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What are my private student loan options?

Best Private Student Loans

Private student loans can be used to help you fill funding gaps when your financial aid comes up short. There are several private student loan options out there and it’s recommended that you shop around to find the best private student loan to fit your needs.

We work with some of the nation’s best private student loan companies to help meet your needs. To help you get started, our website allows you to easily compare and shop for the loan features and benefits that matter most in the short-term and the long run.

Compare Featured Lenders

Cosigner Recommended

Sallie Mae Private Student Loans

Best for Private Loans
Interest Rates

Variable Rates: 5.37% APR - 15.70% APR1

Fixed Rates: 4.50% APR - 14.83% APR1

Repayment Terms


Ascent offers loans that power bright futures

Best for Private Loans
Interest Rates

Variable rates as low as: 5.74% APR1

Fixed rates as low as: 4.62% APR1

Repayment Terms

5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 years

Earnest Private Student Loan

Best for Private Loans
Interest Rates

Graduate Rates

Fixed: 4.79% - 13.85% APR1

Variable:4.79% - 11.99%APR1 

Undergraduate Rates

Fixed: 4.79% - 13.70%APR1

Variable: 4.79% - 13.50%APR1 

Repayment Terms

5, 7, 10,15 or 20 years

Sallie Mae Private Student Loans

Best for Private Loans
Interest Rates

Variable rates as low as: 4.99% APR (with autopay)*

Fixed rates as low as: 4.49% APR (with autopay)*

Repayment Terms

Up to four repayment types (including no payments while in school) and multiple repayment terms help you find the loan that fits your budget

Sallie Mae Private Student Loans

Best for Private Funding
Interest Rates

Fixed: 7.49% APR - 12.99% APR (not including 0.5% ACH discount)*

Repayment Terms

10 years

$20 minimum/month OR interest-only payments while in school

Income Based Repayment


Best for Private Funding
Interest Rates

Variable: 0.00% APR - 23.00% APR1

Repayment Terms

5-10 years

Best Student Loan Rates

Now is a great time to take advantage of some of the best student loans rates available. Variable rates start as low as 3.99% APR (annual percentage rate) and fixed rates start at 3.75% APR.

student loan interest rates for 2021

Qualifying for the lowest rate will depend on your credit history and other factors, such as proof of income. You can review our lender lineup for a comparison of competitive rates offered by our top, participating student loan lenders. The rates advertised are expressed as Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) which could be either fixed or variable, and are subject to change.

It is important to understand that sometimes the lowest advertised rate comes with conditions, such as agreeing to have your loan payments automatically debited from your checking or savings account. So be sure to read the details (fine print). Again, the actual rate you may qualify for depends on your creditworthiness, and if applicable, the creditworthiness of your cosigner.

Find & Compare Private Student Loans for Your School:
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Private Student Loan Options

There are a multitude of private student loan lenders out there, including banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions. We’ve assembled a list of lenders we work with whom we feel offer some of the best student loan products on the market.

Private Undergraduate Student Loans

Private undergraduate student loans are available for students pursuing an undergraduate degree. These loans offer competitive interest rates, and often come with interest rate reductions when you sign up for automatic payments. Roughly 90% of undergraduate private student loan borrowers will need a cosigner.

Here are some lenders who offer undergraduate student loans:

Private Parent Student Loans

Private parent loans allow parents to assist their child in paying for college. These loans are taken out in the parent’s name and are the parent’s responsibility to repay. You may be able to file for cosigner release in the future if your lender offers that option. You can also explore refinancing the loan into the student’s name once the student has graduated and is employed. Our website makes it easy to compare private parent loan lenders.

Private Graduate Student Loans

Graduate students who have exhausted their federal unsubsidized and PLUS loan options, or those with a strong history of employment, may want to consider private student loans for graduate school. You can apply with a creditworthy cosigner if you need or if you’re looking for a more competitive interest rate. These loans can help fill the funding gap, and they rarely have origination fees. You may also find more competitive rates than federal loans (for those with strong credit).

Medical School Student Loans

Medical school and medical training require several years of higher education, and student loans to help cover the cost. Medical school loans can be used to help pre-clinical and clinical education.

Dental and Medical Residency and Relocation Loans

Dental and medical students have unique situations that arise once they’ve finished their schooling. Many newly minted dentists and doctors must relocate to complete their residency once they graduate. Private student loans are available to help fund these moves and assist with living expenses during this time. Residency and relocation loans are not offered in the federal student aid program.

