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Student Loans

Student Loans for Books and Supplies

In addition to tuition, many college students must cover textbooks for each class. Whether you buy new or used books, the price tag can add up. You have several options if that’s more than you can cover out-of-pocket.

You might be able to use student loans you’re already approved for to buy books and other supplies for your classes if you have funds left over after paying tuition. 

You may also have the option to take out a new loan just for supplies and books. We’ve researched how to get student loans for school supplies and how you can best cover this expense each semester.

In this guide:

Can you get student loans for school supplies?

Yes, you can use federal or private student loans for school supplies. Rather than pay upfront for these items—which, according to recent data from the not-for-profit organization College Board, can add up to an average of $1,240 per year for supplies—student loans can help you buy the supplies you need while deferring the cost.

The Department of Education (ED) offers federal student loans to qualifying borrowers. These loans have established annual maximum borrowing limits. They include benefits such as low interest rates and flexible loan repayment programs. 

Private loans may allow you to borrow more but often come at a higher cost. They don’t offer the same protections in repayment—so we recommend prioritizing federal loan options first.

You can use federal or personal student loan funds to pay for education-related expenses such as:

  • Textbooks (including e-books and book rentals)
  • A new computer for classes
  • Book bags
  • Calculators
  • Paper, pens, folders, and other class supplies
  • Desk supplies such as printers and organizers

You could take out a private or federal student loan just to cover the cost of your college supplies. However, ensure your tuition is paid—out of your pocket or with the help of other loans. Increasing the amount of the loans you’re taking to cover the added cost of books and supplies might be an option.

If you plan to use federal student loan proceeds to pay for books and other materials, you’ll want to ask your school how it will make those funds available to you. It might offer a bookstore voucher you can use to buy what you need or offer to pay out a credit balance within 14 days of disbursement.

With private student loans, the funds are disbursed to your school, but the school should refund any overage to you after the start of the semester. You can then use those funds to buy your books and supplies through any retailer or bookstore, such as an on-campus shop, online retailer, textbook rental program, or used bookstore.

How using student loans to buy books works

So how do you go about using a student loan to buy books and other necessary supplies for your college semester? 

If you already have a student loan

If you’re already approved for a student loan to cover tuition, room and board, fees, or other school expenses, you can use your leftover funds to cover required books and supplies. 

Your lender or loan servicer will disburse funds to your school to cover any outstanding balance. Once your account is satisfied, the school will return any remaining funds to you using one of the following methods:

  • Electronic transfer
  • Direct deposit
  • Paper check

Ask your school which options are available and how long you’ll wait for the funds.

It can be difficult to know how much you’ll need for books and supplies in advance. Many professors don’t share book lists until right before courses start. If you need to buy more books than expected, you may request additional funds from your lender to cover the difference.

If you want a student loan just for books and supplies

Another option is to take out a separate loan for expenses such as textbooks and supplies. 

This might be available depending on whether you:

  • Filled out a FAFSA ahead of the school year
  • Qualify for federal student loan funds
  • Have met your federal borrowing limits for the year already
  • Qualify for private student loans

Federal student loans require planning. You’ll need to fill out that year’s FAFSA before the deadline (and repeat this process each year). 

FAFSA deadlines to keep in mind include: 

  • Your school’s deadline
  • Your state’s deadline 
  • The federal deadline

School deadlines often come first. The federal deadline for the current school year is always June 30. You can fill out the FAFSA at any point in your school year, but ensure you meet your school and state deadlines if you think you might need to borrow money.

If you didn’t fill out a FAFSA on time or begin the process for federal borrowing, you can’t take out a federal loan just for books and supplies once the semester begins. 

However, if you have filled out your FAFSA and haven’t yet met your federal borrowing limits for the year, contact your school’s financial aid office to inquire about a loan for your semester’s supplies. 

If a federal loan isn’t an option, you can always look into a private student loan for books and more. As long as you (and a potential coborrower) meet the lender’s requirements, you can initiate your private loan request after the semester starts. Some private lenders will even let you take out a loan mid-semester.

How to get student loans for school supplies

If you might need a student loan for school supplies, start preparing as early as possible. You can always decline funding later, but if you haven’t done the prep work ahead of any deadlines, you won’t have the option to add last-minute funding.

Filling out the FAFSA should be common practice for students every year, even if you don’t expect to need federal loans. This way, the funds will be available as long as you qualify. The FAFSA releases on October 1 of each year for the next school year, so we recommend filling it out as early as possible. 

