Best Graduate School Loan Rates in October 2020

As of

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Fixed APR
From
3.49%
Variable APR
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1.24%
Term5-15yr5-15 yrNext
Fixed APR
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4.74%
Variable APR
From
1.25%
Term5-15yr5-15 yrNext
Fixed APR
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4.13%
Variable APR
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1.77%
Term5-15yr5-15 yrNext
Fixed APR
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3.49%
Variable APR
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1.24%
Term5-20yr5-20 yrNext
Fixed APR
From
3.49%
Variable APR
From
1.24%
Term5-20yr5-20 yrNext

Bankrate’s guide to choosing the best graduate school loans

As of Saturday, October 24, 2020

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At Bankrate, our mission is to empower you to make smarter financial decisions. We’ve been comparing and surveying financial institutions for more than 40 years to help you find the right products for your situation. Our award-winning editorial team follows strict guidelines to ensure the content is not influenced by advertisers. Additionally, our content is thoroughly reported and vigorously edited to ensure accuracy.

When shopping for a graduate student loan, compare APRs across multiple lenders to make sure you’re getting a competitive rate. Also look for lenders that keep fees to a minimum and offer repayment terms that fit your needs. Loan details presented here are current as of the publish date. Check the lenders’ websites for more current information. The graduate student loan lenders listed here are selected based on factors such as APR, loan amounts, fees and repayment options.

The best graduate student loans 2020

Lender
APR
Loan Terms
Min. Loan Amount
Max. Loan Amount
Department of Education: Direct unsubsidized loan
6.08% fixed
10 - 25 years
Not specified
$20,500 per year (lifetime limit $138,500)
Ascent
Fixed: 4.0% – 14.92% (with autopay); Variable: 3.18% – 13.92% (with autopay)
5, 10 or 15 years
$1,000
$200,000 based on cost of attendance and whether you have a co-signer
Citizens Bank
Fixed: 4.64% – 11.35% (with autopay); Variable: 1.49% – 8.81% (with autopay)
5, 10 or 15years
$1,000
$150,000 or 100% total cost of attendance, whichever is lower
College Ave
Fixed: 4.39% – 11.68% (with autopay); Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
5 to 15 years
$1,000
100% total cost of attendance
Department of Education: grad PLUS loan
7.08% fixed
10 – 25 years
Not specified
100% total cost of attendance
Discover
Fixed: 4.99% – 12.24% (with autopay); Variable: 2.74% – 10.37% (with autopay)
20 years
$1,000
100% total cost of attendance
Sallie Mae
Fixed: 5.50% – 10.23% (with autopay); Variable: 2.50% – 8.20% (with autopay)
15 years
$1,000
100% total cost of attendance
SoFi
Fixed: 4.51% – 11.76% (with autopay); Variable: 1.35% – 10.55% (with autopay)
5 to 15 years
$5,000
100% total cost of attendance

Summary: student loan refinance companies in 2020

Which student loans are available for graduate students?

Depending on the lender, student loans are available for various types of advanced degrees, including:

  • Master’s
  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Law
  • Business (MBA)
  • Other health professions

Some types of degrees are more expensive than others. Lenders usually increase loan amounts accordingly, and they may adjust APRs to match risk. Loan funds can typically pay for eligible expenses that are either directly or indirectly related to your education. Some of these include:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Books and supplies
  • Computers and electronics for school
  • Travel costs

Using federal vs. private student loans for graduate school

When you need to borrow money to pay for school, you have two main options. Here are some pros and cons to each approach:

Federal graduate student loans

Federal student loans are originated by the U.S. Department of Education and are loaded with borrower protections and flexibility. Within this program, graduate students can choose between a Direct unsubsidized student loan and a grad PLUS loan.

You can borrow up to $20,500 each school year with a Direct unsubsidized student loan. A grad PLUS loan allows you to borrow more — up to 100 percent of the cost of attendance.

Pros:

Federal graduate student loans come with more flexible repayment options, including customized payment plans based on your income, generous deferment and forbearance options, and potential loan forgiveness.

Cons:

The Direct unsubsidized student loan has a low loan limit that may not be enough to cover all of your attendance costs. Both federal graduate student loan options also come with an origination fee, which reduces the funds you receive. And if you default on federal student loans, the government can more easily garnish your wages and tax refunds.

