Best private student loans in December 2021

As of December 03, 2021
Bankrate's ranking of the best private student loans takes into account interest rates, loan types, terms, fees, unique features and more to give you a starting point in your search for college funding. The resources below can also help you decide whether a private loan is right for you and find the best interest rate for your situation.
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INCOME SHARE AGREEMENT

4.3

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.50%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.13%

with AutoPay
Term10-15yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.99%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-15yr

4.4

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.94%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.94%

with AutoPay
Term5-15yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.99%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.5

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.23%

Variable APR From

Term5-15yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.20%

Variable APR From

1.20%

Term5-15yr
Fixed APR From

2.91%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

0.99%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.50%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.13%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

Income Share Agreement

Income shares range start as low as 1% of income over a 5 year period.

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The Bankrate guide to choosing the best private student loans

Why trust Bankrate?

Bankrate wants to empower readers to make smart 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 student loan, look for a competitive interest rate, flexible repayment terms that meet your needs, generous hardship options and minimal fees. Loan details presented here are current as of Oct. 26, 2021. Check the lenders’ websites for more current information. The top lenders listed below are selected based on factors such as APR, loan amounts, fees, credit requirements and broad availability. To learn more about how we chose lenders, read our methodology above.

Best private student loan interest rates in November 2021

LENDER BEST FOR MIN. CREDIT SCORE APR MIN. LOAN AMOUNT MAX LOAN AMOUNT
College Ave International students Not specified Variable: 0.94%–11.98% (with autopay); Fixed: 2.94%–12.99% (with autopay) $1,000 100% total cost of attendance ($150,000 for some degrees)
CommonBond Payment flexibility Not specified Variable: 3.78%–9.34% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.74%–10.74% (with autopay) $2,000 $500,000
Custom Choice Graduation rewards Not specified Variable: 1.08%–9.36% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.75%–10.56% (with autopay) $1,000 $99,999 annually; $180,000 cumulative
Discover Academic achievement bonus Not specified See rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates $1,000 100% total cost of attendance
Earnest Applying without a co-signer 650 Variable: Starting at 0.99% (with autopay); Fixed: Starting at 2.99% (with autopay) $1,000 100% total cost of attendance
Sallie Mae Multiple loan options Not specified Variable: 1.13%–11.64% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.5%–12.6% (with autopay) $1,000 100% total cost of attendance
SoFi Online borrower resources Not specified Variable: 0.99%–11.33% (with autopay); Fixed: 2.99%–10.9% (with autopay) $5,000 100% total cost of attendance

What is a private student loan and how does it work?

A private student loan is a loan used to cover qualifying educational expenses. You can take out private student loans through banks, online lenders and credit unions, and sometimes through colleges and state agencies. These usually have higher borrowing limits than federal student loans and may offer lower interest rates for borrowers with good credit, but they come with fewer borrower protections.

To qualify, you’ll need to meet the lender’s eligibility requirements and go through a credit check. Applicants with good or excellent credit tend to get the lowest interest rates. But because undergraduates usually don’t have extensive credit histories, they typically need a co-signer to take out a private student loan.

What can private student loans be used for?

While the restrictions vary by lender, generally you can use private student loans for:

  • Tuition.
  • Fees.
  • Room and board.
  • Books and supplies.
  • Transportation.
  • Child care.

Typically you cannot use student loans for:

  • Clothes.
  • Vacations.
  • Restaurant dining.
  • Business expenses.
  • Car or home purchases.

How to get a private student loan

While every lender has its own application process, there are a few general steps you'll need to take to get a private student loan:

  1. Check your credit score. Some lenders will list credit score requirements on their websites, but even if they don't, it's safe to assume that you'll need a credit score in the mid-600s to qualify for a student loan.
  2. Enlist a co-signer if needed. If you don't have much credit history or if your credit score is poor, you may need to get a co-signer. This person — usually a parent or family member — signs onto your loan with you in order to help you get approved.
  3. Get prequalified. The rates that lenders advertise aren't necessarily the rates you'll receive. By getting prequalified with a few lenders, you can compare your options to see which loan is best for your needs.
  4. Send in an application. Once you've chosen a lender, you'll send in your full application, which will ask for details like your Social Security number, financial history and school information. You'll also go through a hard credit check at this stage.
  5. Wait for verification. The lender will process your application and confirm your cost of attendance with your school. After a few weeks, the lender will typically disburse the funds directly to your school.

