8 private student loans to help you pay for college

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Private student loans can help you pay for college when you’ve exhausted your federal aid options. Here’s what to know about getting one. (iStock)

Higher education is expensive. The average tuition for full-time undergraduate students has jumped 13% at public colleges since 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While federal student loans can help cover some of these costs, they aren’t always enough. If that’s the case with your college expenses, private student loans may be an option. Here’s what you need to know about private student loans, as well as some of the best lenders to consider. 

With Credible, you can get personalized private student loan rates from multiple lenders in two minutes.

8 of the best private student loans

If you’re looking for a private student loan, start with these eight Credible partner lenders:

  1. Ascent
  2. Citizens Bank
  3. College Ave
  4. Custom Choice
  5. EDvestinU
  6. INvestED
  7. MEFA
  8. Sallie Mae


Ascent offers two loan options: one for students with a cosigner and another for those without one. You can borrow up to your school’s cost of attendance, and you won’t pay any application, origination, or disbursement fees. 

The downside of Ascent is that its Independent loans (no cosigner) are only available for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. If you choose the Ascent Independent Loan, deferred payments are the only repayment option you’ll have.

Ascent’s options for rates and terms are more plentiful, though. You can choose from both fixed and variable rates, and terms range from five to 20 years. You’ll need a 2.9 GPA and a minimum credit score of 540 to qualify. 

  • Loan amount: $2,001 to $200,000
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20 (depending on loan type)
  • Discounts: 0.25% to 1% automatic payment discount; 1% cash back graduation reward
  • Cosigner release: After 24 months

Citizens Bank

Student loan options abound at Citizens Bank, which offers loans for undergraduates, graduates, and even parents of students. Program-specific loans for students studying law, healthcare, and other fields are also available. 

The only real drawback of Citizens Bank is its limited forbearance options, which only go up to 12 months.

Rates come in both fixed and variable forms. Borrowers in all 50 states are eligible, and a soft credit pull is required when applying. 

  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $350,000 (depending on degree)
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 10, 15
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay; 0.25% loyalty
  • Cosigner release: After 36 months

College Ave

Online lender College Ave offers a wide range of loan programs and repayment options. You can borrow up to the full cost of your school’s attendance, and the lender doesn’t charge application, disbursement, or origination fees. 

The big drawback of a College Ave loan affects cosigners. If you have a cosigner on your loan, they can’t be released from the agreement until you’ve reached the halfway point in your repayment term, which could be as long as 7.5 years.

College Ave’s loans come with both fixed and adjustable rates. The lender also offers a number of repayment options, including full deferral, interest-only loan payments, student loan forbearance, and more.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 8, 10, 15, 20
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 24 months

Custom Choice

Custom Choice offers private student loans to both undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at least half-time at an approved institution.

Expect no fees associated with Custom Choice loans, including no late or prepayment fees. And prequalifying takes only a soft credit pull, so it won’t hurt your credit.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $99,999 annually ($180,000 aggregate limit)
  • Loan terms (years): 7, 10, 15
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay; 2% graduation reward
  • Cosigner release: After 36 months


EDvestinU offers fee-free private student loans with a wide array of repayment options.

The biggest downside of EDvestinU is the lender’s eligibility requirements. EDvestinU requires a minimum income of $30,000 and a credit score of at least 750 for individual applicants. But for a cosigned application, cosigners only need a score of 675. The lender offers both fixed- and variable-rate loans, and cosigners may be released after 36 months of loan payments.

  • Loan amount: $1,000 to $200,000
  • Loan terms (years): 7, 10, 15
  • Discounts: 0.50% autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 36 months


For Indiana residents, INvestED is a top choice. The lender offers no-fee student loans of up to 100% of a school’s attendance costs, and you even get 2% of your principal balance wiped clean if you graduate on time.

The obvious drawback here is that only Indiana residents or students at Indiana universities qualify. Cosigners are also locked in for longer than with most other lenders (four years).

Both fixed- and variable-rate loans are available. The minimum credit score to qualify is 670.

  • Loan amount: $1,001 up to 100% of school-certified cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 5, 10, 15
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay; 2% reward for on-time graduation
  • Cosigner release: After 48 months


Despite its name, the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority offers private student loans to students across the country. You can expect no fees to apply, and you won’t pay any origination or disbursement fees either.

MEFA only offers fixed-rate loans, and terms are limited to 10 or 15 years. For graduate students, only 15-year loans are available.

You must have a minimum credit score of 670 to qualify and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. 

  • Loan amount: $1,500 up to the school’s certified cost of attendance (depending on school type and minus other aid received)
  • Loan terms (years): 10, 15
  • Discounts: None
  • Cosigner release: After 48 months

Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is a well-known private student loan company that offers loans to students, parents, and medical and dental residents. You can also find loans for law students studying for their state bar exams. You won’t pay any application or origination fees for a Sallie Mae loan.

The one drawback is that Sallie Mae’s forbearance options are limited to just 12 months, which could pose a problem if you find yourself in serious financial hardship.

You can opt for a fixed- or variable-rate loan, and both 10- and 15-year terms are available. 

