Best Private Student Loans

Find the best rates, terms, and perks for your higher education

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

Private student loans offer undergraduate and graduate students a wide range of funding options to help complete their education. While federal loans are easier to qualify for, they often offer less funding than private loans, leaving students hanging as they try to complete their education.

We reviewed nearly two dozen private student loan companies based on interest rates, repayment terms, deferment options, qualification requirements, and more. Here are our top seven choices.

The Best Private Student Loans of 2021

Best Overall : Ascent

Ascent
AscentOwner

Why We Chose It: Ascent offers student loans including non-co-signed loans for undergraduates with competitive interest rates, graduated repayments, and generous forbearance options.

What We Like
  • Graduated repayment plans

  • Non-co-signed loan options

  • 1% cash-back graduation reward

What We Don't Like
  • Students enrolled less than half-time are ineligible

  • $20,000 yearly limit for non-co-signed loans

A property of Goal Solutions, Inc. and Richland State Bank, Ascent is one of the few lenders to offer non-co-signer loans for undergraduates. This, combined with graduated repayment and flexible postponement options and rewards, makes it our choice as the best overall.    

Ascent offers two types of student loans for undergraduates with either a fixed or variable annual percentage rate (APR) and repayment terms of five, seven, 10, 12, or 15 years. Its co-signed loans come with a fixed APR starting at 3.34% and three repayment options: a deferred plan which gives you up to nine months after leaving school to begin repayments and a $25 flat-fee or interest-only repayments while in school.

Ascent’s non-co-signed undergraduate loans include a credit-based option with a fixed APR starting at 6.92% and an annual loan limit of $200,000 or a future income-based option as low as 10.20% with an annual loan limit of $20,000 (as of March 2021). Flat-fee and in-school interest-only payments are not available for non-co-signed undergraduate loans.

In addition to a 0.25% automatic payment discount (2.00% on co-signed credit-based student loans), Ascent also offers a 1% cash-back graduation reward subject to certain terms and conditions. The lender also offers flexible deferment and forbearance options including active duty military, in-school, and internship deferments as well as temporary hardship, administrative, and natural disaster forbearances.

Best For Refinancing : Earnest

Earnest

Earnest 

Why We Chose It: Earnest is a student loan refinancing company that also offers undergraduate and graduate loans with flexible repayment options. It considers a borrower’s complete financial profile and career path for determining refinancing rates.

What We Like
  • Generous underwriting approach

  • Skip one payment every 12 months

  • Military deferment available

What We Don't Like
  • Only full-time students are eligible

  • Not available in Kentucky and Nevada

Started in 2013 as a student loan refinancing company, Earnest began offering private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students in 2019. Unlike most lenders that just look at credit scores and financial history, Earnest considers savings, investments, and career trajectory to determine a borrower’s refinancing rate, making it the best for flexible approval.

Earnest offers undergraduate and graduate loans with a fixed APR starting at 3.49%, a variable APR as low as 1.05%, and repayment terms of five, seven, 10, 12, or 15 years (as of April 2021). The lender also offers four repayment terms, including a nine-month deferred payment period, a flat $25 in-school payment, in-school interest-only payments, and full repayments.

Earnest also offers a 0.25% autopay discount, and charges no origination, disbursement, prepayment, or late payment fees. In addition, borrowers can skip one payment every 12 months, although interest will still accrue and it will extend your payoff date. Students are required to be enrolled full-time and if applying without a co-signer, must have an annual income of at least $35,000, and a 650 credit score.     

Earnest provides borrowers with flexible forbearance options allowing them to postpone payments in three-month increments for up to 12 months total. These include deferments for unemployment, an involuntary decrease in income, and emergency and medical expenses.   

Best Student Loan Marketplace : Credible

Credible

 Credible

Why We Chose It: Credible makes it easy to compare private student loan rates from multiple lenders in minutes with one simple application and no hard credit check.

What We Like
  • Compare private loan offers side by side

  • Prequalify for up to eight lenders at once

  • Cosigner and non-co-signer options available

What We Don't Like
  • Prequalified rates not available from all lenders

Founded in 2012, Credible is a website that lets you fill out one simple form for free and get pre-qualified for up to eight student loans in minutes. Its ease of use, soft credit check, and side-by-side comparisons make it our choice as the best marketplace.

Credible lets you bypass the prequalification forms offered on most student loan websites by having you fill out one simple form. The company uses secure 256-bit encryption and SSL technology to keep your personal data private and will never share your information without your permission.

Credible is free to use and the company only gets paid by its partners when one closes a loan from a referral. Once you create an account, you enter some basic information and you’ll get a side-by-side comparison of up to eight private lenders (or 10 if you’re looking for refinancing loans). You’ll get information on whether or not you prequalify as well as a comparison of monthly payments, APRs, loan term, and total amount repaid.         

Best For Co-Signers : Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae

 Sallie Mae

Why We Chose It: Sallie Mae offers undergraduate and graduate student loans with free FICO credit score tracking for borrowers and co-signers and a co-signer release after just 12 payments.

