When taking out loans to pay for school, your financial aid options include federal and private student loans. You are often limited to borrowing an amount your school determines—unless you take out uncertified student loans.
This guide will explain how these education loans work and help determine whether uncertified student loans suit you.
In this guide:
- What is an uncertified student loan?
- Pros and cons of uncertified student loans
- Who should take out an uncertified student loan?
- Order to follow when taking out student loans
What is an uncertified student loan?
An uncertified or non-certified student loan is a loan you can obtain from a private lender. Most student loans limit the annual amount to the school-certified cost of attendance.
Each school sets its cost of attendance (COA) using an average amount for living expenses, including rent, groceries, and more. An uncertified loan lets you borrow more than the annual COA.
With a certified loan, the lender requires your school to verify the cost of attendance and your financial need before it will disburse the loan. Uncertified student loans don’t go through this process.
An uncertified student loan functions more like a personal loan than most student loans. You’ll get the funds from the lender and can then decide how to spend the money. You can see the differences in the table below.
|Certified student loans||Uncertified student loans||Personal loans|
|Can you spend funds on education costs?||✔|
(up to the school’s COA)
(can borrow more than the school’s COA)
Certified student loan lenders send the money to the school. The school refunds any leftover funds to your bank account.
You can use the money from uncertified loans for any purpose, including expenses the school doesn’t consider when estimating the cost of attendance. For example, if you’re a parent and must pay for day care, a school may not consider those costs when determining its COA.
Uncertified student loans often have higher interest rates, and you may pay origination fees. But they might be the only way to get enough money if you’ve exhausted your federal and private certified loan options.
>>Read more: Other types of student loans
Pros and cons of uncertified student loans
Not limited by the school’s cost of attendance.
Get the money right from your lender.
Choose from a variety of lenders.
Fees and interest costs are often higher than certified student loans.
May have to begin repayment while you’re in school.
Difficult to qualify without a solid credit history and proof of income or a cosigner.
You may not get any of the protections that come with federal student loans, including income-driven repayment options, student loan forgiveness, and the ability to pause payments through deferment or forbearance.
Loan amounts aren’t restricted to tuition and living expenses, so it’s easy to overborrow.
Who should take out an uncertified student loan?
You might consider uncertified student loans if one of the following situations applies to you.
You’ve maxed out all other loan options
You should only take out uncertified student loans after you’ve exhausted federal and certified private student loans. Uncertified student loans often have higher interest rates, fewer repayment options, and no tax deductions on interest.
You don’t qualify for certified student loans
Some borrowers may not qualify for certified student loans, especially if they’re attending a school that’s not accredited. Uncertified loans may be your only available lending option if this applies to you.
Apply for traditional student loans first to see if you’re eligible. Certified loans are always the better choice.
Note: Several lenders, including Chase and Bank of America, have discontinued their student loan programs for certified and uncertified loans.
Order to follow when taking out student loans
Take out federal student loans
Always complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and borrow what you need from the U.S. Department of Education first. Filling out the FAFSA will also make you eligible for federal and state grants, as well as internal scholarships from the college.
Complete the FAFSA every year you’re enrolled, and apply for as many scholarships as possible to reduce your debt totals.
Take out private student loans
If you don’t qualify for federal student loans or max out your federal loans, you can turn to private student loan lenders to fill in the gap. Private student loan companies will run a credit check—which will decrease your credit score by a few points, but this should be temporary—and may require a cosigner, especially if you’re an undergraduate student or have no source of income.
Take out uncertified student loans
If you need to borrow more than the school-certified cost of attendance and max out your federal and private options, an uncertified loan may be the best way to fill in the funding gaps.
Make sure to compare rates from multiple lenders to find a loan with a competitive rate and the best term.
>>Read more: How to get a student loan
How do I qualify for an uncertified student loan?
Every lender that offers uncertified student loans has specific requirements to qualify. In general, you need fair or better credit and proof of income.
If you don’t meet the criteria, you can ask a creditworthy cosigner to apply with you to increase the chances of approval. The lender will consider the cosigner’s credit score and financial credentials. Cosigners are an effective way for borrowers to improve their approval chances.
>>Read more: Pros and cons of cosigning a student loan
Can I use an uncertified student loan for something other than tuition?
Yes, you can use uncertified student loans for expenses besides tuition. Many borrowers use uncertified student loans for costs other loans, grants, and scholarships don’t cover.
For example, if you have an unpaid summer internship, you may use funds from an uncertified student loan to cover your living expenses during the summer.
Be careful with how much you borrow for living expenses and other nontuition costs to avoid leaving school with more student loan debt than is necessary.
Can I have certified and uncertified loans?
You can take out both certified and uncertified student loans. A good rule of thumb is to always max out federal student loans from the Department of Education before applying for private student loans to take advantage of lower rates and more borrower protections.
Once you’ve maxed out federal loans, take out certified private loans. If you still need more money, consider applying for uncertified loans.