Best private student loans for fall 2021

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Back-to-school season is also student loan season for many college students. Here are the best private student loans for fall 2021. (iStock)

With the cost of college tuition rising each year, it’s no surprise that the majority of today’s enrollees take out student loans to pay for their tuition. 

You should always exhaust federal loan options first before turning to private student loans — which are offered through for-profit lenders and typically require a cosigner. But private student loans can help bridge funding gaps when federal aid and loans don’t cover all your costs. 

To help you find the best private student loans, Credible assessed the following lenders based on factors such as interest rates, fees, repayment options and customer service ratings.

9 best private student loan lenders of fall 2021

The following eight private student loan lenders are Credible partner lenders. Here are the loan options they offer.

Ascent

Funding your education through Ascent is simple, and it only takes a few minutes to prequalify online with just a soft credit check.  Interest rates can vary based on whether or not you use a cosigner, and at least two years of credit history are required to qualify for the best rates. If you’d like to borrow without a cosigner and don’t meet the income requirements, you’ll need two or more years of credit history and must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.9. 

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate (master’s, doctoral or professional degree)

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: None

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (or must apply with a creditworthy cosigner who is) with a Social Security number, enrolled in an accredited school at least half-time and meet certain credit requirements

Repayment options: Full deferral, interest-only, $25 minimum payment, full interest and principal repayment, progressive repayment and more

Loan amounts: Between $2,001 and 100% of your cost of attendance (and other related expenses), up to $200,000

Loan terms: Five, seven, 10, 12, 15, or 20 years

Discounts: Autopay, cashback reward

Cosigner release: Apply after 24 consecutive on-time full-principal payments

You can compare student loan rates from Ascent and other Credible partner lenders through Credible.

Citizens Bank

You (and your cosigner) can cover your educational expenses with a student loan from Citizens Bank no matter where you live in the U.S. 

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate (master’s, doctoral, medical, dental, MBA, law, bar study medical residency), parent loans

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No origination, application or disbursement fees

Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet certain credit requirements (with or without a cosigner); must be enrolled at least half-time at an accredited institution and have no previous student loan defaults

Repayment options: Immediate repayment, interest-only repayment, deferment forbearance

Loan amounts: Between $1,000 and $350,000, depending on degree type

Loan terms: Five, 10 or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount, loyalty discount 

Cosigner release: Apply for release after 36 consecutive months of on-time principal and interest payments

College Ave

College Ave offers multiple repayment options, and interest rates can be fixed or variable.

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate (masters, doctoral, medical, dental, MBA or law school), parent loans

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: None

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a Social Security number, enrolled in an accredited school at least half-time and meet certain credit requirements

Repayment options: Full deferral, interest-only loan payments, flat payment, student loan forbearance and more

Loan amounts: From $1,000 up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance

Loan terms: Five, eight, 10 and 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Once more than half of the repayment period has passed, but only if the previous 24 months’ payments have been on time and were not in forbearance

Custom Choice

Custom Choice rewards borrowers’ good behaviors, such as enrolling in autopay and completing your degree. You can also use their loan funds to cover past-due school balances. And loans for small amounts are available —  as low as $1,000.

Loan types offered: Graduate and undergraduate, fixed or variable-rate

Minimum credit score: Does not disclose

Fees: No application, origination or late fees

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible school. Custom Choice loans are not available to residents of Arizona, Iowa or Wisconsin.

Repayment options: Immediate, interest-only, flat or full deferment

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $99,999 annually

Loan terms: Three or five years

Discounts: Autopay and graduate discounts

Cosigner release: Apply after 36 consecutive on-time principal and interest payments

EDvestinU

At EDvestinU, you will need to have a personal (not household) income of at least $30,000, in addition to meeting credit requirements, in order to get approved.

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate, certificate, post-baccalaureate and non-degree-seeking students

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No application, origination, deferment, disbursement or repayment fees

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident enrolled at least half-time at an accredited U.S.-based institution, and each borrower (or cosigner) must meet income requirements

Repayment options: Immediate, interest-only, deferred

Loan amounts: From $1,000 per academic year up to 100% of your school-certified costs; $200,000 aggregate maximum

Loan terms: Seven, 10 or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Apply after 36 consecutive on-time payments, and meet income and credit score requirements 

INvestED

Though only available to Indiana residents or students attending Indiana universities, INvestED may be worth considering for private student loans if you’re eligible. 

