Best student loans in December 2021

As of December 07, 2021
Bankrate's ranking of the best student loan lenders analyzes interest rates, terms and features to help you start your search. It's also a resource for how to decide which student loan is best for you and what to know before applying.
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4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.44%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$25k- $500k

Term: 5-25 yr
Min. Credit

650

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.49%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$5k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

650

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.50%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$5k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

650

4.5

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.44%

Loan Amount

$10k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

Not disclosed

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.95%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$5k- $300k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

660

Fixed APR From

2.15%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$5k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

660

Fixed APR From

2.50%

with AutoPay
Loan Amount

$5k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

650

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.47%

Loan Amount

$15k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

680

3.9

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.26%

with Autopay
Loan Amount

$5k- $500k

Term: 5-20 yr
Min. Credit

680

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  2. 2

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  3. 3

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The Bankrate guide to choosing the best 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 Nov. 22, 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, read our methodology section above.
 

How do I choose a student loan? 

When choosing a student loan, start by looking at federal loans. More than 90 percent of outstanding student loans are federal, and for good reason: With low rates and many options for payment assistance and loan forgiveness, they're the best choice for most borrowers.

If you do look for private loans, the best way to choose a loan is to compare offers from a few lenders — a good rule of thumb is to get prequalified with at least three. Once you have offers in hand, you should choose the lender that gives you the lowest interest rate, the best repayment terms and the fewest fees.

Also consider whether the lender offers unique features. If a lender offers a long deferment period while you're doing a medical residency, for instance, it may be worth it to choose that lender over one with a slightly lower interest rate.

 

Best student loan interest rates in November 2021

LENDER BEST FOR FIXED APR VARIABLE APR LOAN TERM LOAN AMOUNT MIN. CREDIT SCORE
Ascent Loans without a co-signer 5.91%–13.09% (with autopay) 4.09%–11.34% (with autopay) 5–20 years $2,001–$200,000 Not specified
Citizens Bank Multiyear approval 3.23%–10.95% (with autopay) N/A 5–15 years $1,000–$350,000 depending on program Not specified
College Ave Quick application process 2.94%–12.99% (with autopay) 0.94%–11.98% (with autopay) 5–20 years $1,000–100% total cost of attendance (maximum $150,000 for some degrees) Not specified
CommonBond Personalized mentoring 3.74%–10.74% (with autopay) 3.78%–9.34% (with autopay) 5–20 years $2,000–100% total cost of attendance ($500,000 lifetime maximum) Not specified
Earnest Flexible repayment terms Starting at 2.94% (with autopay) Starting at 0.99% (with autopay) Not specified $1,000–100% total cost of attendance 650
Discover Perks and rewards See rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates See rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates 15 or 20 years $1,000–100% total cost of attendance Not specified
Sallie Mae Part-time students 3.5%–12.6% (with autopay) 1.13%–11.64% (with autopay) 10–20 years $1,000–100% total cost of attendance Not specified
SoFi Loans without fees 2.99%–10.9% (with autopay) 0.95%–11.29% (with autopay) 5–15 years $5,000–100% total cost of attendance Not specified
For more information on private student loan rates, check out our page on private student loans.

Details: Best student loan lenders in 2021

  • Ascent: Best student loan without a co-signer
  • Citizens Bank: Best student loan for multiyear approval
  • College Ave: Best student loan for quick application process
  • CommonBond: Best student loan for personalized mentoring
  • Earnest: Best student loan for flexible repayment terms
  • Discover: Best student loan for perks and rewards
  • Sallie Mae: Best student loan for part-time students
  • SoFi: Best student loan for no fees
 

Ascent: Best student loan without a co-signer

Overview: Ascent offers undergraduate and graduate private student loans in all 50 states. Borrowers without a co-signer have their own loan option, which is a rarity in the private student loan space. If you don’t have a co-signer, you may be able to qualify for a loan based on your school, graduation date, major and cost of attendance. The lender also offers a longer-than-average period of forbearance, which is a hardship program that allows you to temporarily stop making payments. Check your personalized rates from Ascent today.

Perks:

    • Loan option based on future income instead of credit score.
    • Forbearance of up to 24 months over the life of the loan.
    • Grace period of nine to 36 months, depending on degree type.

What to watch out for:

LENDER:
Ascent
BANKRATE RATING:
4.1/5
APR:
Fixed: 5.91%–13.09% (with autopay); Variable: 4.09%–11.34% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$2,001–$200,000
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 20 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. For some loans, students must be enrolled full time, have at least two years of credit history, have a minimum annual income of $24,000 and maintain a GPA of at least 2.9.
FEES:
None

Citizens Bank: Best student loan for multiyear approval

Overview: Citizens Bank offers private student loans to undergraduate students, graduate students and parents. Citizens Bank will run a hard credit inquiry when you apply and will let you know if you qualify for the multiyear loan program. If approved, you can request funds in subsequent years without supplying additional income documentation or going through hard credit checks, so the process is faster.

