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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews, Student Loan ReFi

SoFi Parent PLUS Loan Refinance Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Senior Couple Talking To Financial Advisor At Home

Updated August 21, 2017

Are you a parent who wanted to help your child finance his or her education, and ended up taking out more loans than anticipated? Many parents find themselves in a precarious situation as they try to plan for retirement and while balancing student loan debt.

If you’re looking to save on the amount of interest you’re paying, SoFi's Parent PLUS loan refinance program may be right for you.

Details of the Parent PLUS Loan

You can refinance a minimum of $5,000 under SoFi. Fixed rates range from 3.25% to 6.78% APR and variable rates range from 2.58% - 6.82% APR(these rates assume you enroll in autopayment).

Terms of 5, 7, 10, and 15 years are available. Variable rates on terms of 5, 7, and 10 years are capped at 8.95%, while the 15 year term is capped at 9.95%.

An example payment looks like this: if you refinance $10,000 on a 5 year term with a fixed APR of 5.49%, your monthly payment will be $190.97 and you’ll pay a total of $11,457.93 over the life of the loan. If you refinance $10,000 on a 5 year term with a variable APR of 4.2%, your monthly payment will be $185.07 and you’ll pay a total of $11,104.43.

How Does the Parent PLUS Loan From SoFi Compare to a Federal PLUS Loan?

The interest rate for Federal Direct PLUS Loans disbursed on or after July 1st, 2015 and before July 1st, 2016 is 6.84%. During much of the 2000s, interest rates were higher. Currently, interest rates are fixed – variable rates are unavailable.

Most people are looking to refinance to save money, and SoFi offers very competitive rates compared with the Direct PLUS Loan, especially on variable rates.

While there are no fees to refinance, you should calculate your estimated savings before going through the process. Be aware if you do refinance, you’ll lose out on certain benefits that come with having Federal student loans, such as deferment, forbearance, and various repayment options.

PLUS loans made to parents are eligible for the Graduated or Extended Repayment Plans, and Direct PLUS loans are also eligible for forgiveness. In some cases, PLUS loans can be discharged due to the death of the borrower (or student).

Private loans often don’t extend these same benefits. In fact,SoFi explicitly states on its legal page that this loan “is not discharged in the event of death or permanent disability of the borrower or student on whose behalf the loan is taken out.”

Eligibility Requirements

You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and employed to be approved. SoFi is unable to lend in Nevada, and variable rates aren’t offered in Illinois, Ohio, or Tennessee. The loans must have been used to obtain at least a Bachelor’s degree with an eligible school as well.

There are no specific credit score requirements as SoFi tries to take a broader view of borrowers. It focuses on income and credit history instead.

Application Process and Documents Needed

The application process to refinance a PLUS Loan with SoFi is easy and can be done completely online. The application takes around 15 minutes to complete, and you’ll know whether or not you qualify by going through the pre-approval process first. During this portion of the application, a soft credit inquiry is used. If you decide to move forward with the loan offered to you, a hard credit inquiry will be used.

You’ll be asked to upload a few documents, so it’s a good idea to have the following ready to go:

  • Proof of residence – ID with matching address, otherwise a utility bill dated within the last 60 days is okay
  • Proof of income – most recent pay stubs
  • Proof of citizenship – a passport or birth certificate can be provided
  • Verification of loans – most recent loan statements for the loans you’re refinancing

Once you submit this documentation, SoFi review team gets to work on evaluating your loan. If no other documentation is needed, reviews can take anywhere from 2 to 3 weeks to complete.

The Fine Print

There isn’t an origination fee or application fee, and there are no prepayment penalties. Rates are determined on a number of factors, including the term you choose, your income, and your credit history.

There are late fees associated with the loan. The Parent PLUS Refinance program is currently offered through SoFi lending partner, Mohela, and it assesses any fees owed. When you receive the paperwork for the loan, the fees can be found under the disclosures.

Repayment Assistance Options

If you’re struggling to repay the loan after refinancing with SoFi, we recommend you contact a representative and make them aware of the situation. The worst thing you can do with any loan is not make a payment.

SoFi offers unemployment protection on a case-by-case basis, during which payments can be paused for a period of 3 to 12 months.

Pros and Cons of SoFi Parent PLUS Loan

Pro: SoFi offers much better rates than the 6.84% fixed rate that comes with Direct PLUS loans. If you have a higher interest rate – around 8% - you’ll stand to benefit even more.

Con: As we mentioned, refinancing means losing out on benefits associated with Federal student loans. If you’re not as concerned about needing repayment assistance, the savings might be enough to make refinancing worthwhile.

Pro: SoFi also offers variable interest rates, whereas the most recent Direct PLUS loans don’t. Variable rates can be tricky, though – SoFi says rates may change on a monthly basis. If you value stability and peace of mind, variable rates may not be for you. If you’re trying to pay off your balance quicker, and a lower interest rate would help, then it might be worth considering this option.

Con: You may have to extend the repayment term to get a lower monthly payment, as SoFi offers terms up to 15 years. Unfortunately, this increases the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan. It’s important to use a calculator to estimate how much your savings will be to make sure refinancing is worth it. For example, if you have less than 5 years remaining on your loan, refinancing may not save you a lot of money.

Pro: SoFi offers unemployment protection, and you can also take advantage of SoFi career assistance program. If you or your child is experiencing trouble finding employment, it will connect you with its network of alumni and give you tools and tips to succeed in your job search.

*referral link

Other Parent PLUS Refinance Alternative

If you don’t qualify with SoFi, you can try these lenders that also offer refinancing options:

CommonBond: Fixed APRs range from 3.18% to 7.25%, and variable APRs range start at 2.57%, and terms offered are 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. CommonBond also has hybrid APRs. Only a 10 year term is offered with this choice; it starts off as fixed for 5 years, and changes over to variable for 5 years. There are no origination fees or application fees, no prepayment penalty, and CommonBond actually allows you to transfer your loan to your child (which isn’t allowed with Federal loans). You can borrow a maximum of $500,000.

Citizens Bank: Citizens Bank refinances Parent PLUS and Direct PLUS loans through its Education Refinance program. The minimum amount you can refinance is $1,000 and up to $90,000 for Bachelor’s degrees and below, $110,000 for graduate and doctoral degrees, and $180,000 for professional degrees. For a Bachelor's degree and above, you must have made 3 consecutive monthly payments to refinance. For anything less than a Bachelor's degree, you must have made 12 consecutive monthly payments. The loan you're refinancing must be in repayment status and can't be enrolled in an Income-Based Repayment plan. Fixed APRs start at 6.64%. Terms of 5, 10, 15, or 20 years are offered. You need a minimum income of $24,000 to qualify.

Be sure to shop around as there are other lenders out there that will refinance Parent PLUS loans – you want to make sure you’re getting the best rates and terms available to you so you can save the most. Shopping around within 30 days will only count as one credit inquiry, so your credit won’t get penalized heavily. Take advantage of this and lessen the burden of student loan payments so you can focus on saving for your future.

* We’ll receive a referral fee if you click on the “Apply Now” buttons in this post. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations You can learn more about how our site is financed here.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Erin Millard
Erin Millard |

Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at erinm@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Guide to Free Community College in the U.S.

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

free community college
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Free community college in the U.S. is starting to become a reality. Since 2014, four states have signed into law “College Promise” programs aimed at delivering subsidized higher education to their residents. Numerous cities across the U.S. have also taken notice, enacting localized scholarships that cover the costs of two-year college programs.

While the past few years have proven to be monumental for the College Promise cause, this is a movement that has been long in the making:

The history of the free college movement in the United States

Where you can go to community college for free

There are currently 10 statewide free community college programs enacted across the U.S.:

The fight for free community college tuition is growing rapidly at the local level as well. There are notable free community college programs in:

  • San Francisco
  • Chicago
  • Long Beach, Calf.
  • Kalamazoo, Mich.

For this article, we’ll be focusing on New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Tennessee due to the level of funding and reach of the state programs.

What you need to know

The free community college movement

Over the past four years, there has been a significant push to make America’s public colleges tuition-free.

The Campaign for Free College Tuition was established in 2014 as 501(c)(3) nonprofit. They are a bipartisan group that works with elected officials, leaders and policy experts to make public colleges tuition-free.

In addition, former President Barack Obama proposed the College Promise National Advisory board in 2015, which pushed for offering two years of community college tuition-free. This proposal was expanded with the America’s College Promise Act of 2015, which would award federal-state partnership grants to states who waive tuition and fees for students wanting to attend community college.

While every state program is different, they are helping students ease the burden of college debt and gain access to higher education.

Free college in New York

New York made history in April 2017, when the Excelsior Scholarship was signed into law. The program, which was originally proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2017, promises free tuition for in-state students attending two- or four-year colleges within the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) campuses. This is the first college promise program in the U.S. to encompass both four-year universities and community colleges within the state.

Who qualifies

To qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship in New York, applicants must:

  • Reside in New York state for 12 months prior to application submission
  • Be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen
  • Have graduated high school within the U.S., earned a high school equivalency diploma or passed an “Ability to Benefit” test
  • Plan to attend a SUNY or CUNY campus for a two- or four-year degree
  • Complete 30 credits a year (minimum of 12 a semester)
  • Maintain good academic standing
  • Be on track to earn an associate’s degree in two years or bachelor's degree in four years
  • Applicant’s household income must not exceed:
    • $100,000 for the 2017-2018 school year
    • $110,000 for the 2018-2019 school year
    • $125,000 for the 2019-2020 school year

What it covers

The Excelsior Scholarship is a last-dollar program, meaning students must first exhaust federal and state resources, scholarships and grants before the program kicks in. Students are awarded up to $5,500 for tuition and fees, minus any dollars received from Pell Grants, New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) or other scholarship awards.

Students who qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship will have their tuition covered at SUNY and CUNY schools via a credit, which goes directly to the institution and covers any remaining costs. It does not provide financial assistance for books, housing or transportation.

Fine print

  1. Must live and work in New York for as many years as enrolled in the program: If a student fails to do so, the award converts over to a loan.
  2. Students must apply for all applicable financial aid: This includes Pell Grants, TAP and other financial awards before applying to the program.

Free community college in Rhode Island

Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the “Rhode Island Promise” into law in January 2017. It provides recent graduates in Rhode Island a path toward higher education, no matter their family’s income level.

Who qualifies

To qualify for the Rhode Island Promise, potential applicants must:

  • Be Rhode Island resident
  • Be younger than 19 years old when you completed high school or GED program
  • Have recently graduated high school (public, private or home schooled) or recently received a GED
  • Apply to the Community College of Rhode Island
  • Enroll the following semester after high-school graduation as a full-time student
  • Fill out a FAFSA
  • Fill out the Rhode Island Promise Attestation form

What it covers

The Rhode Island Promise covers two years of tuition and fees for applicants. Students who receive the Promise are entitled to tuition and fees for two years at the Community College of Rhode Island to complete an associate’s degree.

Like New York, the Rhode Island Promise is a last-dollar scholarship. Students may also apply for other financial awards such as Pell Grants, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants (SEOG) or individual institution scholarships. The grant covers any remaining balance.

A key distinction of the Rhode Island Promise is that there is no household income limit for applicants. So long as students adhere to the requirements above, they are eligible. Once they complete the program, students are not required to stay in the state, though they are encouraged.

Fine print

While the Rhode Island Promise is a very generous grant, there are a few things to consider.

  1. Students must take a full course load every semester: Students who are considered part-time (less than 12 credits) during the add/drop period will not receive the scholarship, nor will they be eligible for future semesters.
  2. Students must maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.5: If a GPA falls below 2.5, students have the ability to take summer classes; however the Rhode Island promise does not cover summer courses.
  3. Students must complete 30 credits in the first year to renew the scholarship: To be eligible for a second year of the scholarship, students must have 30 credits. AP classes taken in high school can count towards this.

Free community college in Tennessee

Tennessee became the first state to offer free community college to all residents in May 2014, when the Tennessee Promise was signed into law. Championed by Gov. Bill Haslam, the Tennessee Promise has paved the way for many of the other states to create similar free college programs. As of February 2017, over 33,000 students had enrolled in the program.

