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Student Loans

Supplemental Student Loans

While federal direct student loan qualifications are set by the Department of Education, the school you attend determines how much you can borrow. That amount may not fully fund your education, depending on your degree and other aid you qualify for. In these cases, supplemental student loans can help bridge the gap.

We’ll explain how supplemental student loans work, how they differ from federal student loans, and how to find the right ones for you.

LenderBest forLendEDU rating
Dept. of EducationFederal student loansNot rated
College AveBest overall 5/5
Sallie MaeCosigners4.8/5
EarnestNo fees4.7/5
SoFiMember benefits4.7/5
ELFIPersonalized support4.5/5

What are supplemental student loans? 

A supplemental student loan is used to fill in the gaps when you’ve maxed out federal direct student loans. You can use supplemental loans to cover educational expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, transportation, and living expenses.

The two main types of supplemental loans are federal PLUS loans and private student loans. Some states also have loan programs for their residents or for students attending college in the state.

Like Direct Loans, you can apply for a PLUS loan by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You’ll need to submit an application form to individual lenders for a private student loan. 

PLUS loansPrivate supplemental loans
Who can borrowParents of undergrads for Parent PLUS loans;

Students seeking grad or prof. degrees for Grad PLUS loans (U.S. citizens or permanent residents)
Parents or students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents
Loan limitsCost of attendance minus financial aid w/ no maximum aggregateUp to 100% of certified costs w/ various aggregate limits 
Interest typeFixedVariable or fixed
Interest rates9.08%Current range is 3.99% to 16.85%*
Origination fees4.228%Varies, not charged by many lenders
Credit requirementsCredit check required with no adverse event allowed in the past five years  Credit check required; many lenders required a FICO score of 650+ 
Repayment optionsVarious plans available (standard, graduated, income-based)Varies by lender, but fewer options are available
Application processComplete the FAFSAApply with the lender
*In June 2024

Federal supplemental student loans for college

Borrowers should always max out their federal direct student loans before turning to private student loans. Federal direct loans have more flexible repayment options, including income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. They also offer loan forgiveness programs, fixed interest rates, and longer deferment periods.

If you’re interested in a federal supplemental loan, your only option is a PLUS loan.

The maximum annual amount you can borrow is the cost of attendance minus other financial aid, so eligible students can use it to fund the entire remaining cost of graduate or professional school. Parents can take out Parent PLUS loans to pay for their child’s education if the child is an undergraduate student.

Private loans may be a solid option if you don’t qualify for a PLUS loan or you qualify for a lower interest rate.

PLUS loans

PLUS loans are federal supplemental student loans that provide additional money to cover the cost of higher education. The two types are Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS.

The biological, adoptive, or step-parents of undergraduate students can take out Parent PLUS loans. Grad PLUS loans are available to independent students who are pursuing a graduate or professional degree. However, they have loan limits; you can only borrow up to the cost of attendance minus other financial aid. 

Credit check requirements

Private student loans and PLUS loans are not based on financial need, but both require a credit check. To qualify for a PLUS loan, you can’t have an adverse event on your credit history within the past five years.

Adverse events include:

  • Default 
  • Bankruptcy
  • Tax lien
  • Collection
  • Foreclosure
  • Repossession 
  • Wage garnishment

If you have an adverse event, you may still be able to qualify for a PLUS loan by adding an endorser. An endorser agrees to take over your student loans if you default, like a cosigner. There is no income verification for Federal PLUS loans, so be careful not to borrow more than you can repay.

Private supplemental student loans

Private loans are another way to fund your education if you’ve exhausted all your federal student loan options. Private loans have stricter credit requirements than PLUS loans. Borrowers need a steady income and a credit score of 650 to qualify. 

Because most students don’t meet these requirements, they often need to add a cosigner. This can be anyone willing to share in your debt responsibility as long as they meet the lender’s credit score and income requirements. 

Some private lenders don’t look at your credit score. Instead, they may consider your income, current major, projected postgraduation income, and GPA. These lenders often charge higher interest rates, so try to avoid them unless you have no other options for supplemental loans.

