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

Student Loans for Books and Supplies

Tuition isn’t your only college expense. You’ll also need textbooks for your courses. Prices can add up whether you rent your books or buy them new or used. Student loan funds can be used to cover these expenses if it’s more than you can manage out of pocket.

If you need to apply for student loans, see the best options we found below. If you’ve already been approved for a student loan and want to know how to use the funds, skip ahead.

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

Federal student loans for books and supplies

Federal student loans are issued by—you guessed it—the federal government. They come with repayment protections private loans don’t—and often lower interest rates.

You must complete the FAFSA every academic year to get federal student loans. This doesn’t involve a credit check, but you will report your financial information. You’ll include your parents’ information if you’re a dependent student.


Every school sets its own FAFSA deadline. Submit your FAFSA no later than your school’s due date for the best chance at funding—and to give yourself time to make alternate arrangements if necessary.

After your college receives your FAFSA, it will compare your available resources to your cost of attendance (COA). If you qualify for financial aid, you could receive any of the following types of federal student loans:

Loan typeWho’s it for?
Subsidized LoanUndergrad students
Unsubsidized LoanUndergrad, grad, and prof. students
PLUS LoanGrad and prof. students and parents

Unlike Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans, eligibility for Direct PLUS Loans is based on your (or your parents’) creditworthiness.

Private student loans for books and supplies

If a federal loan isn’t an option or if federal funding isn’t enough, look into private student loans. Much like auto loans or personal loans, private student loans are issued by banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

There’s no hard cutoff time or deadline to get private student loans. You can apply whenever you realize you need additional funding. But if your tuition isn’t paid in full by your college’s financial aid drop date, the school can unenroll you from your courses.

In other words, the sooner you secure funding, the better. To apply for private student loans, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Research potential lenders. Compare each one’s eligibility requirements, terms, and rates. Narrow down your list to four or five lending candidates.
  2. Prequalify with each lender. Check your rates before applying to see personalized loan offers from each lender. This is also an effective way to find out whether you’ll need a cosigner.
  3. Gather your documents. Have your bank statements or pay stubs, as well as a copy of a government-issued ID, ready to upload to your loan application.
  4. Enter your information. The application may ask what school you’re attending, what you’re studying, and how close you are to graduating. It will also request personal details, such as your name, Social Security number, and income.
  5. Tell your lender about your co-borrower. If you’re applying with someone else, you’ll share their personal and financial information as well.
  6. Upload your documents. Attach your (and your co-borrower’s) proof of identity and income to your loan application.
  7. Wait for a credit decision. Some private student loan lenders can let you know right away whether you’re approved. Other times, your lender may request additional verification.
  8. Review and sign your loan agreement. If approved, your lender will send you loan documents outlining your APR, monthly payments, and repayment terms. If everything checks out, sign to accept your loan.

To simplify the private student loan process, we’ve researched several lenders that offer smaller student loan limits, so you can borrow only what you need. Here are our top four recommendations:

LenderRates (APR)Loan amounts
College Ave4.07% – 16.69%$1,000 – 100% of costs
Sallie Mae4.50% – 16.78%$1,000 – 100% of costs
Earnest4.39%16.85%$1,000 – 100% of costs

College Ave – Best overall

LendEDU rating: 5 out of 5

  • Competitive interest rates
  • Choose your repayment term
  • 4 in-school repayment options

College Ave offers loans to undergraduate, graduate, and career school students, as well as parents. Applying online for a loan takes about three minutes, and you can use it for books and supplies.

Loans are available for $1,000 to 100% of tuition and related school expenses, with competitive interest rates and multiple repayment options during school and after graduation. 

Sallie Mae – Best for cosigners

LendEDU rating: 4.8 out of 5

  • Cosigner release after 12 months of consecutive on-time payments
  • Get a decision within 15 minutes

Sallie Mae offers loans starting at $1,000 for undergraduates, graduate students, and those in career training or trade programs. Standard loan terms are 10 years, and Sallie Mae offers several in-school repayment options. 

