7 of the best private student loans in 2021

Need financial aid? These are some of the best private student loan vendors out there. (iStock)

Are you concerned about paying for college? Is your bank account running low? Calculating the total cost of college can be stressful but don't worry, there are dozens of student loan lenders to choose from to help — each with its own unique loan programs, terms, interest rates, monthly payments, and eligibility requirements.

And the good news: Low interest rates are still available. In fact, student loan interest rates have fallen dramatically amid the coronavirus pandemic. And the same goes for student loan refinancing rates. (If you're a current borrower, you may want to refinance student loans while rates are low, so you can swap out your old loan for a new — more favorable one).

Sorting through all those financial aid options to find the most cost-effective loan amounts and a low interest rate, though? That can be difficult, time-consuming, and even a little confusing. Fortunately, the student loan marketplace Credible has made shopping for school loans a little easier. Whether you're an undergraduate student or graduate student, Credible can give you a more detailed look at private lenders, each one's student loan rate, and other offerings. Trust us, your savings account will thank you.

Here are some of the best private student loan vendors (offering some of the lowest rates or rate discounts) in 2021, according to Credible’s resident experts.

7 of the best private student loans

Credible evaluated loan and lender data points in 10 categories to identify some of the “best companies” for private student loans. They looked at student loan interest rates, repayment terms, repayment options, fees, discounts, and eligibility. Here's a look at each student loan lender, which clearly lists their available loan amounts, loan terms, discounts, and more.

  1. Ascent
  2. Citizens Bank
  3. College Ave
  4. EDvestinU
  5. INvestED
  6. MEFA
  7. Sallie Mae

Ascent

Ascent offers two loan options: one for students with a co-signer and another for those without one. Borrowers can take out up to their school’s official cost of attendance, and no application, origination or disbursement fees are necessary. An Ascent student loan also offers a 1% cash-back reward at graduation and a 0.25% discount on your interest rate if you enable automatic payments.

The downside of Ascent is that its repayment options are limited, and loans are only available for juniors, seniors and graduate students. If you choose the Ascent Independent Loan (no co-signer), deferred payments are the only available Ascent student loan repayment option you’ll have.

Ascent’s options for rates and terms are more plentiful, though. You can choose a rates range — from both fixed rates and variable rates, and terms range from five to 20 years. There are no fees, and you need a 2.9 GPA and a minimum 600 credit score to qualify. If you opt for a co-signed loan, your co-signer may be released after 24 months of on-time loan payments.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 - $200,000
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 10, 15, 20 (depending on loan type)
  • Discounts: 0.25% automatic payment discount, 1% cash back graduation reward
  • Cosigner release: After 24 months

Compare Ascent and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

FED'S INTEREST RATE CUTS IMPACTS SAVINGS, CREDIT, AND LOANS — HERE'S HOW YOU CAN SAVE MONEY

Citizens Bank

Student loan options abound at Citizens Bank, which offers loans for undergraduates and graduates and even parents of students. There are also program-specific loans for students studying law, healthcare, and other fields. Additionally, the loan lender offers autopay discounts (0.25% off your interest rate) and another 0.25% loyalty discount.

The only real drawback of Citizens Bank is its limited forbearance options, which only go up to 12 months.

Rates come in both fixed and variable form, and loan terms of five, 10, and 15 years are available. Borrowers in all 50 states are eligible, and a soft credit pull is required when applying. Co-signers can be released after 36 months of payment.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 - $350,000 (depending on degree)
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 10, 15
  • Discounts: Autopay, loyalty
  • Cosigner release: After 36 months

Compare Citizens Bank and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

CORONAVIRUS STUDENT LOAN INTEREST WAIVERS BEING OFFERED — HOW TO TAKE ADVANTAGE

College Ave

Online lender College Ave offers a wide range of loan programs and repayment options. You can borrow up to the full cost of your school’s attendance, and there’s no application, disbursement or origination fee charged. There’s even a 0.25% interest rate reduction if you set up autopay.

The big drawback of a College Ave loan affects co-signers. If you have a co-signer on your loan, they cannot be released from the agreement until you’ve reached the halfway point in your repayment term, which could be as long as 7.5 years.

College Ave’s loans come in four terms (five, eight, 10, and 15 years), and there are both fixed-rates and adjustable-rates options available. The loan lender also offers a number of repayment options, including full deferral, interest-only loan payments, student loan forbearance, and more.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 8, 10, 15
  • Discounts: Autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 24 months

Compare College Ave and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

5 THINGS YOU CAN USE STUDENT LOANS FOR (BESIDES TUITION)

EDvestinU

EDvestinU offers fee-free private student loans up to $200,000. They come with a wide array of repayment options, and you even get 0.50% off your interest rate just for enabling automatic payments.