Loan types offered: Undergraduate 

Minimum credit score: 670

Fees: None

Eligibility: Indiana resident or attending an Indiana school, debt-to-income ratio of 30% or lower, monthly income of $3,333 or higher, 670 or higher FICO credit score, at least two years of continuous employment

Repayment options: Immediate, interest-only, deferred

Loan amounts: $1,001 up to 100% of educational expenses

Loan terms: Five, 10 or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Apply after 48 consecutive, on-time principal and interest payments

MEFA

Though MEFA stands for the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, this lender offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students across the country. MEFA can cover all your attendance costs but there are no discounts available. You must maintain satisfactory academic performance in order to continue qualifying for loans.

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No application, origination, disbursement or early repayment fees

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, enrolled at least half-time in an accredited university, and must also maintain satisfactory academic progress for future lending

Repayment options: Immediate repayment, interest-only or deferred

Loan amounts: From $1,500 ($2,000 for private schools) up to 100% of school-verified attendance costs

Loan terms: 10 or 15 years (graduate loans are only offered with 15-year terms)

Discounts: None

Cosigner release: Apply after 48 consecutive on-time payments, and meet underwriting requirements

Sallie Mae

Perhaps one of the most popular private student loan lenders, Sallie Mae offers undergraduate and graduate funding to students across the country. A variety of loans are available, including parent loans.

Loan rates can be variable or fixed, and online credit approval usually takes about 15 minutes. Plus, there is a 0.25% discount for using autopay.

However, forbearance options at Sallie Mae, if ever needed, are a bit limited. You can only be authorized for forbearance for three months at a time, with a lifetime loan maximum of just 12 months.

Loan types offered: Undergraduate, graduate (master’s, doctoral, medical school, medical residency, law school, bar study, MBA, dental school, health professions), parent loans

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No origination fees or prepayment penalties

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (if neither, must reside in and attend school in the U.S.), enrolled in a participating degree-granting institution in the U.S.

Repayment options: Full deferral, $25 monthly payments, interest-only, immediate pay

Loan amounts: From $1,000 up to 100% of attendance costs

Loan terms: Five or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Apply after 12 on-time, consecutive principal and interest payments

Other lenders to consider

The following two lenders are not Credible partners, but they’re also worth considering if you’re looking for a private student loan.

Discover

Discover offers a rewards program for students with good grades and makes program-specific loans such as business, medical or law. 

Loan types offered: Graduate, undergraduate and professional

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No late fees

Eligibility: Must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or international student enrolled at least half-time at an eligible school, and make satisfactory academic progress
Repayment options: Immediate full payment, interest only, full deferral, minimum payments

Loan amounts: $5,000 to 100% cost of attendance

Loan terms: 15 or 20 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Does not offer cosigner release

Earnest

With six different repayment terms, Earnest may be a good choice for borrowers who want payment flexibility. 

Loan types offered: Graduate and undergraduate 

Minimum credit score: 650

Fees: None

Eligibility: Not available in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, or Virginia

Repayment options: Full deferral, full monthly payment, fixed/flat repayment, interest only, military deferment, forbearance, loans discharged upon death or disability

Loan amounts: $5,000 to $500,000

Loan terms: Five, seven, 10, 12, 15, or 20 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: Does not offer cosigner release

PNC Bank

PNC Bank is one of the largest financial institutions in the United States, but it doesn’t operate in every state.

Loan types offered: Graduate, undergraduate, health and medical professional, health professional residency, and bar exam

Minimum credit score: Does not disclose

Fees: No origination fee

Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents, must meet credit and income requirements

Repayment options: Full deferral, interest only, immediate repayment, academic deferment

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $50,000 for undergraduates

Loan terms: Five, 10, or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount

Cosigner release: 

After 48 months

How to shop and compare private student loan lenders

If you’ve already exhausted your federal student loan options — or you don’t qualify for government-backed funding or financial aid — you may need to turn to private student loans to pay for your education. Choosing the right private student loan lender for you depends on your specific situation. 

It’s wise to shop around with multiple student loan lenders before settling on one, to be sure that you can lock in the best possible repayment terms and interest rates. You may also want to opt for a lender that allows for a long enough deferment period, if needed. Or, if you’d prefer, find a lender that lets you pay down part of your loan while you’re still in school.

Also, pay attention to whether the lender offers discounts for things like loyalty or setting up autopay. Every little bit of savings helps. 

Depending on your credit history and FICO score, you may need to add a cosigner to your student loan(s). This is especially true if you’re a new student. Cosigners can be released after a few years, though, allowing you to take over the full financial obligation of your educational debt. 

