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Student Loans

Custom Choice by Cognition Financial Student Loans: Is It the Right Fit for You?

Updated Oct 21, 2023   |   16-min read

We determined Custom Choice by Cognition Financial to be the best private student loan for a graduation reward.

  • Graduates with a degree earn a 2% principal reduction.
  • Borrowers can apply with or without a cosigner.
  • No application, origination, or prepayment fees.
  • Backed by the reputable Citizens Bank.
  • Prequalification is quick and doesn’t hurt your credit score.

About Custom Choice by Cognition Financial

Custom Choice is a financial service from Cognition Financial and Citizens Bank that aims to help students reach their educational goals and fill in the gaps left by federal funding.

Eligibility for a Custom Choice student loan is open to students enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible institution. Creditworthiness plays a crucial role in loan approval and interest rate determination, making a creditworthy cosigner a valuable asset in the application process.

Find out more about what makes Custom Choice unique, including its graduation reward, support programs for borrowers who face job loss or a natural disaster, and its application process’s convenient automatic income and employment verification.

Our take on Custom Choice by Cognition Financial’s private student loans

Type of student loanOur takeEditorial rating
Private student loanBest graduation reward4.3 out of 5
Check your rate without affecting your credit score.

Our take is based on hours of editorial research into private student loans. No two companies earn the same best-for designation. Here’s why the Custom Choice by Cognition Financial student loan earned the designation it did:

Why the Custom Choice student loan is the best for a graduation reward: It offers the highest cash-back reward for graduating, giving a 2% reduction of the principal. 

Consider a student who graduates with a bachelor degree and a $20,000 loan balance with Custom Choice. The student will earn a $400 reduction on their total loan amount, so their remaining balance to repay will drop from $20,000 to $19,600—just for completing their degree. 

Note: Custom Choice offers graduate loans, but it doesn’t list any distinct terms or requirements on its website for graduate students. The information below applies to graduate and undergraduate borrowers unless otherwise noted. Those with graduate degrees can earn the graduation reward unless they used Custom Choice for their undergraduate degree and claimed the reward. (Each borrower can only claim the reward once.)

Rates, terms, and more

Many of Custom Choice by Cognition Financial’s terms and rates are in line with other leading student loan providers.

Let’s take a closer look at each term:

  • Loan amounts: Custom Choice offers loans from $1,000 up to the full school-certified cost of attendance, capped at $99,999 per year. The aggregate loan amount, including federal and private student loans, can’t exceed $180,000.
  • Rates (APR): Fixed rates range from 4.43% to 14.56%, and variable rates are between 5.13% and 14.89%.
  • Repayment terms: Repayment periods can be seven, 10, or 15 years. Choose the term that best meets your needs when you accept the loan.
  • In-school repayment options: Choose from deferred (no payments until after the six-month grace period), flat $25 monthly payments, interest-only payments, or immediate full principal and interest payments.
  • Grace period: A six-month grace period is available postgraduation, but this doesn’t apply if you choose to make full, immediate payments while in school.
  • Cosigner release: After 36 on-time monthly principal and interest payments, borrowers may apply for a cosigner release.
  • Fees: Custom Choice does not charge application, origination, or prepayment fees.
  • Unique features
    • Automatic income and employment verification during application could speed up the application process by allowing you to skip a step
    • Prequalification that won’t hurt your credit score
    • 2% principal reduction upon graduation
    • Monthly $1,500 Paying for College Scholarships sweepstakes
    • High approval rate for returning borrowers

Who’s eligible for a Custom Choice private student loan?

Eligibility criteria for a Custom Choice private student loan includes being a U.S. citizen, a permanent resident alien, or an eligible non-citizen (DACA resident) if you are applying with an eligible cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien. 

Cosigners can play an essential role in obtaining a loan, especially if your credit history is limited or nonexistent. Custom Choice states having a cosigner increases borrowers’ chances approval by four times. 

