7 Best Private Student Loans for October 2021

After hours of research, we found the seven best private student loans amongst our partners — including what each is the best for.

Jeff Gitlen David Haas
Written by
Reviewed by David Haas, CFP®Verified Badge
Updated October 1, 2021

Many or all of the companies featured provide compensation to LendEDU. These commissions are how we maintain our free service for consumers. Compensation, along with hours of in-depth editorial research, determines where & how companies appear on our site.

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.

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.

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

Compare the best private student loan lenders

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

4.9

Rates (APR)

0.00% – 0.00%

Best Overall

0.00% – 0.00%

4.9

Best Overall

Sallie Mae

4.8

Rates (APR)

0.00% – 0.00%

Best for Cosigners

0.00% – 0.00%

4.8

Best for Cosigners

Earnest

4.8

Rates (APR)

0.000.00

Best for No Fees

0.000.00

4.8

Best for No Fees

Ascent

4.5

Rates (APR)

0.000.00

Best for
Forebearance Flexibility

0.000.00

4.5

Best for
Forebearance Flexibility

Custom Choice

4.6

Rates (APR)

0.000.00

Best Graduation Reward

0.000.00

4.6

Best Graduation Reward

SoFi

4.4

Rates (APR)

0.000.00

Best for Member Benefits

0.000.00

4.4

Best for Customer Benefits

Discover Student Loans

3.9

Rates (APR)

0.00% – 0.00%

Best Good Grades Reward

0.00% – 0.00%

3.9

Best good grades reward

Reviews of the seven best private student loans

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. If you’re interested in learning more about a specific lender, you can jump to that review by clicking on its name in the list below.


College Ave

Our Pick: Best Overall

4.9

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

College Ave is our choice as the best overall lender for the second year in a row because it has competitive rates, lets you choose your repayment term, and can cover up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance.

Variable Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Pros

  • You choose your repayment term
  • Offers all four in-school repayment options
  • Multi-Year Peace of Mind™
  • Option to apply for a six-month grace period extension
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance
  • A+ rating from the BBB

Cons

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

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

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

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.

Are you interested in applying for a loan with College Ave? You can get an instant credit decision in just three minutes by clicking here.


Sallie Mae

Our Pick: Best for Cosigners

4.8

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

Sallie Mae is our choice as the best for cosigners due to its short cosigner release period. Cosigners can be released from a Sallie Mae student loan after the borrower makes just 12 consecutive on-time monthly payments.

Variable Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Pros

  • A short cosigner release period
  • Four months of free Chegg® study help
  • Multi-Year Advantage
  • Students attending school less than half-time are eligible
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance
  • A+ rating from the BBB

Cons

  • Can't prequalify with a soft credit check

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

Sallie Mae offers a wide range of repayment terms that can be anywhere between 5 to 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: 5, 8, 10, or 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

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 borrowers can enjoy benefits including four months of free Chegg® study help, Multi-Year Advantage, and no origination or application fees. With Multi-Year Advantage, returning undergraduate students with a cosigner have a 95% approval rate for a future loan.

Are you interested in applying for a loan with Sallie Mae? You can apply and get a credit decision in about 15 minutes by clicking here.


Earnest

Our Pick: Best for No Fees

4.8

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

When Earnest says it doesn't charge any fees, it means it. There are no origination, application, prepayment, or late payment fees.

Variable Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Pros

  • No fees
  • A long grace period
  • Skip a payment once per year
  • Check your eligibility without affecting your credit
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance
  • A+ rating from the BBB

Cons

  • Cosigner release is not available

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.

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

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.

Are you interested in applying with Earnest? You can find out if you're eligible in just two minutes by clicking here.


Ascent

Our Pick: Best for Forbearance Flexibility

4.5

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

Ascent allows borrowers experiencing financial difficulty to enter temporary hardship forbearance for up to 24 months. Other options include administrative and natural disaster forbearance.