Who qualifies

To qualify for the Tennessee Promise, applicants must:

  • Be a Tennessee resident
  • U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Apply for the Tennessee Promise scholarship
  • Complete a FAFSA
  • Be under the age of 19, after graduating high school or GED program
  • Have recently graduated from high school (public, private, home school) or recently received their GED
  • Enroll as a full-time student for the fall semester following graduation
  • Attend a mandatory meeting in applicant’s local area
  • Complete eight hours of community service every semester prior to the start of the semester

What it covers

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship that covers tuition and fees for any of the state’s colleges of applied technology (TCATs), community colleges or in-state public four-year colleges that offer a two-year program. It does not cover the cost of books, transportation or room and board. The scholarship is applied after all other forms of financial aid have been exhausted.

While the scholarship has no household income requirements, the program does focus on attracting low income, at-risk students by working with high school guidance counselors across the state. According to the TN Achieves report, the average award for the 2016-2017 year was $1,090 per student.

A unique aspect of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship is the program’s emphasis on mentor guidance. In addition to the money eligible students receive, the state has recruited over 32,000 volunteers since the programs start in 2009. The goal of a mentor, who is given a maximum of 10 students, is to make the road to college as clear as possible for students. Training is provided to mentors, and students must meet with their mentors at two mandatory meetings held in each county before the start of fall semester.

Fine print

There are a few things to keep in mind when applying for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship:

  1. Students must attend for consecutive semesters as a full-time student: A gap in enrollment or a drop down to part-time student results in ineligibility for the program.
  2. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA.
  3. Missing a mandatory meeting results in permanent ineligibility.
  4. Students must complete eight hours of community service every semester.

How to leverage your community college degree

Students who obtain an associate’s degree save over 60% in the cost of tuition and fees when compared with the same costs at a four-year college. The American Association of Community Colleges reported that for the 2016-2017 school year, the average cost of tuition and fees for a four-year public in-state college was $9,650, compared with community colleges that charged $3,520.

One way to minimize the cost of college is to take core classes and electives at a community college before transferring to a four-year school. This strategy allows students to take the same classes a student would be taking at a four-year college, without the price tag of a four-year college. Once completed, students can transfer to a four-year college to complete their bachelor’s degree.

Students already enrolled in a four-year school can still take advantage of these savings by taking approved electives and core classes over the summer at a community college. This strategy can help students graduate on time and save money.

Pros and cons of transferring to a four-year school

The main benefit of attending a community college prior to a four-year school is the cost savings. Depending on a student’s living situation, many can live at home and commute to community college. This eliminates room and board costs, which are an average of $10,800 for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the College Board.

Students transferring from a community college to a four-year school generally have a clear pathway, so long as they are in good academic standing; however it’s important to make sure credits will transfer. This is especially true if a student changes majors upon transferring. For example, a student who took core classes for a history major at community college but switches to a biology major at a four-year college may have to retake certain core classes.

Alternatives to community college

Community college is not the only way to learn new skills and increase your earning potential. While traditional two- and four-year college programs can open up job opportunities, it’s important to note there are other pathways to career success.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer students a way to learn a specific skill or trade without the burden of student debt, while also earning a wage. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs, with an average starting wage above $50,000 per year.” The recent rise in the popularity of registered apprenticeships is thanks to a labor department initiative, ApprenticeshipUSA, which received $10.4 million in accelerator grants at the start of 2017.

While many apprenticeships apply to certain trade skills like electrical or construction work, there are apprenticeships in the health care, business, hospitality, energy industries, as well as others. The labor department lists a variety of resources for finding and learning more about apprenticeships.

Certificate programs

Certificate programs allow students to become experts in certain skills and industries without committing to a full undergraduate or graduate degree. Intensive programs can be a short as 10 to 12 weeks, while others may take up to three years to complete, depending on education level and area of interest.

Certificate programs are becoming widely popular within the IT industry due to the salary boost that comes with them. The Global Knowledge 2017 IT Skills and Salary report found that the difference between salaries of certified vs. noncertified IT employees was 11.7 percent, or $8,400 a year.

Certificate programs can be found at community colleges, graduate schools and online schools across the globe. Popular programs vary for different levels of education. For example, getting certified as a yoga or pilates instructor requires less prior education requirements than someone looking to become a certified financial planner.

Trade school

Designed to teach students skills related to a specific career, trade schools give students hands-on learning that directly applies to specific careers. One of the major benefits of attending a trade school, also known as vocational schools, are the job placement programs that come along with them. Many vocational schools have strong ties to certain industries giving students a clear pathway toward earning their first paycheck.

Popular trade school programs include automotive, plumbing, electrical and HVAC, among others, and can be found in high schools, community colleges and for-profit industry trade schools across the country.
If you’re seriously considering trade school, be sure to do your due diligence on the school. The FTC warns that some for-profit trade schools misrepresent what they can offer students. To avoid losing out on a quality education, prospective students should look for schools that are licensed by state agencies (like the Department of Education), or accredited by a legitimate organization. Other good information to find out would be: “What percentage of graduates found work after graduation?” and “What are the average starting salaries of graduates?”

Whatever higher education path you take, be sure to look into local and state-run scholarships and grant programs. Research all your options, and plan your finances ahead of time.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Jackson Wise
Jackson Wise |

Jackson Wise is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jackson here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

7 Best Options to Refinance Student Loans – Get Your Lowest Rate

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Updated: February 1, 2018

Are you tired of paying a high interest rate on your student loan debt? You may be looking for ways to refinance your student loans at a lower interest rate, but don’t know where to turn. We have created the most complete list of lenders currently willing to refinance student loan debt. We recommend you start here and check rates from the top 7 national lenders offering the best student loan refinance products. All of these lenders (except Discover) also allow you to check your rate without impacting your score (using a soft credit pull), and offer the best rates of 2018:

LenderTransparency ScoreMax TermFixed APRVariable APRMax Loan Amount 
SoFiA+

20


Years

3.25% - 7.25%


Fixed Rate*

2.58% - 7.07%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
earnestA+

20


Years

3.25% - 6.32%


Fixed Rate

2.57% - 5.87%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
commonbond A+

20


Years

3.18% - 7.25%


Fixed Rate

2.57% - 7.07%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
lendkey A+

20


Years

3.15% - 7.82%


Fixed Rate

2.56% - 6.64%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

3.50% - 6.99%


Fixed Rate

2.99% - 6.42%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

3.35% - 8.24%


Fixed Rate

3.11% - 8.46%


Variable Rate

$90k / $350k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

5.24% - 8.24%


Fixed Rate

4.12% - 7.37%


Variable Rate

$150k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured

You should always shop around for the best rate. Don’t worry about the impact on your credit score of applying to multiple lenders: so long as you complete all of your applications within 14 days, it will only count as one inquiry on your credit score.

We have also created:

But before you refinance, read on to see if you are ready to refinance your student loans.

Can I Get Approved?

Loan approval rules vary by lender. However, all of the lenders will want:

  • Proof that you can afford your payments. That means you have a job with income that is sufficient to cover your student loans and all of your other expenses.
  • Proof that you are a responsible borrower, with a demonstrated record of on-time payments. For some lenders, that means that they use the traditional FICO, requiring a good score. For other lenders, they may just have some basic rules, like no missed payments, or a certain number of on-time payments required to prove that you are responsible.
LenderMinimum credit scoreEligible degreesEligible loansAnnual income
requirements
Employment
requirement
 
SoFi

Good or Excellent
score needed

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured
earnest

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured
commonbond

660

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

None

Yes


(or signed job offer)
Learn more Secured

680

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private, Federal,
& Parent PLUS

$24K

Yes

Learn more Secured

Not published

Undergraduate
& Graduate

Private & Federal

None

Yes

Learn more Secured

If you are in financial difficulty and can’t afford your monthly payments, a refinance is not the solution. Instead, you should look at options to avoid a default on student loan debt.

This is particularly important if you have Federal loans.

Don’t refinance Federal loans unless you are very comfortable with your ability to repay. Think hard about the chances you won’t be able to make payments for a few months. Once you refinance, you may lose flexible Federal payment options that can help you if you genuinely can’t afford the payments you have today. Check the Federal loan repayment estimator to make sure you see all the Federal options you have right now.

If you can afford your monthly payment, but you have been a sloppy payer, then you will likely need to demonstrate responsibility before applying for a refinance.

But, if you can afford your current monthly payment and have been responsible with those payments, then a refinance could be possible and help you pay the debt off sooner.

Is It Worth It?

Like any form of debt, your goal with a student loan should be to pay as low an interest rate as possible. Other than a mortgage, you will likely never have a debt as large as your student loan.

If you are able to reduce the interest rate by refinancing, then you should consider the transaction. However, make sure you include the following in any decision:

Is there an origination fee?

Many lenders have no fee, which is great news. If there is an origination fee, you need to make sure that it is worth paying. If you plan on paying off your loan very quickly, then you may not want to pay a fee. But, if you are going to be paying your loan for a long time, a fee may be worth paying.

Is the interest rate fixed or variable?

Variable interest rates will almost always be lower than fixed interest rates. But there is a reason: you end up taking all of the interest rate risk. We are currently at all-time low interest rates. So, we know that interest rates will go up, we just don’t know when.

This is a judgment call. Just remember, when rates go up, so do your payments. And, in a higher rate environment, you will not be able to refinance to a better option (because all rates will be going up).

We typically recommend fixing the rate as much as possible, unless you know that you can pay off your debt during a short time period. If you think it will take you 20 years to pay off your loan, you don’t want to bet on the next 20 years of interest rates. But, if you think you will pay it off in five years, you may want to take the bet. Some providers with variable rates will cap them, which can help temper some of the risk.

Diving Deeper: The Best Places to Consider a Refinance

If you go to other sites they may claim to compare several student loan offers in one step. Just beware that they might only show you deals that pay them a referral fee, so you could miss out on lenders ready to give you better terms. Below is what we believe is the most comprehensive list of current student loan refinancing lenders.

You should take the time to shop around. FICO says there is little to no impact on your credit score for rate shopping as many providers as you’d like in a single shopping period (which can be between 14-30 days, depending upon the version of FICO). So set aside a day and apply to as many as you feel comfortable with to get a sense of who is ready to give you the best terms.

Here are more details on the 7 lenders offering the lowest interest rates:

1. SoFi

LEARN MORE Secured

on SoFi’s secure website

Read Full Review

SoFi : Variable rates from 2.58% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)*

SoFi was one of the first lenders to start offering student loan refinancing products. More MagnifyMoney readers have chosen SoFi than any other lender. The only requirement is that you graduated from a Title IV school. In order to qualify, you need to have a degree, a good job and good income.

Pros Pros

  • Borrowers can refinance private, federal and Parent PLUS loans together: Through SoFi, borrowers have the ability to combine all of their student loans (private, federal and Parent PLUS) when refinancing. Along with the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans, parents can also transfer the PLUS loans into their child’s name.
  • Access to career coaches: SoFi offers their borrowers access to their Career Advisory Group who work one-on-one with borrowers to help plan their career paths and futures.
  • Unemployment protection: SoFi offers some help if you lose your job. During the period of unemployment they will pause your payments (for up to 12 months) and work with you to find a new job. However, just remember that any unemployment protection offered by SoFi would be weaker than the income-driven repayment options of federal loans.

Cons Cons

  • No cosigner release: While they offer you the opportunity to refinance with a cosigner, it is important to know that SoFi does not offer borrowers the opportunity to release a cosigner later on down the road.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: This con is not unique to SoFi (and you will find it with all other private lenders). Federal loans come with certain protections, including robust income-driven payment protection options. You will forfeit those protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

SoFi is really the original student loan refinance company, and is now certainly the largest. SoFi has consistently offered low interest rates and has received good reviews for service. In addition, SoFi invests heavily in building a “community” – which means you can start to get other benefits once you are a SoFi member.

SoFi has taken a radical new approach when it comes to the online finance industry, not only with student loans but in the personal loan, wealth management and mortgage markets as well. With their career development programs and networking events, SoFi shows that they have a lot to offer, not only in the lending space but in other aspects of their customers lives as well.

2. Earnest

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on Earnest’s secure website

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Earnest : Variable Rates from 2.57% and Fixed Rates from 3.25% (with AutoPay)

Earnest focuses on lending to borrowers who show promise of being financially responsible borrowers. Because of this, they offer merit-based loans versus credit-based ones. 