Cosigners are common on student loans to strengthen the borrower’s loan application and help them secure a lower interest rate.

Let’s break down these eligibility requirements further:

CitizenshipU.S. citizen, permanent resident alien, or eligible non-citizen (DACA resident) applying with an eligible cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien
State of residenceAll United States and U.S. territories, as well as the District of Columbia
Minimum ageLegal age of majority (18 in most states) or at least 17 years at the time of application if applying with a cosigner who meets the age of majority requirements in the cosigner’s state of residence
Enrolled schoolTitle IV participating 4-year public or a private not-for-profit institution of higher education
Enrollment statusMay be enrolled full-time, half-time, or part-time (terms may be more limited for part-time students, e.g., only immediate repayment is available)
Minimum credit scoreNot disclosed
Minimum incomePositive income ($1 or more)

How do you repay private student loans from Custom Choice?

Repaying private student loans from Custom Choice depends on a variety of factors, many of which you can customize based on your financial situation and long-term goals. 

Not all student loans from Custom Choice have identical repayment terms. The amount of the loan, the interest rate, the borrower’s creditworthiness, and the selected in-school repayment option can all influence the terms.

When does repayment begin?

When you start repaying a student loan from Custom Choice depends on which in-school repayment plan you select. Let’s look at these options in more detail:

In-school repayment optionsDescription
DeferredNo payments required while in school.
FlatPay a flat $25 each month while in school.
Interest onlyPay only the accrued interest each month while in school.
Immediate full principal and interestBegin full repayments while still in school.

Your selection can affect the overall cost of your loan. You’ll owe more when you start repaying if you defer payments while in school because interest will accrue and capitalize, meaning it’s added to your outstanding balance.

Here’s what your monthly in-school payments might look like for a $10,000 student loan at 6% APR, depending on which plan you select. 

Repayment optionMonthly in-school payment
Interest only$50
Immediate full principal and interest$111*

*Calculated based on a standard 10-year repayment plan

After leaving school, you’ll get a six-month grace period before full principal and interest repayment starts unless you elected to make full payments while in school.

How long does repayment last?

You’ll select your repayment term for your Custom Choice student loan from three choices: seven, 10, or 15 years

This term affects your monthly payments and the total interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan. Shorter repayment periods result in higher monthly payments but less interest paid overall. Longer terms reduce the monthly payment but increase the total interest paid. 

Custom Choice won’t charge a penalty if you repay the loan early.

Are there repayment assistance programs?

Repayment assistance programs can help borrowers who face difficulty making their loan payments. Not all lenders offer these programs, but Custom Choice has one. This can have a significant impact on the cost of the loan and the borrower’s credit.

Here’s the repayment assistance program from Custom Choice:

  • Job loss or natural disaster: If you’re affected by job loss or a natural disaster, you won’t pay fees for late or missed payments. Borrowers might appreciate this peace of mind.

Understanding your repayment options, terms, and available assistance programs can help you manage your loan and reduce financial stress while you focus on your education.

How can Custom Choice improve its student loans?

Custom Choice offers value for its student loan borrowers, but it could improve in two areas: its limited repayment terms and a lengthy cosigner release term.

Limited repayment terms

Custom Choice offers three repayment terms: seven, 10, or 15 years, which might not suit every borrower’s needs.

For more flexibility, consider these other lenders:

  • College Ave (we determined best overall private student loan): Offers more diverse loan terms of five, eight, 10, or 15 years.
  • Ascent (we determined best for eligibility): Also provides a range of terms—five, seven, 10, 12, or 15 years.

Cosigner release

Custom Choice requires 36 months of on-time payments for cosigner release.

If you or your cosigner prefer a quicker release period, take a look at:

  • Sallie Mae (we determined best for cosigners): Offers cosigner release after just 12 months of on-time payments.
  • Ascent: Also offers cosigner release after 12 months.