How does a private student loan differ from a federal student loan?

While private and federal student loans are both viable ways to pay for college, there are some differences to keep in mind:

Federal student loans Private student loans
Where do they come from? The U.S. Department of Education Banks, credit unions, online lenders
How much can you borrow? Up to $31,000 for dependent undergraduates, up to $57,500 for independent undergraduates, up to the full cost of attendance for graduates Varies by lender; often up to the full cost of attendance
What are the interest rates? 3.73% for undergraduates, 5.28% or 6.28% for graduates; all fixed rates 0.99% to 12.99%; may be fixed or variable
What are the benefits? Income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness options, extensive deferment and forbearance Low interest rates for borrowers with good credit, potential for discounts and rewards, larger loan amounts
What are the drawbacks? Limited loan amounts for undergraduates, only one interest rate option Credit check required, high interest rates for borrowers with poor credit
If you need to borrow money to pay for college, start with federal loans. Then, if federal loans won’t cover all of your school costs or you’re not eligible to take out this type of loan, private student loans can fill in the gaps.
 

How do student loan interest rates work?

Most private student loans offer two types of interest rates: variable and fixed. With a fixed interest rate, the rate doesn’t change throughout the life of the loan. This is a good option for borrowers who prefer predictable payments, although the rates usually start a little higher. Variable rates, on the other hand, are tied to changes to an index, such as the Libor. These rates may go up or down over the course of repayment, although lenders usually limit how high the rate can go.

Every month, your payments will be comprised of both the principal — the base loan amount you borrowed — and interest charges. While your monthly payment will be the same if you have a fixed interest rate, more and more of each payment will go toward the principal and less toward interest with each successive month. You can use a student loan calculator to determine how different interest rates will affect your monthly payment over time.

Types of private student loans

Just about any type of student can apply for a private student loan, from undergraduates to students seeking medicalbusiness, dental and law degrees. Some lenders also offer private student loans for international students or people who are in a residency program, studying abroad, attending community college, enrolled in a career-training school or studying for the bar exam. There are even student loans for borrowers with poor credit, although these loans might be more expensive.

Pros and cons of private student loans

Before applying for a private student loan, consider the benefits and drawbacks of this type of financing.

Pros:

  • High borrowing limits: Private loans will often have higher borrowing limits than federal loans, with some covering the full cost of enrollment.
  • Low interest rates: Borrowers with good credit could qualify for the lowest interest rates available.
  • Flexible enrollment requirements: Federal student loans require you to be enrolled at least half time to qualify, but some private lenders offer loans for borrowers taking only a few classes or attending summer school.
  • Choice between fixed and variable rates: You can customize your repayment by choosing either a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate.

Cons:

  • Private lenders usually require good or excellent credit (or a co-signer) to qualify for a new loan with their best rates and terms.
  • You give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans when you refinance federal loans with a private lender.
  • You’re locking yourself into another repayment plan.

The most valuable college majors

When deciding whether investing in college is worth it, you may want to evaluate the cost versus reward of your chosen degree. A Bankrate study of the most valuable college majors ranked degrees from the most financially rewarding to the least, with STEM majors like architectural engineering and construction services topping the list.

Arts majors fell to the bottom of the rankings, but that’s not to say you should write them off; the value of your degree ultimately depends not only on the financial input and output, but also the personal value you take away from your classes and future career.

In terms of median income, unemployment rate and advanced degree requirements, here are the top five college majors in our rankings:

Degree Median Income Unemployment rate
1. Architectural Engineering $90,000 1.3%
2. Construction Services $80,000 1%
3. Computer Engineering $101,000 2.3%
4. Aerospace Engineering $100,000 1.9%
5. Transportation Sciences and Technologies $86,000 1.8%

Details: Private student loan rates in 2021

College Ave: Best for international students

Overview: College Ave offers private loans for students seeking undergraduate, graduate, dental, law, medical and business degrees. Parents can also take out loans on behalf of their college-bound kids, and students interested in attending community college or receiving career training may also apply.

