International Student Loans for 2020

While federal student loans can be a great way to pay for college, they're limited to U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens. That means a private student loan is the best way to pay for college for most international students.

Bankrate’s guide to choosing the best international student loans

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When shopping for a personal 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 personal loan lenders listed here are selected based on factors such as APR, loan amounts, fees, credit requirements and more.

Compare student loan rates for international students

Interest rates for international student loans currently range from about 1.5 percent to 15 percent. The actual rate you receive depends on multiple factors, such as whether you have a co-signer, the type of APR (fixed versus variable) and your credit profile, income and debt-to-income ratio. The amount you can borrow also varies depending on your degree program and cost of attendance.

Lender
Current APR Range
Loan Term
Min. Loan Amount
Max. Loan Amount
Best for:
Ascent
Fixed: 4% – 14.92% (with autopay)
Variable: 3.18% – 13.92% (with autopay)
5 to 15 years
$1,000
$200,000 (aggregate)
Best for flexible payment options
Citizens Bank
Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.72% – 12.04% (with autopay) Variable: 1.54% – 9.65% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.40% – 11.35% (with autopay) Variable: 1.47% – 8.81% (with autopay)
5 to 15 years
$1,000
$150,000 for undergraduate and $350,000 for graduate
Best for low APR
College Ave
Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.39% – 11.98% (with autopay) Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 3.98% – 11.68% (with autopay) Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
5 to 15 years
$1,000
100% of the cost of attendance for undergraduate and $150,000 for graduate
Best quick application process
Discover
Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.74% – 12.49% (with autopay) Variable: 1.80% – 10.37% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.99% - 12.24% (with autopay) Variable: 2.74% – 10.37% (with autopay)
15 or 20 years
$1,000
100% of the cost of attendance
Best for multiyear approval
MPower Financing
International undergraduate students: 14.98% fixed
International graduate students: 12.94%
10 years
$2,001
$25,000 per loan and a $50,000 lifetime limi
Best for undergraduate students with no co-signer
Prodigy
Starting at 6.70%
7 to 20 years
Not specified
Not specified
Best for graduate students with no co-signer
Sallie Mae
Undergraduate:Fixed: 4.74% – 11.85% (with autopay) Variable: 1.50% – 9.66% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 5.50% – 10.23% (with autopay) Variable: 2.50% – 8.20% (with autopay)
5 to 20 years (depending on the loan)
$1,000
100% of the cost of attendance
Best for building credit
Wells Fargo
Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.53% – 10.72% (with autopay) Variable: 2.68% – 9.46% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.82% – 11.76% (with autopay) Variable: 3.17% – 9.44% (with autopay)
Up to 15 years
$1,000
$120,000 for undergraduate and $250,000 for graduate (depending on field of study)
Best for part-time students

Best student loans for international students of 2020

Ascent: best for flexible payment options

Overview: Ascent is an online lender that offers student loans to international students who have a qualified co-signer. Ascent's flexible hardship options and rewards program set it apart from other lenders.

Perks: Students who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents may apply as long as they have a creditworthy co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident. Ascent also offers rewards, flexible repayment plans and a generous hardship program. Borrowers can request forbearance between one and three months, for a maximum 24 months over the life of the loan.

What to watch out for: Ascent has some of the highest APRs on this list, which can add to your overall cost of borrowing. And while most lenders allow you to release a co-signer after making a certain number of payments, international students don't have this option.

Lender Ascent
Current APR Range Fixed: 4% – 14.92% (with autopay)
Variable: 3.18% – 13.92% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – $200,000 (aggregate)
Loan term 5 to 15 years
Fees None

Citizens Bank: best for low APR

Overview: Citizens Bank is a traditional bank that has branches in 11 states. If you live elsewhere, you may be directed to its national lending division, Citizens One. The bank offers student loans to international students for both graduate and undergraduate degrees. Of all the lenders on this list, Citizens One advertises the lowest APRs.

Perks: With competitive rates and APR discounts, Citizens Bank can be a good option for students looking to save money. International students can apply as long as they have a creditworthy co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident.

What to watch out for: International students won't be able to release their co-signer from the loan, and they also can't take advantage of Citizens Bank's multiyear approval process. There's also a late-payment fee of 5 percent when a payment is at least 15 days overdue.

