9 Best Private Student Loans Available

 November 30, 2021
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Private student loans for college are worth considering if you don’t have enough federal financial aid to pay for your tuition and other costs. But before you sign anything, you’ll want to shop around for the best private student loans.

To start your search, consider these nine borrowing options. They’re our favorites, based on the rates and features outlined below:

Lender Private student loan option best suited for…
Best for parent borrowers Read More

Visit Lender

Best for speedy cosigner release Read More

Visit lender

Best for repayment term options and flexibility Read More

Visit lender

Best for comprehensive approval process Read More

Visit lender

Best for loans without a cosigner Read More

Visit lender

Best for unemployment protection during repayment Read More

Visit lender

Best for customer service Read More

Visit lender

Best for multi-year borrowing Read More

Visit lender

Best for autopay discount Read More

Visit lender

Read on to learn more about each of these lenders and how to choose the right lender for your college loans.

9 best private student loans
What stands out among the best student loans
Best private student loans for your situation
Is a private student loan right for you?
Drawbacks of private student loans
Private student loan FAQs

9 best private student loans

Here’s our list, in no particular order, of some of the best private student loans offered by the top lenders. To compile it, we looked for established lenders offering the best student loan rates and additional benefits, which are detailed below.

Many of these reputable lenders offer the ability to view your potential rate while submitting only to a soft credit check, which won’t ding your credit report. Of course, there are other great choices out there, but think of our list as a jumping-off point as you start your research.

And whether you go with one of these or find another student loan lender that’s a better fit for you, make sure to shop around so you can get the best deal available for your situation.

1. College Ave

Overview: This online-only lender, which was founded by former Sallie Mae executives, distinguishes itself with increased flexibility. Borrowers can expect greater in-school and post-school repayment options than what’s found elsewhere. Plus, students and parents alike will appreciate its perks, such as no fees and low rates, in spite of the slow path to cosigner release available at College Ave.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 2.94% to 12.99% and variable rates from 0.94% to 11.98%
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Student and parent loan options
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students
  • Accessible for international students with a valid Social Security number (SSN) who apply with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner

What to like:

  • No application, origination or prepayment fees
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic payments with College Ave
  • Student repayment options of 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20 years
  • Option for students to make full, interest-only or flat payments while in school or to defer payments until after graduation
  • Parent repayment options of 5, 10, 12 years
  • Option for parents to make full, interest-only or interest-plus payments while their student is in school
  • Up to $2,500 can be deposited into a parent’s bank account to pay for student’s education costs

What to keep in mind:

  • Students are required to apply with a cosigner — with the minimum credit score requirement set at 660
  • Potential qualification for cosigner release isn’t available until more than half the scheduled repayment period has elapsed
  • Repayment protections like forbearance aren’t clearly defined

Visit College Ave

2. Sallie Mae

Overview: With a best-in-class cosigner release policy, Sallie Mae could be your top choice. The longest-running lender of the bunch, it also offers no fees, low rates and unique perks like study support and credit score tracking, all free of charge. One drawback, however, is the borrower’s inability to select the length of their repayment term.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 3.50% to 12.60% and variable rates from 1.13% to 11.23%
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students — even part-timers — as well as parents borrowing on behalf of students
  • Available for private K-12 education, career training certificate courses, dental and medical school and/or residencies, other health profession loans, MBA loans and bar study fees

What to like:

  • No origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up monthly payments by automatic debit with Sallie Mae
  • Three repayment options to choose from: deferred, fixed or interest-only while you’re in school and during your grace period
  • Borrowers receive free tutoring for school or study resources through Chegg
  • Borrowers can apply for cosigner release after graduation and when 12 on-time principal and interest payments have been made (without having used hardship forbearance or a modified repayment plan during that time)
  • Pause your loan repayment for up to 12 months using forbearance

What to keep in mind:

  • Repayment terms of 5, 10, 15, 20 years are available — but you can’t choose your specific term

Visit SallieMae

3. CommonBond

Overview: Among the best private loans for college, MBAs and other graduate degrees, online-only lender CommonBond is a regular player on our list. It’s upfront about its federal loan-like origination fee for professional student loans, but makes up for it with flexible terms across the board, including four different in-school repayment options.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 3.74% to 10.74% and variable rates from 3.80% to 9.36%
  • Loans from $2,000 to 100% of the school’s cost of attendance
  • Available to undergraduate students, as well as MBA candidates and other graduate and professional students attending school at least half time

What to like:

