LendKey Private Student Loans Review: Connect with Community Banks, Credit Unions

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When you shop around for a private student loan, you might apply with multiple banks and credit unions to compare offers. But when you look into LendKey private student loans, this process is already baked into the cake.

On its platform, LendKey promises to connect you with hundreds of community banks and credit unions simultaneously. You can access lenders you might have otherwise overlooked and, ideally, compare multiple loan offers in one place.

In addition to the student loan refinancing it offers to graduates, LendKey’s partner lenders also offer in-school loans with competitive interest rates and some partner lenders even offer an an attractive cosigner release policy. Read on for all the details.

LendKey student loans review: The basics

To be eligible at LendKey — founded in 2009 with offices in New York City and Cincinnati — you have to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident attending an eligible school. You must also meet the specific lender’s credit and income requirements to qualify for a loan. You (or your cosigner), for example, would need a credit score of at least 660.

Keep in mind that because LendKey would be your servicer, not your lender, the terms of your loan would depend on your lending bank or credit union. With that said, here are the basics of private student loans serviced by LendKey:

  • Available for undergraduate and graduate students
  • Borrow as little as $5,000 and as much as $125,000 (undergraduates) or $250,000 (graduate students)
  • Fixed and variate interest rates available
  • No application or origination fees
  • No prepayment penalties
  • 6-month low-payment grace period after you leave school (see below)
  • Autopay rate discount of 0.25%
  • Up to 18 months of forbearance
  • Cosigner release offered after 12-36 prompt monthly payments

There are also some factors of LendKey private student loans that might not be as appealing:

  • You’re required to apply with a cosigner when your income is below $24,000 or you have less than 3 years of credit history
  • You must make interest-only or fixed $25 payments while enrolled in school and during the grace period
  • Only a 10-year repayment term is available

What we like about LendKey private student loans

Given that LendKey is more of a marketplace than a lender, you might not be surprised to learn that its application process generally takes less than 15 minutes and is relatively easy to follow.

When applying, you’ll be asked for information about your school, major and citizenship status. You’ll also have to give your Social Security number and total annual income, and you must agree to undergo a credit check. After that, you’ll receive a loan offer.

Here are a few factors that could make that offer more attractive in your eyes.

Your ‘Academic Credit Score’ could lower your rate

You might wonder why LendKey also asks you to select the range of your grade point average (GPA) or send over your latest transcripts. This is because the company uses the information to assess your reliability.

Your GPA, course of study and class-standing information — right alongside your (or your cosigner’s) credit history — is plugged into LendKey’s proprietary credit scoring model. This is referred to this as your Academic Credit Score, and the better it is, the better the chance you have to score lower interest rates.

A lower rate could mean significant savings. Say you qualify for a 6.00% interest rate and intend to borrow $10,000 for your next year of school. Repaying your five-figure debt over a 10-year term would cost you $3,322 in interest, according to our monthly payment calculator.

Now say your Academic Credit Score dragged down your loan application, so you only qualified for a 9.00% rate. Repaying that $10,000 over the same term would include $5,201 of interest.

Release your cosigner in 1 to 3 years

Most undergraduate student loans offered by private lenders require or strongly encourage you to apply with a cosigner. As a teen or 20-something, you likely don’t have the income or credit history to apply on your own anyway.

At LendKey, you’ll need to attach this guarantor to your loan application if you earn less than $24,000 per year or have fewer than 36 months of credit history.

On the plus side, some LendKey network lenders have a cosigner release policy that would allow you to thank your Mom, Dad or other guarantor and send them on their merry way after 12 to 36 months of full and prompt payments.

Pause your repayment for up to 18 months

Hiccups are a part of life, so naturally, you could expect to experience one during your student loan repayment as well. A significant benefit of borrowing from one of LendKey’s member lenders is that you could pause your repayment for up to 18 months (in six-month increments).

The forbearance policy is especially generous when compared with competitors. Even some top-rated lenders max out their offering at 12 months.

Borrowing from a company that promises relatively extensive hardship protection will not only put your mind at ease — it could lower your costs and keep your finances from additional harm, avoiding a serious incident like student loan default.

