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Student loans are important tools that may help students cover the costs associated with continuing their education. Student loans may cover things like tuition, class materials, and room and board. Student loan eligibility requirements, interest rates, costs, and features can vary widely and are set at the lender’s discretion.
The best student loans offer competitive interest rates, various repayment terms, and discounts for things like autopay.
Best Overall Lender : Ascent
1% cash-back graduation reward
Non-co-signer student loan option
No parent-specific loan options
No student loan refinancing options
Only available for tuition and expenses at 2,200 schools
Ascent's interest rates are competitive, and it's the only lender on our list to offer student loans specifically for undergraduate borrowers without a co-signer. You can also use loans to pay for an approved career preparation (bootcamp) program or graduate school.
Ascent offers non-co-signed student loans to undergraduate juniors and seniors and graduate students with a GPA of 2.9 or higher and no credit score. This includes a “future income-based student loan” for undergrads. However, rate offers could be higher than those on co-signed loans.
Both types of loans come with a 0.25% interest rate discount when enrolled in autopay. If you have a co-signer, you can release them from the loan after 24 consecutive months of on-time payments. Ascent offers a 1% cash-back reward on the initial loan balance once the borrower graduates and meets certain criteria.
Ascent repayment terms are 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years for undergrads and graduate loans. The lender offers a few repayment options, including full in-school deferment until six months after graduation and low-cost, in-school repayment. There are also no penalties for paying off your loan early.
Alongside credit, income, and other financial information lenders use to evaluate applicants, Ascent also considers your school and program, GPA (you’ll need at least a 2.9), graduation date, major, and similar factors. Deferment or forbearance requests are also available for active-duty military, school enrollment, internships, or financial hardship.
Runner Up for Best Lender : Citizens Bank
Rate discounts up to 0.50% with autopay and Citizens account holders
Multi-year approval simplifies borrowing over time
Options for parents and graduate students
No specific options for loans without a cosigner
Co-signer and discounts required for lowest rates
Citizens Bank offers some of the lowest interest rates among the best student loans. After enrolling in autopay and signing up for an additional account at Citizens Bank such as a checking or savings account, borrowers can apply for various loans with potentially low rates. Interest rates depend on if you're a student or parent and whether you're an undergrad or graduate student, and there are no application fees.
After taking out your first Citizens Bank student loan, multi-year approval also makes it easier to access additional student loans if your expenses change. Citizens Bank student loans come with terms of five, 10, or 15 years, and you can borrow between $1,000 and $350,000 over time, depending on your degree, level of education, and if your parents are borrowing on your behalf.
Borrowers can choose one of three repayment options: full immediate repayment, interest-only payments while in school, or a full in-school deferment. Undergraduates may need a co-signer to qualify, though a co-signer release is offered after you make 36 on-time payments. Citizens Bank also offers student loan refinancing.
Best Site for Comparing Student Loan Offers : Credible
Compare multiple student loan offers in one place
See rates and pre-qualified offers without affecting credit
Request loan offers with or without a cosigner
Some borrowers may not receive pre-qualified student loan rates
Some lenders don’t provide pre-qualified rates
When shopping for a student loan, consider using Credible. It's a comparison site that provides you with a personalized table featuring up to eight lenders’ offers to compare. If you see one you like, you can click through to the lender’s site to complete a student loan application.
Here’s how it works: You’ll create a Credible account and complete a short form sharing your details. Credible uses this information to match you with student loan offers. This only requires a soft pull on your credit report, which means it won’t hurt your credit.
Lending partners on Credible offer student loan variable APRs of 0.94% to 14.75% and fixed APRs of 3.15% to 14.75%. They also charge no student loan origination or processing fees. Student loan terms range from five years to 20, with loans offered for undergraduate and graduate students with or without a co-signer.
Best for Graduate Students : SoFi
No loan fees
Built-in unemployment protection
Access to career services features
Not open to international students (except with a U.S. co-signer)
Eligible school list only available on application
SoFi offers some of the best graduate student loans around, from MBA programs to law school to certificate programs. SoFi's lowest posted rates reflect discounts of 0.25% for autopay and 0.125% for SoFi membership.
On top of that, SoFi provides strong membership benefits that can offer a lot of value to graduate students, including free career coaching and financial planning. Its Unemployment Protection program will also pause student loan payments for up to 12 months if you lose your job through no fault of your own.
There are also four repayment options, including full in-school deferment and no fees ever. And if you have a co-signer, you can apply to release them after 24 on-time payments. SoFi also offers student loan refinancing.
Note that in order to obtain a SoFi graduate loan, you must have completed a BA or BS program and you must be enrolled in your program at least half time.
Best for Co-Signers : Sallie Mae
No specified maximum loan amount limit
96% acceptance rate for borrowers with a co-signer
Open to international students
No student loan refinancing options
Only three repayment options
Sallie Mae offers the best student loans for co-signers thanks to its flexible options and clear guidelines for co-signers. It also helps that it offers low costs on loans for undergraduates after enrolling in autopay and choosing in-school repayment.
The Smart Option Student Loan, Sallie Mae’s private student loan for undergraduates, has the shortest repayment requirement to qualify for co-signer release. Borrowers can apply to release their co-signer after just 12 months of on-time, full payments. There are only three repayment options, but there are no prepayment penalties for paying off your loan early.
If you co-sign a student loan from Sallie Mae, you’ll get your own login to access, manage, and make payments to the account. Almost any creditworthy person can be a co-signer with this lender, as Sallie Mae notes 26% of its co-signers aren’t related to the student borrower. Qualifying U.S. citizens can co-sign for international students, too.
Sallie Mae also offers graduate school loans, MBA loans, parent-student loans, residency and relocation loans, and career training loans.
Best for Flexible Repayment Options : College Ave
- Starting Interest Rate: 1.29% (including 0.25% automatic payment discount)
- Min credit score: Not disclosed
- Terms: 5-15 years
Terms from 5-15 years
4 types of repayment options
Quick application process
No forbearance policy specified
Unclear details about career loans
College Ave offers a wide range of flexible repayment options, from payment structure to terms. Here are the in-school payment options students have with a College Ave student loan:
- Full deferment in school and for a six-month grace period after enrollment ends
- Fixed in-school payments of $25 per month
- Interest-only payments while in school
- Full repayment of principal, with interest beginning immediately
While you're in school, you can defer payments or opt for fixed or interest-only payments that can limit your monthly payments.
On top of these flexible options, College Ave also offers four loan-term options between five and 15 years, which gives you more control over your repayment. And if you have a co-signer, you can release them after 24 payments, too.
College Ave offers loans for undergraduates, graduates, parents, and student loan refinancing. There are also career loans, but the details of those are unclear and you may need to contact the company directly for more information.
All of the best student loans that made our list have pros and cons to offer. Some offer competitive interest rates, and others offer flexible repayment terms and structures. Still, others make it easy for a co-signer to apply for the loan. Overall, we recommend checking out Ascent first. The company offers competitive interest rates and has loan products for undergraduates without needing a co-signer.
Compare the Best Student Loan Providers
|Lender||Minimum Credit Score||Starting Interest Rate||Terms||Loan Amounts|
|Credible Best Site for Comparing Student Loan Offers||Not disclosed||0.94%||5-20 years||$2,001-$50,000|
|Ascent Best Overall Lender||Not disclosed||1.75%||5-15 years||$1,000 - $200,000|
|Citizens Bank Runner Up for Best Lender||Not disclosed||2.29%||5-15 years||$1,000-$350,000|
|SoFi Best for Graduate Students||Not disclosed||2.59%||5-15 years||$5,000-full tuition|
|Sallie Mae Best for Co-Signers||Not disclosed||2.62%||5-15 years||$1,000-full tuition|
|College Ave Best for Flexible Repayment Options||Not disclosed||1.29% (including 0.25% automatic payment discount)||5-15 years||$1,000-full tuition|
How to Choose the Best Student Loan Provider
If you need to borrow student loans, spend time getting to know how student loans work. This can help you figure out what you need and want in a student loan to make an informed decision.
As you compare federal and private student loan offerings, focus on the costs of borrowing. The interest rates and fees you’ll face will determine how much it will cost you to repay this debt in the future. Choosing a student loan with lower monthly costs can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in interest over the life of your loan.
Beyond cost, look at other factors that may affect how affordable or burdensome this debt will be to repay:
- In-school deferment that ensures you can focus on your studies
- Loan terms have a direct impact on your monthly payments
- Deferment or forbearance options to protect you from default in cases of financial hardship
- Options to add or release a co-signer for more access and options
- Features and benefits specific to the type of loan or degree you’re pursuing, such as deferment during residency for medical school loans
- Fees such as late fees, origination fees, and more
Federal Student Loans vs. Private Student Loans
Federal student loans are the more common form of student loans. The U.S. Department of Education offers and funds them, and they are not credit-based loans. On the other hand, private student loans are credit-based options offered by banks or other private lenders.
Federal student loans often offer students a more affordable and accessible way to borrow. Still, private student loans are an important tool that can be used to fill in student aid gaps for students who hit borrowing limits on federal student loans. They can also be a more cost-effective alternative to the terms offered on federal direct PLUS loans.
Private student loans may include options for international students, funding above the federal loan limits, no origination fees, and potentially better rates. However, because they are private loans, they are not eligible for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program, there are fewer repayment options, and because they are credit-driven, you will need good credit (or have a co-signer with good credit) to take advantage of the best rates and terms.
What Is a Student Loan?
A student loan is a form of aid that helps students pay for a college education, from vocational training to a bachelor’s degree up to a doctorate degree. Students then use these funds to pay for their education-related costs including tuition, books, school supplies, and even living expenses like food or transportation.
Student loans can be offered and originated by a number of lenders. The Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid offers federal student loans, and many state governments run student loan programs. Colleges may offer their own student loan programs, along with other nonprofit organizations. Banks and other private lenders also commonly offer student loans.
How Do Student Loans Work?
To get student loans, you’ll need to apply for them. For federal student loans, this includes submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For private student loans, that means completing an application with the lender of your choice. These lenders will require that you prove you’re a student, and you may be able to borrow up to the full costs of your educational degree or program.
Once the repayment period starts, you are responsible for paying back the student loan principal and interest. You’ll face a monthly payment amount designed to repay the loan in full within your loan term.
As they are loans, student loans are not gifted aid (like scholarships), and they must be paid back. Student loans are typically deferred while the student is enrolled in college and for a grace period after enrollment ends. Be aware that interest may accrue during this deferment period. The exception is interest on federal direct subsidized loans, which is paid through a federal subsidy.
And, also of note, although student loans have lower interest rates and costs than other loans, they are harder to discharge in bankruptcy.
Is Student Loan Interest Tax Deductible?
The short answer is yes: You can deduct up to $2,500 in student loan interest that you paid to lower your taxable income. Both private and federal student loans can qualify for the student loan interest deduction.
If you paid more than $600 in interest on a student loan that qualifies for this deduction, your lender is required to send you a Form 1098-E to certify what you paid. However, you can still claim this deduction if you paid less or didn’t receive a 1098-E.
How We Chose the Best Student Loans
To choose the best student loans, we compared more than 20 nationwide private student loan lenders. The best made our list based primarily on student loan rates, discounts, and terms. We also considered other loan offerings and features, including options, loan limits, repayment, forbearance or deferment policies, and co-signer release.