Pros Pros

  • Flexible repayment options: Earnest offers some of the most flexible options when it comes to repayment. They allow you to choose any term length between 5-20 years. You can choose your own monthly payment, based upon what you can afford (to the penny). Earnest also offers bi-weekly payments and “skip a payment” if you run into difficulty.
  • Ability to switch between variable and fixed rates: With Earnest, you can switch between fixed and variable rates throughout the life of your loan. You can do that one time every six months until the loan is paid off. That means you can take advantage of the low variable interest rates now, and then lock in a higher fixed rate later.
  • Loans serviced in-house: Earnest is one of just a few lenders that provides in-house loan servicing versus using a third-party servicer.

Cons Cons

  • Cannot apply with a cosigner: Unlike many of the other lenders, Earnest does not allow borrowers to apply for student loan refinancing with a cosigner.
  • No option to transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are a parent that is looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, it is important to note that this cannot be done through refinancing with Earnest.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

Earnest, who was recently acquired by Navient, is making a name for themselves within the student refinancing space. With their flexible repayment options and low rates, they are definitely an option worth exploring.

3. CommonBond

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CommonBond : Variable Rates from 2.57% and Fixed Rates from 3.18% (with AutoPay)

CommonBond started out lending exclusively to graduate students. They initially targeted doctors with more than $100,000 of debt. Over time, CommonBond has expanded and now offers student loan refinancing options to graduates of almost any university (graduate and undergraduate).

Pros Pros

  • Hybrid loan option: CommonBond offers a unique “Hybrid” rate option in which rates are fixed for five years and then become variable for five years. This option can be a good choice for borrowers who intend to make extra payments and plan on paying off their student loans within the first five years. If you can a better interest rate on the Hybrid loan than the Fixed-rate option, you may end up paying less over the life of the loan.
  • Social promise: CommonBond will fund the education of someone in need in an emerging market for every loan that closes. So not only will you save money, but someone in need will get access to an education.
  • “CommonBridge” unemployment protection program: CommonBond is here to help if you lose your job. Similar to SoFi, they will pause your payments and assist you in finding a new job.

Cons Cons

  • Does not offer refinancing in the following states: Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota and Vermont.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: When refinancing with any private lender, you will give up certain protections if you refinance a federal loan to a private loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

CommonBond not only offers low rates but is also making a social impact along the way. Consider checking out everything that CommonBond has to offer in term of student loan refinancing.

4. LendKey

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LendKey : Variable Rates from 2.56% and Fixed Rates from 3.15% (with AutoPay)

LendKey works with community banks and credit unions across the country. Although you apply with LendKey, your loan will be with a community bank. Over the past year, LendKey has become increasingly competitive on pricing, and frequently has a better rate than some of the more famous marketplace lenders.

Pros Pros

  • Opportunity to work with local banks and credit unions: LendKey is a platform of community banks and credit unions, which are known for providing a more personalized customer experience and competitive interest rates.
  • Offers interest-only payment repayment: Many of the lenders on LendKey offer the option to make interest-only payments for the first four years of repayment.

Cons Cons

  • Rates can vary depending on where you live: The rate that is advertised on LendKey is the lowest possible rate among all of its lenders, and some of these lenders are only available to residents of specific areas. So even if you have an excellent credit report, there is still a possibility that you will not receive the lowest rate, depending on geographic location.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Unlike several of the other student loan refinancing companies, borrowers do not have the ability to refinance Parent PLUS loans with LendKey.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: As when refinancing federal loans with any private lender, you will give up your federal protections if you refinance your federal loan to a private one.

Bottom line

Bottom line

LendKey is a good option to keep in mind if you are looking for an alternative to big bank lending. If you prefer working with a credit union or community bank, LendKey may be the route to uncovering your best offer.

5. Laurel Road

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Laurel Road : Variable Rates from 2.99% and Fixed Rates from 3.50% (with AutoPay)

Laurel Road is a division of Darien Rowayton Bank that offers a highly competitive product when it comes to student loan refinancing.

Pros Pros

  • Forgiveness in the case of death or disability: They may forgive the total student loan amount owed if the borrower dies before paying off their debt. In the case that the borrower suffers a permanent disability that results in a significant reduction to their income, Laurel Road may forgive some, if not all of the amount owed.
  • Offers good perks for Residents and Fellows: Laurel Road allows medical and dental students to pay only $100 per month throughout their residency or fellowship and up to six months after training. It is important for borrowers to keep in mind that the interest that accrues during this time will be added on to the total loan balance.

Cons Cons

  • Higher late fees: While many lenders charge late fees, Laurel Road’s late fee can be slightly steeper than most at 5% or $28 (whichever is less) for a payment that is over 15 days late.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: While not specific to Laurel Road, it is important to keep in mind that you will give up certain protections when refinancing a federal loan with any private lender.

Bottom line

Bottom line

As a lender, Laurel Road prides itself on offering personalized service while leveraging technology to make the student loan refinancing process a quick and simple one. Consider checking out their low-rate student loan refinancing product, which is offered in all 50 states.

6. Citizens Bank

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Citizens Bank : Variable Rates from 3.11% and Fixed Rates from 3.35% (with AutoPay)

Citizens Bank offers student loan refinancing for both private and federal loans through its Education Refinance Loan.

Pros Pros

No degree is required to refinance: If you are a borrower who did not graduate, with Citizens Bank, you are still eligible to refinance the loans that you accumulated over the period you did attend. In order to do so, borrowers much no longer be enrolled in school.

Loyalty discount: Citizens Bank offers a 0.25% discount if you already have an account with Citizens.

Cons Cons

Cannot transfer Parent PLUS loans to Child: If you are looking to refinance your Parent PLUS loan into your child’s name, this cannot be done through Citizens Bank.

You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Any time that you refinance a federal loan to a private loan, you will give up the protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans that come with the federal loan.

Bottom line

Bottom line

The Education Refinance Loan offered by Citizens Bank is a good one to consider, especially if you are looking to stick with a traditional banking option. Consider looking into the competitive rates that Citizens Bank has to offer.

7. Discover

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Discover Student Loans : Variable Rates from 4.12% and Fixed Rates from 5.24% (with AutoPay)

Discover, with an array of competitive financial products, offers student loan refinancing for both private and federal loans through their private consolidation loan product.

Pros Pros

  • In-house loan servicing: When refinancing with Discover, they service their loans in-house versus using a third-party servicer.
  • Offer a variety of deferment options: Discover offers four different deferment options for borrowers. If you decide to go back to school, you may be eligible for in-school deferment as long as you are enrolled for at least half-time. In addition to in-school deferment, Discover offers deferment to borrowers on active military duty (up to 3 years), in eligible public service careers (up to 3 years) and those in a health professions residency program (up to 5 years).

Cons Cons

  • Performs a hard credit pull: While most lenders do a soft credit check, Discover does perform a hard pull on your credit.
  • No Parent PLUS refinancing available: Discover does not offer borrowers the option of refinancing their Parent PLUS loans.
  • You lose certain protections if you refinance a federal loan: Be careful when deciding to refinance your federal student loans because when doing so, you will lose access federal protections, forgiveness programs and repayment plans.

Bottom line

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a well-established bank to refinance your student loans, Discover may be the way to go. Just keep in mind that if you apply for a student loan refinance with Discover, they will do a hard pull on your credit.

 

Additional Student Loan Refinance Companies

In addition to the Top 7, there are many more lenders offering to refinance student loans. Below is a listing of all providers we have found so far. This list includes credit unions that may have limited membership. We will continue to update this list as we find more lenders:

Traditional Banks

  • First Republic Eagle Gold. The interest rates are great, but this option is not for everyone. Fixed rates range from 1.95% – 2.95% APR. You need to visit a branch and open a checking account (which has a $3,500 minimum balance to avoid fees). Branches are located in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Newport Beach, San Diego, Portland (Oregon), Boston, Palm Beach (Florida), Greenwich or New York City. Loans must be $60,000 – $300,000. First Republic wants to recruit their future high net worth clients with this product.
  • Wells Fargo: As a traditional lender, Wells Fargo will look at credit score and debt burden. They offer both fixed and variable loans, with variable rates starting at 4.49% and fixed rates starting at 6.24%. You would likely get much lower interest rates from some of the new Silicon Valley lenders or the credit unions.

Credit Unions

  • Alliant Credit Union: Anyone can join this credit union. Interest rates start as low as 4.50% APR. You can borrow up to $100,000 for up to 25 years.
  • Eastman Credit Union: Credit union membership is restricted (see eligibility here). Fixed rates start at 6.50% and go up to 8% APR.
  • Navy Federal Credit Union: This credit union offers limited membership. For men and women who serve (or have served), the credit union can offer excellent rates and specialized underwriting. Variable interest rates start at 3.55% and fixed rates start at 4.00%.
  • Thrivent: Partnered with Thrivent Federal Credit Union, Thrivent Student Loan Resources offers variable rates starting at 3.25% APR and fixed rates starting at 3.74% APR. It is important to note that in order to qualify for refinancing through Thrivent, you must be a member of the Thrivent Federal Credit Union. If not already a member, borrowers can apply for membership during the student refinance application process.
  • UW Credit Union: This credit union has limited membership (you can find out who can join here, but you had better be in Wisconsin). You can borrow from $5,000 to $150,000 and rates start as low as 3.04% (variable) and 3.99% APR (fixed).

Online Lending Institutions

  • Education Loan Finance:This is a student loan refinancing option that is offered through SouthEast Bank. They have competitive rates with variable rates ranging from 2.69% - 6.01% APR and fixed rates ranging from 3.09% - 3.09% APR. Education Loan Finance also offers a "Fast Track Bonus", so if you accept your offer within 30 days of your application date, you can earn $100 bonus cash.
  • EdVest: This company is the non-profit student loan program of the state of New Hampshire which has become available more broadly. Rates are very competitive, ranging from 4.29% – 7.89% (fixed) and 3.52% – 7.12% APR (variable).
  • IHelp : This service will find a community bank. Unfortunately, these community banks don’t have the best interest rates. Fixed rates range from 4.75% to 9.00% APR (for loans up to 15 years). If you want to get a loan from a community bank or credit union, we recommend trying LendKey instead.
  • Purefy: Purefy lenders offer variable rates ranging from 3.11%-6.93% APR and fixed interest rates ranging from 3.35% – 8.24% APR. You can borrow up to $150,000 for up to 15 years. Just answer a few questions on their site, and you can get an indication of the rate.
  • RISLA: Just like New Hampshire, the state of Rhode Island wants to help you save. You can get fixed rates starting as low as 3.49%. And you do not need to have lived or studied in Rhode Island to benefit.

You can also compare all of these loan options in one chart with our comparison tool. It lists the rates, loan amounts, and kinds of loans each lender is willing to refinance. You can also email us with any questions at info@magnifymoney.com.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
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Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at nick@magnifymoney.com

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards

Best Student Credit Cards February 2018

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Getting a credit card while you’re in college might seem dangerous or confusing. But if you are able to use a student credit card responsibly, you do not need to be afraid, and you can set yourself up for financial success after you leave school.

Fortunately, learning how to choose and use the right student credit card is relatively simple. Make sure you avoid annual fees and go with a bank or credit union you can trust. When you get the card, make sure you use it responsibly and pay the balance in full and on time every month. If you do these things consistently over time, you can leave school with an excellent credit score. And if you want to rent an apartment or buy a car, having a good credit score is very important.

