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Student Loans

Best Private Student Loans

Updated Dec 07, 2023   |   12-min read

If you’ve exhausted all your scholarship, grant, work-study, and federal student loan options and still need money for school, private student loans can be a good option. After doing all the research, College Ave is our choice as the best for a private student loan.

Compare the best student loan lenders

In the table and reviews below, you’ll find the best private student loans based on hours of research into rates, repayment terms, unique benefits, and more.

Lender Best for Rates (APR) Our Rating
College Ave Student Loans

4.8

Rates (APR)

4.44% – 15.32%

Best Overall

4.44% – 15.32%2

4.8 star

Best Overall

Sallie Mae

4.7

Rates (APR)

4.50% – 16.20%

Best for Cosigners

4.50% – 16.20%

4.7

Best for Cosigners

Sallie Mae

4.7

Rates (APR)

Varies by lender

Best Comparison Tool

Varies by lender

4.7

Best Comparison Tool

Earnest

4.7

Rates (APR)

4.45%16.20%

Best for No Fees

4.45%16.20%

4.7

Best for No Fees

Ascent

4.7

Rates (APR)

4.62%15.66%

Best for
Eligibility

4.62%15.66%

4.7

Best for
Eligibility

SoFi

4.6

Rates (APR)

4.62%15.66%

Best for
Career Services

4.62%15.66%

4.6

Best for
Career Services

Since most private student loan lenders require good credit, we recommend adding a creditworthy cosigner to your application to improve your chances of approval. A cosigner can also help you receive a lower interest rate, which will reduce the overall cost of your loan.

Check out the reviews below for an in-depth explanation as to why we selected each lender as one of the best private student loans.

Best overall: College Ave

Best Overall

Why we picked College Ave

College Ave is an online student loan lender based out of Wilmington, Delaware. The lender’s sole focus is to make a college degree more attainable by helping students and parents afford the rising cost of higher education.

When you borrow with College Ave, you’ll get to take advantage of its Multi-Year Peace of Mind™. Thanks to this benefit, 90% of undergraduate borrowers are approved for additional loans for future years when applying with a cosigner.

That’s not the only benefit of College Ave. It also allows you to select your repayment term and explains how the term and plan you choose impacts the long-term cost of your loan.

What you should know

Variable rates (APR) 5.29% – 15.99%
Fixed rates (APR) 4.44% – 15.99%
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms 5, 8, 10, or 15 years

Eligibility requirements

College Ave student loans are available to undergraduates, graduates, parents, and for career training. According to the lender, 98% of all undergraduate loans are cosigned. By adding a cosigner, you can improve your chances of meeting the following eligibility requirements:

Financial requirements
– Minimum credit score: Not disclosed
– Minimum income: $35,000 per year
– Approval after prior bankruptcy: No

Educational requirements
– School eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
– Enrolled half-time or more: Yes

Other requirements
– Citizenship: U.S. citizen or permanent resident or international students with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
– State: Available in all 50 states

Repayment details

College Ave allows you to choose your repayment term (between 5, 8, 10, or 15 years) and select amongst four in-school repayment options.

In-school repayment options
– Full: Pay principal and interest
– Interest-only: Pay interest every month
– Fixed: Pay $25 every month
– Deferred: No payment

Post-School Repayment Options
– Repayment terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
– Grace period: 6 months for undergraduates & 9 months for graduate students
– Grace period extension: Apply for an additional 6 months
– Deferment options: In-school & military
– Forbearance: Up to 12 months, in increments of 3 or 6 months

Other Repayment Options
– Cosigner release: Yes, after finishing more than half of the scheduled repayment period and meeting additional criteria
– Death discharge: Yes
– Disability discharge: Yes

Key takeaways

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    You choose your repayment term

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    Multi-Year Peace of Mind™ allows you to receive future loans at better approval odds

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    Offers all four in-school repayment options

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    Covers up to the total cost of attendance

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    Cosigner release isn’t available until you are at least halfway through your repayment term

Get an instant credit decision in just three minutes by clicking here.

Best for cosigners: Sallie Mae

Best for Cosigners

Why we picked Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae, the most widely known student loan lender, is based out of Newark, Delaware. When it was founded, it was a government entity in charge of servicing federal education loans. Then, between 1997 and 2004, Sallie Mae transitioned into a fully privatized bank and began offering private student loans.

Today, Sallie Mae controls the largest share of the private student loan market. It’s also expanded its product offering to include credit cards, savings accounts, and more.

