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A personal loan can be used to cover a variety of expenses, including an unexpected bill, a vacation or even a home repair. And it can be a more cost-effective way to cover these expenses, because some personal loans have lower interest rates than most credit cards, and you can be approved for up to $100,000.
However, there are some personal loan uses that fall under more of a gray area, and college tuition is one of them.
There's a thin line between being able to use a personal loan for tuition costs and being prohibited from doing so — and it really comes down to which loans follow certain federal regulations.
Regulations mentioning "private education loans" refer to a form of credit that is not federally insured, does not include a line of credit or any other loan that must be secured and is provided to a borrower for educational expenses, according to the Federal Register.
Personal loans aren't subsidized or insured by the government, often don't require a borrower to secure them with collateral, and borrowers may apply for the loan explicitly for the purpose of educational expenses.
But under the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, lenders providing private education loans must make special disclosures, provide a 30-day rumination period, must give borrowers the option to cancel within three days of disbursing the funds and cannot affiliate themselves with schools. These are just some of the regulations that loans for educational use must follow.
Not all lenders offer personal loans that meet all of these requirements. Since they don't follow these strict regulations, many lenders simply prohibit the use of their personal loans for tuition-related expenses.
As long as the lender doesn't prohibit the use of their personal loan for educational expenses, borrowers are technically free to use one to cover tuition costs.
"The exact uses can be found in the loan agreement itself," says Leslie Tayne, the founder and manager of Tayne Law Group. "If the loan is designed for you to use it as you please, then it's generally fine to use the money to pay for college."
At the same time, though, Tayne explains that it's highly unlikely that a college student straight out of high school would even have a substantial enough credit history to be approved for a personal loan. Plus, there are some advantages to private student loans that personal loans just don't offer.
According to Tayne, you'll generally be charged a lower interest rate on private student loans. If you take out a personal loan, you'll have to start repaying it immediately. But you may have the option to defer repayments on a private student loan while you're still in school.
Personal loans typically have shorter repayment terms than private student loans. You only have up to seven years to pay off a personal loan, but with a private student loan you generally have up to 20 years to pay it off. This could mean that your monthly payments on the personal loan will be higher.
If you've exhausted federal financial aid and private student loan options and still need extra funding to cover expenses like school supplies and textbooks, there are still other lending products out there that are more suitable for students.
A student credit card like the Discover it® Student Cash Back has no annual fee, a short 0% APR intro period on purchases for 6 months (18.24% - 27.24% variable thereafter), and is geared toward students with fair or no credit. But if you're a student who's managed to build up a credit history that's in good standing, you can apply for the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students, which also has no annual fee and a generous intro 0% APR period, so you can defer paying off a big expense (or better yet, split it into smaller payments over several month). Plus, new cardholders can earn 25,000 bonus points if they spend $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening the account.
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases-automatically.
Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year
0% for 6 months on purchases
18.24% - 27.24% Variable
Balance transfer fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Foreign transaction fee
Fair / New to Credit
*See rates and fees, terms apply.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students credit card
Unlimited 1.5 points for every $1 spent on all purchases
25,000 online bonus points after you spend at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, which can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward qualifying travel and dining purchases
0% APR for the first 18 billing cycles on purchases, and for any balance transfers made within the first 60 days of opening your account.
17.99% to 27.99% variable
Balance transfer fee
3% of the amount of each transaction
Foreign transaction fee
Although you may not be able to use some personal loans to cover the costs of tuition, consider exhausting your other funding options first, like federal student aid and private student loans. The terms are often much more beneficial for students and you can feel more confident about setting up a reasonable repayment plan..
For rates and fees of the Discover it® Student Cash Back card, click here.
Information about the Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer prior to publication.