But be aware that, like most competitors, LendKey’s policy allows interest to accrue and capitalize onto your loan balance while you step away from repayment.

What to keep in mind about LendKey private student loans

You might find LendKey’s platform user-friendly, but remember that it’s not your lender — the bank or credit union would be.

That explains, at least in part, why you must complete a full application off the bat, subjecting yourself to a hard credit check. There’s no way, at least currently, for the company to help you prequalify faster and with less effect on your credit.

Here are a few more factors to consider before choosing LendKey as your loan servicer:

You might not receive multiple loan offers

The real boon of borrowing from LendKey is that it can help you rate-compare among lenders and connect you with lesser-known lenders you might not have considered on your own.

Unfortunately, depending on your borrowing situation, LendKey might not truly deliver part of this key benefit. After completing the first stage of your application, for example, you might be asked to select your lender, only to find a single credit union available.

In other cases, your state of residence might restrict you to just one of LendKey’s partner lenders. And even if LendKey’s prescribed lender offers a suitable loan agreement, you might still need to hunt around elsewhere to ensure you find the best loan available.

You are required to make in-school payments

There are plenty of benefits of making in-school payments: Beginning to repay your loan while you’re enrolled could beef up your credit history, for example, and also stop interest from ballooning your balance.

Many LendKey partner lenders, however, lock you into this choice. They require borrowers — regardless of their financial situation or personal preference — to either make interest-only payments or fixed $25 payments while enrolled and after, while enjoying a grace period.

If you’d rather take the higher toll of accruing interest in exchange for the freedom to put off repayment, you might prefer a lender like College Ave, which offers four in-school repayment options, including full deferment.

You might need to join a credit union first

If your LendKey application directs you to select one or more credit unions, you will also have to apply — and pay for — membership at the credit union itself. The process isn’t especially difficult, and the costs can often be as low as $1-$5, but there’s more red tape here than if you elected to borrow from a bank or online-only lender.

If you don’t see a discounted rate or other unique benefits to joining and borrowing from a not-for-profit credit union, you might test the waters with no-fee online lenders, such as Ascent.

Are LendKey private student loans right for you?

When shopping around for a private student loan, we recommend comparing rates with at least three lenders. That way, you’ll find the least costly — or best overall — loan agreement for your borrowing needs.

You could qualify for relatively low interest rates from LendKey’s partner lenders. These community banks and credit unions also tack on one of the more generous forbearance policies available among private lenders.

On the downside, you might prefer full deferment to the in-school repayment options required by LendKey’s partners. More critically, you might wonder if the company lives up to its promise as a marketplace if it only connects you with a single lender, rather than a few.

Even if it doesn’t serve as a one-stop shop, however, you could consider LendKey one of the “lenders” you request quotes from before making your final decision. Additionally, if you like the idea of borrowing from a nonprofit lender like LendKey’s partners, you can also explore some of the other ways to find credit union student loans that are a good fit for you.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2020!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

2 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

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)All rates shown include the auto-pay discount.  The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

(2)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

(3)As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.

Information advertised valid as of 4/1/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

3 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. Students who get at least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualify for a one-time cash reward on each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Reward for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/AutoDebitReward.
  3. Aggregate loan limits apply.
  4. Lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments. The interest rate ranges represent the lowest interest rate offered on the Discover Undergraduate Loan and highest interest rates offered on Discover student loans, including Undergraduate, Graduate, Health Professions, Law and MBA Loans. The fixed interest rate is set at the time of application and does not change during the life of the loan. The variable interest rate is calculated based on the 3-Month LIBOR index plus the applicable Margin percentage. The margin is based on your credit evaluation at the time of application and does not change. For variable interest rate loans, the 3-Month LIBOR is 2.00% as of January 1, 2020. Discover Student Loans will adjust the rate quarterly on each January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1 (the “interest rate change date”), based on the 3-Month LIBOR Index, published in the Money Rates section of the Wall Street Journal 15 days prior to the interest rate change date, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent (0.125% or 0.00125). This may cause the monthly payments to increase, the number of payments to increase or both. Please visit discover.com/student-loans/interest-rates for more information about interest rates.
Discover's lowest rates shown are for the undergraduate loan and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.

4 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restrictions. Loans are offered through CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS #1175900).