Sallie Mae is our choice as the best for cosigners due to its short cosigner release period. Borrowers can apply for a release of their cosigner from the loan after they graduate, make 12 on-time principal and interest payments, and meet certain credit requirements.

Sallie Mae borrowers can enjoy benefits including Multi-Year Advantage and no origination or application fees. With Multi-Year Advantage, 96% of undergraduate students who’ve been approved with a cosigner were approved again when they returned with a cosigner the following year.

What you should know

Variable rates (APR) 5.87% – 16.20%
Fixed rates (APR) 4.50% – 14.83%
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms 10 – 15 years

Eligibility requirements

Sallie Mae student loans are available to undergraduates, graduates, parents, and for career training. According to the lender, students are nearly four times more likely to be approved when a cosigner is added to the application. Here are some of the eligibility requirements for a Sallie Mae student loan:

Financial requirements
– Minimum credit score: Not disclosed
– Minimum income: Not disclosed
– Approval after prior bankruptcy: Yes, with no open bankruptcy

Educational requirements
– School eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
– Enrolled half-time or more: Yes

Other requirements
– Citizenship: U.S. citizen or permanent resident or non-U.S. citizen with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
– State: Available in all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico

Repayment details

Sallie Mae offers a wide range of repayment terms that can be anywhere between 10 and 15 years. Borrowers also have access to several deferment options that allow for payments to be paused under certain conditions.

In-school repayment options
– Interest-only: Pay interest every month
– Fixed: Pay $25 every month
– Deferred: No payment

Post-school repayment options
– Repayment terms: 10 – 15 years
– Grace period: 6 months
– Deferment options: In-school, military, internship, residency, and fellowship
– Forbearance: Up to 12 months, in increments of 3 months

Other repayment options
– Cosigner release: Yes, after 12 consecutive on-time payments
– Death discharge: Yes
– Disability discharge: Yes

Key takeaways

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    Cosigners can be released after 12 on-time payments are made

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    Multi-Year Advantage offers improved odds for future loans

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    Students attending school less than half-time are eligible

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    Covers up to the total cost of attendance

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    Can’t prequalify with a soft credit check

Get a credit decision in about 15 minutes by clicking here.

Best comparison tool: Credible

Best Comparison Tool

Why we picked Credible

Credible is not a student loan lender, unlike the other companies on this list. Instead, it offers a free comparison tool where borrowers can fill out a quick online application and compare real prequalified rates from the lenders it partners with.

If you receive an offer that you’d like to move forward with, Credible’s staff will help you complete an application with that lender and confirm your approval. There are no fees for filling out an application and your credit will not be impacted.

What you should know

Rates (APR) Varies by lender
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms Varies by lender

Eligibility requirements

There are no eligibility requirements to use Credible’s comparison tool. Whether or not you’re approved by one of its partner lenders depends on that lender’s unique requirements.

Repayment details

The lender or its servicer of choice will handle your repayment responsibilities. Credible doesn’t collect or facilitate payments.

Key takeaways

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    See prequalified rates in just 3 minutes

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    Checking your rates does not impact your credit

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    No fees

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    Receive $200 if you don’t find your best private student loan rate

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    There’s no guarantee that you’ll be matched with a loan offer

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    Credible only shows offers from its partners

See prequalified offers in just three minutes by clicking here.

Best for no fees: Earnest

Best for No Fees

Why we picked Earnest

Earnest is an online lender based out of San Francisco, California. The lender was founded with the goal of making higher education accessible and affordable for everyone.

One of the main benefits of taking out a loan with Earnest is that there are no fees. Many lenders market their student loans as having no fees to apply, but this only refers to origination and application fees. With Earnest, you won’t be charged any fees to apply, plus you won’t be charged for paying off your loan early or for any late payments.

In addition to no fees, Earnest offers several other benefits, like a longer than average grace period and the ability to skip a payment once per year.

What you should know

Variable rates (APR) 5.39%16.20%
Fixed rates (APR) 4.43%15.90%
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years

Eligibility requirements

Earnest student loans are available to undergraduates, graduates, and parents. According to the lender, two-thirds of its borrowers have a cosigner, and students are four times more likely to get approved when applying with a cosigner. Here are some of the eligibility requirements for an Earnest student loan:

Financial requirements
– Minimum credit score: 650
– Minimum income: $35,000 per year
– Approval after prior bankruptcy: No

Educational requirements
– School eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
– Enrolled half-time or more: Yes

Other requirements
– Citizenship: U.S. citizen or permanent resident or non-U.S. citizen with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
– State: All states other than Nevada, plus Washington D.C.

