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Student Loans

Best Adult Student Loans

Whether you’re changing careers, getting a degree for the first time, or finishing a degree you started years ago, there are student loans to help you pay for your education. We’ve reviewed the best federal and private options below.

LenderBest forOur rating
Dept. of EducationFederal student loansNot rated
College AvePrivate student loans5/5
Sallie MaeCosigners4.8/5
EarnestLarge loans4.7/5

How to get student loans as an adult

If you’re returning to college as an adult, there are a few ways to fund your education. One of the most common options is to take out student loans. There are two types of student loans: federal and private.

You can apply for a federal student loan, whether you’re 18 or 80. Federal loans offer more benefits like income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness programs, and long deferment periods. The government provides this resource about the aid available to adult students. You should always maximize your federal student loans before taking out private loans.

Private student loans provide fewer benefits for students but may have lower interest rates if you have a good credit score and steady income. They may also have higher borrowing limits than federal loans.

Federal student loans for adults

To apply for federal student loans, you’ll have to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will ask for information about your finances to determine your eligibility.

Once the FAFSA is submitted to the schools you’ve applied to, you’ll get a letter from the various financial aid departments detailing the aid you qualify for. Federal loans you can qualify for include Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans. The government covers your interest on subsidized loans while you’re still in school.

Federal student loan eligibility is based on your financial situation and whether you’re a dependent or independent student.

Independent students must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be married
  • Be a veteran or member of the armed forces
  • Be 24 or older
  • Be a graduate or professional student
  • Have children or other dependents who receive more than half their support from you
  • Be an orphan or a ward of the state
  • Be an emancipated minor or in a legal guardianship
  • Be homeless or at risk of being homeless

If you’re an independent undergraduate student, you can qualify for $23,000 in Direct Subsidized Loans and $57,500 in total federal loans. If you’re a graduate student, you can qualify for $138,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, including any Direct Loans taken out for your undergraduate degree. 

If you’ve maxed out your Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you can qualify for PLUS loans, where the annual limit is the cost of attendance minus other financial aid.

Private student loans for adults

If you’re an undergraduate student, you can easily max out your federal loans and still need money to pay for school. In that case, your next option is to apply for a private loan.

Private student loans usually have higher rates than federal loans and often start charging interest immediately instead of waiting until you finish school. But if you need more money to cover tuition and other expenses, private loans are great in a pinch.

If you have a good credit score and a decent income, you may qualify for lower rates from private lenders.

If you’re looking for a good private student lender to work with, below are LendEDU’s top picks.

College Ave 

Editorial Selection: Best Overall

  • Cover up to 100% of your cost of attendance
  • You choose your repayment terms
  • Apply in just 3 minutes

College Ave offers student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and parents. It also offers student loan refinancing for borrowers with existing student loans.

  • Variable rates (APR): 0.94% – 12.99%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.39% – 13.95%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments
  • Fees: No origination, application, or prepayment fees
  • In-school repayment: Full principal and interest payments, interest-only payments, $25 fixed payments, and deferred payments
  • Grace period: 6 months

What stands out about College Ave’s private student loans

College Ave offers some of the lowest interest rates among all private lenders. College Ave has a cosigner release program that lets borrowers remove a cosigner after they’ve reached the halfway point in the repayment term.

Who’s eligible for College Ave’s private student loans

The minimum income needed to qualify is $35,000; College Ave does not state its minimum credit score.

U.S. citizens and permanent residents are eligible. International students need to have a Social Security number and a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify. Students can be enrolled full-time or part-time, as long as they’re making satisfactory academic progress.


Sallie Mae

Editorial Selection: Best for Cosigners

  • Offers the shortest cosigner release period
  • Available to undergraduates, graduates, and for career training

One of the most well-known private lenders, Sallie Mae offers student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and parents. It also offers career training loans, which you can use for coding boot camps, certificates, and more.

  • Variable rates (APR): 2.00% – 12.35%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.75% – 13.72%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5 – 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments
  • Fees: No prepayment or origination fees
  • In-school repayment: Interest-only payments, $25 monthly payments, and deferred payments
  • Grace period: 6 months

What stands out about Sallie Mae’s private student loans

Some undergraduate and graduate students will be eligible for 12 months of interest-only payments after they graduate, on top of the six-month grace period. This can provide more flexibility for borrowers who are trying to get on their feet.

Who’s eligible for Sallie Mae’s private student loans

There is no minimum level of attendance, so even students attending less than part-time can qualify for a loan. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify. DACA students must have a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.


Earnest

Editorial Selection: Best for Large Loans

  • No fees
  • Skip one payment per year, if needed
  • Check your rate without impacting your credit

Earnest offers student loans and refinancing for undergraduates, graduates, and parents of students. Earnest offers some of the lowest fixed and variable interest rates of any lender.

  • Variable rates (APR): 1.34%11.44%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 3.24%12.78%
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • Rate reduction: 0.25% interest rate discount for automatic payments
  • Fees: No origination, application, or prepayment fees
  • In-school repayment: Full principal and interest payments, interest-only payments, $25 fixed payments, and deferred payments
  • Grace period: 9 months

What stands out about Earnest’s private student loans

One of Earnest’s most unique benefits is that it lets borrowers skip a payment once a year. This can be a welcome reprieve for borrowers who need a break from their loans to pay off other debts or take care of an emergency.

But unlike other lenders, Earnest does not offer a cosigner release program. If you take out a loan with a cosigner, you’ll have to refinance with a new lender to remove them from the loan.

Who’s eligible for Earnest’s private student loans

Only full-time students are eligible for a loan. If you’re an adult who’s working and going back to school, you might be better off with a lender that lets you attend part time.

You must have a credit score of at least 650 and an income of $35,000. If you don’t meet these criteria, you will need a cosigner who does. You must also be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or have a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.


Frequently asked questions about adult student loans

Is there a cutoff age for financial aid?

There is no specific age cutoff for federal student loans, grants, or work-study. States may have an age limit to qualify for their grants, and there may be scholarships that are only available for students of a certain age.

Can adults get student loans from their state?

States do not offer student loans; they only offer grants that adult students may be eligible for.  Students can apply for these grants by visiting their state’s Department of Education website. You usually must attend college in-state to qualify for one of these grants.

Can adults get grants or scholarships for college?

Adults can still qualify for grants and scholarships. In fact, they may even be eligible for special grants and scholarships that are designed for older students. Sites like Fastweb.com, Bold.org or Scholarships.com are good places to start looking.