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The Best Student Loans for Past Due Tuition

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When it comes to throwing curveballs, life has a bit of a vicious streak. You can start college with the best of intentions and the most airtight budget spreadsheet—only to get blindsided with a lost job or a family emergency. Bills pile up, things start to slide, and before you know it, you could be staring at a past due tuition notice.

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. In fact, as many as 56% of college students in 2020 found themselves unable to afford their tuition. Left unaddressed, missed payments can seriously interrupt your education. You could face course registration holds, canceled enrollment, and other consequences.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your studies rolling smoothly. Many loan servicers, like Earnest, now offer fee-free student loans for past due tuition balances—one of the fastest ways to get you back on track.

How to get student loans for past due tuition

Left ignored for too long, past due balances can block you from enrolling in new classes and even get sent to collections. If you’ve missed a due date, it’s best to look at your options ASAP. First, call your financial aid office. Then apply for any loans you might need before the late fees start to pile up.

Consult your financial aid office

Every college has a different protocol for handling past due balances. Your financial aid office will be able to share the details of the consequences you could face, as well as the aid options they can provide. Many schools offer emergency programs to help students get back on their feet. Be sure to ask about:

  • Deferment plans: Some schools may let you postpone your payments to a future date. This usually comes with a fee.
  • Repayment options: You may be able to arrange a payment plan with your financial aid office to pay your past due amount in installments.
  • Emergency student aid: Some schools have emergency student loan programs or offer emergency grants. Others reserve food or textbook vouchers for students facing financial hardship or waiting on other financial aid disbursements.
  • Completion scholarships: Your college may offer completion scholarships, which are designed to help students close funding gaps and complete their degree. Many completion scholarships are only available to students in their last year or last semester.

Consult your FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) determines your eligibility for college-sponsored grants and scholarships. It’s also your key to unlocking federal student loans.

Federal loans are your first line of defense against high tuition payments and past due balances. That’s because federal aid comes with a number of benefits you won’t get from private student aid. These include:

Another bonus: the federal student loan application doesn’t involve a credit check. That means you won’t need a cosigner to apply. That’s true of all three main types of federal loans, which are sometimes called direct loans. Each type has its own benefits and drawbacks, but here are the basics:

  • Direct Subsidized Loans, which are based on financial need
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which aren’t need-based
  • Direct PLUS Loans, for graduate students and parents of dependent students

If you haven’t filled out your FAFSA…

Do so ASAP. The online application is free to fill out. You can check federal submission deadlines at Note that states and colleges sometimes have their own separate deadlines to apply for student aid. Be sure to check with your institution to make sure you haven’t missed them. (Also keep in mind that some student aid is first-come, first-served, so early birds stand to benefit.)

If you’ve already filled out your FAFSA…

Log into your student account at and reread your financial aid award letter. If there are federal loans you haven’t yet taken advantage of, consider them now. Try to max out subsidized loans, which can save borrowers a lot of money in interest payments, before moving onto unsubsidized loans.

Apply for private student loans

If you still need help covering past due tuition, private student loans can help. Because you can apply for private loans at any time, they’re a great option if you’ve missed the FAFSA deadline or other deadlines for financial aid. Private student loans also tend to have longer repayment terms and lower interest rates than personal loans.

Keep in mind that most private student loan applications include a credit check. If you don’t have good to excellent credit, you’ll likely need a cosigner.

Unlike with federal student loans, there’s a lot of variability from one private loan servicer to the next. Before you submit a loan application, compare as many lenders as possible. Different interest rates, fees, and loan terms all affect your monthly loan payments and your total loan amount.

Earnest is one of several private lenders that offer past-due tuition loans. But unlike some others, Earnest’s loans don’t come with fees. They’re also totally customizable—you can choose your loan term to set up monthly payments you can afford. Another perk: Earnest lets you check your eligibility and rates online for free.

Alternatives for students with past due balances

If you don’t qualify for private or federal loans, there are a few other things you can do to reign in your outstanding balance.

  • Request a professional judgment: Financial aid administrators have legal permission to adjust your financial aid package to account for extenuating circumstances that might not appear on your FAFSA. Ask your financial aid office how to request a review.
  • Apply for emergency scholarships: Some nonprofits and other private organizations offer emergency scholarships and grants. Do an online search, or ask your financial aid office about current options.
  • Use your savings: In an emergency, you can consider siphoning money from a retirement account, using your personal savings, or use a credit card to cover some of your costs. Keep in mind that all these options come with risks, including the potential for high fees and vulnerability to future emergencies.
  • Take out a personal loan: Personal loans are another way to help cover your tuition balance in a pinch. However, personal loans generally have higher interest rates than either private student loans or federal loans.

