Your Ultimate Guide to Private Student Loans

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Private student loans are a large and growing market. But they’re quite different from their government cousins. They often require a co-signer, lack the same repayment flexibility, and sometimes carry much higher interest rates.

That said, private student loans can sometimes be just what you need if federal loans don’t completely cover your education costs. So, how can you tell if you should take out a private student loan? And how do you know which ones might be right for you? Read on to find out.

What are private student loans?

When you fill out your FAFSA, you’re applying for grants, federal student loans, or both. But if you can’t access enough funds to cover your tuition, there’s another way: private student loans.

The major difference between private and federal student loans is who’s offering them. Since the Department of Education backs federal student loans, you work with a student loan servicer to pay them back.

For example, Federal Student Aid has an up-to-date list of servicers that handle Direct and FFEL Loans.

Private student loans, however, are not offered by the Department of Education. Instead, you work with private lenders to find and manage the loans, much the same as with other types of lending. You choose a lender, fill out an application, go through a credit check, and find out if you’re approved or denied.

Since private student loans require you to seek them out, you can’t accidentally fall into this type of loan by accepting the funds awarded to you from filling out your FAFSA.

Here are some more fast facts about private student loans:

  • The interest rates are either fixed or variable, and they can be quite high. The Institute for College Access and Success reported rates up to 13.74% last June.
  • Depending on your lender and repayment plan, repayment of your loans could begin immediately after disbursement.
  • Private student loans don’t come with as many borrower protections as federal student loans. They also lack income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness.
  • To qualify for approval, you might need a co-signer — as was the case for 90 percent of private student loan borrowers, according to a 2012 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
  • As with federal student loans, private student loans are notoriously difficult to discharge through bankruptcy.

Finally, the processes for private student loans can vary more than those for federal student loans. This can lead to some confusion when it comes time to start repayment.

Should you apply for private student loans?

Before we get into the application process, it’s important to understand if this type of loan is right for you.

As a rule of thumb, it’s best to get as much federal student aid as you can before applying for private student loans. That’s because federal student loans come with a large variety of borrower protections that private loans do not.

Also, federal student loans don’t carry the double-digit interest rates that private student loans can. Unlike with private lenders, federal student loan interest rates are set by Congress. (Currently, federal student loan rates range from 4.45% to 7.00%, as reported by Federal Student Aid.)

If you do decide to borrow from a private lender, there are some issues to keep in mind. Take the steps below to ensure your best chance of success.

Have a co-signer ready

Chances are, you’ll need a co-signer to get approved. The first thought might be to ask a parent or other family member, though you’re not limited to those options.

And then there’s the issue of co-signer release, which enables you to become the sole person responsible for your loan after you’ve reached a certain income and credit score, and made a set amount of on-time payments. Although many private student loans offer co-signer release, it’s not easy to get — in fact, the 2012 CFPB study mentioned above showed that 90 percent of borrowers who applied for co-signer release were not able to successfully get it.

Therefore, it might be best for you and your co-signer to assume that you’ll both have your name on the loan until it’s paid off.

Ask yourself these questions before you sign

Finally, if you’re thinking of taking on a private student loan, it’s important to know if you’re ready for it. Here are some questions to ask yourself to be sure:

  • Have you done the math on the balance of the loans you’ll take out, multiplied by your interest rate? Here’s a student loan payment calculator to help.
  • Do you know when your first payment will come due — and can you afford it if it happens to be before you graduate?
  • Are you planning on taking out the minimum that you need (recommended) rather than adding a little extra to have a better lifestyle?

Since these loans come with even greater responsibility than federal student loans (read: more stringent repayment requirements), it’s important to know the weight of the debt you’re considering taking on.

Where (and how) to find the right private student loan

If you’ve gotten this far and decided you’re interested in applying, then the next step is to shop around for the best private student loan for you.