There’s a good chance you’ll need a cosigner to get approved for an undergraduate Sallie Mae loan, and you can’t check your approval odds before you apply.

Earnest – Best for large loans

LendEDU rating: 4.7 out of 5

  • Customizable repayment terms
  • No fees
  • Check your rate without affecting your credit

Earnest stands out for its highly customizable loan terms and commitment to no fees. While many lenders market their financial products as having no fees, some really mean they have no fees to apply. With Earnest, you have no fees to apply and aren’t even charged a fee for late payments or paying off your loan early.

Earnest’s user-friendly application process and commitment to customer service make it an excellent choice for students looking for flexible loan options.

Can you get student loans for all school supplies? 

You can use student loans for educational expenses, including books and supplies. This includes:

  • E-books and physical textbooks
  • Course software
  • Online access codes
  • Laptops and printers
  • Standard school supplies, like calculators and pencils

How using student loans to buy books works 

Whether you have federal student loans or private, your loan servicer will disburse funds to your school to cover any outstanding balance. Once that happens, you have two options:

  1. Buy books from your campus bookstore, and charge the cost to your student account.
  2. Wait for your school to return any overage to you as a financial aid refund, then use that to buy your books.

Charging your books to your student financial aid account can help you get your books fast if you’re in a pinch. But college bookstores aren’t always the most cost-effective places to shop. You could save money by waiting for a refund instead.

If you’re eligible for a financial aid refund, you can choose to receive it one of three ways:

  • Electronic transfer
  • Direct deposit
  • Paper check

How long it will take to get your refund depends on when you applied for student loans, how fast your lender disburses loans, and your school’s financial aid process. Some colleges hold funds until a certain point in the semester, such as when students may no longer drop classes.

You can expedite receipt of your refund by opting into electronic transfer or direct deposit. Once the funds are available in your bank account, you’re ready to buy your books.

Before you swipe your card, price shop to ensure you get the best deal. Here’s where to check:

  • Your school’s bookstore
  • Online marketplaces, including Chegg and Amazon
  • Websites for brick-and-mortar chains, such as Barnes & Noble

Compare prices for rentals and purchases, as well as for e-books, hardbacks, and paperbacks. If you rent physical textbooks, mark your calendar with the return date. Most bookstores charge late fees if you don’t mail your books back on time.


Your school’s bookstore may keep a list of required textbooks for each course. Check online or in person after registering for classes so you can start budgeting ahead of time.

Alternatives to student loans for supplies

Student loans can help pay for school supplies and books, but they aren’t the right choice for everyone. 

If you’re hesitant to take on extra debt or you aren’t eligible for student loans, consider the following alternatives:

OptionBest for
Student loansDeferred payments
Education savings accountTax benefits
Credit cardIntroductory offers
Buy now, pay laterSmall payments

Dip into your education savings account

Education savings accounts let you set aside money for tuition and related expenses in a tax-advantaged account. If you are a beneficiary of a 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings account, you can use funds from your savings plan to purchase your books.

Tax-advantaged accounts are subject to IRS regulation, so keep records of how you spend your 529 plan or Coverdell withdrawals. If you don’t have one of these savings plans already, now is as good a time as any to start one.

Use a credit card

Many credit cards come with a higher interest rate than student loans. However, a credit card might be advantageous if you have one available. You can buy the school supplies and books you need now and then work to reduce the balance as fast as possible.

If you don’t have a credit card but plan to get one, look for one with a 0% APR introductory offer, which would allow you to buy what you need without incurring interest (as long as you pay off the balance in time).

Leverage buy now, pay later financing

Buying your books online? You might be able to use buy now, pay later (BNPL). BNPL breaks up your payments into smaller amounts, and you can usually pay off your balance early with no penalty. 

If a merchant offers BNPL, you’ll see the BNPL option at checkout. You may need to consent to a soft credit check before you can use BNPL. If approved, your merchant’s BNPL partner will cover the cost of your shopping cart, and you’ll repay the BNPL partner in monthly installments.

Recap of student loans for books and supplies

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