Whether you opt for federal or private funding, you (and a cosigner, if needed) will provide documentation such as your:

  • Social Security number
  • Previous federal income tax returns
  • Most recent pay stubs or W-2s
  • Other proof of income

You must provide your parent or guardian’s information if you’re a dependent student.

Where to get student loans for school supplies

If you’ve exhausted your federal student loan options or can’t access them, you can turn to private student loans for supplies and books.

We’ve researched four lenders that offer smaller student loan limits, so you can just take out what you need for the year. 

Ascent

Undergraduate Student Loans

  • Offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans to undergrads and graduate students
  • 1% cash back at graduation
  • Easy application process

Ascent is an award-winning private student lender that offers cosigned and non-cosigned loans for tuition, supplies, fees, books, and more. 

If you don’t want to (or can’t) add a cosigner to your loan, this lender offers outcomes-based options that consider a student’s limited credit history and income. Borrowers can take advantage of a nine-month grace period after graduation before repayment begins.

Key features:

  • Variable rates (APR): 5.31%15.23% (cosigned)
  • Fixed rates (APR): 4.62%16.43% (cosigned)
  • Loan limits: $2,001 and up
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Repayment options: 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 20 years
  • Fees: None

College Ave

Undergraduate Student Loans

  • 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. 

Loans are available from $1,000 to 100% of your tuition and related school expenses, with competitive interest rates and multiple repayment options in school and after you graduate. It takes about three minutes to apply online for a College Ave loan, which you can use for books and supplies.

Key features:

  • Variable or fixed rates (APR): 4.49% – 15.32%
  • Loan limits: $1,000 and up
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Repayment options: 5, 8, 10, and 15 years
  • Fees: None

Sallie Mae

Undergraduate Student Loans

  • Cosigner release after 12 months
  • Repayment options include deferred fixed and interest-only repayment
  • Get a decision within 15 minutes

Sallie Mae offers loans from $1,000 and up 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. You can use these loans to pay for books, supplies, and much more.

Key features:

  • Variable rates (APR): 5.37% – 15.70
  • Fixed rates (APR): 4.50% – 14.83%
  • Loan limits: $1,000 and up
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Repayment options: 10 years
  • Fees: None

Citizens Bank

Undergraduate Student Loans

  • Loyalty rate reduction allows current account holders to lower their interest rate
  • Cosigner release after 36 on-time payments
  • Parents may take out a student loan to avoid adding debt to the child

If you might need to borrow for more than one school year, Citizens Bank offers multiyear approval. As long as your enrollment status doesn’t change and you apply with the same cosigner (if applicable), the loan process in future years will be faster and easier. 

The lender doesn’t disclose its exact FICO credit score criteria required for approval, but almost all student borrowers (99%) through Citizens have a cosigner to qualify.

Key features:

  • Variable rates (APR): 4.89% to 13.71%
  • Fixed rates (APR): 4.99% to 13.46%
  • Loan limits: $1,000 and up
  • Credit score requirements: Not disclosed
  • Repayment options: 5, 10, or 15 years
  • Fees: None

When will the funds be available?

How long it will take to get your student loan funds depends on when you applied, your lender, and your school’s process. Some schools will make the additional funds available to you upon disbursement, mainly if the process involves on-campus vouchers or credits. 

Other schools or lenders may require the school to hold the funds until a certain point in the semester, such as when students may no longer drop classes. 

Sometimes, you might need to wait before accessing cash for books and supplies. If your school offers ACH payments or refunds by check (rather than cash), this may further delay your access to the money. 

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. 

You may consider the following alternatives to pay for school supplies such as books, lab equipment, and computers:

Education savings account

If you are a beneficiary of a 529 or Coverdell Education Savings account, you can use funds to purchase qualified expenses.

Use a credit card

Many credit cards come with a higher interest rate than a student loan. However, a credit card might be advantageous if you have one available. 

You can buy the school supplies and books you need now, then work to pay off the balance as soon as possible to limit your finance charges. Even better if you can find a credit card offer with 0% APR on new purchases, which would allow you to buy what you need without incurring any interest (as long as you pay off the balance in time).

Ask whether your school offers a charge account

Some colleges and universities may offer charge accounts for eligible students to use at select campus bookstores and shops. You can buy the books and supplies you need, charging the purchases to your connected student charge account. 

In some instances, these accounts may come with no interest or fees. Each school determines its credit limits, charge terms, repayment terms, and student requirements, so ask your institution for more information if this option is available.

Paying for the books and supplies you’ll need for school can make up a significant part of your educational costs. Student loans may be available if you can’t afford to pay for these out of pocket or would prefer other funding options.