Best Student Loans of 2020

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

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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.

Choosing the best student loans ensures that you can get the financing you need for college, while limiting your borrowing costs and keeping future payments affordable. Comparing private student lenders is crucial to finding loans that can set you up for success in your studies and beyond graduation. To get you started, we reviewed the best student loans that offer good rates, deferment options, a variety of terms, autopay discounts, and more.

We teamed up with Credible to bring you the student loan offers in the following table. Below that, you'll find our editors' picks for the best student loans for May 2020. 

Best Student Loans of June 2020

  • Ascent: Best Overall
  • Citizens Bank: Runner-Up
  • SoFi: Best for Graduate Students
  • Sallie Mae: Best for Co-Signers
  • CommonBond: Best for Refinancing 
  • College Ave: Best for Flexible Repayment Options

Ascent: Best Overall

Ascent
Courtesy of Ascent

Claiming the top spot among the best student loans is Ascent, with competitive rates and impressive product features. Its interest rates are among the lowest of any lenders we surveyed. Ascent is also the only lender on our list to offer student loans specifically to borrowers without a co-signer.

With autopay, variable rates range from 3.17% to 13.92% APR and fixed rates range from 3.98% to 14.92% APR on loans between $1,000 and $200,000. Repayment terms range from five to 15 years.

Ascent offers a non-co-signed student loan available to undergraduate juniors, seniors, and graduate students. This “future income-based student loan” comes with a 2.00% interest rate discount when you sign up for automatic payments. However, rates could be higher to begin with than those offered on co-signer loans, which also come with a 0.25% interest rate discount when enrolled in autopay. If you do have a co-signer, you can be released after just 24 payments, too.

Ascent 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, which applies to loans submitted on or after May 17, 2019. It starts payments low and increases over time, giving recent college graduates time to get their financial footing before making full payments.

Another standout perk is a 1% cash-back reward on the initial loan balance once the borrower graduates and meets the specified 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 2.5), graduation date, major, and similar factors. Deferment or forbearance requests are also available for active-duty military, school enrollment, internships, or financial hardship.

What We Like
  • Graduated repayment

  • 1% cash-back graduation reward

  • Non-co-signer student loan option

What We Don't Like
  • No loan options specific to parents or graduate students

  • 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 3.98%-14.92%
Undergraduate Variable APR 1.79%-10.97%
Graduate Fixed APR 6.64%-11.92%
Graduate Variable APR 5.71%-11.17%

Citizens Bank: Runner Up

Citizens Bank
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.

Variable-rate student loans for undergraduates range from 1.54% to 9.65% APR, while fixed-rate loans for undergraduates range from 4.72% to 12.04% APR. For graduate students, variable rates range from 1.47% to 8.81% APR, and fixed rates range from 4.40% to 11.35% APR. Parents can also take out loans for their children, with rates ranging from 3.09% to 6.23% APR on variable-rate loans, and from 5.48% to 8.52% APR on fixed-rate loans. 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 and level of education. 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 36 on-time payments are made. Citizens Bank also offers student loan refinancing.

What We Like
  • 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

What We Don't Like
  • 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 1.54%-9.65%
Undergraduate Variable APR 4.72%-12.04%
Graduate Fixed APR 4.40%-11.35%
Graduate Variable APR 1.47%-8.81%
Refinance Fixed APR 3.49%-8.63%
Refinance Variable APR 2.72%-8.38%

SoFi: Best for Graduate Students

SoFi

Courtesy of Sofi

SoFi takes the lead here for offering some of the best graduate student loans, with fixed rates between 4.51% and 11.76% APR, and variable rates ranging from 1.35% to 10.55% APR. SoFi also offers MBA and law student loans with fixed rates that range from 4.41% to 11.67% APR, and variable rates from 1.25% to 10.46% APR. The lowest posted rates are offered after 0.25% autopay and 0.125% SoFi membership discounts.

There are also four repayment options, including full in-school deferment, and no fees ever. And if you have a co-signer, you can be released after 24 on-time payments.

Borrowing options are available for undergraduates and parents, too. Undergraduate student loans and loans for parents offer fixed rates that range from 4.73% to 11.46% APR, and variable rates that range from 1.57% to 10.23% APR, (after enrolling in autopay and membership discounts). 

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.