Our Top Pick

Discover it<sup>®</sup> for Students

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Rates & Fees

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Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
Regular Purchase APR
14.24%-23.24%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair

Best for Commuter Students

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students

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Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
1% cash back on every purchase, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, and 3% on gas for the first $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/gas purchases each quarter
Regular Purchase APR
14.24%-24.24%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average OK

Best Flat-Rate Card

Journey<sup>®</sup> Student Rewards from Capital One<sup>®</sup>

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Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Annual fee
$0
Cashback Rate
Earn 1% cash back on all your purchases. Pay on time to boost your cash back to a total of 1.25% for that month.
Regular Purchase APR
24.99%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Average

Best Intro Bonus

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
up to 3%
Regular Purchase APR
12.40%-22.40%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit

Best Credit Union Card

Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

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Altra Federal Credit Union Student Visa

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Rewards
1 point per dollar spent
Regular Purchase APR
14.90%

Fixed

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit

Best for Studying Abroad

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card for Students

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Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card for Students

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Rewards
1.5 points per dollar spent
Regular Purchase APR
16.24%-24.24%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair Credit, Limited Credit history

Best Secured Card

Discover it<sup>®</sup> Secured Card - No Annual Fee

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Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
24.24%

Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Best for No Credit History

Deserve Edu Mastercard

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Deserve Edu Mastercard

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
1% on all purchases
Regular Purchase APR
19.99%

Variable

Credit required
zero-credit
New to Credit

Also ConsiderAlso Consider

Golden 1 Platinum Rewards for Students

Golden 1 Credit Union Platinum Rewards for Students:

This credit card offers a snazzy rewards program: rather than accumulate points, you’ll get a cash rebate instead. All you have to do is make a purchase. At the end of the month, you’ll get a rebate of 3% of gas, grocery, and restaurant purchases, and 1% of all other purchases deposited back into your Golden 1 savings account at the end of the month. You can join Golden 1 by joining the Financial Fitness Association for $8 per year and keeping at least $5 in a savings account.

What should I look for in a student credit card?

The most important thing to consider when looking for a student credit card is that it charges no annual fee. You should never have to pay to build your credit score. Fortunately, most student cards don’t charge you an annual fee, but it’s still something to watch out for.

The second most important thing you should keep an eye out for are tools that help you learn about credit or even promote good credit-building habits. For example, some student credit cards will give you a free monthly FICO score update. You can use this freebie to see in real time how your credit score changes as you build credit history by keeping the card open, or paying down your credit card balance, for example.

The last thing you should be considering when picking out a student credit card is the rewards program. I know, I know, it seems counterintuitive. But stick with me — I’ll show you why in the next question.

Why shouldn’t I be concerned about maximizing my rewards while in college?

Rewards cards are nice to have. But if you’re a college student, here’s the truth: you probably won’t spend enough to earn meaningful rewards.

Why? With a good rewards program, you can earn points or cash back. A small percentage of your monthly spending can add up quickly. However, given the tight budget that most college students live on, it will probably take a while to earn meaningful rewards. For example, if you earn 1.25% cash back and spend $300 a month on your card, you would earn $45 of cash back during the year.

College students are very good at making good use of $45. And our favorite card offers a great cash back rewards program. Just don’t expect to earn a lot of cash back, given the tight budget of a college student.

Why should I get a credit card as a college student?

There are a lot of great reasons why you should get a credit card, as long as you can commit to using it responsibly.

The single biggest reason why you should get a credit card as a college student is because you can start establishing a credit history now. When you graduate from college, you will need a good credit score to get an apartment. And your future employer will likely check your credit report. Building a good credit history while still in college will help prepare you for life after graduation.

Getting a credit card while in college can also train you to develop good credit habits now. But you need to be honest with yourself. If you find that you can’t avoid the temptation of maxing out your credit card, you might want to switch to a debit card or cash.

Finally, getting a credit card now can be the motivation you need to start learning about credit. These skills aren’t hard to learn, and they could save you thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars later in life (when you want a mortgage, for example).

What is the CARD Act and why should I care about it?

Many years ago, credit card companies would market on college campuses. You could get a free beer mug or t-shirt in exchange for a credit card application. And you would be able to qualify for a credit card without having any income. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act was signed into law in May 2009 to change a number of practices.

How did the CARD Act change student credit cards?

The CARD Act made a lot of changes in how credit card issuers do business with students. One of the biggest changes was requiring students to be able to demonstrate an ability to pay. If you are under 21 and do not have sufficient income (a campus job, for example), you would need to get a co-signer.

In addition, colleges must now limit the amount of credit card marketing on campus. The days of free t-shirts and pizzas in exchange for credit card applications are gone. But that doesn’t mean it is impossible for a college student to get a credit card. Some highly reputable banks and credit unions still offer student cards. And building a good credit score while still in college is still highly recommended.

How can I protect myself from racking up debt?

When used properly, credit cards are a very convenient method of repayment. However, when not used properly, you can end up deep in credit card debt. It is important to establish a healthy relationship to credit now, with your first credit card.

You should try to ensure that you pay off your credit card bill in full and on time every month. Ideally, you should set up an automatic monthly payment. And to keep yourself on track, take advantage of alerts offered by most credit card companies. You can even get daily text messages reminding you of your balance.

How can I automate my credit card usage?

If all of this sounds confusing, don’t worry. There’s actually a way you can automate your payments so you never even have to bother with the hassle of using a credit card. All it takes is a few minutes of upfront work.

First, you’ll need at least one recurring monthly bill of the same amount, such as Netflix or Spotify. Log in to your account and set up an automatic payment each month using your credit card. Make a note of how much your monthly bill costs.

Next, log in to your bank account. Set up a second automatic payment to go to your credit card each month for the same amount as the bill. If your bank doesn’t offer the option to set up automatic payments, you may also be able to set up your credit card to automatically withdraw the amount of the bill from your bank.

Because you know this bill will be for the same amount each month (barring any price increases), you can literally just leave this running in the background each month on autopilot. You don’t even have to carry your credit card in your wallet if you don’t want to. Then, when you graduate, you’ll automatically have an improved credit score!

What happens to my student credit card when I graduate?

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the finish line. But what about your student credit card? You will have a few options once you graduate.

First, you can simply keep it. You will want to keep the credit card open, because it helps you build a long credit history. However, you might want to call your credit card company and ask if you can migrate to a standard (non-student) credit card.

But if you have been using your credit card properly, you will have an excellent credit score when you graduate – and you will be able to get any credit card that you want.

Here is a summary of our favorite cards:

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
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Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Student Loan ReFi

5 Best Private Student Loans for 2018

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

private student loans
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Taking out private student loans to pay for college is one of the most expensive ways to borrow for school, yet many college students make the mistake of turning to private loans first before pursuing other financing options.

Nearly half (47%) of undergraduates who took out private student loans during the 2011-12 school year didn’t use the maximum available in federal loans, according to a 2016 report by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

The danger with private loans is in how costly they can be — interest rates on private student loans were as high as 14.24% in September 2017 vs. 4.45% for federal student loans — and how few flexible repayment options they carry for borrowers who struggle to pay them back.

It’s generally best to find ways to fund your education for free with grants and scholarships, turn to your savings and then exhaust your federal student aid. Federal student loans tend to offer lower interest rates and more lenient repayment plans than private student loans, which is why federal aid is often a good first choice.

However, federal loans can only go so far, especially if you are pursuing a postgraduate degree that requires many more years of schooling. Once you’ve tapped out all your access to federal aid and you still need money to cover educational costs, a private student loan could help you fill the gap.

While federal student loans offer a fairly uniform application process and loan terms, private student loan terms can vary widely from one lender to another. If you’re thinking about paying for school with a private student loan, it’s important to compare lenders’ offerings and find the one that’s best for you.

How we ranked the best private student loans

There’s a lot to compare when you’re considering taking out a student loan from a private lender. Your annual percentage rate (APR), fees and loan term could impact how much you pay in interest over the lifetime of the loan. But other features, such as a straightforward application process and the option to apply for cosigner release, can also be important to borrowers.

We started the search for the best private student loan companies by identifying the 10 largest national private student loan lenders. Each lender’s undergraduate student loan got graded on seven important factors:

Private lenders offering loans with varying interest rates depending on the applicant’s creditworthiness. However, they do advertise an interest-rate range that you can use to compare one lender with another. Each lender was assigned grades based on its lowest and highest APRs compared with the average lowest and highest APRs for all 10 lenders. Each lender received four scores, as they all offer variable-rate and fixed-rate loans, and the lenders with below-average APRs received top marks.

Lenders may charge a fee to submit an application or an origination fee that’s based on your loan balance. Only one of the top 10 lenders charges an origination fee, and it didn’t make the top five list.

All the lenders offer an online application, but the clarity and ease of use can vary. The lenders with a simple and easy-to-understand process got the best grades.

Many private student lenders, including all 10 of the lenders we compared, offer a 0.25% interest rate discount if you enroll in autopay from your bank account. A few lenders earned extra points for offering a 0.50% interest rate discount with autopay, or an additional interest rate discount if you have an eligible account with the lender when you take out a student loan.

Most of the private student loans we compared offered several repayment terms with a maximum of 15 years. Lenders that cap their loan’s term below 15 years didn’t score as well. A long repayment term could increase the total amount of interest you pay, but it will also lower your monthly payments and there’s no penalty for prepaying student loans if you find you can afford more.

Most students have a creditworthy cosigner, who can help you qualify for a loan or lower your interest rate. Some private student loan lenders let you apply to release your cosigner after you make consecutive, on-time full principal and interest payments, and pass a credit check. Twelve payments set the bar for a top score as that’s the shortest option available among the lenders we compared.

You may be able to choose from different repayment plans, such as making interest-only payments while you’re in school or fully deferring payments until your post-school grace period ends. Lenders that offer full interest and principal deferment got top marks.

A few lenders earned extra credit because they offer something extra, such as a principal rate reduction or cash back when you graduate.

After assigning the lenders a score for each factor, we compared their average scores and ranked them from highest to lowest. Here are the resulting top five student loan lenders:

Our top picks for private student loan companies

 

SunTrust Custom Choice Loan

Wells Fargo Collegiate Loan

Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan

LendKey Private Student Loan

Citizens Bank Student Loan

Ranking

No. 1

No. 2

No. 3

No. 4

No. 5

Borrowing limit

$150,000

$120,000

School-certified cost of attendance

Varies by lender

$120,000

Variable APR*

3.37-10.43%

4.11-10.09%

3.62-10.54%

4.19-8.91%

3.46-11.46%

Fixed APR*

4.75-11.50%

5.94-11.29%

5.74-11.85%

5.36-9.28%

5.25-11.90%

Application fees

None

None

None

None

None

Online application

Good

Good

Good

Very good

Good

Interest rate discounts

0.25% with autopay, or 0.50% if you autopay from a SunTrust Bank account.

0.25% with autopay. Additional 0.25% to 0.50% interest rate deduction if you have an eligible Wells Fargo account when you get your student loan.

0.25% with autopay

0.25% with autopay, you may have to pay from an account with the lender to qualify.

0.25% with autopay. Additional 0.25% interest rate deduction if you have an eligible Citizens Bank account when you get your student loan.

Repayment terms

5, 7, or 15 years

15 years

5 - 15 years

10 years

5, 10 or 15 years

Cosign release option

Yes, you can apply after 36 to 48 consecutive full payments

Yes, you can apply after 24 consecutive full payments. Or, after 48 consecutive full payments if your first payment is late.

Yes, you can apply after 12 consecutive full payments

Yes, you can apply after 12 to 36 consecutive full payments

Yes, you can apply after 36 consecutive full payments

Max deferment

Full deferment

Full deferment

Full deferment

$25 monthly payments

Full deferment

Bonus

Request a 1% principal (the loan amount that was disbursed) reduction after you graduate.

None.

None.

None.

None.

Learn more

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*Rates are current as of Jan. 24, 2018, and may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

#1 SunTrust Custom Choice Loan

SunTrust Bank took the top spot in our comparison of the top private student loan lenders with its Custom Choice Loan. The bank also offers Union Federal Private Student Loans through a partnership with Cognition Lending.

Why we like SunTrust

There are several savings opportunities that help SunTrust’s Custom Choice Loan that help it stand out from the competition. First, as of Jan. 18, 2018, SunTrust had the lowest possible fixed interest rate of the 10 lenders we compared.

Additionally, you can get a 0.50% interest rate discount if you sign up for autopay from a SunTrust Bank account, or a 0.25% interest rate discount with autopay from a different account. And SunTrust Bank will reduce your loan balance by 1% of the disbursed loan amount when you apply for the reduction and show proof of graduation with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Borrowers can also choose from four different repayment plans: start making full payments immediately, make interest-only payments, pay $25 a month or fully defer payments.

Where SunTrust may fall short

The one big drawback to the SunTrust’s Custom Choice Loan is that you’ll have to make 36 or 48 consecutive full payments before you can apply to release a cosigner.