  • No application or origination fee (for undergraduate students) or prepayment penalty
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic monthly payments with CommonBond
  • Student loan repayment options of 5, 10, 15 years for undergraduate and graduate students (10, 15 years for MBA students and 10, 15 or 20 years for medical and dental students)
  • Four different repayment plans for students, all of which come with a six-month grace period: deferment until after college or grad school, fixed monthly payments of $25 during school, interest-only payments during school or full monthly payments for the duration of the loan
  • Students dealing with economic hardship after graduation can apply for up to 12 months of forbearance
  • Every time a loan is disbursed, CommonBond funds a loan for a student in need

What to keep in mind:

  • 2% origination fee on MBA, dental and medical student loans
  • Applicants must apply with a creditworthy cosigner (excluding MBA, medical and dental students, who aren’t required to have a cosigner to apply)
  • Student borrowers can apply for cosigner release after repaying the loan for two years

Visit CommonBond

4. Earnest

Overview: This student loan refinance company began offering some of the best private student loan options in April 2019, and it’s a competitive lender for undergraduate and postgraduate students alike. Unlike most lenders, Earnest considers additional criteria when determining your interest rate, including savings history and career trajectory. On the downside, if you need to apply with a cosigner to be eligible or to lower your rate, the online-only lender doesn’t offer a path to cosigner release.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 2.94% to 12.78% and variable rates from 0.99% to 11.44%
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Available to undergraduates and to graduate students pursuing a law, medical, business or other eligible degrees
  • Accessible to noncitizen students who have a valid SSN and a creditworthy cosigner

What to like:

  • No origination, disbursement, prepayment or late payment fees
  • A 0.25% interest-rate reduction if you set up monthly payments via automatic debit
  • Repayment terms of 5, 10, 15, 20 years
  • Four repayment options to choose from while you’re in school and during your grace period: deferred, fixed, interest-only or full payments
  • Borrowers receive a nine-month grace period before entering repayment
  • Borrowers can skip a payment once per year (although this comes at the cost of interest accruing)
  • Deferment available for borrowers in the military

What to keep in mind:

  • You may not get to choose from all of the five repayment term possibilities, depending on your application
  • Cosigners on undergraduate loans must have an income of at least $35,000 and a credit score at or above 650, and they can’t be released from the loan
  • Loans not available in Nevada

Visit Earnest

5. Ascent

Overview: If you have trouble finding a cosigner during your search for the best private student loans, don’t forget to include Ascent among your lender considerations. This online company makes independent loans available to certain students (more on the criteria below) and at the same interest rates offered to borrowers who do apply with a guarantor. Ascent also borrows a couple of features from federal loans that you may or may not appreciate, including entrance counseling and a “progressive” repayment option that (as the name implies) would see your monthly dues increase gradually over time.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 2.97% to 12.95% and variable rates from 1.50% to 11.33%
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance with an aggregate maximum of $200,000
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half time
  • Accessible to DACA students and other noncitizen students who apply with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner

What to like:

  • No application fee or prepayment penalty
  • Interest-rate reduction (0.25%) if you automate your monthly payments
  • Repayment terms of 10, 15 years — with a graduated repayment plan available upon leaving school
  • Three in-school repayment options for qualifying borrowers: deferred payment, fixed $25 payments and interest-only payments
  • Expansive deferment and forbearance options in cases of returning to school, serving in the military, working a residency or internship and experiencing hardship
  • Receive a 1% cashback bonus upon graduation
  • Earn $525 referral bonuses when your peers borrow from Ascent

What to keep in mind:

  • To qualify for the non-cosigned loan, you must:
    • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
    • Be an upperclassmen or graduate student
    • Have a 2.9 or better GPA
    • Have two or more years of credit history and meet the minimum credit score requirement, or have a previous year minimum income with a satisfactory debt-to-income ratio
  • Not all schools are eligible for Ascent loans
  • Borrowers and cosigners are required to take a federal loan-like “financial wellness” course as part of the application process
  • Two years of full and timely payments are required to release your cosigner (if one is attached to your loan agreement)

Visit Ascent

6. SoFi

Overview: SoFi is better known for student loan refinancing — however, similar to Earnest, it too launched a private student loan offering in 2019. You could prequalify and check your rate within minutes without affecting your credit. SoFi’s no-fee loans are worth considering, but be aware that half-time enrollment status is an eligibility factor.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 2.99% to 10.66% and variable rates from 0.95% to 11.18%
  • Loans from $5,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Available to undergraduate students, as well as graduate students pursuing a law, business or other eligible degrees — and parent borrowers
  • Accessible to noncitizen students who apply with a qualified cosigner

