The Complete Guide to Private Student Loans for Undergrads

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You’ve gone through all of the steps to secure as many scholarships as possible for college and filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But you still have a gap in covering all the costs of attending school, so you need to take out private student loans.

You’re not alone.

In fact, more than $3 billion in private loans were borrowed from 2016 to 2017, according to data from MeasureOne. Undergraduate loans accounted for 89% of that staggering number. That’s not surprising considering the average cost of attending a four-year private institution is $33,480.

So, if you find yourself needing to take out private loans for college, here’s what you need to know.

What are private student loans?

Any federal student loans you secure by filling out the FAFSA are regulated by the government. Private student loans, on the other hand, are issued by independent financial institutions such as banks or loan-lending organizations such as LendKey.

In both cases, the private lender will set the terms when it comes to eligibility requirements, repayment terms, and interest rates. Since there are so many variables, it’s important to shop around for private student loans before choosing the right one for you.

When you should take out private student loans

You should only consider private student loans once you’ve secured as much federal financial aid, grants, and scholarships as possible. Private student loans could come with higher interest rates and fewer borrower protections compared to federal loans, so they shouldn’t be your first line of defense.

Luckily, unlike federal loans, there’s no deadline to apply for private loans for college. That means you can wait to hear back from schools about all of your financing options before applying for private student loans. Also, if you face a sudden financial burden where you need more money mid-semester, for example, you can apply for a private loan.

Although there are no hard deadlines to apply for private student loans, it’s best not to wait until you’re in a pinch because the approval process could take time depending on the lender.

Understanding eligibility for private student loans

You’ve decided to apply for private student loans, but now you’re wondering if you even qualify. While eligibility requirements vary by lender, there are some standard factors typically taken into consideration:

  • Credit score
  • Income
  • Debt-to-income ratio (how much you owe in monthly debt payments divided by your gross monthly income)
  • If you’ll be using a cosigner

As an undergraduate student, it’s likely you won’t be able to get private student loans without cosigner support. In fact, 93% of private student loans were cosigned from 2016 to 2017, according to MeasureOne.

This is because most of the factors above require a level of steady employment and positive credit history, something many undergraduate students don’t have. So, eligibility for these loans will fall on the cosigners’ financial background.

But if you’re limited regarding finding a financially stable cosigner, don’t fret yet. A cosigner might be able to get private student loans with bad credit — the interest rates just might be higher than if they had good credit. This, of course, will vary by lender.

Just remember, you are still considered the primary borrower and will be on the hook to pay back the loan. A cosigner is meant to serve more like insurance for the lender if for some reason you can’t pay. But you should understand the repayment terms before accepting the loan to make sure you’ll be able to repay it and not have the burden fall on your cosigner.

How much you can borrow with private student loans

Every lender has its own set of parameters to determine how much they will let you borrow. These are the typical rules of thumb they follow:

  1. Cost of attendance limit: A lender might only issue a loan for the total cost of attendance minus the financial aid you’ve received. If your undergraduate college costs $50,000, and you got $25,000 in federal aid, then the most you could borrow would be $25,000. That cost includes tuition and living expenses.
  2. Annual loan limit: Some lenders might have a standard amount you are allowed to borrow in one academic year.
  3. Aggregate loan limit: Since you can apply for multiple private loans for college, you might face a limit on the number you can combine.

The repayment process for undergraduate private student loans

Since the government regulates federal loans, all of them have the same terms when it comes to repayment: You don’t have to start paying them back until you’ve graduated, you’ve dropped below half-time enrollment, or the loan has been fully disbursed. Some private student loan lenders might offer similar terms, but also have a variety of others as well.