#2 Wells Fargo Collegiate Student Loan

You’ll likely recognize Wells Fargo, as it’s one of the largest banks in the U.S., but you may not have realized that it offers student loans. In fact, the company actually has several different student loan programs, with offerings for community college students, undergraduates or graduates and professional school students.

Why we like Wells Fargo

Like many other lenders, Wells Fargo offers a 0.25% interest rate discount if you enroll in autopay. In addition, you can get a permanent 0.25% to 0.50% interest rate reduction if you or your cosigner have an eligible Wells Fargo student loan, consumer checking account or Portfolio by Wells Fargo relationship.

Where Wells Fargo may fall short

You have to choose a 15-year term for your student loan, and if you stick to making your required payment amount you could wind up paying more in interest than if you took out a shorter loan elsewhere.

Also, be sure that you make your first full payment on time. If it’s late, you’ll need to make 48 consecutive full payments (rather than 24) before you can apply to release a cosigner.

#3 Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan

Sallie Mae offers a wide range of student loans to undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and their parents. That may not come as a surprise though, Sallie Mae is one of the most widely known private student loan companies.

Why we like Sallie Mae

The undergraduate Smart Option Student Loan has a few standout benefits, such as the option to release a cosigner after making 12 consecutive monthly payments. You can also choose from three repayment plans: full deferment, $25 monthly payments or interest-only payments. And if you’re having trouble making payments after graduation, you can request to make 12 interest-only payments.

Borrowers also get non-loan related perks, such as quarterly access to one of their FICO credit scores. You can also choose to get 120 minutes of free tutoring from Chegg Tutors or free access to Chegg Study for four months (or a combination of the two).

Where Sallie Mae may fall short

Overall, Sallie Mae offers borrowers a variety of choices and benefits. However, it doesn’t offer as many potential discounts as some of the other top lenders. Still, if you find you qualify for a lower pre-discount rate with Sallie Mae than another lender, Sallie Mae could indeed be a smart option.

#4 LendKey Private Student Loan

LendKey stands apart from the other lenders on the top five list because it technically doesn’t loan you money. Instead, LendKey has created a centralized, uniform (and easy-to-use) application that you fill out to get student loan offers from regional banks and credit unions.

Why we like LendKey

Being able to fill out a single application and compare multiple loan options can help you find a low rate, plus the application is quick and easy to fill out. Additionally, some of LendKey’s lenders may let you release a cosigner after making 12 consecutive full payments, which ties for the fewest number of required payments among the top lenders.

LendKey particularly stands because the high-end APR rate for variable- and fixed-rate loans from its lending network are 2% to 3% lower than other competitors. That may not seem like a big difference, but it could lower your monthly payments and lead to saving hundreds to thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan.

Where LendKey may fall short

Regional banks and credit unions may not offer student loans nationally, so the interest rate ranges that LendKey advertises may not be available to every borrower. The fine print and eligibility requirements could also vary from one lender to another.

For example, some lenders may require you use autopay from an account with the lender to qualify for a 0.25% interest rate discounts (others may let you qualify with autopay from any account). And how many consecutive payments you need to make before you can apply for a cosigner release, if you can apply at all, could also vary.

All LendKey lenders only offer a 10-year loan term. Other lenders offer a shorter term, which sometimes corresponds with lower interest rates, or you want to lower your monthly payment by choosing a longer term from a different lender.

Also, LendKey student loans don’t offer full deferment and you’ll have to make $25 monthly payments once your loan is disbursed. This could lower your total cost of borrowing compared with full deferment, but if you don’t have any income while you’re at school, it could be difficult to afford the monthly payment.

#5 Citizens Bank Student Loan

Citizens Bank is a large traditional bank with over 1,000 branches in the Midwest and along the East Coast. It offers student loans to undergraduate and graduate students, their parents and student loan refinancing.

Why we like Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank’s lowest possible variable-rate APR is the lowest of our top five lenders, but even if you don’t qualify for the lowest rate it’s worth considering. And if you or your cosigner have a qualifying bank account or loan from Citizens Bank, as that could make you eligible for a permanent 0.25% interest rate reduction on your student loan.

You may also qualify for multi-year approval if you have more than a year left before you graduate. Often, you may need to apply for a student loan at the start of each term. But with multi-year approval, you could choose (there’s no obligation) to borrow additional money for another term without having to fill out a new application.

Where Citizens Bank may fall short

The primary drawback is the 36-payment requirement to apply to release a cosigner. This aside, Citizens Bank offers competitive rates, a variety of loan terms and interest rate discounts that are in line or could be better than many of the other private student loan companies.

Determine if a private student loan is right for you

After comparing your options, you may be able to identify the private student loan lender that offers you the best overall loan. However, you may want to take a step back and consider all your options before committing.

Federal student loans. Often, federal student loans should be a borrower’s first choice if he or she has to borrow money. In part, this is because federal student loans offer loan forgiveness programs, repayment plans and guaranteed options to defer payments or put your loans in forbearance that aren’t available from private student lenders.

Also, if you haven’t built credit of your own and don’t have a creditworthy cosigner, federal student loans could be your only option. Most don’t have a credit requirement, and the federal loans for graduate or professional students and parents that have a credit check don’t vary their interest rate based on your credit. By contrast, even with a creditworthy cosigner, you may wind up with higher interest rate if you take out a private student loan.

However, there may be times when a private student loan makes sense or be a necessity. For example, undergraduate federal student loans have annual ($5,500-$7,500) and aggregate (up to $31,000) borrowing limits that may not be enough to cover your educational expenses.

Even if your unsure about whether you’re going to take out federal or private student loans, you may want to fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year. In addition to being a requirement for federal student loans and work-study aid, you may need to submit the FAFSA to qualify for some grants and scholarships.

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Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at louis@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

The 2018 Guide to Student Loan Forgiveness

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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The numbers don’t even seem to make sense. In late 2017, Americans collectively carried $1.36 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Even worse, 11.2% of that debt is currently delinquent or in default. If you’re paying off student loans, you know full well what the reality behind these statistics feels like. Paying off student loans is more than just a drag. It can put you in long-term financial jeopardy if things don’t turn out like you’d hoped post-graduation.

But, there is a beacon of hope in the darkness. It might be possible for you to have your student loan balance partially or even completely forgiven. These programs aren’t necessarily easy to find or qualify for, and they don’t come without strings attached. But if you can complete a student loan forgiveness program, you just might be able to move on with your life and leave the student loans behind like a bad habit.

Whether you have private or federal student loan debt, there are various programs in place to help struggling borrowers ease their debt burden.

Part I: Student loan forgiveness options

When your student loan debt is forgiven, cancelled or discharged, you are off the hook for that amount. Some loan forgiveness programs actually do wipe away your debt like a fairy debt godmother with a magic wand. Other programs, such as Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) or Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs) will make additional payments toward your student loan for you, thereby reducing your balance over time.

There is no one-size-fits-all rulebook that dictates how student loan forgiveness programs work.
You may need to follow strict reporting protocols throughout the program until you become eligible for some programs, and other programs may require you to be in a certain profession or live in a certain state.

Because each program varies so much, you need to do extensive research so you know exactly what the requirements are. Some programs may have a big impact on your life, and you need to be prepared for the consequences and opportunity costs. We’ll discuss in this guide which student loan forgiveness plans are available and the main details of each program.

At a glance: Student loan forgiveness programs

Forgiveness Type

Who is eligible?

Amount that can be forgiven

Which loans are eligible?

‘Time served’ Requirement

Tax implications?

Public Service Loan Forgiveness*

People who make a commitment to a public service career.

No cap

Federal Direct loans and Federal Direct Consolidation loans. Only payments made after October 1, 2007 count toward the 120 payments needed for forgiveness.

Make 120 payments (i.e. 10 years) while working full time for any level of government or in a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Forgiven amount is not taxable

Teacher Loan Forgiveness

Full-time teachers working in low-income schools.

Up to $17,500 on your Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and your Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans

Federal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation and Federal Stafford loans.

Must work full time for five years.

Forgiven amount is not taxable

Perkins Loan Cancellation

Teachers and some other professionals, AmeriCorps VISTA or Peace Corps volunteers.

100% of the loan balance

Federal Perkins loans.

Must work full time for four to seven years if applying based on your occupation.

Cancelled amount is not taxable.

Forgiveness for Income-Driven Plans

Graduates who are enrolled in one of the four income-driven plans: PAYE, REPAYE, IBR, and ICR.

No cap.

Federal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation loans, and Federal Direct PLUS loans made to students.

Remaining loan balance is forgiven after 20-25 years.

Forgiven amount is taxable.

Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Nurses who work in certain high-need areas.

Up to 85% of your student loan balance.

Federal Direct loans, Federal Direct Consolidation loans, Federal Stafford loans, and Federal Direct PLUS loans made to students.

Must work full time for three years in a Critical Shortage Facility to receive forgiveness on up to 85% of your loans.

Forgiven amount is taxable. However, the NURSE Corps will pay your federal taxes for you.

Loan Forgiveness for Doctors

Doctors who make a commitment to serving in a high-need area or in the military.

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Loan Forgiveness for Lawyers

Lawyers who have made a commitment to certain positions (e.g., public defenders, DOJ employees, etc.).

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Varies by program.

Military student loan forgiveness

Members of the military who have taken out student loan debt before enlisting.

Up to 100% for Army service, up to $65,000 for Navy service, or up to $65,000 for Air Force JAG service..

Federal student loans.

Varies depending on which branch you enlist in.

Forgiven amount is taxable.

Loan Forgiveness for Volunteers

AmeriCorps volunteers

Up to $11,840

Federal loans and loans issued by state agencies.

Complete at least one term of service (this ranges from 10 months to one year).

Forgiven amount is taxable.

Federal student loan repayment programs

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

This is one of the most popular programs. Before you get too excited though, there are a lot of hoops to jump through to apply for PSLF. Additionally, the future doesn’t look too bright for this program: The GOP is actively trying to eliminate this program. In 2017, Republicans introduced the PROSPER Act that would eliminate PSLF. Regardless of whether or not it’s passed, it is highly likely that it will be phased out at some point. Even so, current students eligible for PSLF may be grandfathered into the program, at the exclusion of new student borrowers.

Only loans issued under the Federal Direct Loan Program qualify.

You have to be up to date with your Federal Direct student loan payments and make at least 120 consecutive on-time payments.

Must have been paying on loans while working full time for the government or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or another qualified employer. If you take a hiatus with a private-sector employer and switch back, the payments you’ve already made while previously employed still count. You also need to be enrolled in some sort of repayment plan. Luckily, income-driven repayment plans such as “Pay As You Earn” count.

If you meet all those criteria and submit an annual employment certification form, you could be eligible to have your remaining student loan balance forgiven after 120 payments (i.e., 10 years). To get that, you’ll have to fill out yet another PSLF forgiveness application form.

This means that if you’re on the default 10-year repayment plan and are able to keep up with it, you won’t really be able to take advantage of this program because you’ll already have paid off your loans after 10 years anyway.

Federal income-driven repayment plans

Income-driven repayment programs offer more than just student loan forgiveness. They’ll make your student loans more affordable in the short term as well by capping your monthly payments at 10-20% of your discretionary income, divided by 12.

The details of how the monthly income-driven payments work vary. Here, we’ll give a brief overview of how these programs work before focusing specifically on how you can get your student loan balance forgiven with each of the four plans.
Warning: With each of these federal income-driven repayment plans, any forgiven balance is considered taxable income in the year it’s forgiven. You’ll need to plan ahead accordingly.

Pay As You Earn (PAYE)

The PAYE and REPAYE programs both limit your monthly payment amount to 10% of your discretionary income and require you to certify your income and family size every year. The nitty-gritty details of who is eligible and how the PAYE and REPAYE programs work from there vary.
Here’s how you can get your student loans forgiven if you’re enrolled in these programs:

If you’re in the PAYE program, your Federal Direct or Consolidation loans will be forgiven after 20 years. If you’re in the REPAYE program, it works a bit differently: Your student loans will be forgiven after 20 years, but only if all of your loans are from undergraduate study. If you went to grad school and took out any student loans, your remaining balance would instead be forgiven after 25 years.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

If you’re enrolled in the IBR plan, your monthly payment amount will be limited to 15% of your discretionary income. You’ll also have to recertify your income and family size each year.