What We Like
  • Short repayment requirement for co-signer release

  • Loans available for part-time students

  • Free tutoring and study resources

What We Don't Like
  • Hard credit check with application

  • No info on minimum credit score requirement

Originally developed by the U.S. in 1973 to service federal education loans, Sallie Mae now offers a variety of private student loans. It also allows co-signers to be released after a borrower completes 12 payments, making it our choice as the best for co-signers.

Sallie Mae offers undergraduate loans with a fixed APR starting at 4.25% and a variable APR as low as 1.13% with terms of five to 15 years. Repayment options include deferred repayments, fixed repayments of $25, or interest-only payments while in school.

One of Sallie Mae’s most generous features is its co-signer release policy. The lender encourages co-signing by claiming that its applicants have over a 90% approval rate with a co-signer. To further sweeten the deal, Sallie Mae will allow co-signers to apply for release if a borrower is current on all Sallie Mae-serviced loans for 12 consecutive months. Borrowers can also fulfill this requirement by pre-paying 12 principal and interest payments.

Co-signers and borrowers alike are also eligible to get a free FICO credit score four times per year. Undergraduate loan borrowers also get four free months of study services from Chegg which includes expert Q&A, paper proofreading and citation help, and one hour of on-demand homework help from vetted tutors.    

Best For Graduate Students : SoFi

SoFi

 SoFi

Why We Chose It: Along with loans for undergraduates, SoFi also offers graduate student loans with some of the lowest rates we’ve seen as well as career coaching, financial planning, unemployment protection, and more.

What We Like
  • Career services and unemployment protection

  • Multiple in-school payment options

  • SoFi membership perks

What We Don't Like
  • No co-signer release available

  • No info on minimum credit score requirement

Best known for student loan refinancing, SoFi also offers loans to undergraduates, graduate students, and parents. Its low-rate graduate student loans feature suspended payments in case of unemployment along with job placement assistance making it our top pick as the best for graduate students.

SoFi’s graduate loans offer low-interest rates on par with many undergraduate loans we’ve seen with a fixed APR starting at just 4.23% and a variable APR as low as 1.87% (as of March 2021). Loan terms are five, seven, 10, 15, or 20 years and you can borrow up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance.

SoFi also allows graduate students to choose from one of four repayment options: deferred, interest-only, $25 fixed monthly payments, or full payments while in school. The lender even allows applicants to submit a job offer letter as proof of income when applying for a law or MBA loan.     

Finally, SoFi offers several perks and protections for graduate students including an unemployment deferment in increments of three months up to one year and job placement assistance. SoFi members also get access to personalized financial planning advice, rate reductions or discounts on eligible loans, career tools with one-on-one coaching, and more.

Best For Low Interest Rates : College Ave

College Ave

 College Ave

Why We Chose It: College Ave Student Loans offers undergraduate and graduate loans with no co-signer requirements, parent loans and some of the lowest variable and fixed rates in the industry.

What We Like
  • Low fixed and variable rates

  • Loans available for part-time students

  • Co-signers are not required

What We Don't Like
  • Satisfactory academic progress required for loans

  • No info on minimum credit score requirement

College Ave offers undergraduate, graduate, and parent loans as well as career loans and graduate loans for MBA, dental, law, and medical students. The lender offers a variable APR as low as 1.04% and a fixed APR starting at 3.34% (with auto-pay) making it the best choice for low interest rates (as of March 2021).

All College Ave loans offer terms of five, eight, 10, or 15 years and can fund up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance. An extra 20-year term is available for dental, medical, and law graduate loans. College Ave also offers career loans for associates, bachelor, and graduate students at select schools and offers a $150 cash-back reward when students complete their program of study. 

College Ave also offers deferred, interest-only, and $25 per month flat payments while in school as well as full principal and interest payment options. Undergraduate borrowers can also defer principal and interest payments six months after graduating or dropping to half-time enrollment.

Although College Ave doesn’t require a co-signer, it claims that over 98% of its borrowers do have one. The lender also requires its borrowers to meet satisfactory academic progress standards. These are defined by individual schools and can involve maintaining a minimum grade-point average, taking a certain number of credits, and more. 

Best For Refinancing : CommonBond

CommonBond

 CommonBond

Why We Chose It: CommonBond offers undergraduate and graduate loans along with a generous 24-month forbearance and hybrid rate refinancing giving borrowers greater repayment flexibility.

What We Like
  • Hybrid rate refinancing

  • Offers up to 24 months of forbearance

  • Option to refinance parent PLUS loans

What We Don't Like
  • Co-signer required for most loans

  • Not available in Nevada and Mississippi

CommonBond was founded in 2012 to offer simplified student loans with low rates and flexible repayment options. The lender offers hybrid-rate refinancing for borrowers who want to prepay their debt making it the best for refinancing.

