded some scholarship money, it still might not cover the total cost of paying for college. Private student loans can help bridge that gap.

These types of loans are issued through private lenders, meaning there are no government regulations like there are with federal loans. Each lender determines eligibility, interest rates, and repayment terms. Your credit score, income, debt-to-income ratio and assets are typically used to make this determination.

Federal loans, on the other hand, have fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment terms. With private student loans, your interest rates could be higher than a federal loan, but they could also be lower. That’s why it’s important to shop around and get quotes from different banks — you can compare rates from some of the major lenders by checking out our private student loan marketplace.

You can either take out the loan for your child’s education yourself or cosign your child’s loan. With the first option, the loan will be in your name and not your child’s, so the responsibility lies with you to pay it back. If you cosign a loan, your child is the primary borrower and will have to pay it back. But if they are unable to pay, it becomes your responsibility.

Do parents have to cosign student loans?

With private student loans, cosigning is an option, but it’s not a requirement. Cosigning can be necessary when your child is attempting to take out a private loan but doesn’t have the credit score or income necessary to qualify. This is very common, considering many high school students don’t have much of a financial history.

As a cosigner, you will have to provide the same information you would if you were taking out the loan yourself (credit score, income, assets, etc.). This will still determine things such as the interest rate and repayment terms of the loan.

Since there is a lot on the line, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of cosigning a student loan before making any final decision.

College loans for parents with bad credit

Your child might not have a strong enough credit score to take out a loan, but what about college loans for parents with bad credit? Don’t worry. You have options for both federal and private loans.

How to get federal college loans for parents with bad credit

There’s good news here: Just because you have bad credit doesn’t mean you can’t get a Parent PLUS Loan.

First of all, you might be eligible as long as you don’t have an adverse credit history. In the eyes of the government “an adverse credit history” means you have things on your financial record such as tax liens, bankruptcy, repossession, or a foreclosure in the last five years. You might have a bad credit score, but not fit the particular criteria of adverse credit history.

If you do have an adverse credit history, you can do two things to still get the loan:

  • Get an endorser. Like a cosigner, they will be responsible if you can’t pay back the loan. Your child cannot be the endorser.
  • Prove to the U.S. Department of Education that “there are extenuating circumstances relating to your adverse credit history.”

How to get private student loans for parents with bad credit

Just as with a federal loan, you could get a cosigner for a private student loan. Again, you are the primary borrower, but your cosigner would be on the hook if you couldn’t pay it back.

What’s different with private student loans is that your credit score is used to determine your interest rate. So you could have a low or bad score and still get a loan, but your interest rate might be higher.

You have options to help your child get student loans

Although the cost of college might seem daunting for both you and your child, there are many ways to fund a university education.

Having your child get money through grants and scholarships is always the ideal first step, but loans might be necessary to make up the difference. In that case, it’s important to know the differences between federal and private student loans, and your role in each of them, to make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin financially.

For a closer look at rates and terms, head to our guide on great student loan options for parents.

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