Note that the government has paused all repayment on federally held student loans through the end of 2022, with no interest to be charged during that period and no loans to be held delinquent or in default.
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Emergency student loans are available to those experiencing unexpected financial hardship, whether due to a job loss, a death in the family or any life circumstance that results in immediate financial need.
Often referred to as instant or quick student loans, your school might offer this type of assistance. Emergency loans are generally disbursed and repaid on rapid schedules, sometimes with reasonable interest rates and fees.
Here are some things to know before applying for an emergency student loan:
What are emergency student loans and who offers them?
As noted above, emergency student loans are for when you’re dealing with unforeseeable circumstances and need extra funds. If you find yourself in this situation, you should first reach out to your school’s financial aid office.
A financial aid administrator can help you quickly identify your best emergency aid options. While these funds typically can’t be used for tuition, they can cover various expenses, such as food, medication, travel or supplies.
Instant student loans may come from the following sources:
- Your college or university
- Educational nonprofits or foundations
- Federal aid programs
- Private lending options
You can also research options ahead of time. The more you know, the quicker you and your financial aid officer can implement a solution to get the emergency aid you need.
How to get emergency student loans and other quick funds
Knowing the different kinds of available aid can help you access emergency funds when you need them. Here are three ways to get quick financial assistance:
1. Claim federal student loans
Refer to your financial aid award letter to review your federal loans, grants and work-study eligibility. Alternatively, you can log into your college’s student account and navigate to your financial account section to see if you have any unused aid or student loans. A financial aid administrator can also help you access this info.
In most cases, you’ll be able to borrow student loans up to the federal student loan limits or your cost of attendance (after other aid is applied), whichever is lower.
Here are the limits for federal loans:
- Undergraduate Direct Loan: $7,500 a year for dependent students or $12,500 for independent students.
- Graduate Direct Loan: $20,500 a year (unsubsidized only) for independent students.
- PLUS loans: Up to the cost of attendance after other aid is applied (available for parents and grad students).
Because you’ve already received approval for these loans when you filled out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you can quickly claim any unused funds. You can also talk to your parents about applying for a Parent PLUS Loan to help cover costs.
2. Check out emergency student loan programs
Many colleges have their own program for emergency loans. Here are the key factors to consider, along with sample options offered at various schools:
- Borrowing limit: Quick student loans may limit how much you can borrow. For instance, Georgia Tech offers institutional emergency loans of up to $1,500.
- Repayment period: These loans provide quick cash to students in need, which typically requires fast repayment. California Polytechnic State University’s emergency student loans, for example, require full repayment within 90 days.
- Interest rate: Some emergency student loans are interest-free, while others are not. For example, Duke University charges 3.5% interest for emergency student loans. In contrast, the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill provides an interest-free, short-term loan for students in need of temporary funds.
- Service charge: You may need to pay a small processing or service charge. For instance, the University of Nevada charges a $20 service fee for each emergency loan.
You’ll often need to complete an application for institutional emergency aid. The financial aid office will then assess your eligibility.
3. Consider private student loans
Private lenders are another source for last-minute student loans. Most private lenders will allow you to borrow student loans up to your cost of attendance.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of private student loans. Private student loans usually lack the extensive protections that come with federal loans. Additionally, private student loans can carry higher rates and fees, depending on the lender and your credit score.
Here’s how to get emergency student loans from a private lender:
- Have good credit or get a cosigner. Private lenders run a credit check, so you’ll need a robust credit history or to find a cosigner who does. You can also consider student loans for bad credit.
- Find reputable private lenders. Good private student loans typically offer low-interest rates, flexible repayment terms and extra discounts. Check out our picks for the best private student loans and use our student loan repayment calculator to compare loan options.
- Check on funding time. Contact lenders and ask how long they usually take to disburse their loans. While same-day student loans aren’t standard, you can consider a personal loan with same-day funding or even a line of credit.
- Apply for a loan. Providers will request certain loan documents, such as proof of identity or income, including for your cosigner if you have one.
- Follow up with the lender and financial aid office. Once your application processes, your financial aid office will need to certify your enrollment status and cost of attendance. Check in with your lender and aid office to keep the things moving along.
- Sign a promissory note and disburse funds. After signing the student loan agreement or master promissory note agreeing to the loan’s terms, you should receive your funds in your student loan account or your bank account.
Are emergency student loans a good idea?
While emergency student loans or hardship loans can be helpful, they’re not for everyone.
Consider the following factors before applying:
- Are you eligible? Not all schools offer emergency aid, and if they do, there could be eligibility requirements. In addition, the loan amount may not offer enough money to help you out.
- Will you be able to repay the loan? An emergency loan is still a loan, so consider whether you can handle more debt. Having a loan go into default may jeopardize your education and your eligibility for future financial aid. In other words, try to establish a plan before you borrow money.
- Can you afford the costs involved? Some emergency student loans don’t charge interest, unlike personal and student loans. However, you could pay a service or loan origination fee, so check before proceeding to see whether it’s something you can afford.
Where can you look for other forms of emergency student aid and assistance?
Emergency student loans are just one form of help. You can use other programs and options to find extra funds and give yourself more time to work through your situation.
Here are three categories to consider:
1. Professional judgment review of federal aid
The financial aid administrator can reevaluate or even negotiate student aid packages on a case-by-case basis through a process called professional judgment reviews.
If the administrator grants a professional judgment, they may revise your FAFSA, including recalculating your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). In the end, this could increase your financial aid eligibility.
For example, a student who has recently lost a parent can edit their FAFSA to exclude this parent’s income.
2. Emergency aid, grants and scholarships
Many colleges offer additional aid to struggling students. This could include:
- Campus vouchers to help cover on-campus costs like books and dining hall meals.
- Completion scholarships or grants, which can forgive a portion or all of the outstanding balance that might otherwise keep a student from advancing or graduating.
- Hardship grants for college students, which might require proof of hardship or emergency.
- Food pantries to ensure students don’t go hungry.
Check with your financial aid and student support offices, which oversee and administer most of these emergency grants and aid programs.
You can also consider funds from alumni-funded foundations or other nonprofit scholarships or grants that can provide emergency assistance. For example, the UNCF offers “just in time” emergency loans of up to $500 for Black students.
3. Bill extensions or payment plans
Your financial aid administrator typically has the authority to alter your tuition payment plan, which may provide extra breathing room in your budget.
Additionally, look for other forms of noneducational financial assistance. You might qualify for food stamps or housing assistance, which can help make ends meet during your hardship. Another option is to ask friends and family for support — you can collect funds via the Gift of College platform.
For college students facing a crisis, help is out there to get you back on your feet. And once your financial situation stabilizes, consider socking away extra funds into a savings account for future emergencies.