The biggest downside of EDvestinU is the lender’s eligibility requirements. EDvestinU requires a minimum income of $30,000 and a credit score of at least 750 for individual applicants. However, for a cosigned application, cosigners only need a 675.

For qualifying borrowers, loans are offered in both fixed- and variable-rate forms, with terms of seven, 10 and 15 years. Co-signers may be released after 36 months of loan payments.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 - $200,000
  • Loan terms (years): 7, 10, 15
  • Discounts: Autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 36 months

Compare EDvestinU and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

HOW TO FIND A COSIGNER FOR A LOAN

INvestED

For Indiana residents, INvestED is a top choice. The lender offers no-fee student loans up to 100% of a school’s attendance costs. There’s a 0.25% autopay discount, and you even get 2% of your balance wiped clean if you graduate on time.

The obvious drawback here is that only Indiana residents or students at Indiana universities qualify. Co-signers are also locked in for longer than with most other lenders (four years).

Loans are available in terms of five, 10 and 15 years, and there are both fixed-rate and variable rate options. The minimum credit score to qualify is 670, and repayment options are numerous.

  • Loan amount: $1,001 up to 100 percent of school-certified cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 10, 15
  • Discounts: Autopay, reward for on-time graduation
  • Cosigner release: After 48 months

Compare INvestED and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

MEFA

Despite its name, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority offers private student loans to students across the country. There are no fees to apply, and no origination or disbursement fees either.

MEFA’s loans are only offered in fixed-rate options, and terms are limited to 10 and 15 years. For graduate students, only 15-year loans are available.

In a credit check, you must meet a minimum credit score of 670, and all borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. For co-signed MEFA loans, the co-signer can be released after 48 months of on-time loan payments.

  • Loan amount: $1,500 or $2,000 up to school’s certified cost of attendance (depending on school type and minus other aid received)
  • Loan terms (years): 10, 15
  • Discounts: None
  • Cosigner release: After 48 months

Compare MEFA and other top private student loan lenders through Credible.

Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is a well-known private student loan company that offers loans to students, parents, and medical/dental residents. There are also loans for law students studying for their state bar exams. Like many other loan providers, Sallie Mae offers a 0.25% autopay discount, and you can borrow the full cost of your school’s attendance. There are no fees associated with applying for, originating, or disbursing a Sallie Mae loan.

The one drawback is that Sallie Mae’s forbearance options are limited to just 12 months, which could pose a problem if you find yourself in serious financial hardship.

Borrowers can opt for a fixed- or variable- interest rate, and loans have either five- or 15-year terms. Co-signers may be released after just one year of timely payments.

  • Loan amount: Up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 15
  • Discounts: Autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 12 months

Get personalized private student loan rates from multiple lenders in 2 minutes through Credible.

Other private student loan lenders to consider

Credible has also analyzed multiple other, non-partner private student loan lenders. Lenders like MPOWER Financing, PNC, and SoFi offer loan terms of 5, 10, and 15 years. Wells Fargo offers 15 and 20-year terms while CommonBond offers three terms (5, 10, and 15 years). iHelp offers a 20-year term while Earnest offers a series of terms (5, 7, 10, 12, 15, and 20 years). LendKey doesn't disclose its loan terms.

You can use Credible's platform to compare your rates with these non-partner lenders:

  • CommonBond
  • Discover Student Loans
  • Earnest
  • iHelp
  • LendKey
  • MPOWER Financing
  • PNC
  • SoFi
  • Wells Fargo

What is the best private student loan?

Ultimately, what you may consider the best private student loan companies may not be the best in the eyes of all student loan borrowers. But the private student loan companies listed above all have some favorable qualities that are worth considering. When picking a private student loan, especially via an online lender, it's important to weigh the total cost, student loan interest rate, and more.

Of course, this is not a definitive list. These are only a small portion of the private student loan options out there. To make sure you get the best private student loan for your needs, always shop around first. The terms and rates range can vary widely by student loan lender, and researching thoroughly — from loan limits, repayment plans, repayment term, rate discounts, and more — can save you significant money in the long run.

No matter which stage you're at (whether you're a student attending undergraduate school, graduate school, medical school, law school, or another option), it may also be helpful to use student loans calculators to determine which programs best fit your needs.

Frequently asked questions about private student loans

What are the two types of student loans?

Students have two loan options when paying for college: private loans and federal loans.

Federal loans are offered through the U.S. government and typically come with lower rates and more favorable terms than private ones. They also offer a wide array of repayment options, and some of them may even be forgivable if you go into a public service career. For these reasons, it’s important to exhaust your federal loan options before moving onto private ones. (You can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for these loans).

Private loans are offered through private lenders. Many people use both federal and private loans to pay for their educations, especially as college costs continue to rise.