Perks: International students can apply for a College Ave private student loan as long as they have a valid U.S. Social Security number and a creditworthy co-signer. Borrowers also have access to a lineup of online resources, including student loan calculators, scholarships, sweepstakes, contests and plenty of educational content.

What to watch out for: College Ave doesn’t disclose its income or credit requirements, meaning you’ll have to get a quote in order to determine if you’re eligible.

LENDER:
College Ave
APR:
Variable: 0.94%–11.98% (with autopay); Fixed: 2.94%–12.94% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance ($150,000 for some degrees)
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 20 years
FEES:
Late fee

CommonBond: Best for payment flexibility

Overview: CommonBond is an online lender that offers private loans for students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, business, dental and medical degrees. CommonBond boasts four different repayment options while you're in school: full deferment, a fixed monthly payment, interest-only payments or full monthly payments.

Perks: Borrowers can take advantage of generous hardship programs, such as personal forbearance for up to 24 months and natural disaster forbearance. Loan amounts start as low as $2,000, which is great for students who don’t need to borrow much.

What to watch out for: Borrowers usually need a creditworthy co-signer to apply, though you can release your co-signer from the loan after you make at least 24 consecutive, on-time payments.

LENDER:
CommonBond
APR:
Variable: 3.78%–9.34% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.74%–10.74% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$2,000–$500,000
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 20 years
FEES:
Late fee: 5% or $10; Returned check fee: $5; Origination fee: 2% on dental school, medical school and MBA loans

Custom Choice: Best for graduation rewards

Overview: Custom Choice offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students. Although you don’t need a co-signer to apply, the lender says that you’re four times more likely to qualify when you add a creditworthy co-signer to the loan.

Perks: Borrowers who complete their degrees receive a graduation reward of 2 percent off the principal balance. The lender also offers generous hardship options: In the event of a job loss or natural disaster, borrowers can pause payments in increments of two months, up to a maximum of 12 months total.

What to watch out for: With a cumulative loan amount of $180,000, Custom Choice may not be the best option for borrowers who are attending expensive out-of-state schools. Custom Choice also has a relatively long co-signer release period; you must have made 36 on-time payments before you can release the co-signer.

LENDER:
Custom Choice
APR:
Variable: 1.08%–9.36% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.75%–10.56% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$1,000–$99,999 annually ($180,000 cumulative)
LOAN TERMS:
7 to 15 years
FEES:
None

Discover: Best for academic achievement bonus

Overview: Discover offers private student loans to students seeking undergraduate, graduate, medical, dental, business and law degrees. You can also apply for a loan if you’re in a residency program or studying for the bar exam.

Perks: In addition to its long menu of student loans, Discover’s standout feature is the academic achievement bonus. Borrowers are eligible for a 1 percent cash reward if they maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.

What to watch out for: Discover limits its loan terms to either 15 years or 20 years depending on the type of loan. There’s also no prequalification option and no co-signer release.

LENDER:
Discover
APR:
See rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates
LOAN AMOUNT:
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
15 or 20 years
FEES:
No fees

Earnest: Best for applying without a co-signer

Overview: Earnest offers private student loans for students seeking undergraduate, graduate, business, law and medical degrees. Borrowers may qualify on their own or use a co-signer.

Perks: Borrowers can choose from four main repayment plans, access forbearance and deferment programs and even skip a payment once a year if needed. Also, borrowers aren’t required to get a co-signer on the loan (though it’s an option if you want to score a lower interest rate).

What to watch out for: If you have a co-signer, there’s no option to release them from the loan. Plus, Nevada residents can’t take out any of Earnest’s student loans.

LENDER:
Earnest
APR:
Variable: Starting at 0.99% (with autopay); Fixed: Starting at 2.99% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
Not specified
FEES:
Returned check fee: Up to $8; Florida documentary stamp tax: 0.35%

Sallie Mae: Best student loan refinancing company for available discounts

Overview: Of all the lenders on this list, Sallie Mae offers the most extensive menu of private student loan options. There are loans for students seeking undergraduate, graduate, medical, dental and law degrees, plus career-training loans, parent loans and even loans for people who pay tuition for K–12 school.