Private graduate student loans

Private student loans are originated by private institutions, such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. You have dozens of options to choose from, but you'll need to pay attention to loan terms.

Pros:

Depending on the lender, your private graduate student loan may have zero fees and a lower interest rate than a federal loan. And depending on your federal aid eligibility, private loans might be your only option. Private student loans also generally have high loan limits, so they can fill the gaps if you've borrowed the maximum student loan amount from the federal government.

Cons:

Private student loans may offer some hardship plans and various payment options, but loan terms, repayment plans and hardship options are generally less consumer-friendly.

Federal graduate student loans Private graduate student loans
APR 6.08% – 7.08% fixed 4% – 14.92% fixed; 1.35% – 13.92% variable
Fees Origination fees of 1.062% – 4.236% Varies by lender; often only late-payment fees
Borrowing limits Direct unsubsidized loan: Up to $20,500 per year; Grad PLUS loan: Up to 100% total cost of attendance Up to 100% total cost of attendance
Repayment terms 10 to 25 years 5 to 20 years

How to defer student loan payments in grad school

Many lenders do not require you to make payments on your full loan balance until after your grace period ends — usually around six months after you graduate. In many cases, you have the option to make a flat minimum payment each month or make interest-only payments until your grace period ends.

However, depending on your circumstances, you may also need to apply for deferment. A deferment lets you temporarily reduce or postpone payments on your student loan. While most lenders offer this option, details will vary.

On most loans, you can defer payments while you’re in graduate school or entering an internship, clerkship, fellowship or residency. Interest may still accrue while the loan is in deferment and may even be "capitalized," or added to the balance afterward. This will increase your total loan cost.

To defer your student loan payments while in grad school, first read your loan terms. Check for:

  • A limit to the number of months you can defer payments.
  • Any fees you'll pay.
  • Eligibility requirements (e.g., being enrolled at least half time).
  • Whether interest will accrue and capitalize.
  • How the lender will report your account to the credit bureaus while in deferment.

Reach out to your loan servicer and ask about next steps. Typically, you'll need to:

  • Submit a deferment form and have it verified by an official from your school, internship, clerkship, fellowship or residency program.
  • Continue making loan payments until the loan servicer confirms the request has been approved.
  • Renew the request if needed.

Then you can ask to have the deferment removed when you're ready to start making full payments again.

Details: best graduate student loan rates in 2020

Best overall: Department of Education – Direct unsubsidized loan

Overview: Federal student loans are originated by the U.S. Department of Education and are available to students seeking most types of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Although loan amounts are lower and interest rates higher compared with some private lenders, the federal program offers the strongest borrower protections and most flexible repayment options available.

Perks: Borrowers can choose from seven repayment plans, some of which base your monthly payment on a percentage of your discretionary income. The interest rate is fixed over the life of the loan, and these loan terms generally make borrowing more affordable. You also get much better deferment and forbearance options than you would with private student loans. Plus, borrowers won't need a credit history or co-signer to qualify.

What to watch out for: Borrowers pay an origination fee, although it's lower than the federal grad PLUS loan's origination fee. The Direct unsubsidized loan also has a low loan limit, so it may not be enough to cover all of your school costs.

Lender Department of Education – Direct unsubsidized loan
APR 6.08% fixed
Loan amounts Up to $20,500 per year ($138,500 aggregate limit)
Loan terms 10 – 25 years
Fees Origination fee of 1.062%

Best if you don’t have a co-signer: Ascent

Overview: Ascent is an online lender that offers student loans for borrowers with or without a co-signer. Graduate students who don't have a co-signer can get a loan based on either their credit history or on their future potential income.

Perks: Ascent's hardship options are stronger than what some other lenders offer. You can apply for forbearance between one and three months, for a maximum 24 months over the life of the loan. The lender also offers opportunities to apply for scholarships and earn several types of rewards.

What to watch out for: Ascent has some of the highest APRs among lenders on this list, though you may be able to save money by getting a co-signer or paying off your loan early.

Lender Ascent
APR Fixed: 4% – 14.92% (with autopay); Variable: 3.18% – 13.92% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 – $200,000 based on cost of attendance and whether you have a co-signer
Loan terms 5, 10 or 15 years
Fees None

Best for multiyear approval: Citizens Bank

Overview: Citizens Bank is a traditional bank that offers private student loans for graduate students seeking master's, business, medical, law and health care degrees. Its unique multiyear approval process allows you to secure funding for each year of school with just one application.

