How to Plan an Epic 10-Day Road Trip for Less Than $2,200

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My childhood was full of road trips. With five kids, my parents could rarely afford to bring us all on a plane for a family vacation. Instead, we’d load ourselves into our 15-passenger “party van” and hit the road.

Today, I still love road trips. My son and I road-trip a couple of times each year, and we even bring my sister and her family along for the ride sometimes. I’ve turned it into something of an art — a fun, inexpensive, memory-building art.

Here are four tips that helped me plan a 10-day road trip for eight people — for only $2,180.51.

1. Calculate your fuel costs

Start by figuring out your fuel costs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offers a handy calculator that can help you estimate your total gas cost based on your vehicle and your stops.

fuel cost calculator

Image credit: FuelEconomy.gov

We stayed in seven cities on our trip, which included a stop in Las Vegas and a two-night stay near the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

We drove two vehicles:

  • My sister’s 2007 Honda Odyssey
  • My 2012 Subaru Outback

The government’s fuel calculator was a little off. My sister and her husband ended up paying about $325 for gas, and I ended up paying about $210. Part of that, though, was the fact that my son and I squeezed into their minivan for around-town trips rather than taking two cars to everything.

There’s really not much you can do to save money on gas. It costs what it costs. But the DOE does offer the following driving tips aimed at saving money on gas:

  • Avoid speeding, hard braking, and rapid acceleration.
  • Consider driving a little slower on the highway. “Above 50 mph, gas mileage drops rapidly,” according to the DOE. “For every 5 mph above 50 mph, it’s like paying an additional [19 cents] per gallon of gasoline.”
  • Keep items inside your car, instead of on a rack, to reduce drag. Packing on the top of your vehicle can reduce fuel economy by 25% on interstates.
  • Try to pack light. Every 100 pounds can add another 3 cents per gallon in gas costs.

Some of those tips aren’t practical for a road trip. You might need a roof box to create more space inside the vehicle. Additionally, when the speed limit is posted at 75 mph or 80 mph (hello, driving in the Intermountain West), it’s hard to feel good about going 50 mph. Just realize that these concessions to comfort might cost you.

In the end, though, driving was much cheaper than trying to get eight people on an airplane.

Just one round-trip plane ticket from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Las Vegas costs $368. Multiply that by eight, and you end up with $2,944. And that doesn’t include getting to other destinations with a rental car or by flying. Yikes.

Fuel cost: $535

2. Use Airbnb for lodging

Staying in a hotel can be very expensive. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s a Memorial Day weekend getaway or a 10-day road trip, Airbnb can save you quite a bit and give you more room to spread out.

For example, we spent two nights near the Grand Canyon. First of all, cramming eight people into two hotel rooms is no fun, so it was great to have a whole house to ourselves. It was in a beautiful area about 45 minutes from the South Rim’s entrance.

We had plenty of beds, a common area for watching TV and playing games, and lots of room for cooking (and eating) our meals.

playing games

Our Airbnb near the Grand Canyon cost us $357.55 total — our most expensive stay — but it was worth it for the extra space and ability to cook on-site.

Compare that cost to booking hotels near the Grand Canyon. We’d need two rooms (and they wouldn’t be as comfortable or allow us to cook). Staying near the Grand Canyon can cost upward of $200 per night at local hotels, which would put us at $400 per night for two rooms, or $800 total.

It’s possible to find better deals if you’re willing to stay farther away, in Williams or Flagstaff, for closer to $75 a night. Getting two rooms for that rate, for two nights, would cost $300. It’s worth the extra $57.55 for the extra space and to stay closer to the South Rim.

Pro tip: Use hotel reward points when you can

We didn’t stay in Airbnbs the entire trip. We combined forces with our hotel rewards and credit card travel points for free nights. By planning ahead, we were able to save up enough points that three of our single-night stays were covered by reward points, costing us nothing for this trip. This alone probably saved us about $100 a room per night, resulting in $600 worth of savings.