Even though the situation can feel desperate (perhaps you need to close those loans ASAP to enroll in the next round of classes), you should still make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Things to consider as you shop around

There are many places to search for and compare private student loan options, including in our private student loan marketplace. So, what are you looking for as you compare lenders? Here are a few guidelines to follow:

  • Get the lowest interest rate possible.
  • Look for the repayment terms that you find the most comfortable.
  • Make sure the lender offers enough for you to fill the gap.
  • See who offers bonus features, such as interest rate reductions for automatic payments, forbearance and deferment in case you encounter hard financial times, and positive reviews of their customer service.

And if anything raises a red flag in the process, don’t proceed with that lender. Remember, these loans are nearly impossible to discharge. Once you sign on that dotted line, you’re stuck with the loan.

Even if it delays the start of your next classes, it’s better to find a lender you can trust than to get trapped in a situation that will hurt your financial future.

What to look for as you choose a repayment plan

Private student loans come with a variety of repayment plans. Each lender calls them by a different name, but here’s the general gist.

  • Full monthly payments due right away
  • Small monthly payments while you’re in school
  • Interest-only payments while you’re in school
  • Deferred payments until you finish or leave school

You’ll also encounter a variety of repayment terms and interest rates. Plans can go from five years to 15 years, with either fixed or variable interest rates.

So, how do you choose?

Consider what your situation might be during and after school. Will you be working part-time? Consider a plan that has you making some payments in school so you can get ahead. Are you offered a lower variable rate than the fixed rate? And if you choose the variable rate, make sure you’re comfortable with the idea of it going up at any time, and consider making payments while the rate is still low.

It can be hard to choose a plan when you don’t know what the future holds. Do the best you can to understand what your options will be in school and after. And make sure you know what the payments will be for all the plans offered.

When you need to apply for private student loans

The good news about private student loans is that you don’t have to turn in the FAFSA to get approved. You can apply at any time, though ideally, you’ll wait to see what you can get from federal aid first.

Although you can get these loans close to when tuition is due, don’t cut it too close. Every lender will vary on the length of time it takes to complete an application process. If possible, give yourself a buffer of a few weeks to a month to be sure you’ll get the funds you need in time.

How to pay off your private student loans

Once you have your private student loans, start strategizing your payoff plan. Here’s how.

If you’re in school

This answer will depend on the type of repayment plan you chose. If you opted for a low fixed payment plan or no payments, you could still get ahead by paying extra.

It might seem impossible to find extra money to apply to your loans while you’re in school. But this is the best time to practice saving (and this goes for federal loan borrowers as well). If you can build the habit of putting money away when you earn less, it’ll be that much easier to stick with it when you earn more.

Consider putting aside a few dollars from your part-time job (if you have one) each week. That money could go to your loans or a savings account to use on your loans after graduation if you opted to defer payments. Also, think about spending tax refunds and other extra funds on bulk student loan payments. These small actions can take a nice chunk out of your balance before you even graduate.

Don’t believe me? Try this lump sum extra payment calculator and see what happens.

If you’re having trouble finding work

Dealing with hefty student loan payments while looking for a job can be demoralizing or even financially crippling in the worst case. Keep an eye on your situation and contact your lender if you approach crippling status.

Each private student loan lender offers different options for those struggling to repay. Deferment and forbearance, which enable you to temporarily suspend your payments while you get back on your feet, are two popular options. Talk to your lender to find out exactly what they offer and what criteria you need to meet to qualify.

It might seem counterintuitive to tell the company that’s financially backing you that you can’t pay, but it’s not. Private student loan default can have severe consequences for you, and it’s not something your lender wants either. The sooner your communicate the difficulty you’re having, the better your chances of working out a solution.

If you’re employed and already paying down your loans

If you’re working and easily making your loan payments, consider what you can do to pay your loans down even more quickly if you have a high or variable interest rate.

And if you have multiple student loans, consider the debt avalanche method. This works by paying down the debt with the highest interest rate first. And when that debt is paid off, apply what you were paying on it to your loan with the next-highest interest rate.

Going after the highest interest rate first means tackling the costliest part soonest. Continuing to pay the same amount on your debt even after you pay off one loan builds momentum. And that can knock years off your debt — and potentially hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Some people prefer the debt snowball method, which targets the lowest balances first. For them, the motivation of seeing a loan get knocked out sooner makes all the difference. There’s no right or wrong answer to which you should choose. Just know that keeping a targeted approach to your debt payoff can make all the difference.