Lender Citizens Bank
Current APR Range Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.72% – 12.04% (with autopay) Variable: 1.54% – 9.65% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.40% – 11.35% (with autopay) Variable: 1.47% – 8.81% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – $150,000 for undergraduate and $350,000 for graduate
Loan term 5 to 15 years
Fees Late-payment fee (5% of payment amount for payments not made within 15 days of the due date), returned payment fee ($15)

College Ave: best quick application process

Overview: College Ave is an online lender that offers private student loans to international students with an eligible co-signer. The lender specializes in a quick application process.

Perks: International students can apply as long as they have a Social Security number and a qualified co-signer who's a U.S. citizen. The competitive interest rates and large selection of loan terms and repayment plans make it easier to choose a loan with a monthly payment you can manage.

What to watch out for: International students will need to apply with a Social Security number. College Ave also doesn't have a defined forbearance program, so if you need to postpone payments due to financial difficulties later on, the lender will handle each situation on a case-by-case basis.

Lender College Ave
Current APR Range Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.39% – 11.98% (with autopay) Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 3.98% – 11.68% (with autopay) Variable: 1.79% – 10.97% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance for undergraduate students and $150,000 for graduate students
Loan term 5 to 15 years
Fees None

Discover: best for multiyear approval

Overview: Discover is a bank most known for its credit cards, but it also offers private student loans. International students can apply with an eligible co-signer, and they may also prequalify for future loans through the lender's multiyear loan option.

Perks: With the multiyear approval process, you first apply for a private student loan with a co-signer. You'll find out whether you qualify for future loans, which cuts down on time involved in subsequent years with no impact to your credit. Discover also offers an APR discount if you make interest payments while in school, and you may also get rewards by earning good grades and upon graduation.

What to watch out for: The only repayment term is 20 years for a graduate degree and 15 years for undergrad, 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
Current APR Range Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.74% – 12.49% (with autopay) Variable: 1.80% – 10.37% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.99% - 12.24% (with autopay) Variable: 2.74% – 10.37% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan term 15 or 20 years (depending on degree)
Fees None

MPower: best for undergraduate students with no co-signer

Overview: MPower Financing is an online lender that offers student loans for undergraduate juniors and seniors as well as graduate students. Because borrowers don't need a co-signer or U.S. credit history to qualify, this lender is ideal for international students and those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.

Perks: Most international students attending school in the U.S. need a co-signer to qualify, but MPower borrowers do not. Instead, MPower bases its lending decision on a borrower's earning potential. The lender also assigns a student loan adviser to each borrower.

What to watch out for: Borrowers will have to pay a 5 percent origination fee and only have one repayment option: 10 years. Also, students will have to make payments while in school and during the grace period.

Lender MPower Financing
Current APR Range International undergraduate students: 14.98% fixed
International graduate students: 12.94%
Loan Amount $2,001 – $50,000
Loan term 10 years
Fees Origination fee (5% of the loan amount)

Prodigy: best for graduate students with no co-signer

Overview: Prodigy Finance is an online lender that offers private student loans to international students seeking master's degrees. Like MPower, Prodigy doesn't require international borrowers to have a co-signer.

Perks: You can see whether you qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check, and the average APR for student loans is a relatively low 8.4 percent. If you miss a payment, you won't pay a late fee. Prodigy also reports payments to the credit bureau Experian, which can help you build credit in the U.S.

What to watch out for: Prodigy's footprint across the U.S. is small, as it offers loans in only 26 states. Plus, its rates are variable, meaning your APR (and monthly payment) could increase over the life of the loan.

Lender Prodigy Finance
Current APR Range Starting at 6.70%
Loan Amount Not specified
Loan term 7 to 20 years
Fees Administration fee (4% of the total loan amount)

Sallie Mae: best for building credit

Overview: If you're an international student, building credit in the U.S. can help you with matters such as qualifying for other credit products and renting an apartment. Student loans generally help you build credit when the lender reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Sallie Mae takes it one step further by offering borrowers a free FICO credit score every month. This allows you to track your credit health and understand how managing your student loan influences your credit score.

Perks: Sallie Mae's competitive interest rates, flexible repayment terms and wide variety of loan options make this a strong option for any borrower. It's also one of the only lenders that allows borrowers to enroll less than half time and use loan funds for career-training programs. International students can apply with a creditworthy co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

What to watch out for: Some of Sallie Mae's loans come with just one loan term option, which provides less flexibility compared to others on this list. The lender also charges a late fee of 5 percent or $25 and a returned check fee of up to $20.