Bar Exam Loans

Bar exam loans are a product that may appeal to future lawyers. Preparation for the bar exam is time-consuming and intense. Many future attorneys prepare for the bar as if it is a full-time job. A bar exam loan can help cover the costs of living expenses, exam prep, and the costs associated with taking the exam itself.

MBA Loans

Business school can be very expensive. MBA student loans exist to help fill the funding gaps. Graduate and professional school students can borrow up to $20,500 per year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and MBA students should max out these loans first. MBA and professional students may also borrow from the Grad PLUS loan program to fill the funding gaps, but private student loans may offer a better interest rate and no or low origination fees.

How to Compare Private Student Loans

We’ve outlined how to compare private student loans below, but if you want to skip ahead to see this information by lender, click here to enter your school.

Interest Rates

View the range of interest rates available from the lenders you are considering. Do they offer both fixed and variable rates? Also check for available interest rate discounts, for either enrolling in automatic payments or choosing to make payments while you’re enrolled in school.

Student Loan Fees

This is something you definitely want to compare. Many lenders may offer zero origination fees up front, but beware of other fees that could be charged; including disbursement fees, processing fees, and late fees. Read the fine print to compare.

Minimum and Maximum Loan Limits

How much can you borrow? Lenders have both loan minimums and maximums. Is the amount you need to borrow from your chosen lender enough to hit their loan minimum? Is the lender’s annual loan limit enough to cover the financing you need? Loan limits are an important consideration.

Auto-Pay Discounts

Many private student loan lenders off a discount anywhere from 0.25% to 0.50% when you enroll in automatic payments. These amounts may seem small, but can make a big dent in how much you end up repaying.

Repayment Terms

Many lenders offer flexible repayment terms. Make sure to check out the repayment term options your lender offers to ensure they work for you. Repayment terms are typically anywhere from 5 to 15 years. Your lender will simply outline your repayment term based on the total amount you owe.

Also, you should look into whether or not the lender has pre-payment penalties. The lenders we work with do not charge a prepayment penalty.

Customer Service

Most student loans take a while to pay back. This means you will be dealing with your student loan lender for years to come. It’s important to consider the customer service a lender provides prior to entering into a loan with them Our lender reviews touch on customer service for most major lenders.

Cosigner Release

If you are using a cosigner to qualify for the best student loan rate possible, you may want to consider loans that offer cosigner release. Cosigner release gives you the ability to apply to remove your cosigner if you meet certain conditions set by your lender.

Other Benefits

Private student loan lenders also each offer a unique set of benefits for their products. These can include, no origination fees, cash back for good grades, easy online application with a decision in minutes, no late fees, short periods of deferment or forbearance, the ability to skip a payment, and other perks.

Another thing to consider is the protections that come with the loan. For example, does the lender offer loan discharge in the event of death or permanent disability? This is a provision that comes with federal loans, but is not offered from all private lenders.

What is a Private Student Loan?

A private student loan is a non-federal loan used to help pay for college related expenses.

Essentially, private student loans are a way to help pay for school when you don’t have enough federal financial aid, scholarships, and out-of-pocket money. It’s pretty much that simple. Some colleges and universities will say things like, “they help cover the gap.”

Sallie Mae student loans offer competitive fixed and variable rates for undergraduates, graduate students. Learn More About Sallie Mae

Private Student Loan Eligibility

Eligibility for private loans is based on the following:

Citizenship Status

Most private loans require that you be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident. If not, your creditworthy cosigner must be. This requirement may vary by lender.


You must be enrolled at an eligible college or university. Some lenders offer private student loans to part-time students, meaning you may not need to be classified as ‘at least half-time’ in order to qualify, unlike the federal student loan program, where being enrolled ‘at least half-time’ is required.


The required minimum FICO® Score will vary by lender (and may change over time), but all lenders will want to see a strong credit profile that does not contain negative history, such as late payments (on items such as rent, utilities and medical bills), liens, foreclosures, bankruptcy or student loan defaults. You will also need to demonstrate proof of income and earnings history, which is why so many undergraduate students (approx. 90%) need a cosigner.

School Certification

Ultimately, your college or university will need to verify your attendance and confirm that the loan amount requested is needed (based on all other financial aid you may be receiving). There may be situations where the school certifies a different loan amount than what you requested, in which case you may be awarded the lower dollar amount.

