Key takeaways

  • Sallie Mae is better for borrowers who have excellent credit who can qualify for the lowest rates.
  • Discover is no longer accepting applications for new student loans.
  • When comparing student loan offers with fairly similar rates, it is smart to consider unique features such as discounts or supported programs.

Sallie Mae and Discover are two of the biggest names in student loans, offering private student loans for both undergraduate and graduate students. Sallie Mae provides borrowers with a range of repayment options and extensive online resources to help students navigate financial aid. While Discover was a good option for discounts, it is no longer accepting applications as of January 2024.

Sallie Mae vs. Discover at a glance

Sallie Mae Discover
Interest rates
  • 5.37%-15.70% variable APR with autopay
  • 4.25%-15.49% fixed APR with autopay
  • 6.49%-17.37% variable APR with autopay
  • 5.24%-15.99% fixed APR with autopay
Repayment terms 10 to 20 years 15 to 20 years
Loan amounts $1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance $1,000 to 100% total cost of attendance
  • Quarterly FICO Score
  • Loans for students attending less than half time
  • College-focused financial tools
  • Rewards for good grades
  • Multiyear loan option
  • No loan fees
  • No clear forbearance policy
  • Few eligibility requirements disclosed
  • Several fees
  • No longer accepting applications
  • One repayment term option per loan
  • No co-signer release

Sallie Mae student loans

Better for flexible loan repayment

Bankrate’s view

Sallie Mae is one of the most recognized lenders in the U.S. It offers financing options to graduate and undergraduate students. Sallie Mae also supports students attending summer school or those enrolled in certification courses.

Students seeking flexibility in their repayment schedule and minimal fees may want to consider Sallie Mae. It also boasts a number of online tools that can assist borrowers in navigating their academic journey.


  • Flexible repayment options for graduate students: Sallie Mae’s graduate school loans come with several flexible options for repayment.
  • Fast co-signer release: If you apply with a co-signer, you may be able to remove them from the loan after you make just 12 on-time payments and meet other eligibility requirements.
  • Students attending less than half time are eligible: Sallie Mae extends loans to students attending school less than half time, which is rare for student loan lenders.


  • Unclear forbearance program: Sallie Mae does not disclose information about its forbearance program, including details on how to qualify or how long it lasts.
  • Can’t get personalized rates without a credit check: Unlike many other lenders, Sallie Mae does not provide specific interest rates unless you complete a full application, which will result in a hard inquiry on your credit report.
  • Few eligibility requirements disclosed: Sallie Mae does not disclose credit score or income requirements, making it harder for borrowers to determine whether the lender will work for them.

Discover student loans

Better for discounts

Bankrate’s view

Discover offered undergraduate and graduate student loans for up to 100 percent of borrowers’ academic needs. It did not charge fees for loan origination, application or even late payments. Where it really stood out is its available rewards — borrowers could get cash rewards for good grades.


  • Cash back bonus: One of Discover’s biggest perks was its cash back bonus for students who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher. This one-time bonus was worth 1 percent of the loan amount.
  • Multiyear approval: Students could previously apply for a loan with Discover and be approved for multiple years of funding.
  • No late fees: While most student loan companies don’t charge application or origination fees, Discover went one step further and didn’t charge any late fees.


  • No longer accepting applications: As of January 2024, Discover is no longer accepting student loan applications.
  • Only one repayment term per loan type: Discover only offered a 15-year repayment term for undergraduates and a 20-year term for graduate students.
  • No co-signer release available: If you took out a student loan through Discover with a co-signer, you would not be able to release them from the loan without refinancing.

How to choose between Sallie Mae and Discover

To better understand which student loan lender is right for you, it’s best to compare the actual rates you may receive. Unfortunately, Sallie Mae does not offer prequalification, and Discover is no longer accepting new applications.

You may want to begin your search by comparing student loan rates that perform only a soft credit check — this will give you some benchmark interest rates.

APR range

Sallie Mae offers rate discounts for borrowers who sign off on automatic payments, a 0.25 percent rate reduction. Discover also used to offer this discount.

Minimum credit score

Sallie Mae does not disclose its eligibility requirements, including the minimum credit score, on its site. However, it does allow co-signers, and adding a creditworthy borrower can help you secure acceptance and better rates.

Repayment terms

Discover offered repayment terms between 15 and 20 years for its borrowers. It only had one repayment term per loan. Sallie Mae, on the other hand, may be best for students who want a bit more flexibility with their repayment.

Graduate students, in particular, can benefit from longer grace periods, interest-only payments after graduation and the option to defer loans during residency or internships.

Loan amount

Sallie Mae loans can cover 100 percent of the cost of attendance for qualified borrowers. It also has a minimum of $1,000. This is lower than some competitors in the space but pretty standard across private lenders.


Discover stood out for its lack of fees. The lender did not have late penalties for its borrowers or a cost to originate or apply for a loan.

While Sallie Mae also does not enforce fees for loan application or origination, it does for late payments. Borrowers will be stuck with a fee of 5 percent of the late amount up to $25, along with a returned check fee of up to $20. This is fairly standard for the industry.

The bottom line: Which lender is better?

The right student loan for you comes down to the best available rates, how it fits with your academic needs and availability for your school and region. Between Sallie Mae and Discover, however, Sallie Mae is the only one still offering new student loans.