Repayment details

Earnest offers several repayment terms of 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years. With a longer than average grace period, borrowers can take extra time, if needed, to set themselves up to comfortably meet future payments.

In-school repayment options
– Full: Pay principal and interest
– Interest-only: Pay interest every month
– Fixed: Pay $25 every month
– Deferred: No payment

Post-school repayment options
– Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
– Grace period: 9 months
– Deferment options: In-school, military, residency, and fellowship
– Forbearance: Up to 12 months

Other repayment options
– Cosigner release: No
– Death discharge: Yes
– Disability discharge: Yes

Key takeaways

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    No origination, application, or late payment fees

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    Skip one payment without any impact on your credit per year

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    Checking your rate won’t impact your credit

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    Longer than average grace period

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    Covers up to the total cost of attendance

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    Cosigner release is not available

See if you qualify with a soft credit check by clicking here.

Best for eligibility: Ascent

Best for Eligibility

Why we picked Ascent

Ascent is an online student loan lender based out of San Diego, California. Its student loan offering is unique compared to other lenders because it offers multiple different options. These options include its traditional cosigned loan, non-cosigned credit-based loan, and non-cosigned future income-based loan.

Ascent’s new Ascent Connect program was rolled out for the first time this year. It’s currently available to a limited number of undergraduate applicants but has plans to expand in the future.

If accepted into the program, active undergraduate students will receive a dedicated Ascent Success Coach who can help them through college and their career search. The program comes with a free app that includes tools and resources for finding and launching a career, one-on-one coaching sessions, and scholarship opportunities.

What you should know

Variable rates (APR) 5.94%15.83%
Fixed rates (APR) 4.48%15.38%
Loan amounts $2,001 – $200,000
Repayment terms 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years

Eligibility requirements

Ascent student loans come in the form of cosigned and non-cosigned loans for undergraduates and graduates. If you can’t meet the eligibility requirements for the cosigned loan listed below, you may be eligible for Ascent’s non-cosigned loan.

Financial requirements
– Minimum credit score: 540
– Minimum income: $24,000 per year
– Approval after prior bankruptcy: Yes, but not in the last 5 years

Educational requirements
– School eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
– Enrolled half-time or more: Yes

Other requirements
– Citizenship: U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and international or DACA students with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
– State: Available in all 50 states

Repayment terms

Ascent offers several repayment terms of 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years. The lender has some of the best repayment benefits for borrowers who may find themselves experiencing periods of financial difficulty.

In-school repayment options
– Interest-only: Pay interest every month
– Fixed: Pay $25 every month
– Deferred: No payment

Post-school repayment options
– Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
– Grace period: 9 months
– Deferment options: In-school and military
– Forbearance: Up to 24 months, in up to 4 consecutive periods

Other repayment options
– Cosigner release: Yes, after 24 consecutive on-time monthly payments
– Death discharge: Yes
– Disability discharge: Yes

Key takeaways

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    Offers cosigned, non-cosigned, international, and DACA student loans

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    1% cash back with proof of graduation

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    Check your rate without impacting your credit

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    Limits the amount you can borrow

See if you qualify with a soft credit check by clicking here.

Best for career services: SoFi

Best for Career Services

We we picked SoFi

SoFi is a nationally chartered bank based out of San Francisco, California. It made a name for itself in 2012 as the first company to refinance both federal and private student loans. Since then, it has expanded into nearly all consumer lending markets with over $73 billion in loans funded.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest draws to borrowing from SoFi is the wide range of benefits available to its members. One of these benefits includes complimentary career coaching.

SoFi members can work one-on-one with a career coach to progress their career, transition into a new one, or work on personal branding. The support your receive is built for you and your goals.

What you should know

Variable rates (APR) 5.24%12.82%
Fixed rates (APR) 4.24%13.55%
Loan amounts $5,000 – 100% of certified costs
Repayment terms 5, 7, 10, or 15 years

Eligibility requirements

SoFi offers student loans for undergraduates, graduates, and parents. According to the lender, those with a creditworthy cosigner are seven times more likely to be approved. Here are some eligibility requirements for a SoFi student loan:

Financial requirements
– Minimum credit score: Not disclosed
– Minimum income: None
– Approval after prior bankruptcy: Yes

Educational requirements
– School eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
– Enrolled half-time or more: Yes

Other requirements
– Citizenship: U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or visa holder (E-2, E-3, H-1B, J-1, L-1, or O-1), and international or DACA students with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
– State: Available in all 50 states

Repayment details

SoFi offers several repayment terms of 5, 7, 10, or 15 years. Borrowers have the option to choose between all four in-school repayment options and can enjoy unemployment protection.