Including a cosigner can be beneficial even if you qualify for the loan(s) on your own. By adding another creditworthy borrower, you may be able to qualify for better terms, such as a reduced variable or fixed interest rate.

How to select the best private student loan lender for you

Each lender offers its own benefits and drawbacks. The one that’s right for you may not be the same one that’s right for your friend, neighbor or coworker, so really consider your situation.

For no credit: MEFA

Though you’ll still need to qualify for your private student loan(s), MEFA doesn’t have a declared credit score requirement. They offer loans to borrowers with a range of FICO scores, and also make it simple to add a cosigner if you don’t qualify on your own. Once in repayment, cosigners can be released after 48 months of on-time payments.

For high-balance loans: Citizens Bank, Ascent, EDvestinU

Many private student loan lenders have aggregate (overall total) loan limits, which may prevent some students from borrowing enough to pay for certain degree programs. If you need high-balance loans, Citizens Bank, Ascent and EDvestinU all allow for notably higher aggregate limits. Through Citizens Bank, you can borrow up to $350,000 total. Both Ascent and EDvestinU allow for up to $200,000 to be borrowed.

For good credit: EDvestinU

With a minimum FICO credit score requirement of 750, EDvestinU is a worthy option for borrowers (or cosigners) who have good credit. This lender also has a minimum individual income requirement of $30,000 for borrowers (not per household), so keep that in mind.

For flexible loan terms: College Ave, Ascent

You’ll probably be paying back your private student loans for years to come, so it’s important to choose a lender that offers the flexible loan terms you need. With a wide range of loan terms and repayment options, either College Ave or Ascent may be right for you if you need plenty of flexibility.

Private student loan Frequently Asked Questions 

Can I use deferment or forbearance with private student loans?

Many private student loan lenders offer deferment and/or forbearance options on educational loans. Deferment allows you to put off repayment until you’re out of school, or to only pay off a portion of the loan while still enrolled. Forbearance is available by request, helping you avoid a loan default if you’re unable to make full payments as scheduled due to extenuating circumstances.

What’s a good interest rate for a private student loan?

Interest rates on private student loans may vary based on loan repayment terms, whether or not you have a cosigner and whether the loan rate is fixed or variable. Generally, though, average private student loan interest rates are around 4.6% for undergraduate students and 6.2% for graduates. 

Should I use a cosigner?

Due to credit history, FICO score and income requirements from most lenders, many students will need to use a cosigner in order to take out private student loans. This is especially true in the first few years of college, as many lenders have a two-year credit history minimum. 

Once credit (and income) has been established, you may be able to qualify for your own loans or request a cosigner release.

What’s the downside to taking out a private student loan?

While private loans may be necessary for many students, especially if they don’t meet federal loan income requirements or need higher borrowing limits, they also have downsides. For example, private student loans aren’t eligible for federal loan forgiveness programs and tend to have higher interest rates than federally-backed loans. You won’t have access to income-driven repayment plans, and private loan debt also won’t disappear if you ever declare bankruptcy in the future.

What do I need to qualify for a private student loan?

To qualify for private student loans, you’ll need a positive credit history, to meet other credit score requirements and may need to prove that you earn a minimum level of income. It can be helpful if you've already completed your FAFSA, as well.

How can I get the best available private student loan rate?

By shopping around with multiple lenders, you’ll be able to find the best possible rates available to you. The better your credit score and the longer your positive credit history, the more likely you are to snag a low rate. Adding a cosigner can also be a great way to unlock lower interest rates and better terms.

Finding the lowest-rate loans is faster and easier when rate shopping through a tool such as Credible, where you can compare multiple lenders in one place.

How do I apply for a private student loan?

If you’re a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and are enrolled at least half-time in an accredited university, you can generally apply for private student loans. You’ll need to gather your personal financial details — such as pay stubs, previous tax returns, bank statements, etc. — and know how much you need to borrow. You can then apply through each lender individually, or by using an aggregate tool like Credible to see what you qualify for, as well as compare terms and rates. 

Methodology

In order to provide you with the most comprehensive and accurate review of lenders, Credible adheres to a comprehensive methodology process. This includes comparing each lender’s products and services, analyzing rates and loan terms, and looking at things like customer satisfaction ratings. Credible also considered how each lender’s borrowing process compares with the others, and whether it’s simple and convenient to manage your loans or make changes to your account. Seventeen Credible experts performed in-depth research, including speaking to lenders’ customer service teams and doing thorough reviews of each lender’s website.