When to Apply for Student Loans

You don’t want to wait until the last minute to apply for a student loan if you can avoid it. Getting a private student loan can take some time, so it’s recommended that you start your research and get rate quotes at least 60 days before the start of your term or school year.

You should submit your application no later than 30 days before the start of your term. There are a few additional steps in the application process, including school certification and mandatory waiting times before the loan is disbursed.

Once you’ve decided on which school you are attending and have had a chance to review your financial aid package from your school and determine how much you need, you should start your application process.

Note: The information above addresses paying for college at the start of your school term, when most charges are due to the school. However, private student loans may be applied for anytime throughout the school year when additional funds are needed.

How Much in Student Loans Can You Take Out?

You first want to determine how much you need to borrow. There is a difference between how much you can borrow, and how much you need to borrow. We recommend that you wait for your financial aid letter from your school, then determine your budget for the term (or year), and then decide on the amount you need to borrow.

Private Student Loan Limits

  • Minimum, annual loan amount: $1,000
  • Maximum, annual loan limit: Up to 100% of the certified cost of attendance minus other aid

Aggregate limits:

  • For undergraduates the range is around $75,000 to $120,000, depending on the lender
  • For graduate students and health professionals: Between $200,000 and $350,000 (higher-end limits are typically reserved for programs such as medical school, law school or business school). Again, this varies by lender.

How to Apply for Student Loans

We can’t say it enough, but you should explore your financial aid options available through the federal student aid programs first. Even though you don’t need to complete the FAFSA to borrow private student loans, we recommend it. That way you can determine the amount you need to borrow after you consider all financial aid offerings from the federal government, your state, and your school.

Apply for Private Student Loans

Private student loans in 4 easy steps

Student Loan Application

A private student loan application will ask you some of the basics, like name, address, and social security number. If you have a cosigner, they will need to provide the basics as well. Your lender will also ask you to provide information on the school you plan to attend and details about your enrollment status (like full-time, or half-time) and grade level. And finally, you will need to disclose an amount you would like to borrow.

You (and cosigner, if applicable) will be asked to provide financial information as well. Along with a few questions regarding your current income, they may ask you to provide certain documentation to verify your information. Carefully read what your lender is requesting, they may ask for a certain number of pay statements, or tax returns from previous years.

Many lenders have an easy application process which you can complete from online from your computer or phone.

Student Loan Credit Check

As part of your student loan application, you will be asked to authorize a credit check—if you have a cosigner, they will also need to authorize a credit check. Your lender will review your credit and may reach out to you if they have any questions about items listed on your credit report.

Credit Score Needed for Student Loan

Private student loans will require you to have strong credit, a good debt-to-income ratio, and to demonstrate at least two years of work history. It may be worthwhile to take a look at your credit to have an idea of how you’re doing. Each lender will have their own credit score criteria, but in general, you will need a FICO ® score of at least 660.

The stronger your credit, the lower the rate you will qualify for. If you are worried about qualifying on your own, you can apply with a creditworthy cosigner. Even if you do qualify on your own, you can also use a cosigner to help you qualify for better terms and rates.

Private Student Loan FAQs


Do I Need a Cosigner for My Private Student Loan?

You might need a cosigner if you don’t earn little to no income, you have a low credit score, or you have limited (or no) credit history. A cosigner can help you qualify for a student loan. And even if you qualify for a loan on your own, a cosigner can help you qualify for better terms.

If you decide to use a cosigner, it would likely make your cosigner feel better if you create an agreement up front on how the student loan will be handled and repaid. For example, will you be able to pay the interest while you’re in school, or would you expect your cosigner to do so? Are you choosing a lender that offers a cosigner release option? If so, make sure you understand the terms and conditions (i.e., number of on-time payments required and credit requirements) so you can explain to your cosigner how you plan to qualify. You may want to sign up for automatic payment deductions, for example, so you’re less likely to miss any payments.

Bonus tip: most lenders offer an interest rate reduction (such as 0.25%) when you sign up for auto-debit.

It’s not uncommon to need a cosigner as an undergraduate student. According to a MeasureOne survey, in the 2019-2020 academic year, over 90% of undergraduate students needed a cosigner to borrow a private student loan.

What is Cosigner Release?

A great feature with most private student loans is the ability to release the cosigner from being jointly—and legally—responsible for the debt. This could be a great birthday or holiday present for mom or dad!

