Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

How to Get Emergency Student Loans

Life happens to the best of us, but unexpected events need not derail your academic progress. That’s where emergency student loans come in. These short-term loans can give you the funds to focus on finishing school. 

Let’s explore when emergency student loans come into play, where to find one, and how to apply. Plus, we’ll map out some alternative funding solutions.

What is an emergency student loan?

Emergency student loans help students cover unexpected expenses that would otherwise keep them from continuing their education

Emergency student loans are much smaller than regular ones, usually totaling $1,500 or less. At just 30 to 60 days, repayment periods are shorter as well.

So, when might you need an emergency student loan? A few situations that might push you to seek out an emergency student loan could include:

  • Loss of a parent
  • Dismissal from a job or unexpected reduction in income
  • Car repairs
  • Medical bills
  • Food or housing insecurity
  • Natural disaster
  • Crime or theft
  • Pandemic

An unexpected expense can even include covering your tuition payment if you just realized a month before the semester starts that you don’t have enough financial aid.

Whether the need for cash occurs before or during a semester, you’ll have to demonstrate that your need is pressing. Depending on the circumstances, emergency student loans might be an option. 

Steps to get emergency student loans

Emergency student loans can alleviate the pressure of financial hardship. You may obtain one of these loans through your college, federal aid, or private student lenders. To apply for an emergency student loan, here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Talk with your financial aid office.
  2. Claim unused federal financial aid, if available.
  3. File the FAFSA if you haven’t already or if your situation has changed.
  4. Apply for private student loans.

Let’s walk these steps in more detail.

Step 1: Talk with your financial aid office

Start by reaching out to the financial aid office at your college. After you share the details of your situation, an administrator can walk you through the options at your disposal.

Come to this conversation prepared with documentation about your financial situation to expedite the process. The evidence you bring should confirm your need for emergency funds. This might include:

  • Medical or auto repair bills or estimates
  • Reduction-in-force notice from your employer
  • Eviction notice or proof of past-due rent
  • Police reports following theft or other crime
  • Obituary or death certificate

If you qualify for and accept an emergency loan, your financial aid representative can help you understand your funding timeline and repayment obligations.

Step 2: Claim unused federal student aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) could unlock access to emergency funding solutions for you. Ideally, you will have filled one out already, but if not, the government accepts FAFSAs throughout the year.

But what if you already filed a FAFSA and turned down the money, thinking you didn’t need it? You can change your mind. Once you’ve filed a FAFSA, you’re allowed to accept the funds at any time during the academic year.

If you decide to accept the funds, your financial aid office can walk you through requesting the amount you need. It may also provide an estimate for when your aid will be disbursed. 

Step 3: File the FAFSA if you haven’t already or if your situation has changed

If you haven’t filed the FAFSA, it’s time to tackle this form. You must include a parent or guardian in this process if you are a dependent. After submitting the form, you’ll learn about any federal aid available. That includes student loans and grants.

For students with a major change in their financial situation, such as a job loss or the passing of a parent, it’s worth it to resubmit your FAFSA to reflect your new reality. Depending on the changes, you might qualify for more aid.

Processing a paper FAFSA form takes up to 10 days, but the online form will be processed within five days. After the form is processed, accepting and receiving the funds will take longer. The exact timeline will vary based on your school.

Step 4: Apply for private student loans

Next, you can apply for private student loans. The interest rates might be higher than federal student loans, but they can be a solid funding option if you have already hit your federal limits.

You can apply for private student loans through a bank, credit union, or online lender. Application requirements vary, but as a general rule, you’ll need to provide documentation proving your:

  • Citizenship status
  • Identity
  • Income
  • School enrollment

If you have a poor credit history or limited cash flow, your lender will require you to use a cosigner.

The lender usually distributes the money to the school within a few days or weeks. Once your tuition is covered, your school can give you any leftover funds via ACH transfer or check. You can use this remaining money for living expenses or other costs.

Emergency loans for students with bad credit

Private student loans aren’t the only ones requiring a credit check. Eligibility for federal Direct PLUS Loans is also credit-based.

Qualifying for these loans may be difficult if you have bad credit—defined as a FICO score below 580. Difficult doesn’t mean impossible, however.

You might pay a higher interest rate or have a lower borrowing limit, but you could still get approved with lenders like Funding U and MPOWER.

These and other lenders specializing in bad-credit private student loans often consider more than just credit scores. Factors like your academic performance or future earning potential could give you the leg-up you need to get approved for a student loan.

Alternatives to emergency student loans

Emergency student loans are a resource for some students, but not all schools offer this opportunity. In other cases, you may have already tapped your available federal aid and don’t have the credit required to qualify for a private student loan.

If emergency student aid and private loans are off the table, these options may be available to help you through a cash crunch:

AlternativeWhat it isCredit check?
School supportIn-kind help from your schoolNo
Personal loansLoan you can use for any reasonYes
Cash advanceMoney borrowed from your next paycheckNo
Payment plan or extensionSpread out or delay tuition payments No

School support

An emergency short-term loan isn’t the only way schools offer their students a helping hand. Many schools provide extensive non-financial assistance for students going through hard times.

You might find on-campus support through tuition vouchers, housing opportunities, bus passes, or food pantries. Even if your school doesn’t offer this assistance, a financial aid administrator may know of off-campus organizations that do.

Personal loans

Although most personal loans require good credit, these could be a viable solution. How personal loans work depends on whether they’re secured or unsecured, but regardless of the personal loan type, you can use the funds for any reason.

If you get a personal loan, be prepared to make payments immediately. And don’t forget to shop around for the best interest rate, or you could overpay.

Cash advance

Many fintech apps—MoneyLion, EarnIn, and Dave, to name a few—let you borrow against your paycheck with no credit check and minimal fees.

Don’t confuse these with payday loans. With cash advance apps, how much you can borrow depends on your earnings. And even then most companies set a cap of around $1,000. You usually won’t pay interest, but you might pay a fee or optional tip to use the service.

Payment plan or extension

Contact your financial aid office if you can’t find the funds to pay for a major school cost. It’s unlikely to waive the balance due, but you could qualify for a payment plan or temporary extension. Here is how those options work:

  • Payment plans for tuition: Payment plans let you spread out your tuition into affordable monthly or bimonthly payments. Most schools don’t charge interest, but you might pay a service fee for signing up.
  • Temporary extension: This is often reserved for extreme cases, like serious illness or a death in the family, but your school may grant you a tuition extension. Note that an extension delays your financial obligation—it doesn’t resolve it completely.

Even if your college’s financial aid office doesn’t offer payment plans or extensions, it may be able to point you toward a solution. Besides, you can always get creative. Look for other ways to cut expenses or combine these alternatives to drum up the money you need.

Most importantly, remember that it’s okay to ask for help. Your financial aid office, your school’s counseling center, your academic advisor, and even your resident advisor want you to reach the finish line. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for support. 

The sooner you reach out, the sooner you’ll find a resolution—and the sooner you’ll see that you’ve got the gumption and fortitude to handle whatever comes your way.