Perks:

    • Multiyear loan option.
    • 0.25 percent APR discount for eligible Citizens Bank accounts.
    • Scholarship opportunities available.

What to watch out for:

    • $150,000 limit for undergraduate loans.
    • No firm deferment or forbearance policies.

Why Citizens Bank is best for multiyear approval: Borrowers can get approved for multiple years of student loans without needing to go through a hard credit check every time, which is convenient if you know that you'll need funding every year.

Impact on student loan borrowers: Borrowers can save time every year by using Citizens' multiyear approval program, with the convenience of working with the same lender for each year of funding.
 
LENDER:
Citizens Bank
BANKRATE RATING:
4.5/5
APR:
Fixed: 3.23%–10.95% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$1,000 to $150,000 for undergraduates, $350,000 for some graduate degrees
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 15 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Eligible noncitizens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Borrowers must also be enrolled at least half time, have no prior student loan defaults and be the age of majority; younger borrowers must apply with a co-signer.
FEES:
None

College Ave: Best student loan for quick application process

Overview: College Ave is an online lender that offers private student loans to undergraduate students, graduate students, parents and students attending community college and career programs.

Perks:

    • Three-minute application process.
    • Loans available for community college and career programs.
    • $150 reward upon graduation.

What to watch out for:

    • Loan cap of $150,000 for most graduate school loans.
    • Limited eligibility information.
    • Co-signer cannot be released until at least half of the repayment period has elapsed.

Why College Ave is best for a quick application process: College Ave has a simple online application that only takes a few minutes to complete, and borrowers can accept terms and e-sign documents immediately after approval.

Impact on student loan borrowers: College Ave's quick application process is convenient for borrowers who are requesting funds at the last minute; while you'll still have to wait for your school to certify the loan, College Ave's approval process is much faster than that of many other lenders.

LENDER:
College Ave
BANKRATE RATING:
4.4/5
APR:
Fixed: 2.94%–12.99% (with autopay)Variable: 0.94%–11.98% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance (maximum $150,000 for some degrees)
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 20 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and be enrolled half time. International students with a Social Security number may apply with a qualified co-signer.
FEES:
Late fee

CommonBond: Best student loan for personalized mentoring

Overview: CommonBond is an online lender that offers undergraduate and graduate private student loans. Borrowers can access generous hardship options and individualized money advice through the "NextGenVest" program, which helps you navigate personal finances before, during and after college.

Perks:

    • NextGenVest program.
    • Hardship forbearance for up to 24 months.
    • Co-signer release after 24 consecutive, on-time payments.

What to watch out for:

    • Co-signer required for undergraduate student loans.
    • Loans not available to customers in Mississippi or Nevada.
    • Origination fee for some degrees.

Why CommonBond is best for personalized mentoring: From informative guides to NextGenVest, its own program designed to guide students through the borrowing process and beyond, CommonBond can meet borrowers wherever they are on their personal finance journey.

Impact on student loan borrowers: CommonBond's resources can help borrowers navigate many aspects of student loans — from applying for student loans to budgeting in college to taking advantage of student loan benefits in the workforce.

LENDER:
CommonBond
BANKRATE RATING:
3.9/5
APR:
Fixed: 3.74%–10.74% (with autopay)Variable: 3.78%–9.34% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$2,000 to 100% total cost of attendance ($500,000 lifetime maximum)
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 20 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Borrowers must be enrolled at least half time at a school in CommonBond's network. Students pursuing some degrees must apply with a co-signer.
FEES:
Late fee: 5% or $10; Returned check fee: $5; Origination fee: 2% for some degrees

Earnest: Best student loan for flexible repayment terms

Overview: Earnest is an online lender that funds private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students and offers unique repayment options. Earnest's grace period is nine months long, which is three months longer than what most lenders offer. Borrowers are also allowed to skip one payment every 12 months.

Perks:

    • Skip a payment once every 12 months.
    • Nine-month grace period.
    • Extremely low starting rates.

What to watch out for:

    • No student loans available in Nevada, New Hampshire or Texas.
    • No co-signer release.

Why Earnest is best for flexible repayment terms: While Earnest doesn't disclose its range of repayment terms, it does say that borrowers can pick their loan term; plus, once every 12 months, borrowers can choose to postpone a payment. 

Impact on student loan borrowers: Borrowers who need a little breathing room one month will benefit from Earnest's skip-a-payment option, which essentially serves as a short-term forbearance.
 