CommonBond offers undergraduate and graduate loans with a fixed APRs starting at 3.74% and a variable APR as low as 3.81% (as of March 2021). Loan terms are available for five, seven, 10, 15, or 20 years and feature deferred, interest-only, $25 flat-fee, or full monthly payments while in school.  

CommonBond also offers refinancing loans with low rates, including a 2.59% fixed and 2.51% variable APR. The lender also gives borrowers the option to choose a hybrid-rate loan that lets you lock in a fixed rate for the first five years and then switches to a variable rate for the duration of the term. This is a good option if you intend to prepay your loan or want to get a head start on repayments while your rates are low.   

CommonBond also allows Parent PLUS loans to be transferred to students for refinancing, even if the loan is co-signed. The lender also offers a generous 24-month forbearance, twice as long as that of most lenders.  

Final Verdict 

Getting a college education is an investment in both time and money, so it’s important you find the right loan that will help you achieve your dreams without burdening you with excessive debt.

Ascent took our top spot as the best overall due to its wide range of co-signer and non-co-signer loans, variety of repayment terms, and multiple deferment options. Students looking to refinance existing loans will like Earnest which is our choice as the best for refinancing since the company considers a lien holder’s full financial picture rather than just a credit score to determine rates.

If you’re not sure where to even start looking, Credible makes it easy to compare details of up to eight lenders side by side with no hard credit pull making it our top choice as the best student loan marketplace.

Most lenders agree that having a co-signer can significantly improve your chance of qualifying for a private student loan. That’s why we chose Sallie Mae as the best for co-signers since it offers a short co-signer release after just 12 loan repayments.

Graduate students can take advantage of SoFi’s low graduate loan rates, career services, and unemployment protection to give them some breathing room as they try to start their career placing it in our top spot as the best for graduate students.

College Ave snagged the spot for the lowest interest rates with a 1.04% variable APR and 3.34% fixed APR. Finally, CommonBond wins our choice as the best for refinancing with its unique hybrid-rate refinancing loans that let borrowers lock in a fixed rate for the first five years and then switch to a variable rate, allowing them to get a head start on repayments at a predictable rate. 

Compare Providers

Lender Category Notable Features
Ascent Best Overall Non-co-signed undergraduate loans with 1% cashback
Earnest Best For Refinancing Saving, investments, and career path determine rates
Credible Best Student Loan Marketplace Get prequalified for 8 lenders with a soft credit check
Sallie Mae Best For Co-signers Co-signer can apply for release after 12 payments
SoFi Best For Graduate Students Low rates, career services, and unemployment protection
College Ave Best For Low Interest Rates 1.04% variable APR and 3.34% fixed APR
CommonBond Best For Refinancing Hybrid-rate financing with a 24-month forbearance

Frequently Asked Questions 

What Is a Student Loan?

A student loan allows undergraduate or graduate students to borrow money to pay for tuition and other school-related expenses.

Like any other loan, student loans come with an interest rate that will increase the overall amount owed over time. This can be either a fixed rate or a lower variable rate that fluctuates with the market. Student loans are typically paid off in five to 20 years, depending on the lender and type of loan  

What Is The Average Current Interest Rate For a Student Loan?

Student loans can vary widely in the interest rates they offer. Fixed-rate loans often have a higher rate, with the lenders reviewed here offering rates from 3.34% to 13.57% (as of March 2021). Variable loan rates offered by these same lenders ranged from 1.05% to 12.40% (as of March 2021). 

Note that these rates take into consideration the 0.25% discount most lenders offer to borrowers who set up automatic repayment plans.    

How Long Is the Repayment Period for a Student Loan?

Most of the lenders we reviewed offered repayment terms between five to 15 years with some going as high as 20 for medical or law graduate students. 

While most require full monthly payments based on the terms set by the loan, some also offer graduated payments that start low and increase over time or extended repayment options that allow you to pay less each month but extend your repayment term length.  

Do I Need a Co-signer for a Student Loan?

While some private student loan companies require you to have a co-signer, most do not. With that said, a co-signer can dramatically improve your chances of being approved. 

Non-co-signer loans often require borrowers to have a high credit score or a certain minimum annual income to qualify. Co-signers are not bound to the entire term and can be usually released from a student loan within one to two years.    

Should I Get a Private Student Loan?

For most students, federal student loans are a better option than private loans. Not only are they easier to qualify for since they’re not based on credit, but they also offer more repayment options and a forgiveness program.

With that said, federal student loans do have caps and a private loan can provide the initial funding higher-tuition students like doctors and lawyers need to complete their education. 

How We Chose the Best Private Loans For Students 

When reviewing student loan companies for this review, we looked for lenders that offered a variety of terms, repayment options, deferments, and competitive rates to reduce the debt load on borrowers.    

We also drilled down to find lenders that specialize in different features or needs, such as refinancing options, support for graduate students, or enticements for co-signers. Rates were also a huge factor in our reviews and we made sure to be as transparent as possible about the range available.

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