If you do opt for private loans, it’s critical that you shop around for your lender. Every lender offers different terms and rates, so comparing your options is key to getting the best deal possible. You can use a rate-shopping marketplace like Credible to learn more about private student loans and get personalized rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score.

WHAT ARE STUDENT LOAN GRACE PERIODS?

How do private student loans work?

Federal student loans are issued by the government. Students can use the funds to cover college-related costs while in school, and then begin repaying their loans after graduation — usually after a six-month grace period. Federal loans also have set interest rates across the board.

Private student loans are issued by third-party companies and lenders. These lenders are able to set the terms and rates they deem necessary, and many require repayment while still in school.

Another key difference? That’d be in applying for these loans. Federal student loans have no eligibility requirements, and for most of them, there is no credit or income check. You simply fill out the FAFSA and wait for your application to be processed. Private student loans, on the other hand, require more financial documentation, and you often need a co-signer, especially if you have little to no credit history.

How do I qualify for a private student loan?

Private student loan lenders primarily base your eligibility on credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio. They want to be sure you have the funds and financial habits to make your payments and repay the loan.

To apply, you’ll usually need documents showing your household income (tax returns and recent pay stubs, for example), and you will need to agree to a credit check, too. In the event you have little credit or a low score, you’ll want to include a co-signer. Make sure to choose one that has a strong credit history and a high credit score. This will help qualify you for the lowest rates and, in turn, lower monthly payments.

ARE PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS A GOOD IDEA?

How to find the best private student loans

If you're looking to obtain the best private student loan offer (plus, a low-interest rate), then you're going to want to take these three factors into account:

  1. Interest rate and loan fees
  2. Loan repayment options
  3. Qualifying requirements and rules for cosigners

1. Interest rate and loan fees: Interest is the cost of borrowing, paid as a percentage of your principal balance. Fees could include origination fees, application fees, late payments, and prepayment penalties. While federal student loans have low fixed-interest rates that are the same for every borrower regardless of credit score or income, private lenders work differently. Rates can vary from one lender to the next and lenders often offer a choice of fixed or variable rate loans. Use Credible to find a rate that fits your budget.

2. Loan repayment options: Interest rates aren't the only thing that affects monthly payments and total loan repayment costs — the loan repayment term does too. A loan with a longer payoff period means that your monthly payments will be lower but the total costs of paying off debt will be higher since you won't pay down your principal as fast and will pay interest longer.

3. Qualifying requirements and rules for cosigners: Unlike with federal student loans, would-be borrowers have to meet qualifying criteria to get approved for a private student loan. If you don't have good credit and enough income to pay off your loan, you may not be approved or you may get offered a loan, but at a very high rate. Many students need cosigners to help them qualify for student loans because they can't meet lender requirements on their own. If you need a cosigner, see whether the lender offers co-signer release, which would allow the cosigner to be removed from responsibility for repayment after a certain number of on-time payments. Some student loan lenders allow cosigner release after just 12 on-time payments while others don't allow it at all.

How to compare private student loan lenders

If you’re planning to use private student loans, comparing lenders is very important. Not only do rates and terms vary by lender, but so do eligibility requirements.

Though you can contact individual lenders and request quotes one at a time, this can be quite time-consuming. If you’re in the comparison-shopping phase, it’s best to use an online tool like Credible to compare several private student loan lenders all at once. You can even get personalized quotes with just one short form.

When comparing your options, be sure to look at the interest rate and APR, length of the loan, repayment terms, and any rate discounts that may be available. Some lenders offer a lower interest rate if you set up autopay or graduate with a certain GPA. Make sure to check reviews, too, and choose a lender that has strong customer service ratings.

THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO GET LOWER STUDENT LOAN RATES

How to find the best private student loan rates

To get a lower interest rate on your private student loan, you’ll need a good credit score — or a co-signer with one. So if you’ve never had a credit card or loan or your credit score is just low, ask one of your high-credit parents or family members to co-sign the loan for you. This will help you qualify for the best rates.

You can also choose a shorter-term loan (these typically come with lower rates than long-term ones) and, of course, you can shop around. Comparing several lenders can ensure you’re getting the best rate possible for your unique situation. Again, use Credible to compare student loan variable interest rates and fixed rates from multiple lenders at once.

STUDENT LOAN REFINANCE RATES FALL TO ANOTHER RECORD LOW

What credit score do you need for private student loans?

There’s no hard-and-fast credit score you’ll need for a private student loan, as these minimums vary by lender. Obviously, it will be more difficult to qualify for a low interest rate with a bad credit score. Generally speaking, you’ll need at least a 620 to qualify — though there may be exceptions.

Remember, though, the higher your score is, the lower the rates you’ll likely get. If your score is on the low end, consider bringing in a co-signer who can help. Just make sure they know the financial responsibility that co-signing a loan comes with.

Christy Bieber contributed to this report.