You may have used federal or private student loans to cover tuition, housing, textbooks, and other higher education expenses. Unfortunately, you may still need additional funds to survive for the remainder of the semester or cover a financial emergency.

Credit cards could be an option, but a personal loan may be better. Personal loan interest rates are often lower than credit card rates. Plus, some lenders offer fast funding to help you get back on track right away. Still, before deciding if a personal loan is right for you, there are some factors to consider.

Personal loans for students vs. student loans

Personal loans and student loans can help you survive financially while in college. However, having both could be dangerous if it’s time to repay what you owe and your income is low.

With federal loans, you may qualify for an income-driven repayment plan. Private lenders aren’t always as generous, though. If you fall behind on your loan payments, you risk damaging your credit rating, regardless of your loan type.

Personal loans are different from student loans in a few major ways:

  • Loan type: Student loans are unsecured, which means they aren’t backed by collateral. Many personal loans are also unsecured, but some are secured and require collateral to secure funding.
  • Eligibility criteria: You’ll typically need good or excellent credit and a steady source of income to qualify for a personal loan with competitive terms or a private student loan. However, federal student loans are issued based on your academic status.
  • Usage: Many lenders won’t let you use persona loans for tuition-related expenses are typically off-limits with most lenders. Otherwise, you can spend them as you see fit. On the other hand, federal and private student loans should only be used for higher education expenses, including tuition, fees, books, housing and supplies.
  • Funding: Personal loans are deposited into your bank account, and student loans are sent to the school’s financial aid office.

Ultimately, student loans are ideal if you seek funds to cover college-related expenses. But if you need a more flexible funding option to pay for other types of expenses, a personal loan may be best.

Pros and cons of getting a personal loan as a student

You may qualify for a personal loan as a student, but it may not be a smart financial move. Weigh the pros and cons before moving forward.

Pros

  • Fast funding times: It could take some time for student loan proceeds to be disbursed to you, but most personal loan lenders offer funding within the same week after approval.
  • Lower interest rates than credit cards: As of March 2024, the average personal loan interest rate is 12.10 percent, compared to the average credit card APR of 20.75 percent.

Cons

  • More expensive than student loans: If you can get a federal student loan, you could get a better interest rate than you would with a personal loan. The interest rate on Direct Subsidized and Direct Unsubsidized federal student loans is currently 4.99 percent and 6.54 percent for undergraduate and graduate students, respectively.
  • No deferment: You’ll start repaying personal loans the following month, but most student loan lenders give you the option to defer payments until six months after graduation.
  • Your assets could be at risk: If you get a secured personal loan, you risk losing your assets if you fall behind on monthly payments.

Lenders that offer personal loans for students

These fintech startups may provide personal loans for students, even if you aren’t currently employed or have little to no credit history.

Upstart

Upstart offers personal loans of up to $50,000 with repayment terms ranging from three to five years. What makes Upstart a good choice for students looking for a personal loan is that the company uses an AI-powered underwriting process that considers more than just your credit score and income.

Unlike most personal loan lenders, Upstart doesn’t have a minimum credit score requirement. This alone makes it an ideal choice for students who may not have a solid credit history built just yet. Additionally, the company offers funding as soon as the next day. On the downside, Upstart’s loan APRs are capped at 35.99 percent and carry an origination fee of up to 12 percent of the total loan amount. These costs can make your loan pretty expensive.

Kora

KoraCash is available to students and recent graduates with a .edu email address. You should also be at least 18 years of age with a valid Social Security number and acceptable credit history.

It’s offered through fintech startup Kora, and you could qualify for up to $3,000 with a loan term not exceeding 24 months. Loan payments are reported to the major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — to help you start building a positive credit history.

Kora currently lends in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. If you don’t reside in one of these states, it’s best to pursue other options.

What to do if you don’t qualify for a personal loan

If you’re unable to qualify for a personal loan on your own, consider getting a co-signer to strengthen your approval odds. You can also ask your parents or another relative to take out a loan on your behalf or lend the funds to you directly.

Bottom line

If you’re experiencing financial hardship, a personal loan could be a less costly option to get the funds you need. But it’s not without risks, and you should consider the advantages and disadvantages before you apply. Depending on your situation and how you plan to use the money, a student loan or other funding source could be a better fit. If you do opt for a personal loan, research how to compare installment loan lenders to make sure you pick the right one.

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