So how do you make this happen? Contact your lender (call or go online) to obtain the necessary application form. The general rule is that you need to make a minimum number of qualifying, on-time payments (usually between 12 and 24 months) to be considered for cosigner release.

And in the spirit of cosigner release, we should also note that some lenders even have programs that allow parents to transfer their Parent PLUS Loans to the student via a refinanced loan. In this scenario, the student would need to demonstrate their own creditworthiness.

Note: Loans refinanced with a cosigner may also qualify for cosigner release.

Private Student Loans Without a Cosigner

Private student loans are primarily based on creditworthiness. For this reason, most undergraduate students (or those with a thin credit profile and little to no income or employment history) will find it difficult to qualify on their own. But some lenders have developed newer products that provide opportunities for students to qualify without a cosigner. See the list of options below:

  • Ascent Student Loans – If you are a college junior, senior or graduate student, you may be eligible for a non-cosigned loan with Ascent.
  • Stride Funding Income Share Agreements – If you’re a grad student or pursuing a second bachelor’s degree, Income Share Agreements may be worth checking out. ISAs are an alternative way to finance your education where you get the money up front to pay for school, then you give up a percentage of your salary after school.
  • Compare all lenders – Of course, if you have good credit, a current income and can demonstrate employment history, you can always apply for a private student loan without a cosigner. A lot of graduate students may fall into this category, along with adult students returning to school. Many lenders today also offer a private parent loan as a more affordable alternative to the federal Parent PLUS Loan.

How Long to Get Approved for a Student Loan?

Once you complete the application, depending on your lender, you may be immediately approved, or it make take a few days or longer. Even if you don’t receive an approval right away, most lenders will confirm that your application has been submitted. Sometimes additional information or documents are required before a full credit approval can be provided. Or in some cases, the lender will encourage you to add a cosigner.

If you do not hear from your lender within one week, you may want to call and check the status of your application.

School Loan Certification

Regardless of the type of student loan you apply for, your school will need to certify the amount you want to borrow. Your lender will communicate and work with your school directly. Basically, your lender will need to make sure your private student loan will not exceed your cost of attendance minus all other financial aid received.

How are Private Student Loans Disbursed?

Regardless of the type of student loan you apply for, your school will need to certify the amount you want to borrow. Your lender will communicate and work with your school directly. Basically, your lender will need to make sure your private student loan will not exceed your cost of attendance minus all other financial aid received.

What is the Difference Between Federal and Private Student Loans?

Here are some of the key differences:

Private Student Loan Federal Student Loan
Lender Bank, credit union, financial institution, state agency, or college/university U.S. Department of Education
FAFSA Required? No Yes
Interest Rate Type Fixed and variable options available Fixed
Rates Based on Credit Criteria? Yes No
Cosigner Required? Yes, unless borrower has strong credit history No*
Repayment Plans Varies by lender. Some lenders may offer multiple options. Multiple plans (including income-driven) available
Forbearance Options Varies by lender. Typically one year. Three years

*Direct PLUS Loans offered to parents of students attending college, or graduate students, require a credit check. If the borrower is found to have adverse credit, a cosigner may be required.

How Do I Find a Private Student Loan Lender That Works with My School?

One method is to enter your school here. You will be presented with a list of our lender partners who work with your school. If you have any additional questions, or would like to seek additional options, it would be best for you to contact your school’s financial aid office.

Can I Get a Private Student Loan Without a Cosigner?

90% of undergraduate students and 75% of graduate students need a cosigner to get approved for a private student loan. Some students may have the credit qualifications to get approved without a cosigner. It all depends on your credit rating and history.

Different lenders have different qualifying criteria. To determine eligibility, it’s best to contact a potential lender directly.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Student Loan?

The exact amount of time will vary by lender, school, and time of year. Generally, the process can take as little as two weeks and as long as two months. Since the loan funds will be sent directly to your school, any money left over after the school applies your loan to your account will be refunded to you. Compare student loan lenders now.


How Much Can You Get In Private Student Loans?

Private student loan lenders, generally, will not let you borrow money in excess of your cost of attendance. Your school will let you know the maximum amount you can borrow in a private student loan, which will be determined by subtracting all the aid you have been awarded/accepted from your total cost of attendance.


When Can I Apply for a Private Student Loan?

Lenders accept and process private student loan applications throughout the year. You may apply at any time.


What are my private student loan options?