College Ave 

Best overall

5.0 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

College Ave stands out as the best overall provider of supplemental student loans, offering flexible repayment terms and competitive interest rates. The lender provides a user-friendly application process and a variety of loan options to fit different financial needs and educational goals. College Ave’s strong customer service and comprehensive loan management tools make it a top choice for students seeking additional funding. We like College Ave’s commitment to helping students finance their education efficiently.

Loan details
Rates (APR)4.39% – 16.85%
Loan amounts$1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
Repayment terms5, 8, 10, or 15 years
Repayment optionsFull principal and interest, Interest-only, $25 fixed, Deferred
FeesNo origination, application, or prepayment fees
Grace period6 months

Sallie Mae

Best for cosigners

4.8 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

Sallie Mae offers flexible loan options, particularly beneficial for cosigners. The lender offers a variety of repayment plans and the ability to release cosigners after a series of on-time payments, providing students and their families with peace of mind. Sallie Mae’s extensive experience in student lending and strong customer support makes it a reliable choice for those needing supplemental funding with a cosigner’s help.

Loan details
Rates (APR)4.50% – 16.70%
Loan amounts$1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
Repayment terms5 – 15 years
Repayment optionsInterest-only, $25 monthly payments, Deferred
FeesNo prepayment or origination fees
Grace period6 months


Best for no fees

4.7 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

Earnest distinguishes itself by offering student loans with no fees, including no origination, prepayment, or late fees, which can reduce the overall cost of borrowing. The lender provides flexible repayment options and allows borrowers to customize their loan terms to fit their financial situation. Earnest’s innovative approach and commitment to transparency make it an attractive option for students seeking supplemental loans without the burden of additional fees.

Loan details
Loan amounts$1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
Repayment optionsFull principal and interest, Interest-only, $25 fixed, Deferred
FeesNo origination, application, or prepayment fees
Grace period9 months


Best for member benefits

4.7 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

SoFi is known for its extensive member benefits, including networking events and financial planning services, making it a standout choice for supplemental student loans. The lender offers competitive interest rates, flexible repayment options, and a user-friendly online platform. SoFi’s holistic approach to financial wellness ensures that students secure the funding they need and receive support in managing their finances and careers after graduation.

Loan details
Fixed APR4.19%14.83% w/ autopay
Variable APR5.74%15.86% w/ autopay
Loan amounts$5,000 – $500,000
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 15, or 20 years
Repayment optionsDeferred, interest-only, partial, and immediate
FeesNo origination, application, or prepayment fees
Grace period6 months


Best for personalized support

4.5 /5
LendEDU Rating

Why we picked it

Education Loan Finance (ELFI) offers personalized support that sets it apart from other lenders. With competitive rates and flexible repayment terms, ELFI provides a tailored borrowing experience that meets individual needs. The lender’s dedicated customer service team works closely with borrowers throughout the loan process, ensuring a smooth and supportive experience. This personalized approach makes ELFI an excellent choice for students seeking supplemental loans with a high level of customer care.

Loan details
Loan amounts$10,000 – $200,000
Repayment terms5, 7, 10, 15, or 20 years
Repayment optionsDeferred, interest-only, partial, and immediate
FeesNo origination, application, or prepayment fees
Grace period6 months

How to find supplemental student loans

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the system and find the best supplemental loan options. 

1. Fill out the FAFSA

To be eligible for all types of federal student loans, including PLUS loans, you must fill out the FAFSA. Before completing the FAFSA, you’ll need to apply for a Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) through the StudentAid website

Once you have your FSA ID, gather all the necessary information for the FAFSA, including:

  • Social Security numbers for you and your parents
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Dates of birth
  • Federal income tax returns
  • W-2 forms 
  • Bank statements
  • Investment records
  • Records of untaxed income (child support, interest, veterans’ benefits)
  • List of schools you’re applying to 

Completing the FAFSA will also determine whether you’re eligible for other types of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, and work-study programs. The FAFSA becomes available every year on October 1. The federal deadline for completing the FAFSA is June 30, but many universities set earlier due dates.

2. Review your federal student loan eligibility

After you submit the FAFSA, schools where you’ve been accepted will send you a financial aid award letter. This letter includes details on:

  • The total cost of attendance
  • How much your family is expected to contribute
  • Scholarship and grant awards
  • Federal student loans available
  • Work-study options

These letters are typically sent between February and May, but depending on the school, they could arrive as early as November.