What to like:

  • No origination, disbursement, prepayment or late payment fees
  • Interest-rate reduction (0.25%) if you set up monthly payments by automatic debit — plus an additional discount (0.125%) if you or your cosigner are already a SoFi member
  • Repayment terms of 5, 10, 15 years
  • Four repayment options to choose from while you’re in school and during your grace period: deferred, fixed, interest-only or full payments
  • Borrowers who lose their job while in repayment could qualify for up to 12 months of forbearance, awarded in three-month spans
  • SoFi members are also eligible to benefit from the company’s other services, including career coaching and wealth management

What to keep in mind:

  • Cosigner release is only available after making two years’ worth of on-time payments.

Visit SoFi

7. ELFI

Overview: ELFI, a division of SouthEast Bank in Tennessee, began providing student loans to in-school borrowers and their parents in 2019. It doesn’t offer common discounts, pledging that it bakes those discounts into its competitively-offered APRs. You can easily check rates (and confirm your eligibility) using the online-only lender’s prequalification tool. Just be mindful of ELFI’s credit score requirements (more information below).

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 3.20% to 11.99% and variable rates from 1.20% to 11.52%.
  • Loans from $1,000 up to your cost of attendance
  • Student and parent loan options

What to like:

  • No application or origination fee
  • Work with a dedicated student loan advisor during your application process
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Student repayment options of 5 years
  • Parent repayment options of 5 to 10 years
  • Four in-school repayment options for borrowers, including full deferment

What to keep in mind:

  • Borrowers and cosigners must be permanent residents with credit scores of at least 680
  • Limited forms of forbearance due to financial hardship are available on a case-by-case basis
  • Cosigner release is not available

Visit Elfi

8. Citizens Bank

Overview: With no-fee loan options for students and parents, Citizens Bank sets itself apart by offering multiyear approval. You can apply once for multiple years of financing for your degree. That could come in handy whether you’re an undergrad, or a graduate or professional student staring down a long road to your advanced degree.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 3.23% to 11.70% and variable rates from 1.03% to 11.01%.
  • Loans from $1,000 to $295,000, depending on your degree
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students
  • Student and parent loan options

What to like:

  • No application or origination fee
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction if you already have an account with Citizens Bank
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic payments
  • Student repayment options of 5, 10, 15 years
  • Option for students to make full or interest-only payments while in school, or to defer payments until after graduation
  • Multiyear approval so you can set up borrowing for future semesters

What to keep in mind:

  • Applicants will most likely need good credit or a qualified cosigner to be approved
  • Potential qualification for cosigner release is based on creditworthiness and whether there have been 36 consecutive on-time principal and interest payments

VISIT CITIZENS

9. PNC

Overview: Thanks to its no-fee, low-interest rate loans for a variety of students, PNC is potentially one of your best lending options. While the bank encourages you to apply with a cosigner to score a lower rate, you could release your cosigner after four years of timely payments. You might be less attracted to PNC’s loan limits — unlike other lenders, it doesn’t allow you to borrow up to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance.

Details:

  • Fixed rates from 4.54% to 11.79% and variable rates from 4.70% to 11.87%.
  • Loans from $1,000 up to $50,000 for undergrads, and $1,000 to $65,000 for graduate students
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students, plus professional students who are enrolled, working in residency or studying for their bar exam

What to like:

  • No application or origination fees
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction of 0.50% if you set up monthly payments by automatic debit
  • Repayment terms of 15 years
  • Three repayment options to choose from: deferred, interest-only or full payments while you’re in school and during your grace period
  • Borrowers can learn about repayment using a free resource called GradReady

What to keep in mind:

  • Defer your repayment for six months after leaving school or during active military duty
  • Postpone payments for up to two months at a time via forbearance
  • Borrowers can apply for cosigner release after making 48 full and prompt payments and passing a credit check.

Visit PNC

What stands out among the best student loans

A variety of factors differentiate the best private student loans, though the main ones to focus on are interest rates and fees.

The amount of money you take out on your private school loans is only the beginning. Give yourself the best chance of maintaining a manageable level of debt by keeping your rates and fees as low as possible.

As you review different interest rates, remember that you can apply for more than one loan to see which one will give you your best deal. There are two ways you can do so without your credit score taking a hit:

  • Many private student loan lenders do a soft pull on your credit, which enables you to see what you might be approved for without negatively impacting your credit score.
  • If you were to file a formal application with more than one lender, you could avoid dinging your credit by rate shopping within a two-week window.