Life with private student loans

Graduating without student debt is no easy feat. Nearly 70 percent of seniors graduating in 2015 had to take on student loans to do so, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. The key is managing the process early by carefully considering your options before you sign.

And when you graduate and find employment, maintain control over your student loans. Life with private student loans can be a good one. After all, the loans help you get an education that can open doors. Just make sure you’re setting yourself up for debt that you can manage by only taking out what you need and with repayment terms you can handle.

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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 an 8-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7% variable Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 96 monthly payments of $179.28 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $17,211.20. 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 5/22/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

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

4 Important Disclosures for Discover.

Discover Disclosures

  1. At least a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) qualifies for a one-time cash reward of 1% of the loan amount of each new Discover undergraduate and graduate student loan. Reward redemption period is limited. Please visit for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Terms and Conditions at

5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.

SunTrust Disclosures

Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit

Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.

©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.

  1. Interest rates and APRs (Annual Percentage Rates) depend upon (a) the student’s and cosigner’s (if applicable) credit histories, (b) the repayment option and repayment term selected, (c) the requested loan amount and (d) other information provided on the online loan application. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate applicable to your loan. Rates and terms effective for applications received on or after 5/1/2019. The current variable APRs for the program range from 4.251% APR to 11.300% APR and the current fixed APRs for the program range from 5.251% APR to 12.00% APR (the low APRs within these ranges assume a 7-year $10,000 loan, with two disbursements and no deferment; the high APRs within these ranges assume a 15-year $10,000 loan with two disbursements). The variable interest rate for each calendar month is calculated by adding the current One-month LIBOR index to your margin. LIBOR stands for London Interbank Offered Rate. The One-month LIBOR is published in the Money Rates section of The Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). The One-month LIBOR index is captured on the 25th day of the immediately preceding calendar month (or if the 25th is not a business day, the next business day thereafter), and is rounded up to the nearest 1/8th of one percent. The current One-month LIBOR index is 2.500% on 5/1/2019. The variable interest rate will increase or decrease if the One-month LIBOR index changes. The fixed rate assigned to a loan will never change except as required by law or if you request and qualify for the auto pay discount.
  2. Any applicant who applies for a loan the month of, the month prior to, or the month after the student’s graduation date, as stated on the application or certified by the school, will only be offered the Immediate Repayment option. The student must be enrolled at least half-time to be eligible for the partial interest, fully deferred and interest only repayment options unless the loan is being used for a past due balance and the student is out of school. With the Full Deferment option, payments may be deferred while the student is enrolled at least half-time at an approved school and during the six month grace period after graduation or dropping below half-time status, but the total initial deferment period, including the grace period, may not exceed 66 months from the first disbursement date. The Partial Interest Repayment option (paying $25 per month during in-school deferment) is only available on loans of $5,000 or more. For payment examples, see footnote 7. With the Immediate Repayment option, the first payment of principal and interest will be due approximately 30-60 calendar days after the final disbursement date and the minimum monthly payment is $50.00. There are no prepayment penalties.
  3. The 15-year term and Partial Interest Repayment option (paying $25 per month during in-school deferment) are only available for loan amounts of $5,000 or more. Making interest only or partial interest payments while in school deferment (including the grace period) will not reduce the principal balance of the loan. Payment examples within this footnote assume a 45-month deferment period, a six-month grace period before entering repayment and the Partial Interest Repayment option. 7-year term: $10,000 loan disbursed over two transactions with a 7-year repayment term (84 months) and 8.382% APR would result in a monthly principal and interest payment of $198.61. 10-year term: $10,000 loan disbursed over two transactions with a 10-year repayment term (120 months) and an 8.851% APR would result in a monthly principal and interest payment of $161.70. 15-year term: $10,000 loan disbursed over two transactions with a 15-year repayment term (180 months) and a 9.335% APR would result in a monthly principal and interest payment of $135.68.
  4. The 2% principal reduction is based on the total dollar amount of all disbursements made, excluding any amounts that are reduced, cancelled, or returned. To receive this principal reduction, it must be requested from the servicer, the student borrower must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher and proof of such graduation (e.g. copy of diploma, final transcript or letter on school letterhead) must be provided to the servicer. This reward is available once during the life of the loan, regardless of whether the student receives more than one degree.
  5. Earn an interest rate reduction for making automatic payments of principal and interest from a bank account (“auto pay discount”). Earn a 0.25% interest rate reduction when you auto pay from any bank account and an extra 0.25% interest rate reduction when you auto pay from a SunTrust Bank checking, savings, or money market account. The auto pay discount will continue until (1) automatic deduction of payments is stopped (including during any deferment or forbearance) or (2) three automatic deductions are returned for insufficient funds during the life of the loan. The extra 0.25% interest rate reduction when you auto pay from a SunTrust Bank account will be applied after the first automatic payment is successfully deducted and will be removed for the reasons stated above. In the event the auto pay discount is removed, the loan will accrue interest at the rate stated in your Credit Agreement. The auto pay discount is not available when payments are deferred or when the loan is in forbearance, even if payments are being made.
  6. A cosigner may be released from the loan upon request to the servicer provided that the student borrower is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, has met credit criteria and met either one of the following payment conditions: (a) the first 36 consecutive monthly principal and interest payments have been made on-time (received by the servicer within 10 calendar days after their due date) or (b) the loan has not had any late payments and has been prepaid prior to the end of the first 36 months of scheduled principal and interest payments in an amount equal to the first 36 months of scheduled principal and interest payments (based on the monthly payment amount in effect when you make the most recent payment). As an example, if you have made 30 months of consecutive on-time payments, and then, based on the monthly payment amount in effect on the due date of your 31st consecutive monthly payment, you pay a lump sum equal to 6 months of payments, you will have satisfied the payment condition. Cosigner release may not be available if a loan is in forbearance.
  7. If the student dies after any part of the loan has been disbursed, and the loan has not been charged off due to non-payment or bankruptcy, then the outstanding balance will be forgiven if the servicer is informed of the student’s death and receives acceptable proof of death. If the student becomes totally and permanently disabled after any part of the loan has been disbursed and the loan has not been charged off due to non-payment or bankruptcy, the loan will be forgiven upon the servicer’s receipt and approval of a completed discharge application. If the student borrower dies or becomes totally and permanently disabled prior to the full disbursement of the loan, and the loan is forgiven, all future disbursements will be cancelled. Loan forgiveness for student death or disability is available at any point throughout the life of the loan.