  • Loan amount: $1,000 up to cost of attendance
  • Loan terms (years): 10, 15
  • Discounts: 0.25% autopay
  • Cosigner release: After 12 months

If you need to take out private student loans, visit Credible to compare private student loan rates from various lenders in minutes.

Other private student loan lenders to consider

The following lenders aren’t Credible partners, so you won’t be able to easily compare your rates with them on the Credible platform. But they may also be worth considering if you’re looking for a private student loan. 

  • Discover Student Loans
  • Earnest
  • iHelp
  • LendKey
  • MPOWER Financing
  • PNC
  • SoFi
  • Wells Fargo

Lenders like MPOWER Financing, PNC, and SoFi offer loan terms of 5, 10, and 15 years, while Wells Fargo offers 15- and 20-year terms. iHelp offers a 20-year term, while Earnest offers terms ranging from 5 to 20 years. LendKey doesn't disclose its loan terms. 


Credible evaluated private student loan lenders in 10 different categories to determine the best lenders for graduate student loans. This included interest rates, repayment options, terms, fees, discounts, customer service availability, as well as eligibility requirements and cosigner release options. 

How to get the best private student loan for you

Getting a low interest rate is critical to keeping your monthly payments and your long-term interest costs low. Here are some ways to get the best private student loan for your needs:

  • Add a cosigner. Adding a cosigner to your loan makes it less risky for the lender. They may reward you with a lower interest rate as a result.
  • Set up automatic payments. Many private student loan lenders offer discounts for putting your account on autopay. If you do this, just make sure you have enough money in your bank account before each payment comes through.
  • Consider several lenders. Every lender has different overhead costs and appetites for risk, so their rates and terms vary too. Shopping around and comparing several lenders can ensure you get the lowest rate possible.
  • Work on your credit. Increasing your credit score can be a great way to get a lower interest rate. You can do this by paying down debts, paying your bills on time, and disputing any errors on your credit report.

You should also be careful to borrow only what you need. Taking out a student loan that’s too large will only result in more interest costs in the long run.

Federal vs. private student loans

Students have two loan options when paying for college: federal loans and private loans.

Federal loans are offered through the U.S. government and typically come with lower rates and more favorable terms than private ones. They’re not based on your credit score and offer a wide array of repayment options. 

Some federal loans may even be forgivable if you go into a public service career. For these reasons, it’s important to exhaust your federal loan options before moving on to private ones. You can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for these loans, as well as other types of federal financial aid.

Private lenders, banks, and credit unions offer private loans. They have higher rates than federal loans and usually have fewer repayment options. In some cases, you can qualify for rate discounts with a private lender — often for setting up automatic payments. 

A key difference to note with private student loans is that you may need to start repaying them while still in school. Federal loans have a built-in grace period until six months after graduation. You may also need a cosigner to qualify, as eligibility is largely based on credit score and income.

Many people use both federal and private loans to pay for their education, especially as college costs rise. If you do opt for private loans, it’s critical that you shop around for your lender. Every lender offers different terms and rates, so comparing your options is key to getting the best deal possible. 

You can use a rate-shopping marketplace like Credible to learn more about private student loans and get personalized rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score.

What credit score do you need for private student loans?

Credit score minimums vary by lender. Though some lenders allow for lower credit scores (Ascent, for example, allows for scores as low as 600), a low score does result in higher interest rates and a more expensive loan in the long run. 

If you have little credit or a low credit score, you may want to include a cosigner — or someone that’s responsible for making payments on the loan if you default. It’s best to choose a family member, like a parent or grandparent. If they agree, they’ll need to apply for the loan with you and sign the documents. They won’t need to make payments unless you fail to do so.

If you opt for a cosigner, make sure to choose one that has a strong credit history and a high credit score. This will help qualify you for the lowest rates and, in turn, lower monthly payments. 

You have other ways to combat a bad credit score too. You can sign up for a secured credit card and gradually improve your score over time, or you can take steps like paying down debts, disputing errors on your credit report, and setting your bills on autopay (late payments can take quite a toll on your score).

Private student loan FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about private student loans.

How do private student loans work?

Private lenders issue private student loans. You’ll apply with the lender directly, and they’ll run a credit check and ask for various forms of financial documentation. 

If you’re approved, the lender will send your student loan money directly to the school where you’re enrolled. The school will then use the funds to cover your tuition and other costs, and you’ll get a refund for any money left over. 

Depending on the terms of your loan, you may need to start making payments within a few months. In some cases, your lender may offer a grace period until after graduation (or you’re no longer enrolled at least half-time). 

How do you qualify for a private student loan?

Private student loan lenders primarily base your eligibility on credit score, income, and debt-to-income ratio. They want to be sure you have the funds to repay the loan.

The exact requirements vary by lender, but in general you’ll need a credit score of at least 600 to qualify and enough income to cover your expected monthly payment. 

What happens after you apply for a private student loan?

After you apply for a private student loan, the lender will run your credit and evaluate your application and documentation. If it deems you eligible for a loan, it’ll present you with an official quote that details your loan amount, interest rate, and other terms. 

You’ll want to get quotes from at least a few different lenders and compare each one’s fees, rates, and repayment terms. This will help you choose the best loan for your needs.

With Credible, you can compare private student loan rates without affecting your credit.