In-school repayment options
– Full: Pay principal and interest
– Interest-only: Pay interest every month
– Fixed: Pay $25 every month
– Deferred: No payment

Post-school repayment options
– Repayment terms: 5, 7, 10, or 15 years
– Grace period: 6 months
– Deferment options: In-school and military
– Forbearance: Up to 12 months, for three months at a time

Other repayment options
– Cosigner release: Yes, after 24 consecutive on-time monthly payments
– Death discharge: Yes
– Disability discharge: Reviewed on a case-by-case basis

Key takeaways

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    Borrowers receive unemployment protection, career coaching, and other member benefits

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    No fees

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    Check your rate without impacting your credit

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    Covers up to the total cost of attendance

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    Higher minimum loan amount than other lenders

See if you qualify with a soft credit check by clicking here.

Other private student loans that stood out for unique benefits

While the lenders reviewed above were the highest rated of all the companies we evaluated, a few other lenders stood out for unique benefits. Here are those lenders and the benefits that caught our attention:

  • Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (best for Rhode Island students and residents): RISLA offers rate discounts for students attending a school in Rhode Island or residents from the state and unique rewards like a four-year interest-free period for nurses working in Rhode Island.
  • Custom Choice (best graduation rewards): Borrowers who graduate and provide proof to Custom Choice can receive 2% cash back.
  • Discover (best good grades rewards): Earning good grades can result in a 1% cash back reward for each new student loan received from Discover.

How we chose the best private student loans

LendEDU has evaluated lenders since 2016 to help our readers find the best student loans. Our most recent evaluation comprised 18 lenders and 25 data points for each, resulting in 450 data points in our analysis.

These data points fell under 12 categories: transparency, eligibility requirements, rates, repayment terms, loan amounts, cosigner, fees, customer experience, company history, and benefits.

Each company was assigned a score of one to five per category, depending on how it compared to others. We determine the weight of each category based on how important we believe the information is to consumers. We total the weighted scores to determine a final editorial rating for each company. The star ratings range from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). We round our ratings to the nearest tenth decimal place.

These star ratings help us determine which companies are the best for different borrowers. We don’t believe two companies can be the best for the same purpose, so we only show each “best for” designation once.

Is a private student loan a good option for you?

Federal student loans are limited to a certain amount each year of undergraduate study. If you need to borrow more, your options might include federal Parent PLUS loans, private student loans, and some states have loan programs for residents or students in the state.

With all loans, you should understand your budget once you graduate. Once you pay for your basic necessities such as housing, food, and transportation, you should have enough left over to pay the monthly student loan payments from your expected starting salary. If it looks like this will be a problem, more student debt may not be the answer to pay for your college expenses.

Be sure you and your family compare all the costs and repayment options for the various student loan choices.

How to decide which private student loan is the best for you

While our evaluation of private student loans was created as a starting point for students and their families to find the best private student loan, we recommend you do your own research as well.

When looking for a private student loan, comparing your options is the most important thing you can do. By doing this, you’ll be able to find an affordable loan that comes with borrower-friendly repayment terms. Here are the steps we recommend taking to find the best private student loan:

  1. Compile a list of student loan lenders that you’re interested in. Ideally, you’ll want to choose between reputable companies that have demonstrated an ability to support borrowers during repayment.
  2. Review the eligibility requirements for each lender. All private lenders have their own unique eligibility requirements. Make sure you’re eligible with a lender before applying to limit unnecessary hard credit checks. Remember, we recommend adding a cosigner to your loan to improve your chances of approval, but that cosigner is on the hook to pay back your loan if you are unable to. If you and your cosigner don’t meet the eligibility requirements, you should remove that lender from consideration.
  3. Review the loan terms. Make sure you understand what happens if you were to die or become disabled during the loan term. The lenders in our reviews all allow loan discharge for death or disability, but not all lenders have this feature. If you borrow from a lender that doesn’t allow for forgiveness due to death or disability, students should consider inexpensive life insurance to protect their cosigners. Although private student lenders do not have the same income-driven repayment plans as federal student loans, they might have forbearance programs if you lose your job during the repayment period. It can be helpful to understand those programs up-front.
  4. Get quotes from the lenders you’re eligible with. While most lenders display an interest rate range on their website, the only way to know the rate you’ll receive is by prequalifying or submitting a complete application. Make sure to utilize soft credit checks when possible to reduce the total number of hard credit inquiries on your credit report.
  5. Compare your quotes. Once you’ve received a rate estimate from each lender, compare your offers to see which lender offers you the lowest rate. Make sure to consider other factors like the repayment term, borrower protections, and unique benefits as well.
  6. Choose a lender. The lender you borrow from should offer you the most affordable loan, with borrower protections that help you in times of need during repayment. Once you select a lender, you can submit your application and wait for the lender to inform you of your next steps.