Lender Sallie Mae
Current APR Range Undergraduate:Fixed: 4.74% – 11.85% (with autopay) Variable: 1.50% – 9.66% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 5.50% – 10.23% (with autopay) Variable: 2.50% – 8.20% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – 100% total cost of attendance
Loan term 5 to 20 years (depending on the loan)
Fees Late fee (5% or $25), returned check fee (up to $20)

Wells Fargo: best for part-time students

Overview: Wells Fargo is a traditional bank that offers loans to international students who meet eligibility requirements and have a co-signer. This is one of the few lenders that allows borrowers to enroll in school less than half time and has loans for nontraditional degree programs.

Perks: Wells Fargo has a wide range of loan options (including career and community college), offers some of the most generous forbearance and repayment options available and allows students to enroll less than half time. To qualify, international students will first need to have a co-signer, temporary resident alien status and a U.S. address.

What to watch out for: Wells Fargo has a lower loan maximum than some others on this list. If you need to borrow more, consider other lenders.

Lender Wells Fargo
Current APR Range Undergraduate: Fixed: 4.53% – 10.72% (with autopay) Variable: 2.68% – 9.46% (with autopay)
Graduate: Fixed: 4.82% – 11.76% (with autopay) Variable: 3.17% – 9.44% (with autopay)
Loan Amount $1,000 – $120,000 for undergraduate and $250,000 for graduate (depending on field of study)
Loan term Up to 15 years
Fees None

What you should know about international student loans

How does an international student loan work?

While federal student loans are a popular option for funding higher education, they're restricted to U.S. citizens. That means international students studying in the U.S. will need to check out international student loans. These are specialized loans designed for international students studying in the U.S.

These are provided by private lenders such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. You can typically use the funds to pay for tuition, fees, books, school supplies, transportation, insurance and living costs.

Here's a quick overview of how to get an international student loan:

  1. Compare several loans: Then apply for a student loan that is affordable to you.
  2. Check your eligibility: This may depend on the school, cost of attendance and whether you have a co-signer. The lender may check your co-signer's credit history.
  3. Complete the application: Provide your personal information, including proof of your student visa, and choose your repayment terms. Make sure you understand the APR (and when it can change), repayment options, monthly payment and available hardship options.
  4. Wait for verification: The lender will communicate with your school to confirm your enrollment and loan amount. This may take a few days or even a few weeks, depending on your school and the time of year.
  5. The lender disburses the funds: Once your school certifies the loan, the lender will notify you and will typically disburse the funds directly to your school.

Do you need a co-signer to get an international loan?

To qualify for a private loan, most international students will need a co-signer who's a U.S. citizen and has a strong credit history. A co-signer accepts equal responsibility for making payments on your loan. If you fall behind, it could negatively impact your credit as well as your co-signer's.

It may be hard to find someone willing to co-sign a loan with you, especially if you don't have friends and family in the U.S. yet. Some lenders, such as Prodigy and MPower, don't require a co-signer.

How to shop for an international loan

When comparing international student loans, compare these loan features to make sure you're getting the best deal:

  • APR: The annual percentage rate is the total cost of borrowing; it includes your interest rate but also factors in any financing charges, such as an origination fee. Getting a low APR will help you save money on borrowing. It's also better to choose a fixed interest rate when possible. A fixed interest rate that won’t increase over the life of the loan, while a variable interest rate can.
  • Repayment term: These typically last between five and 20 years, depending on the loan and the lender. A longer loan term may have lower monthly payments, but you'll pay more interest overall.
  • Fees: Check for origination fees, prepayment penalties and late fees. These increase your cost of borrowing.
  • Hardship program: These programs include deferment and forbearance, which let you postpone payments if you have trouble paying back the loan after graduation. Check whether the lender offers these options and for how long.
  • Co-signer release: Some lenders allow you to release the co-signer from the loan after making a certain number of on-time payments.
  • Monthly payment: You'll usually have to make this payment over several years. Based on your degree program, will your expected post-graduation income cover your payments? If you think your potential monthly payment will be too high, then consider applying for a lower loan amount or finding a lower APR.