If you do those things and still have a remaining balance at the end of 25 years, regardless of what type of federal student loans you have (with the exception of Federal PLUS loans made to parents), you will be forgiven.

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan

If you’re enrolled in ICR, you’ll have the highest monthly payments of all: either 20% of your discretionary income or whatever the payment would be on a 12-year repayment plan (whichever is less). You’ll also need to recertify your income and family size with this plan as well.

ICR also has one of the longest repayment periods. If you have anything left on your student loan balance after 25 years, it’ll be forgiven.

Federal Perkins loan cancellation

Perkins loans work a bit differently the most other federal loans. Rather than being doled out through the William D. Ford Direct Loan program as with most federal student loans, each loan is made directly to you from the school itself. That means that when it comes time to apply for forgiveness, you’ll need to contact the school itself for an application.

How you qualify for Federal Perkins loan cancellation and how much you’re eligible to have cancelled depends on your profession and time served in your position.

Teachers, nurses, medical technicians, firefighters, tribal college faculty, law enforcement officers and attorneys working in public positions may be eligible to have up to 100% of their remaining Perkins loans waived after five years of service.

Certain early childhood education professionals may be eligible for Perkins loan cancellation after seven years. If you were in the military and served in a dangerous location, you may be eligible to have your remaining Perkins loan balance waived after five to 10 years, depending on when your service ended.

Finally, if you are an AmeriCorps VISTA or Peace Corps volunteer, you might be able to have 70% of the remaining balance on your Perkins loans cancelled after four years.

At a glance: Student loan cancellation or discharge programs

Forgiveness Type

Who is eligible?

Which loans are eligible?

Tax implications

Closed school discharge

People whose school closed while enrolled, or within 120 days of withdrawing from class.

Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans and Federal Perkins loans.

Forgiven amount is not taxable.

Total and permanent disability discharge

People who become “totally and permanently disabled.”

Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans and Federal Perkins loans.

Forgiven amount is taxable.

Discharge due to death

People who die, and students whose deceased parents have taken out Federal Parent PLUS loans.

Federal Direct loans, FFEL loans, Federal Perkins loans and Federal PLUS loan (including those taken out by parents).

Forgiven amount is not taxable, unless a parent with a Federal Parent PLUS loan is claiming discharge for a deceased child.

False Certification of Student Eligibility or Unauthorized Payment Discharge

People whose school falsely certified their eligibility for loans (this also includes victims of identity theft).

Federal Direct loans or FFEL loans.

Forgiven amount may or may not be taxable.

Unpaid Refund Discharge

Students who withdrew from school and whose schools did not issue a refund back to the lender.

Federal Direct loans or FFEL loans.

Forgiven amount may or may not be taxable.

Borrower Defense Discharge

Students whose schools “misled them or engaged in other misconduct.”

All Federal student loans.

Forgiven amount may or may not be taxable.

Part II: Loan forgiveness programs by profession

Teacher loan forgiveness

Teachers have a lot of options for student loan forgiveness. Aside from the Perkins loan cancellation discussed above, you may be eligible for teacher loan forgiveness for your Federal Direct and Federal Stafford loans.

Unfortunately, this loan program won’t cancel the full remainder of your balance. If you spend five years teaching full time in a low-income school, you’ll only have $5,000 of your remaining loan balance forgiven for most teachers.

If you’re a math, science, or special education teacher, the deal is sweetened even more: You’ll have up to $17,500 of your student loan balance forgiven.

Teacher loan forgiveness might not fully cancel out your loans, but you may have another option: public service loan forgiveness.

As a teacher, you’re also eligible for this program. Sadly, you can’t use the same period of service to qualify for both programs simultaneously. That means you’ll need to teach for five years in a low-income school to qualify for the teacher loan forgiveness program, and then restart the clock for another 10 years to qualify for PSLF (it doesn’t have to be at a low-income school, however).

You may also be eligible for other student loan forgiveness or assistance programs depending on where you live. To find out more, check out the American Federation of Teachers online loan forgiveness database.

Loan forgiveness for nurses

One of the most well-established student loan forgiveness programs for nurses is the NURSE Corps loan repayment program. If you agree to work in a facility with a critical nurse shortage, you can have up to 85% of your student loan balance paid off for you after three years.

Even better, the program will pay your federal taxes automatically for you so you don’t have to worry about the dreaded student loan forgiveness tax bombs (although you may be on the hook for state taxes). To earn these student loan payments, you first need to apply and be accepted into the program.

There are also many state loan repayment programs for nurses. To see if your state has one, simply do a Google search for “your state + nurse student loan forgiveness.”

Check out the full guide to nurse loan forgiveness programs here.

Loan forgiveness for doctors

There are numerous state-specific student loan repayment plans for doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges maintains an excellent database of state-run programs.

Here are some others to consider:

IHS: If you agree to work in an IHS (Indian Health Service) facility for at least two years, this agency will agree to pay $40,000 toward your student loans. You can also agree to extend your employment beyond the two-year mark to earn even more student loan repayments, with no maximum cap. In other words, you could have your entire student loan balance paid off with this program if you stick around long enough. Another nice benefit of this program is that the IHS will pay 20% of the income taxes that result from their payments (you’re still on the hook for the other 80%, and any other income tax, however).

Military doctors: There are several military-specific programs for doctors and dentists in particular. The Navy’s Health Professions Loan Repayment Program will pay up to $40,000 per year (minus about 25% for taxes) toward your student loans if you agree to enlist in a certain skill shortage area. The Army offers a smattering of student loan repayment programs offering up to $250,000 for a wide range of doctor specialties and higher-level medical personnel.

National Health Service Corps: Doctors and dentists who haven’t yet completed their final year of school may be eligible for the National Health Service Corps Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. In exchange for agreeing to provide health care in an NHSC-approved facility in need for at least three years, the NHSC will pay off up to $120,000 of your federal and private student loans. Even better, the S2S award is not considered taxable income.

Repayment assistance for other healthcare professionals

Doctors, nurses and other licensed professionals, such as social workers, counselors and midwives may be eligible for up to $50,000 in student loan forgiveness under the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program.

To qualify, you need to submit an application to be accepted into the program and agree to work at least two years in an NHSC-approved medically underserved location. This program is also tax-free.

The NHSC also grants money to certain states to run their own health care student loan repayment program. To see if your state participates and how the program works, visit their website.

If you are involved in medical or veterinary research, you may also qualify for up to $35,000 per year in student loan forgiveness through the National Institute of Health (NIH) Loan Repayment Program. There are currently eight different repayment programs available (the details of which vary), and you will have to enroll in an LRP in advance.

Loan forgiveness for lawyers

Student loan forgiveness programs for lawyers are also equally piecemeal. One of the most popular programs is run by the Department of Justice for its employees.

If you’re able to commit to a three-year term and have at least $10,000 in federal student loan debt, you can apply to this program. Applications are only accepted once per year by a certain due date. Once accepted into the program, the DOJ will match your student loan payments of up $6,000 per year toward your student loans, for a maximum of $60,000. This is also considered taxable income, although the DOJ will withhold a part of the money to pay your extra income taxes for you.

If you’re a public defender or a state prosecutor, you may also be eligible for the John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program. If you agree to remain in your position for at least three years, this program will help you pay back $10,000 in federal student loans per year, up to a maximum of $60,000. This program is run through state agencies. To learn more, you can find your state’s agency here.

There are also numerous student loan assistance programs for lawyers run by state agencies. To find these programs, simply Google “your state + lawyer student loan assistance program.” Your school may also offer a loan repayment program; to find out, check out the Equal Justice Works directory.

Military student loan forgiveness

In addition to the student loan forgiveness programs available to military members and veterans under other umbrellas (such as the Perkins loan cancellation or PSLF), many branches of the military offer loan repayment programs (LRPs) as enlistment incentives.

Army: The Army offers LRPs for regular Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard soldiers. The details of these programs vary depending on your current job status, but in general, these programs all require a few common things to earn payment toward your federal loans. First, you need to get your LRP guaranteed in writing in your enlistment contract (very important!), decline G.I. Bill benefits, be a high school graduate with a minimum 50 score on your ASVAB test and agree to enlist in a critical MOS (military occupational specialty) for a certain period of time. If you meet these qualifications, you could have up to 100% of your federal student loan balance forgiven.

Navy: If you’re more seaward-oriented, the Navy offers a single LRP for incoming sailors. If eligible for this program, the Navy will pay up to $65,000 toward your student loans and your income tax liability (a nice perk!). This program is currently only offered to sailors with certain eligibility ratings as they are going through the enrollment process.

Air Force: The Air Force also offers an LRP, but it’s much less comprehensive than the Army and the Navy’s LRP and only applies to those with a legal bent. You can apply for up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance by joining the Air Force’s JAG Corps. You become eligible for this award after serving for at least one year as a JAG officer.

Student loan forgiveness for volunteers

AmeriCorps volunteers are eligible for the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award after they’ve completed at least one term of service. The amount of the award is pegged to the value of the Federal Pell Grant each year (currently $5,920 in 2017), and volunteers can’t earn more than two full-time awards (even if they serve more than two full-time terms).

The forgiven amount is also considered taxable income, so plan accordingly.

Part III: Learn more

It can be tough to sort out the requirements for a student loan forgiveness program, assuming that you qualify for one. You may even have to commit to making a life-changing decision by accepting a job in a location you otherwise wouldn’t have chosen, or by taking a lower salary while in public service, for example.

Which student loan forgiveness program is right for you?

Making a decision based on these factors isn’t easy. You will have to do a lot of research and reading of the fine print to understand whether a particular student loan forgiveness program will work for you or not. Look for a fee-only Certified Financial Planner who specifically specializes in student loan forgiveness. Believe it or not, CFPs do not receive student loan training as part of the requirements to pass the CFP exam, so you should really interview several planners beforehand to test their knowledge.

Then there’s the uncertainty of whether these programs will even be around in the future, given the current political environment. Mark Kantrowitz, a nationally-recognized student loan expert, believes it’s very likely that the popular Public Service Loan Forgiveness program will eventually be phased out, for example.

If you’re currently deciding whether or not to take a job based on being eligible for a federal student loan forgiveness program, take heart.

“In general, when there is a change in federal law, existing borrowers tend to be grandfathered in,” said Kantrowitz. There are no promises, of course, but you may be a bit safer if you start a student loan forgiveness program now rather than waiting.

Pitfalls of student loan forgiveness

One of the biggest disadvantages of student loan forgiveness programs is that in many cases, the forgiven amount is considered taxable income. This means you could owe taxes on the forgiven amount just as if you’d been cut a check.

For example, if you have $25,000 worth of student loan debt forgiven and you’re in the 22% tax bracket (earning between $38,700 and $82,500 for a single person in 2018), that means you’ll get a whopping tax bill at the end of the year for $5,500.

“You're substituting a tax debt for education debt,” said Kantrowitz, even if the tax debt is lower.
If you absolutely cannot pay the tax bill, however, Kantrowitz says all hope is not lost. “The IRS, in many cases, is actually quite reasonable. They realize that you can't squeeze blood from a stone.”

You may be able to negotiate a lower lump-sum payment, or may even have the debt discharged if you’re financially insolvent (which the IRS defines as having a net worth of $0 or less).

Becoming financially insolvent as a way to escape your tax bill is never a good idea, so you need to plan ahead for the outrageous tax bill. Again, this is another good time to consult with a fee-only Certified Financial Planner.

Alternatives to student loan forgiveness

If you don’t qualify for one of these student loan forgiveness programs, there may be two last cards you can play.

1. Your employer

“About four percent of employers now offer student loan repayment assistance, or LRAP programs, for their employees,” said Kantrowitz. PricewaterhouseCoopers and Fidelity have established programs, for example.

Finding a private-sector employer who offers an LRAP may be your best bet if you don’t qualify for forgiveness under another program.

2. Make your own de facto student loan forgiveness program

How? Simply make extra payments toward your student loans on your own.