  1.  Rates are as of July 1, 2019 and include auto-pay discount. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment. Variable rates may increase after consummation.

5 Important Disclosures for Ascent.

Ascent Disclosures

Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.

  1. Variable rate loans are based on a margin between 1.90% and 13.50% plus the 1-Month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) rounded to the nearest 1/100th of a percent. The current LIBOR is 1.629%, which may adjust monthly. Your interest rate may increase or decrease, based on LIBOR monthly changes, resulting in an Annual Percentage (APR) range between 3.14% and 11.88%. Fixed rate loans have an APR range between 4.09% and 13.03% based on your credit worthiness and your selected program. Competitive variable rates calculated monthly at the time of loan approval. Rates are effective as of 03/01/2020 and reflect an Automatic Payment Discount of 0.25% on the lowest offered rate and a 2.00% discount on the highest offered rate. 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. (See Automatic Payment Discount Terms & Conditions.)
  2. Payments may be deferred. Subject to lender discretion, forbearance and/or deferment options may be available for borrowers who are encountering financial distress.
  3. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. There are three (3) flexible in-school repayment options that include fully deferred, interest only and $25 minimum repayment.
  4. Flexible repayment plans may be offered up to a fifteen (15) year repayment term for a variable rate loan and ten (10) year repayment term for a fixed rate loan. Students must be enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school. Minimum loan amount is $2,000.
  5. Interest rate reduction of 0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit applies only when the borrower and/or cosigner signs up for automatic payments and the regularly scheduled, current amount due (including full, flat, or interest only payments, as applicable) is successfully deducted from the designated bank account each month. Interest rate reduction(s) will not apply during periods when no payment is due, including periods of In-School, Deferment, Grace or Forbearance. If you have two (2) returned payments for Nonsufficient Funds, we may cancel your automatic debit enrollment and you will lose the 0.25% interest rate reduction. You will then need to re-qualify and re-enroll in automatic debit payments to receive the 0.25% interest rate reduction.
  6. All applicants (individual and cosigner) are required to complete a brief online financial literacy course as part of the application process to be eligible for funding.
  7. Eligibility, loan amount and other loan terms are dependent on several factors, which may include: loan product, other financial aid, creditworthiness, school, program, graduation date, major, cost of attendance and other factors. Aggregate loan limits may apply. The cost of attendance is determined and certified by the educational institution.
  8. The legal age for entering into contracts is eighteen (18) years of age in every state except Alabama where it is nineteen (19) years old, Nebraska where it is nineteen (19) years old (only for wards of the state), and Mississippi and Puerto Rico where it is twenty-one (21) years old.
  9. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Click here for details. In order to be eligible for the 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward, borrower must meet the following criteria after graduation:
    • The student borrower has graduated from the degree program that the loan was used to fund.
    • The student borrower may change majors and/or transfer to a different school, but must obtain the same level of degree (e.g. – undergraduate or graduate)
    • The graduation date is more than 90 days and less than five (5) years after the date of the loan’s first disbursement.
    • Any loan that the student has borrowed under the Ascent loan is not more than 30-days delinquent or in a default status as of the graduation date and until any Graduation Reward is paid.
  10. Students can apply to release their cosigner and continue with the loan in only their name after making the first 24 consecutive regularly scheduled full principal and interest payments on-time and meeting the other eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan without a cosigner.

* Application times vary depending on the applicant’s ability to supply the necessary information for submission.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As March 1, 2020, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.62%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72% – 10.98% (2.72% – 10.83% APR)  and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.72% – 12.19% (4.72% – 12.04% APR)  based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens One is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.

Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensone.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review. 

Citizens One Student Loan Eligibility: Borrowers must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international borrower/eligible non-citizen with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer. For borrowers who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer is required. Citizens One reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens One Student Loans private student loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, and if applicable, self-certification form, school certification of the loan amount, and student’s enrollment at a Citizens One Student Loans-participating school. 

Please Note: International Students are not eligible for the multi-year approval feature.

Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan. 

Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

2.75% – 10.65%*,1Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.52% – 9.50%4Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

5.20% – 14.18%5Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Ascent

2.72% – 10.98%6Undergraduate and Graduate


Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.