Lodging cost: $1,116.39

3. Find free and low-cost activities in your destinations

When you’re on a budget vacation, it’s important to make sure you can access entertainment and activities that are low-cost. Some of the ways we saved money on our trip included:

  • Using Groupon to get group discounts
  • Searching online for “free things for kids to do in ____”
  • Looking at TripAdvisor for cheap options in each local area
  • Asking hotels for discount passes to local attractions
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Making use of state and national parks passes
  • Staying at lodgings with pools

You might be surprised by what you can find when you follow these strategies.

In Phoenix, we found a candy factory that offered a free tour — and a free treat.

free activity

We also found low-cost options by visiting McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park and spending time at Scottsdale Mall, where everyone enjoyed a visit to the Tesla store.

We used the “walking around” strategy in Las Vegas as well. The kids enjoyed looking at the hotels and gazing at the bright lights. Besides, everyone loves the free fountain show at the Bellagio. Our most expensive activity was letting the kids spend a few hours in the Adventuredome at Circus Circus.

Another way we saved money — while making good memories — was visiting relatives. Our cousins invited us to dinner, and they have a great home and children close in age to our kids. Everyone had a great time, and it didn’t add anything to the cost of the trip.

The hotels we stayed in had pools. So one day after a free visit to the Yuma Proving Ground, a military base that includes a public display of historic tanks and other equipment, we had a “picnic” lunch and the kids swam in the pool.

Finally, because I purchase a national parks pass for $80 every year as part of my regular budget, getting into the Grand Canyon cost us nothing for the road trip (and we used the shorter prepaid lane to save time). Our scenic drive through Zion National Park also cost nothing, thanks to that same parks pass.

Look at all your resources and do a little research to find activities. Some cities have concerts in local parks, street fairs, and other events that cost very little. A bit of online sleuthing — or a trip to the local visitors bureau — can hook you up with everything you need to plan a low-cost day of fun.

Activity and entertainment cost: starting at $197.80

4. Manage your food costs

On a road trip, food costs can add up quickly if you eat at restaurants all the time — unless you have coupons and gift cards.

My sister has the McDonald’s app on her phone, which resulted in discounts and deals when we stopped for a quick bite.

mcdonald's app

Image credit: iTunes

Because we planned this trip well in advance, we were able to save gift cards we’d received as presents. I had two Buffalo Wild Wings gift cards, a Starbucks card, and a Cold Stone Creamery card. My sister had Burger King and Subway gift cards as well as buy-one-get-one coupons to Arby’s.

Bringing these gift cards allowed us to eat practically for free if we stopped for lunch or dinner somewhere.

We also planned our menus ahead of time. We knew that at the Grand Canyon we’d have two nights of feeding ourselves dinner and that each morning in any Airbnb we’d fix breakfast. Our hotels all offered free breakfast, so on those mornings we had no costs.

Before the trip, I went to the grocery store armed with a list, coupons, and knowledge of a two-for-one sale on chicken and steak. Instead of canceling my regular delivery from the dairy the week we were to leave, I brought along the milk, juice, and eggs I received for our use while on vacation.

We also brought healthy snacks along for the ride, including:

  • Cheese sticks
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Apple slices
  • Grapes
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Trail mix

Thanks to a five-day cooler, everything stayed in tiptop shape. We were able to refreeze ice packs and use refrigerators at our Airbnb stops, so there were no problems with spoilage.

For beverages, we drank water at restaurants unless soda (with free refills!) was covered by a coupon or a gift card. I also used a water cooler so we could refill our bottles without spending extra. Replenishing our supply was easy using the icemakers and kitchen faucets in the Airbnbs.

We had to pay for eating out only a couple of times during the whole trip. But what if things were different? Let’s say we ate at a fast food restaurant for each meal, paying $5.99 for a Big Mac meal for four adults (I count my 15-year-old as an adult for meal purposes) and a cheeseburger Happy Meal for each of the four kids, at $2.79. That amounts to $35.12 per meal — on the cheap end.

Multiply that by three meals a day for 10 days, and you end up paying $1,053.60. Imagine if some of those meals were at casual dining restaurants, where you might pay between $15 and $20 a person per meal. The cost would skyrocket.

Instead, by purchasing groceries ahead of time and using gift cards and coupons when possible, we saved hundreds of dollars.