Besides looking for offers for the best private loans for college, also look out for beneficial perks. For example, some lenders offer college students a lower rate for good grades, while others provide the ability to release your cosigner.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of options, use a monthly payment calculator to estimate what your regular dues might be.

Best private student loans for your situation

If you peruse a list of the best private student loans that are general in nature, you could miss out on lenders that cater specifically to your needs. Different lenders serve students attending certain types of schools, for example, or pursuing specialized degrees.

To check out the banks, credit unions and online companies that we think are best for your situation, click away here:

Borrower Programs Other degrees Personal situation Lender feature
Part-time students Community college Associate degree Applying without a cosigner Credit unions
International students Trade school Non-degree programs Bad or no credit Cosigner release
Adults returning to school Nursing school Economic hardship forbearance
Graduate students Medical school
Parents Law school
Dental school
Business school

Is a private student loan right for you?

When you consider whether a private lender is right for you, remember that even the best private student loans for college don’t come with the same protections as federal loans.

Federal Private
Interest rates Fixed: 3.73% to 6.28% Fixed and variable rates vary by lender
Origination fee 1.057% or 4.228% Not typically charged by top-rated lenders
Credit check Not necessary (except for PLUS loans) Required (though applying with a cosigner can help you qualify)
Subsidized loans Available for families with financial need Not available
Changing repayment plans Yes, at any time and free of charge Not available
Postponing monthly dues Variety of short- and long-term deferments, forbearances available Short-term economic hardship forbearance, back-to-school deferment sometimes available
Student loan forgiveness Multiple federally-administered loan forgiveness programs Not available, though loan repayment assistance programs could be useful
For more details, see our college loan comparison chart

Federal student loans offer income-driven repayment plans, deferment and forbearance, as well as forgiveness program options. Some private school loans do offer hardship options in case your income hits a snag, but not all have them available.

Plus, private loans for college — much like federal direct unsubsidized loans — start accruing interest immediately. This contrasts with subsidized federal student loans, for which the Department of Education will pay the interest until you graduate and during any deferment.

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll likely need a cosigner — that’s because private student loan offers are based on your creditworthiness, and most college students are too young to have much of a credit history.

If you do get a loan with a cosigner, make sure all your payments are on time. If not, your cosigner will be responsible — and missing payments or going into default can damage their credit as well as yours.

If you see tough financial times ahead, reach out to your lender immediately to find out if you can adjust your repayment plan — it doesn’t hurt to ask. Plus, the sooner you handle the situation, the better your chances of a good outcome.

Like all financial tools, private loans for college can be a lifesaver if you use them wisely. They are best used as a backup when you can’t get enough federal student loans to cover your tuition and other education costs. In that case, private student loans can be a great way to finish off the funding for your education.

Drawbacks of private student loans

Private loans aren’t a perfect solution for all borrowers. For instance, the fact that they’re credit-based makes them inherently more accessible — and beneficial — to borrowers with at least good credit or a cosigner with good credit.

The vast majority of private loans are cosigned, which also adds risk to the borrowing process. As mentioned above, if you attach a parent cosigner to your undergraduate loan mom or dad would be held as responsible as you would be for repayment. If you miss payments, for example, their credit report and score will reflect it.

Defaulting on private loan debt is also a much easier trap to fall into. Some private lenders consider your debt in default after just one payment, bringing potentially serious consequences, starting with debt collections proceedings. By comparison, a delinquent federal loan isn’t considered in default until at least 270 days since you missed payment date.

To prevent delinquency and default, private loans also carry far fewer repayment protections. Top-rated lenders offer customers the ability to postpone payments via deferment and forbearance for reasons such as unemployment or financial hardship. But don’t expect to be able to modify your repayment terms after your loan has been disbursed.

These and other cons of private loans should be weighed before you decide to borrow.

Pros and cons of private student loans
Pros Cons
● Be rewarded for excellent credit (or a creditworthy cosigner) with low APRs
● Borrow up to your cost of attendance
● Wait for statute of limitations to expire if you default in repayment
● Not eligible for government-exclusive programs like income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness and subsidies
● Variable APRs can increase the cost of your loan
● Cosigner could be required to access lowest, advertised APRs

Private student loan FAQs

Here are a few more things you might be wondering about borrowing and repaying private student loans…

How do private student loans work?

For private student loans, you typically shop around with banks, credit unions and online lenders to find the best overall loan offer for you. Unlike federal loans, private loans are credit-based, meaning that your eligibility and terms will depend on your credit history. If you’re a student with a thin or poor credit file, you could improve your application by adding a creditworthy cosigner.

