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Student Loans

Student Loans for Past-Due Tuition

You could face serious consequences if you missed tuition payments during the past semester. A past-due balance could threaten your enrollment status at your school and get sent to collections, hurting your credit.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about these potential solutions if you’re behind on your college tuition payments.

Steps to take if your tuition is past due

Here are the steps to take if you need a student loan for past-due tuition. We’ll dive into each step in more detail below.

  1. Talk to your school’s financial aid office
  2. Claim federal student loans
  3. See whether your school has an emergency student loan program
  4. Apply for a private student loan

Step 1: Talk to your school’s financial aid office

You should always talk to your college’s financial aid office before you take out new loans. They can help you better understand what you owe and your options for repaying it. They might be able to help you set up a payment plan or explore deferment options.

This might involve an in-person meeting, or you may be able to resolve the issue via phone or email. This depends on the situation and your school’s policies.

For instance, if your school is willing to work with you via phone or email, this might be better if you cannot visit your college campus or don’t have the time. If you are only sharing digital documentation or written explanations of your finances, email might be enough.

However, an in-person meeting might work better if you have a lot of physical documents to share or if the situation is complex. If your situation is somewhere in between, you might use more than one of these mediums or perhaps all of them.

Ask the expert

Chloe Moore

CFP®

If you’re behind on school tuition or cannot make payments, contact your financial aid department as soon as possible to find a solution. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate a lower tuition amount and a payment plan. Before agreeing to the payment plan, ensure you fully understand the details and the consequences of missing payments. 

Step 2: Claim federal student loans for past-due tuition

If you filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before enrolling, head to StudentAid.gov and check your award letter.

See whether you were offered federal student loans you didn’t use. These may help you cover your past due cost of attendance up to the federal student loan limits.

Below is an example of what you would see in your letter that shows the loans and amounts you were awarded.

Source

If you have unused federal loans, make it a point to use Direct Subsidized Loans first. Then move on to any Direct Unsubsidized Loans you qualify for (this guide to Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized student loans can help you understand why). If you’re a graduate student, consider federal PLUS Loans as your final option.

Can I apply for student loans for past-due tuition?

The deadline to submit the FAFSA form is usually June 30, after the academic year starts. For instance, the deadline for the 2024-25 academic year is June 30, 2025. This means you may still be able to submit the FAFSA form even if the academic year has already started.

However, FAFSA recommends submitting the form by the earliest due date for the best chance of approval. As FAFSA notes, missing the deadline will make you ineligible for the money you could have received. 

Some states and colleges might award FAFSA after the deadline, but your chances will be much lower, and you may not receive as much. If you miss the FAFSA deadline or can’t get federal aid or student loans after the school year has begun, consider these steps:

  1. Pause enrollment to get your finances in order. While not attending classes, you can fill out the FAFSA form for the upcoming academic year. Remember not to miss the submission deadline.
  2. Make payments toward your past-due balance.
  3. Reenroll once you have addressed your past-due balance. Keep in mind that your school might have its own deadlines you must follow to get reenrolled. 

Step 3: See whether your school has an emergency student loan program

Many schools offer emergency student aid programs, which are designed to help college students dealing with financial hardship or other emergencies. 

Aid from these programs often comes via campus vouchers that cover books, meals, and other supplies; completion scholarships to help pay for outstanding balances; emergency loans; food pantries; and grants.

Examples of these programs include:

Some of the programs have specific requirements, like only being awarded to members of underrepresented groups. Others are limited to those completing certain studies, such as STEM programs. In other cases, only a few scholarships are available through specific programs.

Still, with many scholarships available, it’s worth checking to see if you qualify for any. You can also check with your college or university, as some schools have their programs.

The loan terms, interest rates, fees, repayment options and periods, and other details vary from program to program and school to school, so talk to your financial aid office for information on any emergency loan programs it might participate in.

Step 4: Apply for private student loans for past-due tuition

If federal or emergency loans aren’t viable options, private loans may be able to help. Private loans are loans from private lenders not backed by the Department of Education. Eligibility is based on creditworthiness, not financial need.

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The timeline to receive a private student loan may vary by lender but can be quicker than applying for a federal student loan. Most lenders disburse private student loans within 10 days of the start of the term. Conversely, first-time borrowers for federal student loans may have to wait 30 days after the start of the term.

You’ll need a decent credit score to qualify for a private student loan. If you don’t have a good score (or one at all), you may need a creditworthy cosigner’s help to get the loan. You can also consider these student loans for students without cosigners.

Most private lenders only offer loans for students in specific schools and programs, so ensure your school is eligible before applying for a private student loan. You should also shop around for the best rates, terms, and loan amounts. Before applying for a private student loan, be sure you have done the following:

  1. Tried all federal student loan options: You have many options for federal student loans, including grants and work-study programs. These options often have lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private student loans.
  2. Assess your finances: See how much you need to borrow and check your credit score beforehand. If your score is low, you may need a cosigner.
  3. Compare lenders: Many lenders offer private student loans. Compare rates, terms, and repayment options and get the best offers.
  4. Prepare documentation: Most lenders ask for information to help verify your identity. You may also need proof of enrollment, income, and information about your cosigner (if applicable).
  5. Get pre-approved: Some lenders offer pre-approval, letting you check your approval odds without affecting your credit score. While pre-approvals don’t guarantee final approval, they can give you a better idea of your approval chances.

Use our guide to the best private student loans to get started.

Consider alternatives if you aren’t eligible for federal and private student loans

Your school may not be eligible for federal, private, or even emergency student loans. This is often the case with for-profit colleges. There are a few other instances where this might apply, such as with schools that are not accredited, those that aren’t in compliance with state or federal regulations, or newly established schools.

If this is true in your situation, speak to your financial aid office to get a full picture of your options. You may be able to find scholarships or grants that can help you cover the costs of your past-due tuition.

You can also consider these options:

Other options to cover past-due tuition

If none of the above options works in your case, you can explore several other routes.

You could:

  • Ask for a professional judgment review of your federal aid package: This allows your school’s federal aid administrator to review and make changes to your federal aid status, which could increase your aid package.
  • Look for emergency scholarships or grants: Various private organizations offer emergency student aid, including the United Negro College Fund, Scholarship America, and more.
  • Community organizations and non-profits: Some community organizations and non-profits offer financial assistance to students in need. Research organizations that offer this in your area.
  • Tap into savings: If you have a savings or retirement account, you might consider tapping one of these to settle your balance. It’s important, however, to consider the pros and cons of this and ensure you have a proper emergency fund before proceeding with this option.  
  • Negotiate: You could contact your school and see if you can negotiate your student loan. While many schools won’t be able to do this, it’s worth a try, especially if you have exhausted all other options.

You can also consider a personal loan. Be sure to assess your options carefully. Personal loans can come with high fees and interest rates and lack the protections of federal student loans.

When it comes to taking out student loans for any reason, consider the total amount you will borrow for your education relative to the amount you expect to earn in your career. A good rule of thumb is not to borrow more than your expected annual salary.

Chloe Moore

CFP®

Don’t wait too long to settle your past-due tuition

If you’re behind on your tuition, don’t wait to take action. Failing to pay your tuition can have dire consequences, including:

  • Your class registrations may be canceled.
  • You may be ineligible to register for new classes.
  • You may not be able to secure financial aid from your school in the future.
  • Your balance could be sent to collections, leading to wage garnishment, litigation, and more. It could also harm your credit score.

If you’ve exhausted all federal options and can’t get emergency loans for past-due tuition, check out our guide to the top-rated private student loan lenders. Your school’s financial aid office can also help point you in the right direction.