3. Calculate how much you still need to cover your school costs

The award letter will show how much you have left to pay to cover tuition after your financial aid is applied. However, this number may not be 100% accurate; you may want to do your own calculations and include additional expenses such as:

  • Health insurance
  • Transportation
  • Groceries
  • Personal care items
  • Laptop, software, and other technology costs
  • Moving expenses
  • Study materials
  • Supplies and tools required for specific classes

Once you’ve tabulated your budget, you can determine how much you need to borrow to cover all your costs. 

Determine how much you need without overborrowing

Erin Kinkade


After following steps 1, 2, and 3 above, you should arrive at a reliable estimate of the additional amount you need. I also suggest walking through these steps with a parent, guardian, trusted family member, or friend to have a second pair of eyes on the amount. In addition, before making additional steps, consult with a financial aid officer at the school you’re attending. 

4. Fill out a PLUS loan application online

If you’re an independent student seeking a higher degree, you can apply for a Grad PLUS loan, online. Parents of undergraduate students can take out a Parent PLUS loan; they’ll also need to submit an online application. 

To complete the form, you’ll need:

  • Date of birth for borrower and student
  • Social Security numbers
  • Address, phone number, and email address
  • Driver’s license number(s)
  • Employment information
  • Annual income
  • FSA ID number
  • The amount you wish to borrow
  • School name and contact information

Remember that all PLUS loan applicants are subject to a credit check; you must authorize this credit check before submitting your application.

5. If you still need funds, check whether your school has a list of recommended private lenders or a comparison tool

If you don’t qualify for a PLUS loan or your parents aren’t willing to take out a Parent PLUS loan, consider exploring private student loans. Ask your financial aid office whether it recommends any private student loans; many colleges compile a list of preferred lenders.

The lenders on this curated list are often the best starting point because the school has vetted them. This ensures you’re working with reputable companies that offer favorable interest rates and repayment terms. If you still need help finding supplemental loan providers, check out our picks for the best private student loans.

6. Consider state loan programs

Some states offer their own loan programs for residents or students attending a college within the state. For example, North Carolina provides NC Assist Loans to in- and out-of-state students, while Indiana offers loans to residents through the INvestEd loan program

Check with your school’s financial aid office to see what state loan programs may be available. 

7. Compare eligibility requirements and general loan terms from several lenders

Loan qualifications can vary between lenders. Look at each private lender’s requirements and make a list of lenders you qualify for. You can eliminate those with income or credit score requirements you don’t meet.

As you shop around for lenders, pay particular attention to those that allow prequalification without a hard credit check. They tend to have simple online applications you can complete quickly and let you know within minutes what loan terms you may qualify for—without damaging your credit score.  

Remember that the loan terms won’t be finalized until you complete a full application. The terms provided during prequalification may change after you’ve provided more detailed information to the lender.

8. Get quotes from lenders

After prequalification, you’ll complete a full application with your preferred lenders; this involves a hard credit check that will likely affect your credit score. 

If you submit applications to multiple lenders in a short period—typically 14 to 45 days—these will only count as a single credit inquiry. This period is called the “rate-shopping window.” This allows you to check and compare multiple offers to find the best one. 

Once you complete and submit the full application, you’ll find out whether you’re approved and what terms you’re eligible for.

9) Compare terms and choose a lender

Look through the final offers from each lender. Compare them based on:

  • The amount available to borrow
  • Interest rates (fixed vs variable, initial rate offered)
  • Length of repayment period
  • Loan origination, prepayment, and late payment fees 
  • Repayment options, such as deferment and interest-only while in school
  • Special features, including rate reductions for automatic payments
  • Borrower protections in case of disability or financial hardship
  • Availability of customer service and support
  • Borrower ratings, reviews, and testimonials

Once you weigh your options and pick a lender, send in any required additional documentation. Then confirm with your school’s financial aid office that it’s received your private funding and applied it to your account.

Recap of supplemental student loans

LenderBest forLendEDU rating
Dept. of EducationFederal student loansNot rated
College AveBest overall 5/5
Sallie MaeCosigners4.8/5
EarnestNo fees4.7/5
SoFiMember benefits4.7/5
ELFIPersonalized support4.5/5