Perks: Once you apply for a loan, Citizens Bank will let you know if you qualify for multiyear approval. In subsequent years, you'll just request funds — without getting a hard credit pull or submitting additional documentation. Citizens also has one of the lowest advertised APRs on this list and offers a loyalty discount if you or your co-signer has a qualifying checking or savings account.

What to watch out for: Checking and savings accounts are only available in 11 states that are mostly located in the Northeast. If you don't live near a branch, you might not be able to get the loyalty discount. Also, there's a late-payment fee of 5 percent on payments not made within 15 days of the date due.

Lender Citizens Bank
APR Fixed: 4.64% – 11.35% (with autopay); Variable: 1.49% – 8.81% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 – $150,000 (or 100% of the cost of attendance)
Loan terms 5, 10 or 15 years
Fees Late-payment fee (5% of payment amount for payments not made within 15 days of the due date)

Best student loan for quick application process: College Ave

Overview: College Ave is an online lender that offers private student loans to graduate students earning postgraduate, master's, doctoral or professional degrees. The lender specializes in a simple application process with an instant decision.

Perks: Altogether, College Ave says that the application process takes three minutes. Borrowers can check their potential loan terms and whether they prequalify for a loan without impacting their credit. Borrowers are eligible even if they attend school less than half time, which allows for more flexibility.

What to watch out for: Although College Ave says that it will work with borrowers experiencing financial hardship, it doesn't have a defined forbearance program. Instead, each situation is handled on a case-by-case basis. This may cause problems if you need to postpone payments due to financial difficulties later on.

Lender College Ave
APR Fixed: 4.39% – 11.68% (with autopay); Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms 5 to 15 years
Fees None

Best for flexible repayment options: Discover

Overview: Discover is a bank that offers private student loans to grad students enrolled in master's degrees, business degrees, medical degrees, residency programs, internship programs and law school and bar exam prep. It's a good lender for students who want to make sure they'll have flexible repayment options down the road.

Perks: Students who are financially struggling after graduation can access a wide range of repayment assistance programs. If you qualify, you may be able to get reduced payments, forbearance for up to 12 months, payment extensions and interest rate reductions. Discover also offers a one-time cash reward for earning good grades, a reward when you graduate and a discounted APR when you enroll in interest-only payments during school.

What to watch out for: The only repayment term is 20 years, which doesn't offer as much flexibility as other lenders. However, there's no prepayment penalty, so paying more toward the loan every month won't incur a fee.

Lender Discover
APR Fixed: 4.99% – 12.24% (with autopay); Variable: 2.74% – 10.37% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms 20 years
Fees None

Best for part-time students: Sallie Mae

Overview: Sallie Mae offers private student loans to graduate students seeking master's or doctoral degrees, and they're available even if you're enrolled less than half time. It's a standout option if you want to take just a few classes at a time or you work on the side.

Perks: Borrowers can be enrolled in school less than half time and may defer payments in 12-month increments, up to 48 months total. Sallie Mae also provides a free quarterly FICO credit score, which can help you track your overall credit health.

What to watch out for: Sallie Mae only offers a 15-year repayment term, which isn't as flexible as other lenders on this list.

Lender Sallie Mae
APR Fixed: 5.50% – 10.23% (with autopay); Variable: 2.50% – 8.20% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms 15 years
Fees Late fee (5% of the past-due amount, max $25) and returned check fee (up to $20)

Best low APR: SoFi

Overview: SoFi is an online lender that offers private student loans for graduate degree programs, law school and business school.

Perks: SoFi offers the lowest APRs on this list, which can save you money over the life of the loan. Plus, you can benefit from a unique unemployment protection program: If you lose your job through no fault of your own, SoFi will suspend monthly payments in three-month increments (up to 12 months total) and provide job placement assistance.

What to watch out for: SoFi's minimum loan size is higher than that of most lenders, so it may not be the best choice if you have minimal financial needs.

Lender SoFi
APR Fixed: 4.51% – 11.76% (with autopay); Variable: 1.35% – 10.55% (with autopay)
Loan amounts $5,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan terms 5 to 15 years
Fees None