Food cost: $331.32

Additional tips to save your sanity on an epic road trip

Plan additional stops during your road trip

Having an amazing vacation isn’t just about saving money. Sometimes you need to save your sanity. Here are my favorite ways to have a good time on a road trip — especially if you’re traveling with children:

  • Bring a physical map or road atlas. Encourage kids to follow the route. I often have my son look for something interesting for us to do along the way.
  • Don’t pack your days with driving. Plan for three to five hours of driving a day. This allows time for us to stop at historical or geologic sites, eat a leisurely picnic lunch, or do something spontaneous.
  • Plan most of the driving for after the activities. Start the day with local activities. That way, the kids aren’t cranky during the activities — and they’re more likely to nap in the car.
  • Play games. My parents used to have us play the alphabet game with signs. We also had singalongs in the car with prizes for the person quickest to identify the next song on the mixtape made especially for the trip.
  • Buy a book about the region. Learn about the geology, history, and culture of the area you’re going through. It’s a fun way to be engaged without the need for electronics.
  • Create an electronics strategy. Letting the kids play games on their devices or watch a movie can be a lifesaver. But you don’t have to let them do it the whole time.
  • Allow for a little freedom. Give each child a set amount for the trip so they can buy what they want (but when it’s gone, it’s gone). You can also allow time at each stop for downtime.
  • Camp. Frequently, especially during the summer, my son and I save money on lodging by camping. We’ve stayed at campgrounds that cost as little as $10 a night, saving us quite a lot of money over the years.

Save money on your next vacation by planning a road trip

You don’t need to go into debt for an amazing vacation. Instead, plan an epic road trip. By avoiding the costs of airfare and frequent restaurant stops, you can save hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars. Plus, you’ll make memories and bond as a family in new ways.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

Here are the top 8 lenders of 2019!
LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

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 will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.20% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.99% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.89% APR (with Auto Pay). 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 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years 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 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of December 13, 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 12/13/2019. 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 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at hello@earnest.com, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% APR (without AutoPay). Variable rates currently from 2.31% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% (without AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.31% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.31% plus 0.75% margin minus 0.25% for AutoPay. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your credit history and the term of the loan and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

3 Important Disclosures for Figure.

Figure Disclosures

Figure’s Student Refinance Loan is a private loan. If you refinance federal loans, you forfeit certain flexible repayment options associated with those loans. If you expect to incur financial hardship that would impact your ability to repay, you should consider federal consolidation alternatives.


4 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Mortgage lending is not offered in Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association.
As used throughout these Terms & Conditions, the term “Lender” refers to KeyBank National Association and its affiliates, agents, guaranty insurers, investors, assigns, and successors in interest.

ANNUAL PERCENTAGE RATE (“APR”)
This term represents the actual cost of financing to the borrower over the life of the loan expressed as a yearly rate.

FEE INFORMATION

There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.

LOAN AMOUNT

For bachelor’s degrees and higher, up to 100% of outstanding private and federal student loans (minimum $5,000) are eligible for refinancing. If you are refinancing greater than $300,000 in student loan debt, Lender may refinance the loans into 2 or more new loans.
For eligible Associates degrees in the healthcare field (see Eligibility & Eligible Loans section below), Lender will refinance up to $50,000 in loans for non-ParentPlus refinance loans. Note, parents who are refinancing loans taken out on behalf of a child who has obtained an associates degrees in an eligible healthcare field are not subject to the $50,000 loan maximum, refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for more information about refinancing ParentPlus loans.

ELIGIBILITY & ELIGIBLE LOANS

Borrower, and Co-signer if applicable, must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident with a valid I-551 card (which must show a minimum of 10 years between “Resident Since” date and “Card Expires” date or has no expiration date); state that they are of at least borrowing age in the state of residence at the time of application; and meet Lender underwriting criteria (including, for example, employment, debt-to-income, disposable income, and credit history requirements).

Graduates may refinance any unsubsidized or subsidized Federal or private student loan that was used exclusively for qualified higher education expenses (as defined in 26 USC Section 221) at an accredited U.S. undergraduate or graduate school. Any federal loans refinanced with Lender are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment.