6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see 

7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.

Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.

Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
If you are unable to pay your government loan, the government can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount. In addition, the government has special powers to collect the loan, such as taking your tax refund and applying it to your loan balance.

A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If you refinance your government loan, your new lender will use the proceeds of your new loan to pay off your government loan. Private student loan lenders do not have to honor any of the benefits that apply to government loans. Because your government loan will be gone after refinancing, you will lose any benefits that apply to that loan. If you are an active-duty service member, your new loan will not be eligible for service member benefits. Most importantly, once you refinance your government loan, you will not able to reinstate your government loan if you become dissatisfied with the terms of your private student loan.

If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you are a borrower with a secure job, emergency savings, strong credit and are unlikely to need any of the options available to distressed borrowers of government loans, a refinance of your government loans into a private student loan may be attractive to you. You should consider the costs and benefits of refinancing carefully before you refinance.

If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.

Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.

8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Student Loan 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 of May 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.48%. Variable interest rates range from 4.45%-12.42% (4.45% – 12.32% 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 5.25%-12.19% (5.25% – 12.09% 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 Bank 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. 
  2. Citizens Bank 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 Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Citizens Bank 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 Bank- participating school.  
  3. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply. Borrowers whose loans were funded prior to reaching the age of majority may not be eligible for co-signer release. Note: co-signer release is not available on the Student Loan for Parents or Education Refinance Loan for Parents.
Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

Visit College Ave

4.50% – 11.35%*,3Undergraduate and Graduate

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Undergraduate and Graduate

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4.25% – 11.30%5Undergraduate and Graduate

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4.50% – 9.47%6Undergraduate and Graduate

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Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents

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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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