5 Best Private Student Loans Available in 2018

Andy Josuweit

Andrew Josuweit Updated February 28, 2018

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Andy Josuweit

Andrew Josuweit Updated February 28, 2018


Private loans for college are worth considering if your federal student aid allotment isn’t enough to cover your tuition and other costs. Private school loans offer flexible interest rate options and repayment terms, and sometimes extra benefits as well.

But before you sign anything, it’s important to know what you’re looking for and to choose the best private student loans for college. After all, not all lenders are created equal.

As you compare private student loans, you could consider these five options — our favorites, based on rates and features outlined below:

Read on to learn more about each of these lenders and how to choose the right lender for your college loans.


Our top 6 picks for Private Student Loans

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.


Compare Lender rates

Variable APR
Variable-rate private loans have interest rates that can change during the repayment period. Interest rates may increase or decrease at any time and typically do so based on changes to LIBOR. Often, the introductory rate on a variable-rate loan is lower than that of a fixed rate loan, though it has the potential to increase later. Learn more
3.69% to 10.94%1
3.97% to 12.97%
4.34% to 12.99%
4.12% to 10.98%*
5.03% to 11.23%
4.00% to 13.00%1
Fixed APR
A fixed-rate private loan guarantees a single interest rate that does not change over the lifetime of the loan. Fixed-rate loans often have higher rates than the introductory rates on variable loans. However, borrowers have peace of mind knowing their monthly payments will always be the same amount. Learn more
5.29% to 12.07%1
5.70% to 14.75%
6.34% to 13.99%
5.74% to 11.85%*
6.01% to 12.29%
5.35% to 14.05%1
Private Student Loans
Available From
This refers to the length of the loan, typically in years. In general, the shorter the term, the lower the interest rate and the higher the monthly payments. Longer terms will typically result in lower monthly payments but at a higher interest rate. Borrowers may select any term offered by a lender regardless of the current loan term. Learn more
5, 8, 10, 15 years25, 10, 15 years15 years5 to 15 years215 years17, 10, 15 years3
Can Apply with Cosigner
Adding a cosigner can be a smart way to help applicants meet eligibility requirements like having a minimum income or a minimum credit score. This can improve an applicant's odds on getting approved, plus help them qualify for better interest rates and/or loan terms.
Parent Loans Available
For parents who want to help their child pay for college, parent loans can help fill the gap between college savings and the actual cost of attending school. If you're a parent thinking of taking out a parent loan, be sure to weigh all your options, as this decision has the potential to affect your finances for the next decade or longer.
1

MOST ASKED ABOUT STATS

Making automatic payments
reduces rate
Loan providers may offer an interest rate reduction for setting up automated monthly loan payments. This reduction is typically already factored into the fixed and variable rates quoted above.
0.25% less
0.25% less
0.25% less
0.25% less1
0.5% less2
Up to 0.50%
Unemployment Protection
If a borrower loses their job through no fault of their own, they may be eligible for unemployment benefits provided by some loan providers. If approved for this benefit, the loan provider will put the borrower's loans into forbearance, suspending their monthly loan payments. It's important to note, unpaid interest that normally would have been paid during this time will still be charged and added to the borrower's original balance. It's a good idea to take advantage of the interest-only payment option while in forberance if possible. This will keep any missed interest payments from being added to the overall loan total in the long run. Unemployment protection varies from loan provider to loan provider, so be sure to take a closer look at the exact details when you visit their website.
18 months
Checking Your Rate Won’t Affect Your Credit Score
Can Apply Without Cosigner
Not planning on having anyone cosign? There are still loan providers with options that can help, though they may have certain minimum requirements for income or credit score.
1

ADDITIONAL THINGS TO COMPARE

No Origination Fees
Origination fees are added expenses that loan providers may charge for granting a new loan.
No Penalty for
Prepaying
Prepayment penalties are fees charged by loan providers for paying off the balance of the loan before its scheduled pay-off date.
1
Can Be Resident
of Any State
Some loan providers may not offer private student loans to residents of certain states.
Any except Iowa & Wisconsin
Interest Accrues On Loan
While Still In School
Most private student loans accrue interest while the borrower is still in school. This is one of the big differences between a private student loan and a federal student loan, which puts off charging interest until the borrower is no longer enrolled in school. For this reason it is usually advantageous to exhaust all your grant, scholarship and federal loan options before taking out a private student loan.
YesYesYesYesYesYes
Multiple Repayment
Options / Programs
Customizable repayment options and plans may include the ability to make interest only payments, flat payments, deffered payments and more. Specific details on the individual loan providers repayment options can be found on their website.
3
Debt Forgiven Upon Death
If checked, this means the debt would not transfer to the borrower's family or next of kin should they pass away.
3