Variable Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$2,001$200,000

Pros

  • Forbearance flexibility
  • Graduation reward
  • Prequalify with no impact on your credit
  • Job loss and natural disaster protection
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance
  • A+ rating from the BBB

Cons

  • Limits to the amount you can borrow

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

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

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

Borrowers looking for repayment protection will be happy to know that Ascent offers several deferment and forbearance options. Ascent’s college loans include active-duty military deferment, in-school deferment, and residency or internship deferment.

For those dealing with financial difficulty, loans include temporary hardship forbearance, administrative forbearance, and natural disaster or declared emergency forbearance. All three of these options will extend the repayment term on your loan.

Are you interested in applying with Ascent? You can prequalify and check your rate with no impact on your credit by clicking here.


Custom Choice

Our Pick: Best Graduation Reward

4.6

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

Custom Choice by Cognition Financial offers borrowers who earn a bachelor’s degree or higher a two percent principal reduction on their loan with proof of graduation.

Variable Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$1,000$99,999 (aggregate of $180,000)

Pros

  • Graduation reward
  • No fees
  • Prequalify with no impact on your credit
  • Job loss and natural disaster protection
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance

Cons

  • Limits to the amount you can borrow

Custom Choice student loans are available to undergraduates and graduates. According to the lender, students are four times more likely to get approved when applying with a cosigner. Here are some eligibility requirements for a Custom Choice student loan:

Financial Requirements

  • Minimum credit score: 660
  • Minimum income: None
  • Approval after prior bankruptcy: Yes, but not in the last 10 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
  • State: Nationwide, with the exception of Arizona, Iowa, and Wisconsin

Custom Choice offers several repayment terms of 7, 10, or 15 years. With job loss and natural disaster protection, borrowers won’t be charged any fees for late or missed payments if either of these events occur.

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, 10, or 15 years
  • Grace period: 6 months
  • Grace period extension: Up to 6 months, in increments of 1 month
  • Deferment options: In-school, military, internship, residency, and fellowship
  • Forbearance: Up to 12 months, in two-month increments

Other Repayment Options

  • Cosigner release: Yes, after 36 consecutive on-time monthly payments
  • Death discharge: Yes
  • Disability discharge: Yes

Custom Choice powered by Cognition Financial is a customizable student loan made by Citizens, a regional bank headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island.

As with any student loan, it’s important to limit fees, get an affordable interest rate, and reduce your principal balance as quickly as you can. Custom Choice benefits help you achieve all three of these things.

These benefits include no fees, discounts that can reduce your interest rate up to 0.75%, and a two percent principal reduction if you graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Are you interested in applying with Custom Choice? You can prequalify and check your rate in minutes with no impact on your credit by clicking here.


SoFi

Our Pick: Best for Member Benefits

4.4

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

SoFi members enjoy a wide range of benefits, including a 0.125% rate discount, career coaching, unemployment protection, and more.

Variable Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00%0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$5,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Pros

  • Rate discount if you or your cosigner are a SoFi member
  • No fees
  • Prequalify with no impact on your credit
  • Career coaching
  • Unemployment protection
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance

Cons

  • High minimum loan amount

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

SoFi offers several repayment terms of 5, 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, 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

SoFi is a mobile-first online personal finance company 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 $50 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. These benefits fall into three categories: money, community, and career.

Money benefits include financial planning advice from credentialed advisors, referral bonuses, and member rate discounts. Community benefits include attending networking events, dinners, and happy hours. Career benefits include tools to help you earn a raise, personalized career advice, and an unemployment protection program.

Are you interested in applying for a loan with SoFi? You can prequalify without impacting your credit in minutes by clicking here.


Discover

Our Pick: Best Good Grades Reward

3.9

LendEDU Rating

Why It’s One of the Best

Discover rewards students who earn at least a 3.0 GPA in high school, college, or graduate school with a one-time payment of one percent of your school-certified loan amount.

