Best Student Loans of 2020

Find the best private student loan companies to help you cover college expenses

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When it comes to paying for college, sometimes you need a little extra help. If you have already exhausted savings, scholarships, grants, and federal student aid, private student loans are the next place to look to pay the bills. While private student loans tend to charge a bit more than federal ones, when they go to use for a valuable degree, they can be very much worthwhile.

When choosing your student loans, the most important place to look is the interest rates and fees. You may do best by shopping around. Private student loan rates come from a combination of your credit history, market interest rates set by the Federal Reserve and the banking system, and the terms of the student loan you choose.

Also be aware that many private student lenders require a co-signer, usually a parent or other relative who would take over responsibility for the loan if you stop payments for any reason. That also means your payment activity impacts their credit score, so if you do sign up for a loan with a co-signer it is important to both of you that you pay on time.

When reviewing costs, make sure to consider the interest rate, origination fees (if any), early payment fees (if any), and other costs the lender can charge associated with the loan. Now that you know what to look for, we will dive into a list of the best private student loans to apply for today.

Credible: Best Overall

Credible
Courtesy of Credible

Credible takes the top spot on this list due to a unique and helpful feature. Credible is not a direct student lender itself. Instead, with one application at Credible, you can get rates for up to eight student lenders at once. This saves you time and potentially money as Credible does the shopping around for you.

Some of the lenders make our top list in their own right. Current partners include Citizens Bank, College Ave, Discover Student Loans, EDvestinU, INvestEd, Sallie Mae, and SunTrust.

These lenders include options for undergrad and graduate loans with interest rates (APR) starting from 2.83% variable and 3.95% fixed with autopay. Terms range from 5 to 20 years. If you need a private student loan, odds are you can find it, and a competitive rate, at Credible’s marketplace. See additional rates and terms at Credible.

Sallie Mae: Best for Flexible Options

Sallie Mae
Courtesy of Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is by far the biggest student lender in the market today. It eclipsed the next bigger originator nearly five times over. Sallie Mae offers both undergrad and graduate student loans with fixed and variable interest rates. Sallie Mae even offers loans for K-12 if you want to send your kids to a private school.

Being so large, Sallie Mae can offer pretty much any variation of private student loan that exists. Loans are available to students and parents, and there are no origination fees or pre-payment penalties. For undergraduate loans, variable rates range from 2.87% to 10.75% and fixed-rate loans range from 4.74% to 11.85% APR. Once you make 12 on-time payments, you can apply for a co-signer release and carry the loans on your own.

College Ave: Best for Flexible Repayment Plans

College Ave
Courtesy of College Ave

College Ave is a full-service student lender with loans available for undergrad, graduate, and parent loans. There are no applications or early payoff fees and it only takes about three minutes to complete an application and get a decision. Fixed loans range from 4.54% to 11.98% and variable rates range from 2.84% to 10.97%.

College Ave only does student loans, so they are pretty good at it. College Ave loans are simple and straightforward. The online-focused lender offers terms from 5 to 15 years. It offers a co-signer release option. One thing to keep in mind: College Ave doesn’t offer a uniform forbearance option. Those are reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis. That offers more flexibility, but some doubt as to whether you may be approved at all if you run into financial difficulties.

Citizens Bank: Best From a Major Bank

Citizens Bank
Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank has been around for a long time, but it is a newer entrant to the student loan market. But it came in with a bang and offers competitive rates, low fees, and a wide range of options. Citizens Bank student loans are issued under the branding Citizens One and are available in 5-, 10-, and 15-year terms to students or parents.

It takes a while to qualify for a co-signer release—36 on-time payments to be exact. Fixed interest rates range from 3.45% to 9.02% and variable rates go from 2.29% to 9.02% APR. Like with most student lenders, you can get a 0.25-percentage-point rate discount with automatic payments. Citizens charges no origination or pre-payment fees of any kind. You should never have to pay an extra fee to pay off your student loans early, but those types of lenders don’t make it on this list.

Want to learn more? Check out our full review of Citizens Bank

CommonBond: Best for Choosing Your Repayment Option

CommonBond
Courtesy of CommonBond

CommonBond isn’t just a student lender trying to make money. They do a lot of social good, too, much of which happens through a partnership with nonprofit Pencils of Promise. CommonBond also offers a program for businesses to offer student loan assistance as an employee benefit. Wouldn’t it be great if all employers helped with student loans? CommonBond offers four repayment options that start either in-school or after graduation.

CommonBond has no application or pre-payment fees, interest rates are competitive, and co-signed loans have no origination fee. (Its medical school, dental school, and MBA loans have a 2% origination fee.) Loans are available for undergrads, grad students, and parents. Variable interest rates for those loans range from 3.31% to 9.29% APR with 5- to 15-year payback periods. Fixed interest rates range from 5.45% to 9.74% APR. (All rates listed include a 0.25 percentage-point discount you get when you sign up for automatic payments.)

Discover Student Loans: Best for Good Grades

Discover Student Loans
Courtesy of Discover

Discover is best known for its role as a top-four credit card network in the United States, but it does a lot more these days than helping you pay with plastic. Discover has grown and now offers student loans at competitive rates. Variable rates range from 2.80% to 11.37% APR and fixed rates go from 4.74% to 12.74% APR (includes a 0.25-percentage-point autopay discount). Loans come with 15-year or 20-year terms with no flexibility. Co-signer beware: There is no co-signer release available at Discover.

There are no application, origination, or late fees from Discover. In fact, there are no fees at all. Discover doesn’t even charge late fees. That’s a unique and possibly valuable feature for some borrowers. In addition, Discover offers a 1.0% cash reward on each new student loan for borrowers with a 3.0 or better GPA. That’s a great good grades discount and another unique feature that makes Discover a good option for student loans.

You can also read through our full review of Discover Bank.

Ascent: Best for Undergrads With No Co-Signer

Ascent
Courtesy of Ascent

Ascent student loans is not as well known as some other student lenders, but its Independent loan doesn't require a co-signer, making it a good option for upper-class undergrads and grad students. It also offers a cosigned loan. But for full-time juniors, seniors, and grad students, Ascent may be one of the few options to qualify for private loans without the help of someone else, and rates are competitive.

Fixed rates range from 4.26% to 13.22% and variable APRs start at 3.28% and go up to 12.59%. (These rates include a 0.25-percentage-point discount that comes with automatic payments.) As an added bonus, you get 1.0% cash back at graduation when you qualify. There are no origination or application fees or prepayment penalties and loans come in 5- to 15-year terms, depending on the kind of loan you apply for. If you start with a co-signer, there is a co-signer release available after 24 months of consecutive, full, on-time payments.

LendKey: Best Backed by Community Lenders

LendKey
Courtesy of LendKey

LendKey funds loans through partnerships with community credit unions and banks, but all loans remain serviced by LendKey so the bank or credit union behind the scenes is invisible to borrowers. LendKey doesn’t offer parent loans—it offers loans to students only. It also offers less flexibility for repayment while in school. But, there are no origination or prepayment fees, and interest rates are quite competitive.

Fixed rates currently run from 4.86% to 10.78% APR, and variable rates range from 3.79% to 10.61%. Those rates include a 0.25-percentage-point autopay discount. With LendKey in the middle, you get a simple, high-tech experience with the savings and community power of a credit union.