All loans must be in grace or repayment status and cannot be in default. Borrower must have graduated or be enrolled in good standing in the final term preceding graduation from an accredited Title IV U.S. school and must be employed, or have an eligible offer of employment. Parents looking to refinance loans taken out on behalf of a child should refer to https://www.laurelroad.com/refinance-student-loans/refinance-parent-plus-loans/ for applicable terms and conditions.

For Associates Degrees: Only associates degrees earned in one of the following are eligible for refinancing: Cardiovascular Technologist (CVT); Dental Hygiene; Diagnostic Medical Sonography; EMT/Paramedics; Nuclear Technician; Nursing; Occupational Therapy Assistant; Pharmacy Technician; Physical Therapy Assistant; Radiation Therapy; Radiologic/MRI Technologist; Respiratory Therapy; or Surgical Technologist. To refinance an Associates degree, a borrower must also either be currently enrolled and in the final term of an associate degree program at a Title IV eligible school with an offer of employment in the same field in which they will receive an eligible associate degree OR have graduated from a school that is Title IV eligible with an eligible associate and have been employed, for a minimum of 12 months, in the same field of study of the associate degree earned.

INTEREST RATES

The interest rate you are offered will depend on your credit profile, income, and total debt payments as well as your choice of fixed or variable and choice of term. For applicants who are currently medical or dental residents, your rate offer may also vary depending on whether you have secured employment for after residency.

DISBURSEMENT OPTIONS

The repayment of any refinanced student loan will commence (1) immediately after disbursement by us, or (2) after any grace or in-school deferment period, existing prior to refinancing and/or consolidation with us, has expired.

POSTPONING OR REDUCING PAYMENTS

After loan disbursement, if a borrower documents a qualifying economic hardship, we may agree in our discretion to allow for full or partial forbearance of payments for one or more 3-month time periods (not to exceed 12 months in the aggregate during the term of your loan), provided that we receive acceptable documentation (including updating documentation) of the nature and expected duration of the borrower’s economic hardship.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow a borrower to make $100/month payments for a period of time immediately after loan disbursement if the borrower is employed full-time as an intern, resident, or similar postgraduate trainee at the time of loan disbursement. These payments may not be enough to cover all of the interest that accrues on the loan. Unpaid accrued interest will be added to your loan and monthly payments of principal and interest will begin when the post-graduate training program ends.

We may agree under certain circumstances to allow postponement (deferral) of monthly payments of principal and interest for a period of time immediately following loan disbursement (not to exceed 6 months after the borrower’s graduation with an eligible degree), if the borrower is an eligible student in the borrower’s final term at the time of loan disbursement or graduated less than 6 months before loan disbursement, and has accepted an offer of (or has already begun) full-time employment.

If Lender agrees (in its sole discretion) to postpone or reduce any monthly payment(s) for a period of time, interest on the loan will continue to accrue for each day principal is owed. Although the borrower might not be required to make payments during such a period, the borrower may continue to make payments during such a period. Making payments, or paying some of the interest, will reduce the total amount that will be required to be paid over the life of the loan. Interest not paid during any period when Lender has agreed to postpone or reduce any monthly payment will be added to the principal balance through capitalization (compounding) at the end of such a period, one month before the borrower is required to resume making regular monthly payments.

KEYBANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

This information is current as of November 8, 2019 and is subject to change.


5 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

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. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.


6 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

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. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 1.76% effective November 10, 2019.


7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

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.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 12/07/2019 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.90% to 8.59% Variable APR with AutoPay and 3.49% to 7.75% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


8 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

College Ave 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.

1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.

2All rates shown include autopay 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.

3$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.

4This 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 12/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

1.99% – 6.89%1Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Earnest

2.31% – 7.36%2Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit SoFi

1.99% – 6.75%3Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Figure

1.99% – 6.65%4Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Laurel Road

2.43% – 7.60%5Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Splash

1.85% – 6.13%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit CommonBond

1.90% – 8.59%7Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit Lendkey

2.74% – 6.25%8Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit College Ave

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.

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