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

Degrees That Qualify
Our partners offer private student loans for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Undergraduate
Graduate
Undergraduate
Graduate
Undergraduate GraduateUndergraduate
Graduate
1
Undergraduate GraduateUndergraduate Graduate
Minimum Credit Score
This is the lowest credit score a lender will consider when determining borrower eligibility. While some lenders do not indicate a specific minimum score, they typically still evaluate a borrower's credit profile to determine eligibility. Learn more
660680680Not specifiedGoodFair
Minimum Income Required
This is the minimum annual income a loan provider is will consider for borrower eligibility. If you're applying with a co-signer, their income will be factored into this number.
$35k$24,000 per yearNoneNoneNone$10,000 per year

ADDITIONAL ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

Ability to Release Cosigner In The Future
If checked, this means the Cosigner's name may be removed from the borrower's private student loan in the future. The private student loan would then be solely in the borrower's name, "releasing" the original cosigner(s) from their obligation.
1
4
Borrower Can Be Delinquent
on Current Student Loans
If the borrower's student loans are currently delinquent (but not in default), they may or may not be eligible for a private student loan.
Borrower Can Apply While
Still Enrolled in School
If a borrower is currently enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program and has not yet earned a degree, the borrower may or may not be eligible for a private student loan.
Not Specified
Not SpecifiedNot Specified
Borrower Doesn't Need To Be Currently Employed
If a borrower is currently enrolled in a graduate or undergraduate degree program and has not yet earned a degree, the borrower may or may not be eligible for a private student loan.
No Minimum GPA
Some loan providers offer private student loans regardless of a borrower's undergraduate or graduate GPAs, while others may have a minimum.
Satisfactory academic progress as definied by your school

CUSTOM RATES, APPLICATION DETAILS, AND MORE

Getting Your Custom
Rate Takes
How long getting a custom rate will take (on average), based on a completing a quick and easy application on an individual loan provider's website.
3 minutes or less5 minutes or less*as little as 15 minutesabout 15 minutes5 minutes or less10 minutes or less
Can Apply on Any
Mobile Device
Indicates whether or not a loan provider accepts applications from a mobile device.
Interest Is Tax Deductible
Indicates whether or not the interest paid on the private student loan may be eligible for the student loan interest tax deduction (assuming all other eligibility requirements are met). Learn more
4
5
No Personal
Reference Needed
Some lenders may require a personal reference in order to apply for a private student loan.

Our top 6 picks for Private Student Loans

LenderVariable APRLoan TypesTermsEligible DegreesEligible LoansMore Info
4.19% to 12.06%
Variable & Fixed5, 10, 15Undergrad & GraduatePrivate & Federal

Visit Citizens

3.69% to 10.94%
Variable & Fixed5, 8, 10, 15Undergrad & GraduatePrivate & Federal

Visit CollegeAve

4.72% to 9.81%
Variable & Fixed10Undergrad & GraduatePrivate & Federal

Visit LendKey

4.12% to 10.98%
Variable & Fixed5 to 15Undergrad & GraduatePrivate & Federal

Visit SallieMae

3.72% to 9.68%
Variable & Fixed5, 10, 15Undergrad & GraduatePrivate & Federal

Visit CommonBond

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print to help you understand what you are buying. Be sure to consult with a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time.



What to look for in a private student loan

A variety of factors differentiate the best private student loans. The main ones to focus on are interest rates and fees.

The amount of money you take out on your private school loans is only the beginning. Give yourself the best chance of maintaining a manageable level of debt by keeping your rates and fees as low as possible.

As you review different interest rates, remember that you can apply for more than one loan to see which one will give you the best deal. There are two ways you can do so without your credit score taking a hit:

  1. Many private student loan lenders do a soft pull on your credit, which enables you to see what you might be approved for without negatively impacting your credit score.
  2. If you were to file a formal application with more than one lender, you could avoid dinging your credit by rate shopping within a two-week window.