LENDER:
Earnest
BANKRATE RATING:
4.6/5
APR:
Fixed: Starting at 2.94% (with autopay); Variable: Starting at 0.99% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
Not specified
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
650
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be attending or enrolled to attend an eligible four-year Title IV institution full time. Borrowers must also be the age of majority in their state and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Co-signers must have at least three years of good credit history, no history of bankruptcy and a minimum annual income of $35,000.
FEES:
Returned payment fee: Up to $8; Florida stamp tax: 0.35%

Discover: Best student loan for perks and rewards

Overview: Discover offers private student loans to undergraduate students, graduate students and parents, and loans can cover up to 100 percent of school-certified undergraduate and graduate school costs.

Perks:

    • Rewards for students who earn good grades.
    • Qualify for multiple years of student loans.
    • No application, origination or late fees.

What to watch out for:

    • No prequalification option.
    • No co-signer release.
    • Only one repayment term available for each loan type.

Why Discover is best for perks and rewards: Students who earn at least a 3.0 GPA in college or graduate school could qualify for a one-time cash reward of 1 percent on each new loan they take out. High school students who graduate with at least a 3.0 GPA could also qualify for an additional reward on their first college loan.

Impact on student loan borrowers: Qualifying for multiple discounts — for instance, stacking an autopay discount with a reward for good grades — could significantly lower the amount you have to pay on your student loan.

LENDER:
Discover
BANKRATE RATING:
4.7/5
APR:
See rates at DiscoverStudentLoans.com/Rates
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance (aggregate limits may apply)
LOAN TERMS:
15 or 20 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be enrolled at least half time, be making satisfactory academic progress and be at least 16 years old at the time of application. Borrowers must also be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or an international student with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer.
FEES:
None

Sallie Mae: Best student loan for part-time students

Overview: Sallie Mae offers private student loans to undergraduate students, graduate students, parents and students enrolled in career-training programs.

Perks:

    • Four months of free access to Chegg Study.
    • Loans for part-time students, students attending online or summer classes and students studying abroad.
    • Wide range of loan amounts.

What to watch out for:

    • Few eligibility requirements disclosed.
    • Only 12 months of forbearance available.
    • Only one term option for graduate students.

Why Sallie Mae is best for part-time students: Sallie Mae is one of the only private student loan lenders that doesn’t require borrowers to attend school full- or half time, which makes it a standout option if you’re studying abroad, taking just one or two classes at a time or taking a professional certification course.

Impact on student loan borrowers: Borrowers who are not going the traditional route of a full-time, four-year degree have options with Sallie Mae; it's one of the only big-name lenders to offer funding for things like culinary or technical school or part-time programs.

LENDER:
Sallie Mae
BANKRATE RATING:
4.3/5
APR:
Fixed: 3.5%–12.6% (with autopay)Variable: 1.13%–11.64% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
10 to 20 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
FEES:
Late fee: 5% or $25; Returned check fee: Up to $20

SoFi: Best student loan for no fees

Overview: SoFi is an online lender that offers private student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students and parents. Among its perks, SoFi says that it doesn’t charge any fees, which cuts down on the overall cost of borrowing.

Perks:

    • Member rate discount of 0.125 percent.
    • Unemployment assistance.
    • No fees.

What to watch out for:

    • Relatively high minimum loan amount.
    • High APR caps.
    • Loans not available for associate degree programs.

Why SoFi is best for no fees: It's standard for lenders to charge late fees or nonsufficient funds fees, but SoFi does away with even these fees. Of course, it's still not a good idea to miss payments, but SoFi's no-fee policy provides a nice buffer.

Impact on student loan borrowers: Borrowers looking for a cheap loan should start with those that charge few to no fees; SoFi's lack of fees, combined with its low interest rates and multiple discounts, could make it one of the more affordable lenders to do business with.

LENDER:
SoFi
BANKRATE RATING:
4.6/5
APR:
Fixed: 2.99%–10.9% (with autopay); Variable: 0.95%–11.29% (with autopay)
LOAN AMOUNTS:
$5,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
LOAN TERMS:
5 to 15 years
MIN. CREDIT SCORE:
Not specified
ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS:
Borrowers must be the age of majority and be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or visa holder. Younger borrowers or borrowers who are not U.S. citizens must apply with a qualified co-signer. Borrowers must also be employed or have sufficient income, be enrolled at least half time or be making satisfactory academic progress.
FEES:
None

Federal vs. private student loans

Federal student loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education, while private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions and private lenders. It's almost always best to start your search with federal student loans, though private student loans also offer some unique perks.

The biggest difference between federal and private loans is in the rates and eligibility requirements. Private lenders base your rates on your credit score, with a poor credit score leading to higher rates. Federal student loans, on the other hand, offer every borrower the same rate for each type of loan. The average interest rate on a private student loan can range from 0.99 percent to 12.99 percent, while federal loans charge 3.73 percent, 5.28 percent or 6.28 percent, depending on the loan type.