Despite these areas for improvement, we think Custom Choice has significant benefits. These include no fees, a 2% principal reduction for graduates, and robust support programs. Always consider these factors and your unique needs when choosing a lender.

How have Custom Choice by Cognition Financial student loans evolved over the years?

The landscape of student loans has changed, with the best lenders adapting their offerings to meet the needs of borrowers. Custom Choice loans, powered by Cognition Financial, is no exception. 

Let’s explore how Custom Choice student loans have evolved, making pivotal changes to better serve the student community:

1991: The journey begins

  • Cognition Financial is founded with a clear vision: to help students achieve their educational aspirations.

2013: Debut of Custom Choice

  • Citizens Bank introduces Custom Choice loans, expanding its options for students in need.

2021: A strategic shift

  • Custom Choice loans from Cognition Financial become available on Cognition’s  website.
  • Cognition Financial starts to provide Union Federal student loans as well, diversifying its portfolio.

2022: Added value for repeat borrowers

  • Custom Choice introduces the Returning Borrower Advantage program, enhancing its commitment to helping students finance their education.

The journey of Custom Choice loans shows the lender’s commitment to evolve and innovate, better serving its borrowers’ needs.

Is Custom Choice a reputable lender?

Before entrusting your financial future to a lender, it’s essential to consider its reputation. This involves analyzing customer reviews and ratings on platforms such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Trustpilot. 

They offer valuable insights into the experiences of past borrowers, shedding light on the lender’s reliability, customer service quality, and problem-solving efficiency.

As of August 2023, neither Custom Choice nor Cognition Financial, the powers behind these student loans, have reviews or ratings on BBB, Google, or Trustpilot. This makes it tricky to gauge their reputations from customer feedback. 

You can look into the reputation of Citizens Bank, Cognition Financial’s lender for the Custom Choice loan. Its less-than-stellar customer service ratings can offer a glimpse into what you might expect when dealing with Custom Choice; however, many of its poor reviews reflect the bank’s other products and are not specific to student loans. For detailed insights, visit our comprehensive review of Citizens Bank.

Does Custom Choice have a customer service team?

Having a supportive customer service team can make all the difference when managing your student loans. The customer service team for Cognition’s Custom Choice loans can assist with any questions or concerns you may have throughout your loan journey.

Custom Choice doesn’t service its loans in-house. Firstmark Services handles repayment management and communication. As the loan servicer for Citizens Bank, Firstmark Services is a reputable company specializing in student loan management, offering a strong support structure to borrowers.

If you need to get in touch with the Custom Choice customer service team, you have several options:

  • Phone: You can reach out at 866-232-3889.
  • Email: Send your queries to [email protected]
  • Mail: Contact Cognition Financial, 200 Clarendon Street, 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02116
  • Website chat: Engage with customer service via the chat function on the Custom Choice website.

The specific hours of operation for the customer service team are not published.

How to apply for a Custom Choice private student loan

Applying for a Custom Choice student loan is a process that’s in line with industry standards. The lender offers an online system that’s efficient and user-friendly, making it quick for prospective borrowers to check rates and begin the application process. 

The time frame for loan approval and disbursement depends on the school’s processing time, which can vary.

To apply for a Custom Choice student loan, follow these steps:

  1. Check rates: This initial step takes only a few minutes. Visit the Custom Choice website and input basic information to get an estimate of the loan rates you might qualify for.

Source: Custom Choice

Source: Custom Choice

Source: Custom Choice

Source: Custom Choice

  1. Complete application: If you’re satisfied with the rates, proceed to the full application. Provide your Social Security number, school information, and the desired loan amount. Proof of income may also be necessary.
  2. Include your cosigner (if applicable): If you’re applying with a cosigner, provide their Social Security number, proof of income, and a government-issued ID.
  3. School certification: Once it approves your application, Custom Choice will send it to your school for certification. This step could take several days to a few weeks depending on the school’s process and timelines.
  4. Accept the terms, and sign the documents: After your school certifies the loan, you’ll accept your loan terms and electronically sign your loan documents.
  5. Wait for disbursement: Following certification and document signing, Custom Choice schedules loan funds to be sent to your school according to its timeline.