Besides looking for offers for the best private loans for college, also look for beneficial perks. For example, some lenders offer college students a lower rate for good grades. Others provide the ability to release your cosigner.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of options, use a monthly payment calculator to determine what your regular dues might be.


Lender Highlights

Unique lender highlights at a glance

Ok icon Peace of mind with Multi Year Approval

Ok icon Apply once and be done

Ok icon $643 saved on average in fees

Get Your Rate

Ok icon Peace of mind with Multi Year Approval

Ok icon Apply once and be done

Ok icon $643 saved on average in fees

Visit Citizens

Ok icon Get an instant credit decision

Ok icon Choose from a variety of loan terms

Ok icon Parent Loans available

Get Your Rate

Ok icon Get an instant credit decision

Ok icon Choose from a variety of loan terms

Ok icon Parent Loans available

Visit CollegeAve

Ok icon Great rates and no fees from not-for-profit credit unions

Ok icon Ability to release Cosigner

Ok icon Automatic payment discount

Get Your Rate

Ok icon Great rates and no fees from not-for-profit credit unions

Ok icon Ability to release Cosigner

Ok icon Automatic payment discount

Visit LendKey

Ok icon No origination fees

Ok icon Multiple repayment options1

Ok icon Low fixed and variable rates available

Get Your Rate

Ok icon No origination fees

Ok icon Multiple repayment options1

Ok icon Low fixed and variable rates available

Visit SallieMae

Ok icon Award-winning Care team

Ok icon Low rates and flexible payment plans

Ok icon Your loan helps provide education for those in need

Get Your Rate

Ok icon Award-winning Care team

Ok icon Low rates and flexible payment plans

Ok icon Your loan helps provide education for those in need

Visit CommonBond

Is a private student loan right for you?

When you consider whether a private lender is right for you, remember that even the best private student loans for college don’t come with the same protections as federal loans.

Federal student loans offer income-driven repayment plans, deferment and forbearance, as well as forgiveness program options. Some private school loans do offer hardship options in case your income hits a snag, but not all have this.

Also, private loans for college — much like federal direct unsubsidized loans — start accruing interest immediately. This contrasts with subsidized federal student loans, for which the Department of Education will pay the interest until you graduate.

Keep in mind, too, that you’ll likely need a cosigner. That’s because private student loan offers are based on your creditworthiness, and most college students are too young to have much of a credit history.

If you do get a loan with a cosigner, make sure all your payments are on time. If not, your cosigner will be responsible — and missing payments or going into default can damage their credit as well as yours.

If you see tough financial times ahead, reach out to your lender immediately to find out if you can adjust your repayment plan. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Plus, the sooner you handle the situation, the better your chances of a good outcome.

Like all financial tools, private loans for college can be a lifesaver if you use them wisely. They are best used as a backup when you can’t get enough federal student loans to cover your tuition and other education costs. In that case, private student loans can be a great way to finish off the funding for your education.


5 top private student loans

Not sure where to begin your search? Here’s our list, in no particular order, of some of the best private student loans offered by the top lenders. To compile it, we looked for established lenders offering competitive rates and additional benefits which are detailed below. Of course, there are other great choices out there, but think of it as a jumping-off point as you start your research.

And whether you go with one of these or find another student loan lender that’s a better fit for you, make sure to shop around so you can get the best deal available for your situation.

1. Citizens Bank

Overview: With no-fee loan options for students and parents, Citizens Bank sets itself apart by offering multiyear approval. You can apply once for multiple years of financing for your degree. That could come in handy whether you’re an underclassman, or a graduate or professional student staring down a long road to graduation.

  • No application or origination fee
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction if you already have an account with Citizens Bank
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic payments
  • Student and parent loan options
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students
  • Loans from $1,000 to $295,000, depending on your degree
  • Student repayment options of 5, 10 or 15 years
  • Option for students to make full or interest-only payments while in school, or to defer payments until after graduation
  • Parent repayment options of 5 or 10 years
  • Fixed and variable rates
  • Multiyear approval so you can set up borrowing for future semesters

Additional information

  • Applicants will most likely need good credit or a qualified cosigner to be approved.
  • Potential qualification for cosigner release is based on creditworthiness and whether there have been 36 consecutive on-time principal and interest payments.

