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Student Loans

Student Loans for Past Due Tuition

Updated Nov 07, 2023   |   6-min read

If you missed tuition payments during the past semester, there could be serious consequences. Not only could a past due balance threaten your status at your school, but it could get sent to collections, hurting your credit as well.

Fortunately, there are student loans that may be able to help prevent this. Are you behind on your college tuition payments? Here are the steps you should take if you need a student loan for past due tuition.

  1. Talk to your school’s financial aid office
  2. Claim federal student loans
  3. See if 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 any new loans, as they can help you better understand what you owe and your options for repaying it. They can help you set up a payment plan or explore some sort of deferment option.

Step 2: Claim federal student loans

If you filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to enrolling in school, head to and check your award letter again. See if there are any federal student loans you were offered but didn’t use. These may be able to help you cover your past due cost of attendance and more (up to the federal student loan limits, at least).

If you do have unused federal loans, make it a point to use Direct Subsidized Loans first. Then, move on to any Direct Unsubsidized Loans for which you qualify (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.

>> Read More: What student loans can be used for

Step 3: See if 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. The Dreamkeepers Emergency Financial Aid program was an early example of this, offering support for struggling students at 10 different community colleges.

Aid from these programs usually 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.

According to a study from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, these programs usually serve fewer than 500 students per year. Students tend to receive the most aid from completion scholarships, with 77% receiving more than $1,000. With emergency loans, about three-quarters of students receive $999 or less.

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

Step 4: Apply for a private student loan

If federal or emergency loans aren’t viable options, private loans may be able to help. Private loans are loans offered by private lenders and not backed by the Department of Education. For these reasons, eligibility is based on creditworthiness—not financial need.

You’ll need a decent credit score in order to be eligible 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 designed for students without cosigners.

Most private lenders only offer loans for students in specific schools and programs, so make sure your school is eligible before applying for a private student loan. You should also shop around for your loan, as rates, terms, and loan amounts can vary by lender.

Use our guide to the best private student loans to get started, or check out our reviews of some of our top-rated lenders: College AveEarnest, and Sallie Mae.

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

Sometimes, your school may not be eligible for federal, private, or even emergency student loans. This is often the case with for-profit colleges.

If this is true in your situation, you’ll want to talk 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 alternative options:

Other options to cover past due tuition

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

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 potentially 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.
  • Tap into savings: If you have a savings or retirement account, you might consider tapping one of these to settle your balance.

As a last resort, you could consider a personal loan. Be sure to assess your options carefully, though, as personal loans can come with high fees and interest rates.

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

If you’re behind on your tuition, be sure to act fast. Failing to pay your tuition can come with 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, which could lead to wage garnishment, litigation, and more. Your credit score will also decrease in the process.

If you have a past due balance at your school, you’ll want to move quickly. If you’ve exhausted all federal options and there are no emergency loans for past due tuition, make sure to 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.