Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

Sallie Mae Competitors and Alternatives

Updated Jun 27, 2023   |   5-min read

Sallie Mae is among the most predominant private student loan companies, but other financial services firms also offer competitive options.

Today, several banks provide a variety of student loan products with unique rates, terms, and perks to cater to a variety of borrowers. Those products include undergraduate and graduate loans, career training loans, and parent loans.

Though many borrowers turn to Sallie Mae to help fund their education, College Ave, Earnest, and Ascent also offer competitive options for students.

Sallie Mae Alternatives

College Ave Student Loans

  • Fixed Rates: 4.44% – 15.99% (APR)
  • Variable Rates: 5.09% – 15.99% (APR)
  • Loan Amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

College Ave is our top-rated lender for private student loans, making it a great alternative to Sallie Mae. College Ave offers loans for undergraduates, graduate programs (including health professions), career training, and parents of students attending college.

Here are some highlights of the undergraduate student loan:

  • Repayment Terms: 5, 8, 10, or 15 years
  • In-school repayment options: Full deferment, $25 monthly, interest-only, full principal & interest
  • Grace Period: 6 months + option to apply for 6 more
  • Cosigner Release: Yes; after 24 on-time monthly payments
  • Unique benefits: You can apply and receive a credit decision within 3 minutes


  • Fixed Rates: 4.43% – 15.90% (APR)
  • Variable Rates: 5.32% – 16.20% (APR)
  • Loan Amounts: $1,000 – 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

Earnest is an online lender offering undergraduate, graduate, and medical student loans, as well as student loan refinancing and personal loans. The company is another alternative to Sallie Mae.

Here are some highlights of Earnest’s undergraduate student loans:

  • Soft-Credit Check: No but there is an eligibility check
  • Repayment Terms: 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years
  • In-school repayment options: Options include full deferment, flat payments, interest-only payments, and full principal & interest payments
  • Grace Period: 9 months
  • Cosigner Release: No, but you can release your cosigner if you refinance
  • Unique benefits: Skip one payment per year, biweekly autopay


  • Fixed Rates: 3.82% – 15.27% (APR)
  • Variable Rates: 2.71% – 12.99% (APR)
  • Loan Amounts: $2,001 – $200,000

The information above is for the Ascent Cosigned Credit-Based Loan.

Ascent offers student loans with or without a cosigner. All students are eligible for loans with a cosigner, while juniors, seniors, graduate students, and students with two years of credit history are eligible for loans without one. Upon graduation, borrowers earn a 1% cash-back reward.

  • Soft Credit Check: Yes, customers can view rates with just a soft credit check
  • Repayment Terms: 5, 10, or 15 years
  • In-school repayment options: Interest-only, $25 flat, or deferred payment
  • Grace Period: 9 months
  • Cosigner Release: After 12 on-time payments
  • Unique benefits: 1% cash back upon graduation

If you are interested in Ascent’s non-cosigned loan, click here.

Sallie Mae’s Private Student Loans

To learn more about Sallie Mae, you can either check out our full Sallie Mae Student Loans Review or continue reading to see the main points of their most popular loan: the Smart Option Student Loan.

The Smart Option Student Loan is available for undergraduates and graduates with the following terms:

Loan Terms

Smart Option Student Loan for Undergraduate Students

  • Rates: 5.74% to 11.85% fixed APR or a 4.12% to 10.98% variable APR
  • Terms: Five to 15 years under a deferred, fixed, or interest repayment option

Sallie Mae Graduate School Loan

  • Rates: 6.25% to 9.16% fixed APR or a 4.12% to 9.16% variable APR
  • Terms: 15 years under a deferred, fixed, or interest repayment option

Of course, the first step in the loan application process should be to review the products and determine which one is right for you.

Sallie Mae’s Loan Application Process

Applying for a Smart Option Student Loan through Sallie Mae is easy and can be done online in about 15 minutes, with credit results also available in that time.

To apply, you must provide the required personal, academic, and financial information. This information includes your SSN (as well as a cosigner’s SSN, if applicable), your current enrollment status, degree and course of study, the academic period, and year in which you will be enrolled.

It also includes the loan amount requested, any additional funds you will receive, and the name and contact information of two personal contacts.

Sallie Mae’s Eligibility Requirements

If you feel Sallie Mae might be a good fit for your loan needs, keep in mind that loan approval is based on a variety of factors including your payment history, outstanding debt, and length of credit history.

It is also based on your credit score, though the company does not provide specific information about its credit score threshold.

As such, candidates who have a history of making timely payments, have little to no outstanding debt, and have a growing credit history likely have an advantage. However, those who do not meet the requirements do have the opportunity to apply with a cosigner.

Sallie Mae Pros and Cons

As a company, Sallie Mae has been in the business of student lending for over 45 years and has a 100 percent U.S.-based customer service department.

They offer competitive rates, particularly to those who are eligible for the lowest advertised rates. Additionally, the lender offers some perks such as the ability to track your FICO score, a mobile app, and a resource center.

That said, some users may find Sallie Mae’s website cumbersome. Finding pertinent information like loan terms or credit requirements can be difficult. Sallie Mae tends to lag behind other newer private lenders that offer robust resource centers and loan transparency.

In addition, borrowers who want to shop around for rates may find it disheartening to find that while other lenders offer soft inquiry quotes, Sallie Mae runs a hard inquiry during the application process. That may not bode well for those with low credit scores or thin credit as hard inquiries can negatively impact their credit scores.