Variable Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Fixed Rates
0.00% – 0.00% APR

Loan Amounts
$1,000 – 100% of school-certified cost of attendance

Pros

  • Good grades reward
  • No fees
  • 0.35% rate discount when you make interest-only payments in school
  • Multi-Year Option
  • Covers up to the total cost of attendance
  • A+ rating from the BBB

Cons

  • Only one repayment term
  • Can't prequalify with a soft credit check
  • Cosigner release is not available

Discover student loans are available to undergraduates, graduates, parents, and for career training. By adding a cosigner, you can improve your chances of meeting the following eligibility requirements:

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

Discover offers a single repayment term of 15 years to undergraduates. While we prefer lenders with a wide range of repayment terms to choose from, Discover does offer several repayment assistance options for those struggling to make payments.

In-School Repayment Options

  • Interest-only: Pay interest every month
  • Fixed: Pay $25 every month
  • Deferred: No payment

Post-School Repayment Options

  • Repayment terms: 15 years
  • Grace period: 6 months
  • Deferment options: In-school, military, public service, and residency
  • Forbearance: Up to 12 months, but not consecutively

Other Repayment Options

  • Cosigner release: No
  • Death discharge: Yes
  • Disability discharge: Yes

Discover is a national bank offering a wide range of consumer financial products, including student loans, credit cards, personal loans, home loans, and more.

With Discover, students who earn a GPA of 3.0 or higher in college or graduate school will be eligible for a good grades reward on each new Discover student loan. This reward is a one-time cash reward in which Discover will pay you one percent of your school-certified loan amount. If you're an incoming freshman, you can qualify for the reward on your first Discover student loan with a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher.

A good grades reward isn't the only benefit of borrowing with Discover. The bank has a long list of repayment benefits to help borrowers struggling to meet their monthly payment. These benefits include deferment options, a grace period extension, temporary interest or payment reductions, and more.

Are you interested in applying for a loan with Discover? You can apply in 15 minutes or less from your computer or mobile device by clicking here.


How we chose the best private student loans

Since 2014, LendEDU has been reviewing private student loan lenders to determine the best in the industry. Our most recent evaluation consisted of 12 of our partners, including several of the largest in market share.

Here are the seven categories that we reviewed to score each lender:

  • Interest rates: The rate on your loan is the most significant indicator of how much your loan will cost over time. We valued lenders that offered low rates and discounts.
  • Repayment: Most borrowers will spend years repaying their student loans, and because of this, offering flexible repayment options was an important factor in our evaluation. Lenders that had borrower-friendly terms scored the highest.
  • Loan amount: When you take out a student loan, you want to make sure that the loan can cover all your expenses. Lenders that cover up to the total cost of education were scored highest.
  • Cosigner benefits: Most estimates have over 90% of new private student loans including a cosigner. Lenders that allowed cosigners to be released from the loan were valued above those that didn't.
  • Fees: No private lender charging origination, application, or prepayment fees is eligible to be featured on this page. However, there are other fees that lenders may charge, such as late payment fees. The fewer fees charged by a lender, the better they scored.
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating: The BBB rates businesses between an A+ and F on how likely it is to interact with its customers. For student loan borrowers who will likely have a question or two during the life of their loan, this is a valuable rating to reference. The higher the rating a lender received, the better they scored.
  • Benefits: To stand out amongst their competitors, most student loan lenders offer unique benefits and rewards. These benefits can include a free subscription, a graduation reward, unemployment assistance, and more. Lenders that provided benefits that helped borrowers better control the cost of their loan were scored highest.

Once we scored each lender, we then determined who was the best for different situations. If a lender wasn't the best for anything, or they didn't allow borrowers to choose between in-school or deferred payments, they were not included on this page.

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 our private student loan partners 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.

>> Read More: Pros and cons of private student loans

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

Lender Rates (APR) Our Pick
College Ave 0.00% – 0.00% Best overall
Sallie Mae 0.00% – 0.00% Best for cosigners
Earnest 0.00%0.00% Best for no fees
Ascent 0.00%0.00% Best for forebearance flexibility
Custom Choice 0.00%0.00% Best graduation reward
SoFi 0.00%0.00% Best for member benefits
Discover 0.00% – 0.00% Best good grades reward