This is especially important to consider when evaluating job offers. Let’s say one company pays less but offers an LRAP. The other company pays way more, but maybe doesn’t offer an LRAP. Tally up the value of the program: You very might well be able to get out of debt faster with the higher-earning job by making extra payments yourself, rather than relying on a potential employer’s LRAP.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment programs can help unshackle you from a mountain of debt. But, you don’t have to wait for the ability or permission from someone else to start paying your loans off early yourself.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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College Students and Recent Grads

Loan Forgiveness for Nurses: Who’s Eligible and How to Apply

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

student loan forgiveness for nurses
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While nurses may carry a large burden in terms of patient care, they typically receive good pay, solid workplace perks and plenty of job security in return. Afterall, job openings for registered nurses are expected to increase 15% from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — at a time when the average growth for all jobs is projected to be just 7%. Further, registered nurses reported median wages of $68,450 nationwide in 2016, with the top 10% of nurses earning $102,990.

On the downside, the costs of earning a nursing degree can be overwhelming.

An October 2017 report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing even noted that 69% of nursing graduate students surveyed took out federal loans to finance their education, and the median amount of debt brought on by graduate school was anticipated to be $40,000 to $54,999 for these students.

If you’re considering a nursing degree or a graduate nursing degree, it’s easy to see why these numbers would be disconcerting. The good news is there are a wide range of forgiveness programs available for nurses on both the state and federal levels.

If you’re struggling with expensive nursing school loans or fear you will be, it may help to become familiar with these programs and how to qualify.

Federal student loan forgiveness for nurses

National Health Service Corps Repayment Program

The National Health Service Corps Repayment Program offers up to $50,000 in student loan repayment in exchange for a two-year commitment at a NHSC-approved work site. Accepted sites may be in primary care medical, dental or mental and behavioral health clinics in high-need areas of the country.

According to the program website, priority consideration is given to eligible applicants whose approved work site has an HPSA (Health Professional Shortage Area) score of 26 to 14, in descending order. In other words, student loan forgiveness goes to those who work in the highest-need facilities first. You can look for eligible job sites in your area on this page.

Are you eligible?

If you’re a licensed health care provider who is willing to work or even relocate to an area with a shortage of qualified health care providers for at least two years, you are eligible to apply for this program.

The application process

While the 2017 application cycle is closed, the next application cycle will open in early 2018. To apply, you’ll need to submit a complete application that includes documentation of your loans and proof of qualified employment. You can find a full application checklist on the NHSC website.

Is this program right for you?

This program could be ideal for you if you’re flexible in terms of where you work for the next two years and you have up to $50,000 in student loans to repay.

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program

This federal program aims to help registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses and nurse faculty by paying off up to 85% of their student loan debt in exchange for a 2- to 3-year commitment in a critical shortage position or facility. This program is available to nurses in the three mentioned professions who graduated from an accredited nursing school and work full time in either an eligible critical shortage facility or an accredited school of nursing.

Are you eligible?

To be eligible for this program, you must work as a registered nurse, advanced practice nurse or as nurse faculty and be a U.S. citizen. You need a bachelor’s degree or associate degree in nursing from an accredited school, and you must work full time (at least 32 hours per week) in an approved critical shortage facility (CSF) or accredited school. You must also have outstanding loans related to your nursing degree.

The application process
The 2018 application cycle hasn’t opened yet, although you can sign up to be notified when it does. NURSE Corps suggests reading the Application and Program Guidance document ahead of time so you fully understand the commitment. This document also offers a list of critical shortage facilities and facility types that would qualify for this program.

Is this program right for you?

This program is ideal for nurses who are willing to commit to working in a critical shortage position for at least two years.

Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation for Nurses

If you have Federal Perkins loans and work full time in the nursing profession, you may be able to have up to 100 percent of your student loans wiped away with the Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation program.

Nurses need to be registered and employed full-time to qualify. They also need to be willing to make a five-year commitment to the program. However, since the Perkins Loan program expired on September 30th, 2017, you must have borrowed money for nursing education before that date to qualify.

Are you eligible?

Nurses with Federal Perkins loans who are willing to make a five-year commitment to the program may have up to 100% of their loans forgiven. Unfortunately, you must have borrowed before September 30, 2017 to qualify.

The application process

According to the U.S. Department of Education, you must apply for Federal Perkins loan forgiveness with the school who made your loan or with the school’s Perkins Loan servicer. Your school or servicer will provide forms and instructions on how to move forward with the process, they note.

Is this program right for you?

This program is ideal for nurses who graduated with Perkins Loans before September 30, 2017. Unfortunately, it won’t be of any help to future generations of nurses – at least for the time being.

Programs for nurses by state

While the federal government supports several national programs that can help nurses shed their expensive student loan debt, some states offer their own programs as well. These programs vary in length and commitment, but most require at least a few years of work in a critical shortage area of nursing in exchange for forgiveness.

The following chart highlights the current programs available, what they offer and who is eligible:

State


Program name


Description of program


Alabama


Advanced Practice Nursing Loan Repayment Program


Alabama residents enrolled full time in accredited nursing education programs and pursuing graduate degrees to become certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNPs), certified nurse midwives (CNMs), or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) are eligible to receive $12,000 in loan repayment. Graduates must be an Alabama resident for at least one year before they apply.

Alaska


Alaska’s SHARP Program


Through Alaska’s SHARP (Support-for-Service to Healthcare Practitioners) Program, nurses can receive up to $27,000 per year in loan assistance in exchange for a work commitment in an eligible critical shortage area.

Arizona


Arizona Loan Repayment Program


The Arizona Loan Repayment Program offers loan assistance for health care professionals working in areas of critical shortage. Available to nurse practitioners who work half-time or full time for at least two years, this program offers up to $50,000 in repayment assistance for each year of service in a qualified position.

California


Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program


Registered nurses in California who hold a bachelor’s degree may qualify for this program if they have outstanding student loan debt and agree to serve in a medical shortage area, a prison, or a veteran’s facility. Up to $10,000 is awarded for one year of service.

Colorado


Colorado Health Service Corps Program


Colorado nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists may receive up to $25,000 for part-time work and $50,000 for full-time work in exchange for a three-year commitment in a Colorado Health Professional Shortage Area.

Connecticut


Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program


Connecticut registered nurses and nursing students may be eligible to have up to 60% of their student loans forgiven in exchange for a two-year, full-time commitment at an eligible Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Facility. A third year of commitment may result in an additional 25 percent of loan forgiveness.

Delaware


Delaware State Loan Repayment Program


Delaware nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists who work full time in a designated critical shortage area may receive between $30,000 and $100,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment.

Florida


Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness Program


Florida licensed practical nurses, registered nurses and advanced practice registered nurses who work full time in a designated critical shortage site may receive up to $4,000 per year in loan forgiveness for up to four years.

Georgia


Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Loan Repayment Program


This program, which is available to advanced practice registered nurses in the state of Georgia, offers up to $10,000 per year in loan cancellation in exchange for full-time work in a rural Georgia county.

Hawaii


The Hawaii State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives licensed to work in Hawaii are eligible for loan forgiveness after committing to at least two years of full-time work in a healthcare shortage area in the state. Award amounts vary based on grants available.

Idaho


Idaho State Loan Repayment Program


Healthcare practitioners in the state of Idaho can qualify for $2,500 - $25,000 per year in loan forgiveness for working in a critical shortage area designated by the state.

Illinois


Nurse Educator Loan Repayment Program


Licensed nurse educators in the state of Illinois may be awarded up to $5,000 in loan forgiveness for up to four years provided they work as a nurse educator and meet the licensing requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Iowa


Iowa Registered Nurse and Nurse Educator Loan Forgiveness Program


Registered nurses and nurse educators who owe a balance on their student loans and have loans in good standing may earn up to $6,858 per year in loan forgiveness for no more than five consecutive years.

Kansas


Kansas State Loan Repayment Program


Certified nurse practitioners may qualify for up to $20,000 per year in assistance for two years and $5,000 - $15,000 per year in assistance for the next three consecutive years. Full-time work in a designated healthcare shortage facility is required for each year of forgiveness.

Kentucky


Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program


Kentucky nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and registered nurses can receive $20,000 - $40,000 in loan repayment assistance depending on their designation. A two-year commitment in a critical shortage area in the state of Kentucky is required.

Louisiana


Louisiana State Loan Repayment Program


Certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can qualify for up to $15,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for up to three years. A full-time commitment in a designated healthcare shortage area is required.

Maryland


Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program


Nurses who provide public service in Maryland or local government or nonprofit agencies in Maryland can receive between $1,500 and $10,000 per year in loan assistance depending on their total debt. A full-time commitment in an underserved facility in the state is required.

Michigan


Michigan State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners who work full time in a not-for-profit facility with a critical shortage of qualified caregivers may receive up to $200,000 in loan repayment assistance with a commitment of up to eight years.

Minnesota


Minnesota Nurse Loan Forgiveness Program


Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses can receive $5,000 per year in loan repayment assistance with a two-year minimum service obligation in a qualified facility.

Montana


Montana NHSC Student Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners, primary care registered nurses, certified nurse midwives, and a variety of other healthcare professionals can receive up to $15,000 per year in loan repayment for up to two years in exchange for full-time work in an NHSC-approved site.

Nebraska


Nebraska Loan Repayment Program for Rural Health Professionals


Nurse practitioners who agree to work in a critical shortage facility for three years can receive up to $30,000 per year in loan assistance to repay commercial or government student loans.

New Hampshire


New Hampshire State Loan Repayment Program


Primary care nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, and psychiatric nurse specialists can receive $45,000 in loan repayment assistance in exchange for a three-year commitment in a critical shortage facility. Candidates who want to extend the program up to another two years may also receive another $20,000 in assistance.

New Jersey


Primary Care Practitioner Loan Repayment Program of New Jersey


Certified nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can receive up to $120,000 in loan repayment assistance over a four-year period of service in an underserved facility with a critical shortage of healthcare providers.

New Mexico


Health Professional Loan Repayment Program


In exchange for a two-year commitment in a designated medical shortage area in New Mexico, advanced practice nurses can qualify for up to $25,000 per year in assistance.

New York


New York State Nursing Faculty Loan Forgiveness (NFLF) Incentive Program


Registered nurses or advanced practice nurses with graduate degrees who teach nursing in the state of New York can receive up to $8,000 per year in loan forgiveness for up to five years through this program.

Ohio


Nurse Education Assistance Loan Program (NEALP)


This program was created to incentivize Ohio students in accredited nursing programs to continue their studies. Awards of up to $1,500 per year are offered and students need to be enrolled in programs with at least half-time study to qualify.

Oregon


Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment


Registered nurses and primary care nurse practitioners can qualify for loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year commitment in a health care shortage area. Awards vary based on the shortage level of the facility of employment and funds available.

Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania Primary Health Care Loan Repayment Program


Certified registered nurse practitioners can receive up to $60,000 in loan repayment assistance for a two-year commitment in a facility with high need.

Rhode Island


Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program


Rhode Island nurse practitioners and registered nurses can receive loan repayment assistance in exchange for a two-year or four-year commitment in a high-need or critical shortage area. Loan amounts vary.

Tennessee


Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program


Nurses who are enrolled in a nursing graduate program may be eligible for loan forgiveness. Nursing students must work full time as a nurse educator for at least four years to qualify.

Texas


Rural Communities Healthcare Investment Program


Texas healthcare professionals other than physicians can receive up to $10,000 in loan repayment assistance after working one year in a designated shortage area in the state.

Vermont


Educational Loan Repayment for Health Care Professionals


Licensed practical nurses and registered nurses in Vermont can receive an annual award of up to $10,000 for working at least 20 hours per week in an underserved area as defined by the program.

Virginia


Virginia State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and registered nurses working in designated shortage facilities in Virginia can receive up to $140,000 (not to exceed their total loan balances) for a minimum four-year commitment.

Washington


Health Professional Loan Repayment Program


Nurses who agree to a three-year commitment in an eligible healthcare shortage site can receive up to $75,000 in loan repayment assistance. A minimum 24-hour work week is required for this program.

West Virginia


West Virginia State Loan Repayment Program


Nurse practitioners and nurse midwives who agree to a two-year commitment in a facility with a healthcare shortage can receive $40,000 in loan repayment. An additional $25,000 per year in assistance is available for an additional two years of work.

Wisconsin


Health Professions Loan Assistance Program


Nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives can receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance through this program. Eligible providers must work at least three years in a qualified high need facility to qualify.

