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Student loans can be a helpful way to pay for the costs of higher education. If you're considering this option, you may need to involve your parents in the process (even if the loans will be in your name).
For instance, the form you submit to get federal aid will ask for details about your parents' financial situation, while private student loans typically require a cosigner if your credit isn't well-established.
It is possible to get student loans without a parent in some cases. Here are some strategies you can use.
How to Get Federal Student Loans Without Your Parents
Most undergraduate students are considered dependent, meaning they receive financial support from their parents. So to get a full picture of the family's resources, the U.S. Department of Education reviews the parents' finances as well as the student's. This is true even if the parents can't or won't financially contribute to the student's college education.
Getting federal student loans without a parent is a matter of qualifying as an independent student, explaining an unusual circumstance or certifying that your parents are refusing support. Here's what to know.
Fill Out the FAFSA as an Independent Student
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines your eligibility for federal financial aid, which may include scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities and student loans.
When filling out the FAFSA, you'll answer a series of questions to designate you as a dependent or independent student. Independent students only need to supply information about their own income and assets. This is the easiest way to get a student loan without parents.
Here are the questions that determine your designation:
- Are you at least 24 years old?
- Are you married?
- Are you a graduate or professional student?
- Are you a current or former member of the U.S. armed forces?
- Do you have children or other dependents?
- Since the time you turned 13, were you placed in foster care? Have your parents passed away? Have you become a ward of the court?
- Are you legally emancipated?
- Are you homeless or at risk of becoming homeless?
If you answer "no" to every question on the dependency test, then you're likely considered a dependent student. But just one "yes" earns you the designation of an independent student. As an undergraduate independent student, you'll be able to borrow more—up to $57,000—because you don't receive financial support from your family.
Submit the FAFSA Under Special Circumstances
A dependent student may submit the FAFSA form without their parents' information if they believe their situation qualifies as a special circumstance. While filling out the form, choose this option: "I am unable to provide information about my parent(s)."
You may do this if, for example:
- You left home because it was an abusive or threatening environment
- You were abandoned by your parents
- You can't locate or contact your parents
- Your parents are incarcerated
- You or your parents have been legally granted refugee or asylum status
- You're a victim of human trafficking
- You were involved in another type of family crisis
After submitting the form, you'll need to contact your school's financial aid office. The school will review your file and may ask for more information. Then they may use a special option called a dependency override to change your status from dependent to independent.
Submit the FAFSA Without Your Parents
Dependency overrides are extremely rare. If you don't qualify for a special circumstance but your parents won't supply their information, there's still one more option for submitting the FAFSA without your parents.
While filling out the form, choose this option: "I do not have a special circumstance, and I am submitting my FAFSA form without parent information to apply for a direct unsubsidized loan only."
You'll need to either have your parents sign a statement to this effect or get documentation from a third party, such as a teacher, counselor or the court. Without your parents' information, you may take out an unsubsidized federal loan only. Your school's financial aid office can decide whether to lend to you.
How to Get Private Student Loans Without Your Parents
Private student loans are funded by private banks, credit unions and other providers instead of the federal government. These often come with higher loan limits, so you may decide to use them if federal student loans won't cover all of your education costs.
It's possible to apply for private student loans without your parents. Some lenders, such as Ascent, Funding U and Edly, offer loans with no cosigner requirement. But many lenders often require borrowers to either have an established credit history or add a cosigner to the loan. If you won't qualify for a private student loan on your own and you don't want to involve your parents, you can ask a relative or trusted friend with good credit who agrees to share responsibility for the loan.
A cosigner may even help you qualify for a good interest rate that helps you save money. But the cosigner should understand they're equally liable for the loan, so they'll be on the hook if you don't make your payments.
Alternatives to Parentless Student Loans
If you're coming up against roadblocks to qualifying for loans without your parents, you have some options. There are ways to attend college for free or at a reduced cost. Some ideas include:
- Scholarships: Unlike student loans, scholarships are considered gifts and don't need to be repaid—so they're a great way to pay for school. These are usually awarded based on merit or certain qualities, such as racial background or college major. Your school may award you a scholarship based on the details in your FAFSA, or you can search for scholarships from private organizations.
- Grants: Grants also don't require repayment, but they're typically based on financial need. The FAFSA will determine your eligibility for some federal and state grants. Beyond those options, you can search for private grants through your school or nonprofit organizations.
- Work while in school: Depending on your schedule, you may be able to earn money as a college student. Some options include tutoring other students, working a remote job online, taking a paid internship and more. Some universities also have resident advisor positions and other campus-based jobs, which may provide reduced room and board.
The Bottom Line
Student loans help many young people establish credit, whether the loans are federal or private. With or without student loans, consider taking steps to build your credit over time. For instance, you can make interest-only payments on your student loans while in school if you can afford it, or open a student credit card and pay off the balance in full each month.
Keeping your credit card balance low, making on-time payments and applying only for credit you need are all ways to keep your credit healthy. This can make it easier to borrow money for other big purchases, such as a car or home, or get approved for an apartment or insurance. Good credit could also land you lower interest rates, saving you money when you take out loans or credit cards.
It's also a good idea to check your credit reports and credit scores regularly. This can help you spot errors, understand how your actions impact your credit and figure out what you can do to address potential issues as they arise. You can check your credit report and score for free with Experian.