Once you’ve gained approval, your lender will certify the funding amount with the college or university you’re attending. You may be allowed to borrow up to 100% of your cost of attendance, minus other financial aid. The funds are usually disbursed directly to the school, with any leftover amount credited to you later.

Your private lender may have a loan servicer that manages the repayment of your debt. Keep in mind that private loans have few safeguards if you run into trouble after leaving school, so they’re often used as a supplement for federal loans, rather than as a substitute.

Who qualifies for a private student loan?

Creditworthy students, including undergraduates, graduate and professional students — as well as their parents or legal guardians — can qualify for private student loans. To be eligible, the primary borrower or their cosigner must meet lenders’ underwriting criteria. Besides your credit history, credit score and debt-to-income ratios, lenders may also set requirements related to your age, school and citizenship.

Fortunately, many lenders cater to nontraditional applicants, such as those who can’t find a cosigner, attend school part time or aren’t permanent U.S. residents, among other cases. The most reputable lenders also allow you to prequalify to check your eligibility and rates before submitting a formal application and undergoing a credit check.

Will I need a cosigner for a private student loan?

For years, this trend has held steady: About 9 in 10 private student loans for undergrads are cosigned. Numbers are lower for graduate and professional students, but if you have a thin credit history, expect to have to find a cosigner for your loan application.

Not all lenders require undergraduates to have cosigners, but even if you can apply independently, piggybacking onto the credit of a cosigner could help you score a lower APR.

Can I get a private student loan with bad credit?

Yes, it is possible to get a private student loan with bad credit. The best way to do this is to recruit a creditworthy cosigner to join your loan application — you could always apply to release your cosigner down the road, or refinance your loan at a later date without their name on the new loan.

If you can’t find a cosigner for your bad credit application, you’ll need to get a little more resourceful. There are some reputable lenders that work with individual students, so prioritize their products and services before you resort to working with a lender that attaches high APRs and plenty of fees to their loan offerings.

Is Salle Mae a good lender?

Sallie Mae is a veteran of the private student loan industry and is among our top-rated lenders. With that said, no lender is perfect for all borrowers, so check out our Sallie Mae review before filing an application.

Can you negotiate a lower rate on private student loans?

The rate you’re awarded on private student loans depends on the creditworthiness of you or your cosigner, if you have one. To score the lowest advertised rates, you or your cosigner may need an excellent credit score (starting around 700), though a merely “good” score (about 600 or higher) should at least help you qualify.

Lenders typically rely on their underwriting processes to determine each borrower’s interest rate, so negotiation isn’t usually possible. With that said, you could lower your awarded interest rate by opting for a variable rate over a fixed rate, or by scoring rate discounts for enrolling in autopay or making a certain number of consecutive payments. Rate reductions are also achievable through academic performance, or by graduating or opening a bank account with the same lender.

Do private student loans have fees?

Many of the best private student loans carry no fees for application, origination or prepayment. A select few lenders even waive common and arguably fair extra charges, such as late payments or returned checks. Generally, however, many private student loan lenders and companies do still impose fees.

It’s important to ask customer service teams about these fees before choosing a loan. You’ll want to avoid lenders that punish you with federal loan-like origination fees, which can eat into your balance, and prepayment penalties, which could dissuade you from paying down your debt ahead of schedule.

Can private student loans be forgiven?

Unlike with federal loans, there are no national private loan forgiveness programs. However, there are dozens of local loan repayment assistance programs available for private education debt. These programs are available to borrowers, often depending on their location and occupation.

In some cases, local governments, organizations or employers promise to cover a portion — or even the entirety — of your loan balance in exchange for your employment in an underserved field or geographical area. Check out our database of 120-plus loan repayment assistance programs to see if any could be a fit for your situation.

Can you transfer private student loans to federal ones?

No, private student loans can’t be transferred to the federal government. Private loans are owned by your lender, unless they’re sold to another loan servicer or you elect to refinance them with a different private financial institution.

If you have one private student loan and three federal loans, for example, the only way to combine all four would be through student loan refinancing. However, refinancing would strip those federal loans of their government-exclusive protections, so it may not be the right move for every borrower.

Need a student loan?

Check out our top picks below or learn more about other ways to pay for college.
Variable APRDegrees That QualifyMore Info
0.94% – 11.98%1 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%2 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SallieMae

0.99% – 11.44%3 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.50% – 11.33%4 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent

0.95% – 11.18%5 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.03% – 11.01%6 Undergraduate
Graduate

VISIT CITIZENS