Yes, you can use federal and private student loans for books and other education-related expenses. However, buying every book on the course list from the campus store isn’t the way to do it.
Continue reading to learn how using student loans for books works along with some tips and tricks for buying books for college.
How Can I Use Student Loans for Books?
If you need to use student loan money to pay for books, know this: you will not have immediate access to your student loan funds.
All your borrowed or awarded money is applied in a specific order. It works like this:
- First, your financial aid award (scholarships, grants, and federal student loans) and any private student loans are applied to your tuition, required fees, and room and board bills.
- Then, any remaining funds get refunded to you as directed—a check or a direct deposit. In some cases, the college will give you some of that balance in the form of book vouchers for the student bookstore. You can, and nearly always should opt-out of these vouchers and purchase books on your own.
Your university is required to disburse the lesser of your expected credit balance or the actual amount needed to cover books and supplies within the first week of the term. Once you’re reimbursed, you can use the funds, which include leftover student loan money, to purchase books and supplies.
Learn more about financial aid disbursement here.
Should I Use Student Loans for Textbooks?
Sure, you can use student loans for books, but should you?
Ideally, you should avoid using student loans for books if possible. Why? Because everything costs more than it should when you use student loans to make purchases.
According to CollegeBoard, the average student for the 2018-2019 school year spent $620 per semester on books and supplies. If you use savings to cover that expense, you’re only spending $620.
If you use federal student loans to cover the expense, you’ll actually end up spending $720 assuming a 4.53% interest rate and a standard 10-year repayment term.
If you’re using private student loan money to pay for books, you’ll could end up paying even more depending on the interest rate available.
Over your four years in college, you’d spend $800 more if you buy books with a federal student loan and $2,720 more if you buy books with a private student loan than if you used savings to cover the costs instead.
Tips for Saving Money on College Textbooks
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for every student to pay for their textbooks with savings. If that’s you, you need to do what you can to cut down textbook costs. It might take some extra time, but the savings are worth it.
Follow these tips to save money when shopping for college textbooks:
Only Buy What You Need
It’s possible that your syllabus isn’t 100% accurate. Don’t waste student loan money paying for books that you don’t actually need. Send an email to each of your professors. Introduce yourself and explain that you’re trying to limit expenses. Then, ask if you could use the older version of the textbooks listed and if there are any listed books that you don’t need to purchase.
If you don’t hear back (or aren’t satisfied with the response), try to find someone who took the class last year. There’s a good chance the class hasn’t changed. Ask them what books they really needed and which they didn’t. Hold off on purchasing the books you probably won’t need.
Borrow Books from the Library
Before buying any books for class, search the library catalog to see what’s available at your local library and your college’s library. Bear in mind that other students might plan to check the book out too, so check it out as soon as possible.
In addition to their catalogs, libraries also offer these free resources:
- Hoopla: Hoopla is a digital subscription service sponsored by libraries across the country. It lets you check out eBooks, audiobooks, music, and other digital content for free. Check if your local library or college library has a subscription, and if so, create an account with your library card. It’s unlikely you’ll find textbooks, but Hoopla might have supplementary books like novels or non-textbook nonfiction books available. There’s no waiting or holding period before downloading a book.
- Libby: Libby is a digital service used by libraries that lets you check out audiobooks, eBooks, and magazines. Again, it’s not likely you’ll find textbooks, but you might find other nonfiction books or novels. Unlike Hoopla, Libby requires borrowers to put holds on books that are currently checked out, so it’s possible the book you want won’t be available when you need it for class.
- Interlibrary Loan: Libraries partner with one another to allow patrons to check out books and other materials from any partnering library. This free service is called an interlibrary loan. If the book you want isn’t available at your college’s library, you might be able to request it from another college. Check with your college’s library or your local library for details on how long you can keep books checked out.
- Library Databases: Some library databases contain PDF copies of books, including textbooks. Visit the library’s database resources and search within those to find books on your list. ProQuest is a good database to start with.
Search for a Free (and Legal) Copy Online
Some textbook authors and publishers make their books legally available for free online. Do a quick search before making a purchase to see if there’s a free (and legal) eBook or PDF copy out there. Start with Google Books and Google Scholar.
If you’re taking an English literature class, be sure to check Project Gutenberg. This site releases digital copies of older books with expired U.S. copyrights.
Share with a Friend
Share books with friends who will be in the same class as you. Split the cost or just take turns purchasing the books for shared classes. In a pinch, you can always photocopy pages if one of you is headed home for the weekend or a mid-semester break.
Sharing books works great when there’s a school-specific book you need that’s only sold at the campus bookstore.
Compare Prices with CheapestTextbooks.com
Find the best rates on textbooks from CheapestTextbooks.com. Simply type in the book’s ISBN number and the search engine will compare prices and shipping costs from all discount college textbook stores, including Amazon. Relevant coupon and discount codes show up too. Use the tool to find used books, new books, to-rent books, and eBooks.
The site will even recommend if you should rent or buy based on the cost of renting vs buying and the current sellback value.
Find the Sell/Buy Textbook Facebook Group for Your College
Check Facebook for a sell/buy textbook group for your college. On these groups, students list textbooks that they’re looking to purchase or looking to sell. The groups are usually set up by students for students, so your best bet is to ask a current student if one exists.
Most textbook groups are fairly organized and searchable. Simply type in the class name or the book’s ISBN number to see if anyone is selling what you need. Books sold by students are often cheaper than those you find online. If not, students are usually willing to match online prices.
Check the Facebook group before purchasing any school-specific book editions from the campus bookstore.
Consider Purchasing or Renting eBooks over Paper Books
If you already own an e-reader or a tablet, buying or renting eBooks could save you money. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of eBooks before committing. Some students do better when they can physically hold, flip through, and take notes in a book. For others, the cost-savings are worth it.
Either way, you should never assume an eBook is cheaper than a used hardcopy. Always compare the prices of both and factor in a hardcopy’s buyback value too.
Choose Loose Leaf
Some book publishers sell budget-friendly loose leaf (also called binder-ready) copies in addition to traditionally bound textbooks. Loose leaf copies are usually $10+ cheaper than their bound counterpart. Most are three-hole-punched too, so you’ll just need a three-ring binder to keep the pages contained.
What Should I Do with Leftover Student Loan Money?
If you have any student loan money left over after purchasing books, give it back. It might feel tempting to keep it in your bank account, but remember, you’ll end up paying for it later.
Compare the Best Student Loan Refinance Rates
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College Ave: College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (2)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (3)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 1/27/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at email@example.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Ascent: Ascent Student Loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 1/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.