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Student Loans

Student Loans for Single Mothers

There are no special student loans available to single mothers. They have access to the same options as other borrowers. This includes federal student loans, which remain the gold standard for financing a college education.

Curious about how your status as a single mother may affect the student loan borrowing and repayment process? Read below to find out.

In this guide:

Federal student loans for single mothers 

Federal student loans are a great option for single mothers, with no age or family restrictions on who can apply. 

To be eligible for federal student loans, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a Social Security number. To apply for federal student loans, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and send it in by the school’s deadline. 

The FAFSA is the form that colleges use to determine what kind and how much financial aid you qualify for. If you don’t fill out the FAFSA or miss the deadline, then you won’t be eligible for federal student loans until the following year.

Undergraduate students are eligible for federal Direct Loans and graduate students are eligible for both Direct Loans and PLUS loans. Also, parents of undergraduate students can take out Parent PLUS loans to pay for their child’s college education.  

The federal government divides students into two categories: dependent students and independent students. Independent students have higher federal loan limits than dependent students. In the case of a single mother who qualifies as an independent student, more financial aid may be available. You can check your dependency status on the federal student aid website.

Here’s how much an independent student can borrow in federal loans, and how much of that can be subsidized:

Year in schoolTotal annual borrowing limitTotal that can be subsidized
First-year undergraduate$9,500$3,500
Second-year undergraduate$10,500$4,500
Third-year undergraduate and beyond$12,500$5,500
Graduate or professional student$20,500None
Aggregate$57,500 for undergraduate students and $138,500 for graduate students$23,000 for undergraduate students and $65,500 for graduate students

What can a single mother use student loans for?

Federal student loans can only be used for qualified educational expenses like tuition, fees, room and board, textbooks, technology, and supplies. Single mothers may also be able to use their student loans to cover childcare expenses.

When you take out federal loans, you can stipulate if you want the maximum amount, enough to cover tuition or enough to cover tuition and books. If you borrow the maximum amount, you can use any remaining funds after tuition has been paid to cover room and board and other essential expenses.

Can single mothers get student loan forgiveness? 

If you’re a single mother with federal student loans, you may be eligible for several different loan forgiveness options, depending on your profession.

One of the most common options is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. To qualify for PSLF, you have to make 120 payments while working full-time for an approved government or nonprofit organization. You also have to be on an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan the entire time. After 120 payments, you can apply to have the remaining loan balance forgiven.

Single mothers who are eligible for PSLF should fill out the annual employment certification form, which requires information about their employment and student loan status. Filling out this form annually will ensure that your payments are being counted correctly for PSLF.

Here are some common jobs that will qualify for PSLF:

  • Teachers
  • Social workers
  • Healthcare professionals including nurses and doctors 
  • Government employees
  • Non-profit employees
  • Military service members

If your employer doesn’t meet the PSLF requirements, you can opt for income-driven repayment loan forgiveness. For this program, you must be on an IDR plan for 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan and type of loans you have. After the term is over, your remaining loan balance will be forgiven. 

Through 2025, borrowers will not have to pay taxes on the forgiven balance. Some experts believe this will become a permanent fixture of the program.  

There are also various loan forgiveness programs for specific professions. For example, the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness program offers up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for teachers who work in a low-income school for five consecutive years. 

There are also other loan forgiveness and repayment programs for nurses, doctors, pharmacists, mental health counselors, and other health professionals. Lawyers who work for nonprofits or the government also have access to special loan repayment programs. 

Be wary of any private company that contacts you and says you’re eligible for loan forgiveness if you sign up with them. They may be scammers trying to steal your identity or get you to pay for a service that’s already free. 

Private student loans for single mothers

Single mothers who have maxed out their federal student loans and need more money can turn to private student loans. Unfortunately, private student loans may be harder to obtain than federal loans.

Private student loan companies often have credit and income score requirements you’ll need to meet. You generally need a credit score above 650 to qualify for a private student loan without a cosigner. Income requirements vary depending on the lender.

If you stop making payments or default on the loan, the lender will come after the cosigner. You can choose anyone you want to be the cosigner, as long as they meet the lender’s requirements. Most people choose a relative, partner, or close friend.

If you don’t have anyone to ask to be a cosigner, you can apply for a student loan through Ascent or Funding U—two lenders that don’t require cosigners for their student loans.

>> Read More: Best private student loans

How private student loan terms compare to federal loans

Private student loans often have higher loan limits than federal loans, especially for undergraduate students. In some cases, you can borrow up to the annual cost of attendance minus other financial aid.  

Unfortunately, private student loans also come with higher interest rates—sometimes in the double digits. They are also less flexible and rarely offer income-driven repayment or extended deferment and forbearance options.

Private student lenders also rarely offer loan forgiveness programs. There may be some job-specific loan repayment programs applicable to both federal and private loans, but these usually only apply to healthcare and legal professionals. 

>> Read More: Adult student loans

Alternatives to student loans

If you’re a single mother, you may qualify for other types of financial aid like scholarships and grants. Unlike student loans, scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid. This generally makes them a better option for students.

You will likely be eligible for need-based aid, including federal and state-based grants like the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). The Pell Grant can pay up to $6,895 per year and the FSEOG award can pay up to $4,000 per year.

Some single mothers may also qualify for work-study, which is a type of financial aid where students are given a job on campus or with an affiliated organization. Work-study jobs usually average between 10 and 15 hours a week and pay minimum wage or slightly more.

Fill out the FAFSA

You can become eligible for work-study and federal grants just by filling out the FAFSA, the same form you have to use for federal student loans. Make sure to complete the FAFSA every year if you want to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Try to submit the FAFSA as soon as possible, because some grants, like the FSEOG, are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Also, many schools have a limit on how many internal grants and scholarships they provide. 

You should also look into both need-based and merit-based scholarships. Ask the university’s financial aid department how to apply for their internal scholarships and if there’s a separate form to fill out. Don’t be afraid to mention that you’re a single mother; the school may have special resources for parents attending college.

Finally, you should search for scholarships through third-party sites.

If possible, search for scholarships specifically designed for parents or single parents. Also, look for scholarships that are specific to your major, interests, or background. For example, if you’re a first-generation college student, search for scholarships geared toward first-generation students.