Here are the most common repayment options for private student loans:

  • Immediate repayment: With this option, you start making principal and interest payments while still in college. This is helpful because you can save money on the amount of total interest and pay the loan off faster. Some lenders might even offer lower interest rates if you agree to these terms. But making payments while you’re in school can be tough if you don’t have the income.
  • Interest-only repayment: You will only pay the interest while in school and then start making principal payments once you’ve graduated or drop below half-time enrollment. In this scenario, you can still save money because the interest won’t be building while you’re in college. It’s also less of a burden on you financially since the monthly amount wouldn’t be as high as if you had to pay both the interest and principal while in school. A part-time job, for example, could cover this cost. Some lenders might also offer lower interest rates if you accept these terms.
  • Deferred repayment: Like a federal loan, you would only start repaying once you’ve graduated or dropped below half-time enrollment. This is helpful because you won’t have to worry about making any payments while in school. But you might end up paying more overall because the interest will accrue during that time.
  • Fixed repayment: This is something in between an immediate repayment and interest-only repayment, with the lender determining a fixed amount you’ll pay every month while in school. This amount will then get adjusted once you graduate or drop below the half-time enrollment to a new amount that includes paying back the interest and principal.

If you want to make even the slightest dent in your debt, fixed repayment could be a helpful option because the monthly payments will be more affordable and it can bring down the amount you have to pay overall. But it still won’t make as big of an impact as the immediate or interest-only repayment options.

Meanwhile, the typical timeline to repay private student loans can range anywhere from five years to over 20 years.

3 pros and 3 cons of private loans

Private student loan reviews can be both positive and negative depending on the financial situation of the borrower. But in general, there are some standard pros and cons to consider when borrowing private student loans.

Pros of private student loans

Since private student loans don’t have to abide by the same regulations for federal loans, their terms could benefit you financially.

  • You could get a lower interest rate: With federal student loans, you will pay a standard interest rate. Private student loan interest rates, on the other hand, are set by the lender and determined by your credit score. That means you might be able to get a lower rate than the one offered by the government, and that equates to less debt overall.
  • You can borrow more: While private lenders have limits on how much you can borrow, it could be more than what you’d receive through federal aid. The aggregate amount you are allowed to borrow through federal aid is capped at $57,500 for an undergraduate. With private student loans, you can borrow the entire cost of your education, including living expenses.
  • You don’t need to be eligible for financial aid: The Federal Student Aid Office has standards that students must meet to qualify for any financial aid, including federal student loans. Many students will meet these requirements, but some might not. International students, for example, are not eligible, and you could lose your eligibility if your GPA falls below a given level. Private student loans don’t have those requirements, as each lender sets the eligibility terms.

Cons of private student loans

While you might find some advantages with choosing a private student loan to help finance your education, you should also consider the downsides.

  • Interest rates are varied: Since your credit score often determines interest rates for private student loans, it can be both positive and negative. While someone with a high credit score could get a lower interest rate, someone taking out private student loans with bad credit might face a higher rate compared to a federal loan. According to the Federal Student Aid Office, private student loan rates can be 18.00% or more.
  • Repayment terms aren’t as flexible: There are many ways you can pay back federal student loans to suit your financial situation, including income-driven repayment plans that keep your monthly payments affordable. The government also has student loan forgiveness options. With private student loans, the repayment terms are much more limited. You might have to start paying them back while still in school, and you might not have deferment or forbearance options. This means you could have a hard time paying them back if you face a financial burden.
  • The terms and regulations are at the whim of lenders: With federal student loans, the government sets standard terms. This standardization makes understanding the loans simpler compared to private student loans, which are much more variable in their terms and regulations. Private lenders can set the repayment terms, eligibility requirements, and more. This could make it confusing for borrowers and lead to you paying more if you don’t understand exactly what you’re signing up for.

Taking out private student loans for college can be helpful if you don’t get all of the money you need through federal financial aid. Just make sure you consider all of these factors and read private student loan reviews to ensure you’re choosing the best private loan for your situation.

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Here are our top student loan lenders of 2019!
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 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 9/3/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

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

3 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.

4 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 for any applicable reward terms and conditions.
  2. View Auto Reward Debit Reward Terms and Conditions at
  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 2.50% as of July 1, 2019. 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 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.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens.

Citizens Disclosures

  1. 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 of September 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.14%. Variable interest rates range from 3.24% – 11.50% (3.24% – 11.35% 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 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. 

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

  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

3.25% – 10.65%*,2Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit SallieMae

3.52% – 9.50%3Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit CommonBond

Undergraduate and Graduate

Visit Discover

3.24% – 11.50%5Undergraduate 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.

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