VISIT CITIZENS BANK

2. College Ave

Overview: This online-only lender, which was founded by former Sallie Mae executives, distinguishes itself with increased flexibility. Borrowers can expect greater in-school and post-school repayment options than what’s found elsewhere. Also, students and parents alike will appreciate perks, such as no fees and low rates, in spite of a slow path to cosigner release.

  • No application or origination fee
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic payments with College Ave
  • Student and parent loan options
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Student repayment options of 5, 8, 10 or 15 years
  • Option for students to make full, interest-only or flat payments while in school or to defer payments until after graduation
  • Parent repayment options of 5 to 15 years
  • Option for parent to make full, interest-only, or interest-plus payments while student is in school
  • Up to $2,500 deposited into parent’s bank account to pay for student’s education costs
  • Fixed and variable rates

Additional information

  • Potential qualification for cosigner release is based on the following:
    • Creditworthiness
    • If more than half the scheduled repayment period has elapsed
    • If most recent 24 consecutive payments were made on time and didn’t include any forbearance or workout programs for hardship reasons
    • If borrower has earned in income more than twice the outstanding balance on their College Ave loan for the previous two years
    • If borrower has no reported late payments on their credit report in the past 24 months

VISIT COLLEGE AVE

3. LendKey

Overview: LendKey, which is more of a platform than a lender, could help you secure the lowest possible interest rate on private loans for college. The company works with credit unions and community banks to find you attractive terms. One possibly unattractive term for some borrowers is the requirement to make $25 monthly payments before leaving school — although it would serve you better in the long run.

  • Loans facilitated by LendKey but funded by credit unions and community banks
  • No application or origination fee
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic payments
  • Minimum of interest-only payments or $25 per month during the in-school period and grace period, although students can make full monthly payments during that time if they want
  • Fixed and variable interest rates

Additional information

  • Potential qualification for cosigner release is based on the following:
    • Creditworthiness
    • If borrower has made between 12 and 36 consecutive, full, on-time principal and interest payments, depending on the LendKey partner lender

VISIT LENDKEY

4. SallieMae

Overview: With a best-in-class cosigner release policy, Sallie Mae could be your top choice. The longest-running lender of the bunch, it also offers no fees, low rates and unique perks like study support and credit score tracking, all free of charge. One drawback is the borrower’s inability to select the length of their repayment term.

  • No origination fee
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up monthly payments by automatic debit with Sallie Mae
  • Available to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as parents borrowing on behalf of students
  • Available for private K-12 education, career training certificate courses, dental and medical school and/or residencies, other health profession loans, MBA loans and bar study fees
  • Loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Repayment terms of 5 to 15 years
  • 3 repayment options to choose from: deferred, fixed or interest-only while you’re in school and during your grace period
  • Fixed and variable rates

Additional information

  • Borrowers can apply for cosigner release after graduation and when 12 on-time principal and interest payments have been made (without having used hardship forbearance or a modified repayment plan during that time).
  • Borrowers and cosigners receive free FICO credit score tracking.
  • Borrowers receive free tutoring for school or study resources through Chegg.

VISIT SALLIEMAE

5. Commonbond

Overview: With private loans for college, MBAs and other graduate degrees, online-only lender CommonBond rounds out our list. It is upfront about its federal loan-like origination fee and makes up for it with flexible terms across the board, including four different in-school repayment options.

  • 2% origination fee
  • No application fee
  • No fee for paying off the loan early
  • Interest-rate reduction if you set up automatic monthly payments with CommonBond
  • Available to undergraduate students, as well as MBA candidates and other graduate students
  • Loans for up to 100% of the school’s cost of attendance
  • Student loan repayment options of 5, 10 or 15 years
  • Fixed and variable rates
  • 4 different repayment plans for students, all of which come with a six-month grace period: deferment until after college or grad school, fixed monthly payments of $25 during school, interest-only payments during school or full monthly payments for the duration of the loan

Additional information

  • Applicants must apply with a creditworthy cosigner (excluding MBA students, who aren’t required to have a cosigner to apply).
  • Student borrowers can apply for cosigner release after paying on the loan for two years.
  • Students dealing with economic hardship after graduation can apply for up to 12 months of forbearance.
  • Every time a loan is funded, CommonBond funds a loan for a student in need.

VISIT COMMONBOND

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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