Applying for a student loan is a significant decision because it could take many years to repay. Consider all your options and the terms of any loan before proceeding.

What if I’m denied a private student loan from Custom Choice?

Custom Choice, like most lenders, should provide a reason if it denies your loan, giving you a better understanding of any potential issues with your application.

The first step after denial is to address any issues that might have led to the denial. This might involve improving your credit score, finding a cosigner, or considering other lenders. You can reapply with Custom Choice once you address these issues, but it might be wise to consider alternative loan providers.

To help you navigate your options, we’ve compiled resources on the best private student loans, student loans for borrowers without a cosigner, and graduate student loans. Here’s a brief guide to who should consider each:

  • Best private student loans: This resource is useful for all students considering private student loans. It offers a comprehensive review of our highest-rated lenders, helping you find the one that suits your financial needs and credit situation.
  • Best no-cosigner student loans: If you don’t have access to a creditworthy cosigner, this guide can help you find lenders that specialize in loans for individuals in your situation.
  • Best graduate student loans: If you’re considering Custom Choice loan for grad school, see why we designated several companies the best for grad students in specific categories.

Be proactive in exploring your options and making the necessary adjustments, and you’ll increase your chances of securing a student loan.

Custom Choice FAQ

Does Custom Choice offer private or federal student loans?

Custom Choice, powered by Cognition Financial, offers private student loans to meet the needs of those pursuing higher education. We recommend considering these loans when federal student loans, scholarships, and grants aren’t sufficient to cover education costs. 

Private loans, though helpful, often come with higher interest rates and fewer protections than federal loans.

Does applying with Custom Choice hurt my credit?

Prequalifying with Custom Choice doesn’t affect your credit because the company carries out a soft credit check when you apply. However, once you accept the loan terms, Custom Choice conducts a hard credit inquiry. 

A hard inquiry can affect your credit score, but it’s a standard part of the loan approval process across most lenders.

Does Custom Choice require a cosigner?

Custom Choice by Cognition Financial doesn’t require a cosigner for its private student loans. However, a cosigner can improve your chances of approval, especially if your credit history is limited. 

A cosigner with strong credit can help you qualify for a lower interest rate, making the loan more affordable over time.

Does Custom Choice allow cosigners to be released?

Yes, Custom Choice provides the option for cosigner release after 36 consecutive months of on-time payments. The primary borrower must demonstrate the ability to manage the loan independently, which includes meeting specific credit requirements.

What can Custom Choice student loans be used for?

Custom Choice student loans are designed to cover education-related expenses. This includes tuition, room and board, books, supplies, and other school-related costs. 

You may not use the funds for noneducational expenses, and it’s essential to use student loans responsibly to avoid accruing unnecessary debt.

How long does it take to receive funds from Custom Choice?

After applying, the time it takes to get funds from Custom Choice by Cognition Financial can vary because each school has its own certification process and timeline. However, it could takes several days to a few weeks from application to the disbursement of funds.

Can Custom Choice student loans be forgiven?

Private student loans such as those from Custom Choice do not offer forgiveness programs. Federal loans have programs including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), but these options are not available for private loans. Keep this in mind when deciding between federal and private student loans.

How we rated Custom Choice by Cognition Financial student loans

We designed LendEDU’s editorial rating system to help consumers identify companies that offer the best financial products. Our experts spend hours researching these companies each year to ensure our ratings are fresh and accurate.

Our most recent evaluation compared Custom Choice to several lenders across a number of factors, including rates, repayment terms, customer reviews, and benefits. We weighted, scored, and combined these factors to produce a final editorial rating. This rating is expressed on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. We rounded all ratings to the nearest tenth decimal place.

Student loanBest forOur rating
Private student loanBest graduation reward4.3 out of 5View rates