Pay your past due tuition as soon as possible

Missing a tuition payment isn’t the end of the world, but it can have serious consequences if you don’t address your past due balance soon. Here are some of the big ones.

  • Canceled course registrations: Your college could cancel the courses you’re currently registered for. You’ll lose your progress and investment, and you won’t get a grade.
  • A hold on new registrations: You won’t be able to enroll in new courses until you’ve paid your bill.
  • Late fees: Many schools charge fees for every month you’re past due.
  • Credit impacts: After a certain period of time, your school will report your missed payments to credit bureaus. This can negatively impact your credit score.
  • Collection calls: If your school sends your account to a collections agency, you may have to deal with frequent calls, or even being sued for the amount you owe.
  • Lost visa. If you’re an international student, past due tuition payments could cost you your visa eligibility.
  • Locked transcripts. Many colleges will withhold your transcripts or diploma until you’ve paid your balance. This means you won’t be able to apply for other schools or opportunities.
  • Lost financial aid opportunities. If you lose your current student status, you could become ineligible for scholarships or other forms of student aid.

What if my tuition bill was sent to a collections agency?

Collectors calling? You’ve still got options. First, ask that they put the details of your debt in writing. Within a few days, you’ll get a document that gives you a clearer picture of the situation. Check the document to make sure the balance looks correct. If it doesn’t, you can mail a formal dispute to the collection agency. If it does, take a hard look at your personal finances and determine how much you can actually afford to pay.

Then, into the lion’s den: Call up the collection agency. Many collectors are willing to negotiate your debt, including working with you to find a repayment term or plan that you can afford. Be polite and ask what you can do to prevent escalation. You might be surprised at what you’ll hear.

See how much you could save with Earnest student loans

Plenty of college students miss a tuition payment every now and then. The important thing is to address the missed payment as soon as possible. Being proactive about negotiating with your financial aid office, applying for student loans, and paying off your past due balance can prevent negative consequences to your enrollment and to your credit.

If you’ve already maxed out your federal student loans, consider private student loans from a lender like Earnest to cover your tuition bill and keep your education on track. Earnest loans let you…

  • Pay past due balances up to 365 days old.
  • Borrow up to the full cost of attendance for your school.
  • Pay zero fees or prepayment penalties.
  • Have full control over your loan term and other repayment options.
  • Get built-in flexibility, like a 9-month grace period1 and one skipped payment a year.2

Earnest also offers a free rate estimate online. It takes two minutes, and it won’t affect your credit score. Give it a try, and see how much you could save.




1 Nine-month grace period is not available for borrowers who choose our Principal and Interest Repayment plan while in school.

2 Earnest clients may skip one payment every 12 months. Your first request to skip a payment can be made once you’ve made at least 6 months of consecutive on-time payments, and your loan is in good standing. The interest accrued during the skipped month will result in an increase in your remaining minimum payment. The final payoff date on your loan will be extended by the length of the skipped payment periods. Please be aware that a skipped payment does count toward the forbearance limits. Please note that skipping a payment is not guaranteed and is at Earnest’s discretion. Your monthly payment and total loan cost may increase as a result of postponing your payment and extending your term.

Loan Eligibility criteria: Eligible students must: 1) For college Freshmen, Sophomores and Juniors, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school full-time. For college Seniors and Graduate students, attend, or be enrolled to attend, a Title IV school at least half-time; and 2) be pursuing a Bachelor’s or Graduate degree. Earnest private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information, self-certification of loan amount, and school certification.

Terms and Conditions apply. Visit for more information on our private student loan product. Earnest reserves the right to modify or discontinue the terms of this program at any time without notice. 

Before applying for private student loans, it’s best to maximize your other sources of financial aid first. It’s recommended to use a 3-step approach to assembling the funds you need: 1) Look for funds you don’t have to pay back, like scholarships, grant and work-study opportunities. 2) Next, fill out a FAFSA® form to apply for federal student loans. Federal student loans do not require a credit check or cosigner, and offer various protections if you’re struggling with payments. 3) Finally, consider a private student loan to cover any difference between your total cost of attendance and the amount not covered in steps 1 and 2. For more information, visit the Department of Education website at   

To view other, important disclosures, 

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.

Earnest Private Student Loans are made by One American Bank, Member FDIC. One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. 

Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC, 535 Mission St., Suite 1663 San Francisco, CA 94105, NMLS #1204917, with support From Navient Solutions, LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by agencies of the United States of America.   

© 2022 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved.

Come build the future of education financing.

Join the Team
Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.