Private student loan FAQ

How do private student loans work?

Private student loans are a form of financial aid that students can use to cover the cost of their education. These loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders.

You’ll need to apply for a loan directly with a lender and meet certain eligibility requirements to be approved. If you can’t meet the eligibility requirements alone, you’ll need to add a creditworthy cosigner who can.

Most lenders allow you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance, minus any other financial aid you receive. Once your loan amount is finalized, the funds will be disbursed to your school to cover tuition and other expenses. Any remaining funds will be sent directly to you to use as needed.

When you start repaying your loan will depend on which in-school repayment plan you select. Your options include making full, interest-only, fixed, or deferred payments. If you choose full, interest-only, or fixed payments, you’ll start making payments while attending school. If you defer your payments until after you graduate, repayment won’t begin until your grace period is over. After your grace period, you’ll start making full payments for the duration of your loan term, typically from five to 20 years.

What are the eligibility requirements for a private student loan?

Each lender has its own eligibility requirements. Generally, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, have good credit, attend a Title IV school at least half-time, and meet an income threshold.

If you can’t meet those requirements independently, you’ll likely need to add a cosigner to your loan application. Make sure your cosigner understands the risks of being added to the loan. If you’re unable to make your monthly payments, your cosigner will be responsible for continuing to pay back the loan.

If you can’t meet the eligibility requirements and don’t have a cosigner to add to your loan, there are student loan lenders that student loans without a cosigner and student loans for international students.

>> Read More: Private student loan eligibility requirements

How do student loan interest rates work?

Your interest rate is arguably the most important part of your student loan. For private loans, the interest rate you receive will depend on you or your cosigner’s credit and income, amongst other factors. If you have an excellent credit score and steady income, you are more likely to receive a lower interest rate.

Private student loans also come with either a fixed or variable interest rate. If you choose a fixed rate, your rate will remain the same for the duration of your loan. If you choose a variable rate, your rate will change throughout your loan term and increase or decrease depending on economic conditions.

With private student loans, interest accrues while you attend school. This means that your balance will be larger than your original loan amount when you begin repayment under a deferred repayment plan. However, lenders typically allow you to save on interest by selecting an in-school repayment plan where you make partial payments while still attending school.

>> Read More: Student loan interest rates

Do private student loans have fees?

Private student loans can come with fees; however, none of the lenders listed above charge an origination, application, or prepayment fee. We take this stance because we don’t believe borrowers should be charged for taking out a loan or paying one off early.

That being said, let’s look at the different types of fees typically discussed with student loans.

  • Origination fee: This fee is charged when you take out a loan. It’s usually calculated as a percentage of the total loan amount. For example, if you have a $10,000 loan with a 5% origination fee, the fee would come to $500. While federal student loans do come with an origination fee, none of the lenders in our list above charge one.
  • Application fee: This fee is charged to you when you fill out and submit an application for a loan. Like the origination fee, none of the lenders selected above charge this fee.
  • Late payment fee: This fee is charged to you if you don’t make a payment on time. A lender may set this as a flat amount (e.g., $25) or a percentage of the missed payment (e.g., 5%). Some of the lenders in our list do charge this fee, so we recommend putting together a repayment plan that can help you ensure you stay on schedule with payments.
  • Prepayment fee: This fee is charged if you pay off your loan early. None of the lenders listed above charge this fee.

How do private student loans differ from federal student loans?

Federal student loans are offered by the Department of Education and require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility. Federal student loans should always be considered before borrowing private student loans due to lower rates and friendlier repayment benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans and forgiveness programs.

Unfortunately, federal student loans come with borrowing limits that can limit students’ ability to cover their entire cost of attendance. Because of this, many turn to private student loans to bridge the gap.

Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. These loans typically allow you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance. Unlike federal student loans, you can’t fill out one application to determine your eligibility for all private student loans. Each lender sets its own eligibility requirements, typically including income and credit minimums.

Whether you borrow from the government or a private lender, always understand if your after-graduation budget will allow you to pay back your student loans before deciding to use them for your education.

>> Read More: Federal vs. private student loans

Recap of the best private student loan companies