Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are loan alternatives. ISA providers offer free or discounted tuition (and in some cases living expenses) to students during their education or training program. Once those students graduate and land a job, they pay a set percentage of their income back over a set period of time.
In many ways, the ISA works like a bet. The ISA provider bets that you’ll out-earn the amount you borrow. If you do, you pay them back more, sooner, or both. If you don’t earn enough, you don’t pay the tuition back.
Income share agreements have been growing in prevalence in recent years as ways to fund an education. In particular, “bootcamp” style programs (such as coding bootcamps) are increasingly offering ISAs to help students fund their education.
While ISAs aren’t specifically loans, they carry certain stipulations that students need to understand that makes them very similar to student loans (and the CFPB regulates them as student loan lenders). In this article, we'll cover ISA basics and where you can find the best ISA providers.
Key Factors For Evaluating Income Share Agreements
ISAs aren’t like traditional private student loans. To make sure you’re getting a good deal, you’ll want to look at all of the following factors.
When To Consider An ISA
ISAs aren’t for everyone. Although ISAs typically offer downside protection, the effective interest rate can be very high. Most people should maximum their federal student loan options (especially subsidized student loans) before taking on an income share agreement.
However, an income share agreement may be a valuable alternative for people who don’t qualify for federal student loans or as an alternative to private loans. For example, undocumented individuals may qualify for an ISA even though they don’t qualify for federal financial aid.
Additionally, many “bootcamps” or short training programs aren’t fully accredited. That means students in the program will need to use savings or private loans to pay for the program unless the program offers an ISA.
Where To Find Income Share Agreements
Finding an ISA can be a challenge. ISAs are a less common form of education funding and only a few schools promote them heavily. But here are a few places to look for ISA providers.
Your School Or Program
The first place to search for an ISA is your school or training program. Most schools that offer an ISA will give some information about it on their financial aid page.
In many cases, the ISAs that schools offer are administered by a private bank or lender. These programs may be subsidized by the school to make them a more attractive financing option.
In fact, some of the top ISA providers only offer income-sharing agreements through schools and not directly on their own platform. Edly is an example of this.
Private ISA Lenders
Private ISA lenders issue income share agreements directly to students. Most of these lenders only issue to juniors or seniors in undergraduate programs, graduate students, or candidates in bootcamp programs.
Each lender will have different allowed programs, but most focus on computer science, nursing, engineering, data science, and other “in demand” fields of study. We cover the best private ISA lenders below.
3 Best ISA Providers
The ISA providers listed below lend directly to individuals and are currently accepting applications from US-based students. There are several larger ISA lenders that work directly with schools to offer ISAs. However, those companies don’t advertise the terms of the ISAs directly to borrowers.
Stride was one of the first major ISA providers to lend directly to students. It’s goal is to help students avoid debt and fund education.
With relatively high borrowing limits, Stride is appropriate for graduate school students including those pursuing an MBA or a secondary health education degree (such as a Nurse Anesthetist degree).
Align bills itself as an alternative to a personal loan and it considers your current income when allowing you to borrow. This ISA could be a good way to fund living expenses during an internship or while moving to start a new job.
Defynance is looking to interrupt the student loan market in a big way. It's specifically designed for post-grad students with high earning potential. All factors in the ISA depend on Defynance’s “future earning potential” algorithm. Here are a few more details:
ISAs can be a great option for students who cannot qualify for federal student loans or other low-cost options. While most schools don’t offer these programs, students can check with the private ISA providers above to see if an ISA works for them.
In addition to the best providers listed above, you may want to check whether Edly, Blair or Avenify are allowing new students to apply for funding. These companies have historically allowed some students to apply for ISAs but the applications are either closed or the FAQ pages are down at this time.
All three of these companies are taking a peer-to-peer lending approach to college financing, so accredited investors may be able to invest through each of these companies. You can see our Edly review for investors here.
Overall, ISAs aren’t our top choice for paying for college but they can be worth considering if you've hit your federal student loan limits. We especially like that they align student goals (high career incomes) with investor goals (high returns) better than traditional private student loans.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.