What We Like
  • Complimentary access to career coaching and financial planning

  • Built-in unemployment protection

What We Don't Like
  • Not open to international students

SoFi Student Loan Details

Undergraduate Fixed APR 4.73%-11.46%
Undergraduate Variable APR 1.57%-10.23%
Graduate Fixed APR 4.51%-11.76%
Graduate Variable APR 1.35%-10.55%
MBA/Law Fixed APR 4.41%-11.67%
MBA/Law Variable APR 1.25%-10.46%
Refinance Fixed APR 3.49%-6.69%
Refinance Variable APR 3.21%-6.69%

Sallie Mae: Best for Co-Signers

Sallie Mae
Courtesy of 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. These rates range from 4.74% to 11.85% APR for fixed-rate loans, and 1.50% to 9.66% APR for variable-rate loans.

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. Graduated repayment also helps keep your payments low for up to 12 months after graduation. Deferment is also an option. 

If you co-sign a student loan borrowed with 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 roughly 30% of its co-signers aren’t related to the student borrower. Sallie Mae accepts international students applications with a qualifying U.S. citizen as the co-signer. 

Sallie Mae also offers private student loans for graduate students with fixed rates ranging from 5.49% to 9.98% APR and variable rates ranging from 2.50% to 7.87% APR (after enrolling in autopay).

There are also specific loans for parents, as well as medical, dental, and law school; health and MBA programs; residency and relocations; career training; and more.

What We Like
  • 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

What We Don't Like
  • No student loan refinancing options

Sallie Mae Student Loan Details

Undergraduate Fixed APR 4.74%-11.85%
Undergraduate Variable APR 1.5%-9.66%
Graduate Fixed APR 5.5%-10.23%
Graduate Variable APR 2.5%-8.2%
MBA/Law Fixed APR 5.5%-9.99%
MBA/Law Variable APR 2.5%-8.02%

CommonBond: Best for Refinancing

CommonBond
Courtesy of CommonBond

While CommonBond has some tough competition for student loan refinancing, it pulls ahead thanks to offering some of the best interest rates. For loan refinancing, rates range from 3.22% to 6.25% APR on variable-rate loans, 3.22% to 6.45% APR on fixed-rate loans, and 4.41% to 6.09% APR on hybrid loans (all after the autopay discount). CommonBond also offers regular undergraduate student loans. Variable rates for undergraduate loans range between 1.70% and 7.68% APR, while fixed rates are between 5.45% and 9.74% APR (after a 0.25% autopay discount). CommonBond loans also require a co-signer.

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, too 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 CommoBbond’s private student loan options for undergrads, graduate students, as well as specific loans for MBA, dental, and medical students. Borrowers can be released from their co-signer after 36 months of repayment.

What We Like
  • Several loan terms offered

  • Option to refinance parent PLUS loans to the student

  • Refinance up to $500,000 in student loans

What We Don't Like
  • 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 5.45%-9.74%
Undergraduate Variable APR 1.7%-7.68%
Graduate Fixed APR 1.6%-7.68%
Graduate Variable APR 5.4%-9.74%
Refinance Fixed APR 3.22%-6.45%
Refinance Variable APR 3.22%-6.05%

College Ave: Best for Flexible Repayment Options

College Ave
Courtesy of College Ave

College Ave’s student loan rates for undergraduates range from 1.49% to 11.98% APR for variable-rate loans and 4.39% to 12.99% for fixed-rate loans (after autopay discount). On top of competitive rates, 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 6-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

Deferment gives you the choice to not worry about repaying these loans while you’re in school. Or you can opt for fixed or interest payments that can limit borrowing costs and interest.

On top of these flexible options, College Ave also offers a wide range of loan term options, from five to 15 years, giving borrowers more control over their repayment. And if you have a co-signer, you can be released after 24 payments, too.

What We Like
  • Terms of five, eight, 10, or 15 years

  • Option to add co-signer, but not required

What We Don't Like
  • No forbearance policy specified

College Ave Student Loan Details

Undergraduate Fixed APR 4.39%-12.99%
Undergraduate Variable APR 1.49%-11.98%
Graduate Fixed APR 4.39%-11.98%
Graduate Variable APR 1.79%-10.97%
Refinance Fixed APR 4.64%-8.99%
Refinance Variable APR 3.64%-8.99%

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. These are offered and funded through the U.S. Department of Education, and 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

Pros
  • 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

Cons
  • 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.

Lender Why We Picked It Fixed APR

Ascent

Best Overall 3.98%-14.92%

Citizens Bank

Runner-Up 4.72%-12.04%

SoFi

Best for Graduate Students 4.73%-11.46%

Sallie Mae

Best for Co-Signers 4.74%-11.85%

CommonBond

Best for Refinancing 5.45%-9.74%
College Ave Best for Flexible Repayment Options 4.39%-12.99%

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.

Article Sources

The Balance requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy .
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