Some federal loans do have borrowing limits, so borrowers will often turn to private lenders to finance their remaining academic costs. However, while private loans can often finance up to the total cost of attendance, they don't offer as many ways to customize your repayment plan.

 
FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PRIVATE STUDENT LOANS
Interest rates 3.73% to 6.28% 2.99% to 12.99% fixed, 0.99% to 11.98% variable
Fees 1.057% to 4.228% origination fee Varies by lender
Borrowing limits $31,000 total for dependent undergraduates, $57,500 total for independent undergraduates, 100% total cost of attendance for graduates 100% total cost of attendance with many lenders
Benefits Income-driven repayment plans, robust deferment and forbearance, no minimum credit score Low interest rates for good-credit borrowers, often zero fees, lender-specific perks
Drawbacks Potentially higher interest rates than private loans for borrowers with good credit, loan amount caps for undergraduate borrowers Credit check required, high rate caps, fewer borrower protections

How does student loan interest work?

When you apply for a student loan, you'll be offered an interest rate. This interest rate is an extra percentage of your loan amount that you'll have to pay each month.
 
With federal loans, this rate is the same for all borrowers and is determined by the federal government each year. With private loans, this rate is determined by your credit score, income and more. The most affordable private student loans go to students in good financial health with high credit scores.
 
 
Prospective borrowers can usually choose between a fixed and a variable interest rate. Fixed interest rates remain the same over the life of the loan, while variable rates change based on market trends. Federal student loans are always fixed, while private student loans can be either fixed or variable.
 
 

How is student loan interest calculated?

While browsing interest rates, you can calculate your student loan interest to estimate how much you will pay each month. Here's how to do it:
 
  1. Find your daily interest rate: Divide your annual interest rate by the number of days in a year (365).
  2. Determine your daily interest accrual charge: Multiply your daily interest rate by your principal balance.
  3. Calculate your monthly payment: Multiply your daily interest by the number of days in your billing cycle.
If you have $10,000 in student loans and a 6 percent interest rate, with a 30-day billing cycle, you would pay a little over $49 in interest monthly.
 
You can also calculate how much interest you'll pay over the life of your student loan by using a student loan calculator.
 
 

What are current student loan interest rates?

Current interest rates on student loans vary based on where the loan originates, the type of interest rate and the creditworthiness of the borrower.
 
LOAN TYPE FIXED APR VARIABLE APR
Refinance Student Loan Rates 2.26% to 7.83% 1.74% to 7.58%
Private Student Loan Rates 2.94% to 12.99% 0.95% to 11.99%
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans (Undergraduate Borrowers) 3.73% N/A
Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Graduate and Professional Borrowers) 5.28% N/A
Direct PLUS Loans (Graduate and Professional Borrowers) 6.28% N/A

What are interest rates for federal student loans?

Federal student loan rates change each year. Your rate depends on when you took out your loan.
 
LOAN FIRST DISBURSED UNDERGRADUATE DIRECT SUBSIDIZED LOANS UNDERGRADUATE DIRECT UNSUBSIDIZED LOANS GRADUATE OR PROFESSIONAL DIRECT UNSUBSIDIZED LOANS DIRECT PLUS LOANS
July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022 3.73% 3.73% 5.28% 6.28%
July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021 2.75% 2.75% 4.30% 5.30%
July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020 4.53% 4.53% 6.08% 7.08%
July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019 5.05% 5.05% 6.60% 7.60%
July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2018 4.45% 4.45% 6.00% 7.00%
July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017 3.76% 3.76% 5.31% 6.31%
July 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016 4.29% 4.29% 5.84% 6.84%

Student loan news updates

The student loan landscape has been changing in recent months, driven by the coronavirus pandemic and forgiveness policies implemented by the Biden administration. Some current student loans trends to be aware of include:
 

The most valuable college majors

College is a big investment regardless of how you pay for it, and some forward-planning will help ensure that your investment pays off. A Bankrate study of the most valuable college majors found that STEM degrees have consistently high median incomes and low unemployment rates, while arts degrees rank near the bottom in terms of overall value.
 
Of course, there are plenty of factors that influence the value of your degree, including the cost of your school, the likelihood that you’ll need an advanced degree and the fulfillment you find in your chosen career path. A performing arts degree may not be as financially rewarding as a degree in computer engineering, but it allows many graduates to pursue their dreams and land a satisfying job after college.
 
If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, these five college majors at the top of our rankings are a good place to start your search:
 
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%

Frequently asked questions about student loans

Next steps 

If you're considering financing your college education with loans, maximize your federal student loan potential before turning to private loans. When looking for the best private loan, get prequalified with a few lenders to make sure that you're getting the most competitive rates and terms. A college education is a big investment, so take some time to shop around before signing on the dotted line.