Perks: Sallie Mae supports students through free study help and college expense calculators, and borrowers can take out loans even if they’re enrolled less than half time, attending online or summer classes, studying abroad or enrolled in professional certification courses.

What to watch out for: If you need to apply for hardship programs, Sallie Mae offers fewer options and shorter forbearance periods than others on this list.

LENDER:
Sallie Mae
APR:
Variable: 1.13%–11.64% (with autopay); Fixed: 3.5%–12.6% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
10 to 20 years
FEES:
Late fee: 5% or $25; Returned check fee: Up to $20

SoFi: Best for online borrower resources

Overview: SoFi offers undergraduate student loans, law school loans, medical school loans, MBA loans and parent loans, plus other financial products such as personal loans and mortgages.

Perks: With SoFi’s unemployment protection program, a professional can help you search for jobs and provide one-on-one career training. And unlike many other student loan lenders, SoFi has an app where you can browse deals, use financial planning tools and find educational resources.

What to watch out for: SoFi’s minimum loan amounts are higher than those of any other lender on this list, which might not be a good fit for people who only need to borrow a small amount.

LENDER:
SoFi
APR:
Variable: 0.99%–11.33% (with autopay); Fixed: 2.99%–10.9% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNT:
$5,000–100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 15 years
FEES:
None

Frequently asked questions about private student loans

Can I get a private student loan with bad credit?

If you have bad credit, it’s best to start by applying for federal student loans, since these don't have credit requirements. If you still need funding from private student loans but you lack strong credit, then you may need a co-signer to qualify. A co-signer agrees to foot the bill if you fall behind on payments, so make sure that they understand what they’re getting into before they sign up. You can also start by searching for lenders that specialize in loans for borrowers with bad credit.

Will I need a co-signer for a private student loan?

Students are nearly four times more likely to be approved with a co-signer, according to private lender Sallie Mae. That’s because private student loans are largely based on creditworthiness, and a co-signer can help you qualify for the loan and get better loan terms if you're young and have little credit history.

Do private student loans allow deferment or forbearance?

Many lenders offer deferment and forbearance programs, although they vary by loan type and servicer. Here’s how the two types of relief work:

  • Student loan deferment: If your loans are in deferment, you won’t have to make payments during specific windows, such as while you’re enrolled in school. You won’t pay a penalty for missing a payment during these time frames, and it won’t affect your credit.
  • Student loan forbearance: If you’re financially struggling, you might be able to enroll in a forbearance program. These allow you to temporarily pause payments while you’re unemployed, ill, affected by a natural disaster or going through another type of financial hardship. In forbearance, your interest may continue to accrue.

How has the coronavirus impacted private student loans?

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every corner of the U.S. economy, and its effects on private student loans have been a mixed bag:

  • Lower interest rates: Interest rates on student loans across the board have plummeted since the Federal Reserve cut rates to near-zero in 2020. As of late 2021, average private student loan interest rates range from around 1 percent to 13 percent. The rate you receive depends on the type of interest rate you choose, your creditworthiness and your degree program.
  • Paused principal and interest payments: Some private student loan lenders are offering forbearance programs to borrowers who are struggling with the effects of the pandemic. These programs allow you to temporarily suspend payments for a month or more. If you need help making payments, contact your loan servicer for details.

What has Biden done for student loans?

President Joe Biden’s administration has talked about the possibility of student loan forgiveness; however, any sort of executive action canceling student debt would be limited to federal student loans, which means that borrowers with private student loans wouldn’t benefit.

With that said, Biden has proposed other student loan policies that could benefit private student loan borrowers, including:

  • Providing four years of free tuition at public universities for students with household incomes below $125,000.
  • Providing two years of free tuition at community colleges.
  • Providing two years of subsidized tuition at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) for students with household incomes below $125,000.
  • Forgiving $10,000 of student loan debt for each year borrowers participate in national or community service, up to five years.
  • Making it easier to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy.