Private student loans are important tools that may help students cover the costs associated with continuing their education. They aren’t right for every student, however, and they aren’t always easy to get. Private student loan eligibility requirements, interest rates, costs, and features can vary widely and are set at the lender’s discretion.
To get you started, we reviewed the best student loans based on their interest rates, deferment options, variety of terms, autopay discounts, and more. To help you even more in your comparison shopping, we also reviewed student loan aggregators and marketplaces that let you compare different loan offers.
Best Student Loans of May 2021
For most students, federal student loans are more affordable and provide better protection than private student loans. If you're eligible for federal loans, you should first apply for those. If you're not eligible or federal loans aren't enough to cover all your school costs, then compare multiple private lenders to find the best fit for you.
Best Site for Comparing Student Loan Offers : Credible
Comparing different student loan offers is key to getting the best loan for you. We evaluated the six biggest websites that aggregate information about student loan providers. Our top criteria: a tool or table that lets you compare prequalified rates and terms, and apply if you want to right from the site. Credible is our choice because it gives you a personalized table with up to eight lenders’ offers to compare, and you can click through to a 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 1.04%-13.19% and fixed APRs of 3.34%-14.51%. They also charge no student loan origination or processing fees. Student loan terms range from five years up to 20, with loans offered for undergraduate and graduate students with or without a co-signer.
Get and compare multiple student loan offers in one place
See rates and prequalified offers without affecting credit
Request loan offers with or without a co-signer
Research lenders further through Credible’s reviews
Some borrowers may not receive prequalified student loan rates
Some lenders don’t provide prequalified rates for any borrowers through Credible
Read the full review: Credible Student Loans
Best Overall Lender : Ascent
Ascent's interest rates are among the lowest of any lenders we surveyed, and it's the only lender on our list to offer student loans specifically for undergraduate borrowers without a co-signer.
Ascent offers non-co-signed student loans to undergraduate juniors and seniors, and graduate students. This includes a “future income-based student loan” for undergrads, which comes with a 2.00% interest rate discount on the highest offered rate when you sign up for automatic payments. 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 do have a co-signer, you can release them from the loan after 24 consecutive months of on-time payments.
Ascent repayment terms are 5, 7, 10, 12, or 15 years for undergrads, and 10 to 20 years for 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. A standout option includes graduated repayment. It starts payments low and increases over time, giving recent college graduates time to get their financial footing before making full payments.
Ascent offers a 1% cash-back reward on the initial loan balance once the borrower graduates and meets certain criteria.
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.
1% cash-back graduation reward
Non-co-signer student loan option
No loan options specific to parents
No student loan refinancing options
Lower loan limit of $20,000 per year on non-co-signed future income-based loans
Ascent Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||3.61%-12.00% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||2.14%-10.36% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||3.68%-13.50% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||2.17%-11.87% with autopay|
Read the full review: Ascent Student Loans
Runner Up for Best Lender : Citizens Bank
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 a variety of loans with potentially low rates. Interest rates depend on if you're the student or parent, and whether you're an undergrad or graduate student.
Multi-year approval also makes it easier to access additional student loans, after taking out your first Citizens Bank student loan. 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, including full immediate repayment, interest-only payments while in school, or a full in-school deferment for up to eight years. 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.
Interest rate discounts of up to 0.50% with autopay and additional accounts with Citizens Bank
Multi-year approval simplifies borrowing over time
Options for parents and graduate students
Open to international students
No specific options for loans without a co-signer
Co-signer and discounts required for lowest posted rates
Citizens Bank Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||4.24%-11.43% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||1.68%-11.07% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||4.64%-11.61% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||1.91%-11.33% with autopay|
|Refinance Fixed APR||2.89%-9.10% with autopay|
|Refinance Variable APR||2.19%-8.85% with autopay|
Read the full review: Citizens Bank Student Loans
Best for Graduate Students : SoFi
SoFi takes the lead here for offering some of the best graduate student loans, including an MBA loan from a law school. SoFi's lowest posted rates reflect discounts of 0.25% for autopay and 0.125% for SoFi membership. You can learn more about what rates may be available to you with SoFi and compare offers from multiple lenders at Credible.
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. SoFi also offers student loan refinancing.
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. Borrowing options are available for undergraduates and parents, too, with autopay and membership discounts.
Complimentary access to career coaching and financial planning
Built-in unemployment protection
Not open to international students
SoFi Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||4.23%-11.26% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||1.22%-11.66% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||4.13%-11.37% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||1.12%-11.73% with autopay|
|MBA/Law Fixed APR||4.30%-11.52% with autopay|
|MBA/Law Variable APR||1.29%-11.89% with autopay|
|Refinance Fixed APR||2.99%-6.74% with autopay|
|Refinance Variable APR||2.25%-6.29% with autopay|
Read the full review: SoFi Student Loans
Best for Co-Signers : Sallie Mae
Sallie Mae earns the title of lender with 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.
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 says 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.
No specified maximum loan amount limit
Free access to your FICO Score
Four months of Chegg Study included with Smart Option Student Loan and parent loans (until April 30, 2021)
Open to international students
No student loan refinancing options
Sallie Mae Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||4.25%-12.59% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||1.13%-11.23% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||4.75%-12.11% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||2.12%-11.64% with autopay|
|MBA Fixed APR||4.75%-12.11% with autopay|
|MBA Variable APR||2.12%-11.64% with autopay|
Read the full review: Sallie Mae Student Loans
Best for Refinancing : CommonBond
While CommonBond has some tough competition for student loan refinancing, it pulls ahead thanks to offering some of the best interest rates. Refinancing rates start at 2.50% APR on variable-rate loans, 2.59% on fixed-rate loans, or 2.98% APR for a hybrid rate option. CommonBond also offers regular undergraduate student loans.
The unique hybrid-rate refinancing loan offers a fixed rate for the first five years of the loan and then it switches to a variable rate. This can be a great option for borrowers who might want to prepay this debt or get a headstart on repayment with a lower rate. CommonBond has a wide range of student loan refinancing terms, from five to 20 years, so you can balance time repaying the loan with affordable monthly payments. It also offers hardship forbearance of up to 24 months over the life of the loan. However, deferment is not specified on CommonBond’s website (it directs you to call for more information).
CommonBond allows parent PLUS loans refinancing, making it possible to transfer this debt from your parents to you. And if you’re in school, you can also check out CommonBond’s private student loan options for undergrads, graduate students, as well as specific loans for MBA, dental, and medical students. Borrowers can apply to release their co-signer after 36 months of repayment.
Several loan terms offered
Option to refinance parent PLUS loans to the student
Refinance up to $500,000 in student loans
Not available in Mississippi and Nevada
Higher minimum borrowing amount of $2,000
Co-signer required for student loans
CommonBond Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||3.74%-10.74% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||3.80%-9.36% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||3.74%-10.74% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||3.83%-9.36% with autopay|
|Refinance Fixed APR||2.59%-6.74% with autopay|
|Refinance Variable APR||2.50%-6.85% with autopay|
|Refinance Hybrid APR||2.98%-6.57% with autopay|
Read the full review: CommonBond Student Loans
Best for Flexible Repayment Options : College Ave
College Ave offers a wide range of 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.
Terms of five, eight, 10, or 15 years
Option to add co-signer, but not required
No forbearance policy specified
College Ave Student Loan Details
|Undergraduate Fixed APR||3.34%-12.99% with autopay|
|Undergraduate Variable APR||1.04%-11.98% with autopay|
|Graduate Fixed APR||4.99%-11.98% with autopay|
|Graduate Variable APR||2.49%-10.97% with autopay|
|Refinance Fixed APR||3.34%-5.69% with autopay|
|Refinance Variable APR||3.24%-5.54% with autopay|
Read the full review: College Ave Student Loans
|Lender or Aggregator||Why We Picked It||Fixed APR|
|Credible||Best Site for Comparing Student Loan Offers||3.34%-14.51% with autopay|
|Ascent||Best Overall Lender||3.61%-12.00% with autopay|
|Citizens Bank||Runner-Up for Best Lender||4.24%-11.43% with autopay|
|SoFi||Best for Graduate Students||4.13%-11.52% with autopay|
|Sallie Mae||Best for Co-Signers||4.25%-12.59% with autopay|
|CommonBond||Best for Refinancing||2.59%-10.74% with autopay|
|College Ave||Best for Flexible Repayment Options||3.34%-12.99% with autopay|
What Is a Student Loan?
A student loan is a form of student 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, and school supplies, and even living expenses like food or transportation. Generally, student loans have lower interest rates and costs than other loans but are also harder to discharge in bankruptcy.
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 as well. Colleges may offer their own student loan programs, along with other nonprofit organizations. Banks and other private lenders also commonly offer student loans.
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. Private student loans, on the other hand, 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 that 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 Loan Pros & Cons
Offer funding beyond the federal student loan limits
Rates may beat those offered on grad PLUS and parent PLUS loans
Many private lenders do not charge an origination fee
May be an option for international students
Good credit is recommended to qualify, or a creditworthy co-signer is required
Deferment and forbearance are at lender’s discretion
Fewer repayment options than federal student loans
Can’t access federal student loan forgiveness programs
No student loan interest subsidy
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.
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.
Interest may accrue during this deferment period. The exception is interest on federal direct subsidized loans, which is paid through a federal subsidy.
Once the repayment period starts, you are responsible to start paying back the student loan principal and interest. You’ll face a monthly payment amount that is designed to repay the loan in full within your loan term.
How Should I Choose a Student Loan Provider?
If you find yourself needing 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 so you can 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
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. You can still claim this deduction, however, if you paid less or didn’t receive a 1098-E.
How We Chose The Best Student Loan Companies
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.