Best student loans in September 2021

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4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.49%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.88%

with AutoPay
Term5-25yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.74%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

2.25%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.6

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.50%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.88%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.5

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.39%

Variable APR From

2.24%

Term5-20yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.95%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.90%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.0

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

3.54%

Variable APR From

2.32%

Term5-15yr
Fixed APR From

2.16%

with AutoPay
Variable APR From

1.88%

with AutoPay
Term5-20yr

4.1

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.58%

Variable APR From

2.39%

Term5-20yr

3.9

Bankrate Score
Fixed APR From

2.59%

with Autopay
Variable APR From

2.46%

with Autopay
Term5-20yr

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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

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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 Aug. 11, 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.

Best student loan interest rates in September 2021

Lender Best For Fixed APR* Variable APR* Loan Term Loan Amount Min. Credit Score
Ascent
Loans without a co-signer
5.62%–12.93%
4.10%–11.35%
5–20 years
$2,001–$200,000
Not specified
Citizens Bank
Multiyear approval
3.23%–10.95%
1.03%–10.41%
5–15 years
$1,000–$350,000 depending on program
Not specified
College Ave
Quick application process
2.99%–12.99%
0.99%–11.98%
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%
3.78%–9.34%
5–15 years
$2,000–100% total cost of attendance ($500,000 lifetime maximum)
Not specified
Earnest
Flexible repayment terms
Starting at 2.99%
Starting at 0.99%
Not specified
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
650
Discover
Perks and rewards
See rates at Discover.com
See rates at Discover.com
15 or 20 years
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
Not specified
Sallie Mae
Part-time students
3.5%–12.6%
1.13%–11.64%
10–20 years
$1,000–100% total cost of attendance
Not specified
SoFi
Loans without fees
2.99%–10.90%
0.99%–11.33%
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.

Summary: Student loans in 2021

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.

Learn more: How Fed rate changes impact student loans

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.

Learn more: Fixed vs. variable student loan rates

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.

Learn more: How to calculate student loan interest

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
2.25% to 9.15%
1.64% to 8.9%
Private Student Loan Rates
2.99% to 12.99%
0.99% to 11.98%
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%

Source: The Federal Register

Federal vs. private student loans

Private student loans differ from federal student loans because they’re originated by private institutions such as banks, credit unions and online lenders rather than the federal government. Private student loan interest rates are based on you or your co-signer's credit score and financial health and can be either fixed or variable. Borrowers with a good credit score could qualify for a low interest rate and competitive fees with a private loan, but those with a poor credit score will be offered a higher rate.

Federal student loans come from the U.S. Department of Education and have fixed interest rates that are set yearly. It's recommended that you max out your federal loan potential before applying for private loans, as they come with more flexible repayment options, including customized payment plans based on your income and potential loan forgiveness. Federal loans also come with protections that private loans don't, like deferment and hardship options.

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:

How student loans could change under a Biden presidency

President Biden's proposed student loan policies could spell big changes for student loans moving forward. His proposed policies include:

  • Revising current income-driven repayment plans to no more than 5 percent of the borrower's discretionary income.
  • Doubling the value of Pell Grants.
  • Providing four years of free tuition at public universities for borrowers with household incomes below $125,000.
  • Providing two years of free community college.
  • Forgiving $10,000 of student loan debt for each year borrowers participate in national or community service, up to five years.

He has also expressed support for pandemic relief legislation that would immediately wipe out $10,000 in student loan debt for federal borrowers. In early March 2021, Biden requested that U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona oversee a legal review of his authority to do so.

Types of student loans

Loan type Eligible students Borrowing limit Interest rates Repayment term
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
Undergraduate, graduate
$5,500-$20,500 per year, depending on degree
3.73% for undergraduate, 5.28% for graduate
Standard term is 10 years
Direct Subsidized Loans
Undergraduate
$3,500-$5,500 per year
3.73%
Standard term is 10 years
Direct PLUS Loans
Graduate, parents
Total cost of attendance
6.28%
Standard term is 10 years
Private loans
Undergraduate, graduate, parents
Total cost of attendance
0.99%–12.99%
5–20 years

Perkins Loans, when offered, had an interest rate of 5 percent. The last interest rates available for FFELP Loans ranged from 5.6 percent to 8.5 percent, depending on the type of loan. Perkins Loans and FFELP Loans are no longer offered.

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

Frequently asked questions about student loans

How do I apply for a student loan?

You can apply for a student loan through banks, online lenders, credit unions and the federal government. To apply for a federal student loan, you'll fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens up on Oct. 1 each year. Once you fill it out, you will be notified about your eligibility for federal student loans and other financial aid.

To apply for a private student loan, first compare a few lenders to determine which offers the best rates and terms for your needs. You can prequalify with most lenders, which lets you see your loan offer before submitting a formal application. When you've selected a lender, you can apply online, over the phone or in person, if the lender has physical locations.

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

You can take out new student loans or refinance your existing loans with bad credit. Most federal student loans don't even check your credit, which makes them a great option for borrowers with little to no credit history. If you are applying for private loans, some lenders cater to borrowers with poor credit, although interest rates may be higher and loan amounts smaller.

Before applying for any student loan, check for credit score requirements at each lender and get prequalified if possible.

What are the pros and cons of private student loans?

Private student loans appeal to many borrowers because of their high borrowing limits and low interest rates for good-credit borrowers. They also give you the option of fixed or variable rates, so you can choose the best plan for your budget. However, private student loans have fewer deferment and forbearance options than federal student loans, and borrowers with bad credit could see interest rates in the double digits.

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

Whether or not you need a co-signer for private student loans depends on your financial health. If you have poor credit or little income, a creditworthy co-signer could help you get approved or receive a better interest rate.

When is refinancing student loans a good option?

Refinancing your student loans may be a good option if you'd like to consolidate multiple loans into a single loan or if interest rates have fallen significantly since you first took out your fixed-rate loan. However, refinancing can only be done through private lenders, so you'll lose options like income-driven repayment and COVID-19 relief programs if you refinance your federal loans.

How do I refinance my student loans?

To refinance your student loans, shop around and compare a few lenders to see which one offers the best rate and repayment terms for your situation, getting prequalified where possible. When you're ready to apply, you can typically apply online, over the phone or in person. Once you're approved and have submitted the necessary documentation, the lender will pay off your existing loans, and you'll begin making your new payments.