Alternatives to student loan forgiveness for nurses

If federal or state nurse loan forgiveness isn’t suitable for your situation for any reason, there are several alternative ways to get your student loans reduced or forgiven. Here are some of the main options to consider:

Hospital tuition reimbursement

Some hospitals offer tuition reimbursement to working nurses and nursing students who work in their hospital or hospital system. While some of these programs offer tuition assistance as an ongoing perk for existing employees, others offer loan repayment as an incentive to earn an advanced nursing degree.

The UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., for example, offers tuition assistance for permanent working nurses who dedicate at least 20 hours per week to working at one of their facilities. With this program, hospital employees can attend nursing school or nursing graduate school and receive $316.99 per undergraduate credit hour or $589.62 per graduate credit hour. Limits per class are set at $1,870.24 for undergraduate courses and $3,478.76 for graduate-level courses, at a maximum of 20 credit hours per fiscal year.

Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., is another institution that offers tuition reimbursement for nurses. This program promises up to 90% tuition reimbursement for nurses who pursue a master’s degree, post-master’s degree certificate or doctorate of nursing practice degree. Nurses must work for the Duke University Hospital system full time (at least 30 hours per week) with a positive record to qualify.

If you’re interested in pursuing tuition assistance, check hospitals in your area to see which ones, if any, offer this type of program.

Student loan refinancing

Another way to reduce the ongoing costs of excessive student debt is to refinance your student loans with a private lender who may offer a lower interest rate or better loan terms. This strategy won’t make your loans go away altogether, but it may help you save on short-term and long-term interest costs or lower your monthly payment.

While this strategy can be advantageous, keep in mind that it doesn’t always make sense to refinance your student loans. If another lender won’t grant you a lower interest rate or lower your payment, for example, it may be hard to justify the hassle or expense of refinancing.

Not only that, but refinancing federal loans with a private lender can result in losing access to important federal benefits like deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans.
Before you refinance your student loans, make sure to use a student loan refinancing calculator to see how much you might save. Only then can you decide if it would be worth it.

Income-driven repayment options

Income-driven repayment plans allow nurses with federal loans to pay only a percentage of their income toward their loans for 20-25 years. These programs can be especially advantageous for nurses with large debt loads and low incomes since your monthly payment is determined based on how much you earn and a percentage of your discretionary income. Not only that, but each of these plans leads to forgiveness of your remaining student loans once you make payments for the duration of the program.

Several different income-driven repayment programs are available for nurses:

Program name

Payment Amount

Repayment Period

Eligibility

Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (PAYE Plan)

10% of your discretionary income but never more than your payment on 10-year Standard Repayment

20 years

Nurses can qualify if their payment on this plan would be less than the payment on a standard ten-year repayment plan

Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan (REPAYE Plan)

10% of your discretionary income

20 years for undergraduate loans and 25 years “if any loans you’re repaying under the plan were received for graduate or professional study”

Nurses with federal student loans can qualify

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

10% of your discretionary income if your loan originated after July 1, 2014, but never more than the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan; generally 15% of your discretionary income if you’re not a new borrower on or after July 1, 2014; either way, you’ll never pay more than the payment on a standard, 10-year repayment plan

20 years if you’re a borrower after on or after July 1, 2014; otherwise 25 years

To qualify, your payment under this plan must be less than what you would pay under standard, 10-year repayment

Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)

20% of your discretionary income, or what you would pay over the course of a fixed 12-year repayment plan

25 years

Nurses with federal student loans qualify

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

The Trump administration has made it no secret that they’d favor ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives the balance on your remaining Direct Loans provided you make 120 consecutive, on-time payments and work full time for a qualifying employer.

But so long as this program is still available, it’s worth checking out.

According to the education department, “qualified employment” can entail working for a government agency, a not-for-profit or serving full time in Americorps or the Peace Corp. Candidates must work full time (at least 30 hours per week) to qualify, and only Direct Loans are eligible for PSLF.

Since nurses can find work in not-for-profit organizations, the Peace Corp and government agencies, this is typically seen as a feasible loan repayment option for nurses and other healthcare professionals.

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Holly Johnson
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Holly Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Holly here

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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews

Discover Student Loans: In-Depth Review

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

college-grad (1)

Have you exhausted all your options with federal student aid, and still need extra help covering the costs of college? Applying for a private student loan may be your next step.

Keep in mind private student loans don’t offer many of the benefits federal student loans do. Interest rates are often higher, and repayment assistance isn’t always available. That’s why it’s recommended you fill out a FAFSA and submit it first – you’ll want to claim any grants and scholarships available to you before turning to private student loans, as grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back.

Discover is one of many private lenders that offers undergraduate student loans, so if you need more money to cover tuition, here’s what you need to know about Discover’s offers.

What does Discover offer undergraduates?

Undergraduate Student Loan

Fixed APR range

6.49%-12.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-11.87%

Loan terms offered

15 years after deferment period

Fees

None

Loan amount

A minimum of $1,000 up to the entire school-certified cost of attendance after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply.

Repayment plans

  1. You can pay a fixed monthly payment of $25 while in school or during grace period

  2. You can defer payments until 6 months after graduation, or when you’re enrolled less than half-time

  3. And you can also make additional payments while in school to reduce your costs by the time your regular monthly payments come due.

Discover also offers some repayment options for borrowers experiencing financial difficulties. It recommends borrowers call the Repayment Assistance Department at 1-800-STUDENT to talk about options such as deferment, early repayment assistance program, payment extension, reduced payment, forbearance or hardship.

Cosigner release

None for loans originated by Discover. Cosigner release for previous CitiAssist Loan purchased by Discover is available. You must be at least 18, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and meet the repayment, credit history and income requirements.

Savings opportunities

  1. Reduce your rate by 0.25% if you opt into automatic payments during repayment period.

  2. Get a one-time cash reward of 1% of your student loan amount (for loan applications submitted on or after May 1, 2014) if you maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent.

As of Jan. 8, 2018

Discover’s undergraduate student loan claims to be a “zero fee loan” as there are no application, origination or late fees associated with it. On top of that, you can apply to cover 100 percent of your cost of attendance (the minimum loan amount is $1,000).

Discover lists out its eligibility requirements on its website:

  • You need to be enrolled at least half time in a bachelor’s or associate degree program, be working toward a degree and make satisfactory academic progress, as your school defines it.
  • You can be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or international student, though international students need a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • You must be at least 16 years old to apply.
  • You need to pass a credit check.

If you don’t have an extensive credit history, Discover encourages you to apply with an eligible cosigner. This may increase your chances of being approved for a loan with more favorable terms and rates. Be aware there’s no cosigner release with a Discover student loan – the cosigner is on the loan for the entire duration.

What can Discover offer to graduate students?

Discover offers loans for various graduate programs with zero fees (meaning no origination, application or late fees). The company offers loans with a $1,000 minimum and a 20-year repayment period. Like the undergraduate loans, you may also be eligible for savings opportunities, as well as the ability to add a cosigner onto your loan.

All graduate and professional school loans have similar repayment plan options:

  1. You can either make a $25 monthly payment while in school and throughout grace period, or
  2. You can defer your payments until nine months after graduation or when you’re enrolled as a half-time student (or less).

After that, you’ll be required to make monthly payments as dictated by your loan term, amount and interest rate.

You can also make additional payments while in school to bring down your loan balance before you start making regular monthly payments. On its website, Discover says it offers help to borrowers experiencing financial difficulty. You can call the Repayment Assistance Department at 1-800-STUDENT to learn more about options such as deferment, early repayment assistance program, payment extension, reduced payment, forbearance and hardship.

All Discover student loans have the same policy on cosigner releases: There is no cosigner release option for loans originated by Discover, but cosigner release for previous CitiAssist Loans purchased by Discover is available. You may be eligible if you are at least 18, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and meet the repayment, credit history and income requirements.

Here are the different graduate and professional school loans available from Discover, as of Dec. 4, 2017:

Graduate loans

Discover’s graduate student loans are for those who are enrolled in a qualifying graduate program (master's or doctorate) at least half-time and are pursuing a degree in an eligible school. You’ll need your school to prove that you’re making satisfactory academic progress. U.S. citizens, permanent residents or international students need to be a minimum of 16 years of age when applying and meet the requirements during a credit check. You can choose to apply by yourself or with a cosigner, unless you’re an international student. In that case, you’ll need a cosigner who is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

Once approved, the funds will be disbursed through the school. If you can maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent, you’re eligible for a one-time cash reward of 1% of your loan amount. You’ll need to redeem your cash within 6 months after the academic term for your loan is finished.

Graduate Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-12.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-11.87%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies and varies depend on the program.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments gets your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

MBA loans

MBA loans are for students who are pursuing a degree at a qualifying business school, either for an MBA or a related graduate program. It’s the same requirements to qualify for this loan as Discover’s graduate student loan offering, and the loan amount will be disbursed through your school. You’re eligible for the one-time cash reward of you maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent. Check Discover’s Rewards for Good Rates page to find out your GPA eligibility.

MBA Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-11.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-11.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Health profession loans

This type of loan is for those who are pursuing programs in allopathy, dentistry, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant, podiatry and veterinary medicine. You’ll need to be pursuing a degree in an eligible school that offers these programs.

To qualify for the health profession loan, you’ll need to meet the same requirements as the MBA or graduate loans. You may also qualify for the one-time 1% cash reward if you can maintain a 3.0 GPA or equivalent. Once approved, the funds will be distributed through to your school.

Health Profession Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-9.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-8.62%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Law school loans

The law school loan is for graduate students who are currently enrolled in a qualifying law school. You’ll need to show that you’re doing well in school at be at least 16 years or older to qualify for a loan. Getting approved for a loan is the same process as the above loan types. As well, loan amounts are given to your school.

Law School Loans

Fixed APR range

6.49%-9.99%

Variable APR range

4.62%-8.62%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

From $1,000 up to 100% of school-certified costs after financial aid. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments can get your rate reduced by 0.25%.

If you maintain a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent), get a 1% one-time cash reward of your loan amount.

Residency loans

Discover’s residency loans are meant to help residency candidates in medical school cover the cost of internship, residence, board exam reviews and relocation. To qualify, you’ll need to be enrolled at least half-time in a qualifying health-profession graduate program and making satisfactory progress. You may also qualify if you have recently graduated from medical school within the last 12 months. You need to pass a credit check and be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. International students may apply but they’ll need a U.S. citizen or permanent resident cosigner.

Once your loan is approved, the money will be given to you via electronic deposit or a check. Unlike the other graduate loan programs, there is no 1% cash back reward but you can get an interest rate deduction if you enroll in auto pay.

Residency Loans

Fixed APR range

6.99%-9.49%

Variable APR range

5.12%-8.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

$1,000-$18,000 for the allopathy, dentistry, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, podiatry and veterinary medicine fields

$1,000-$5,000 for the nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy and physician assistant fields. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting into automatic payments may reduce your rate by 0.25%.

Bar exam loans

The bar exam loan is for students who are considered candidates for the bar exam. It’s meant to help you cover the cost of living expenses and bar exam prep class while you’re studying for the exam. To qualify, you’ll need to have graduated from law school in the last 6 months or be enrolled at least half-time in your final year in a law degree graduate program. In addition, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (international students will require a cosigner) and meet satisfactory credit requirements.

The funds for the loan will be given you via electronic transfer to your bank or a check. You can get a 0.25% rate reduction if you participate in auto pay.

Bar Exam Loans

Fixed APR range

6.99%-11.49%

Variable APR range

5.12%-10.12%

Loan terms offered

20 years after deferment period

Fees

$0

Loan amount

$1,000-$16,000. Aggregate loan limits as set by Discover applies.

Savings opportunities

Opting in automatic payments get your rate reduced by 0.25%

How do Discover student loans compare?

Discover student loans are fairly competitive when compared to other top student loan companies. Their rates and repayments are comparable to other large financial institutions. However, Discover falls short when compared to cosigner releases, rates compared to credit unions and loan amounts.

Where Discover stands out:

  • No fees: There are no application, origination, or late fees, whereas some other big banks do.
  • Unique rewards program: Get rewarded for good grades by getting a one-time 1% cash reward for qualifying loans. Other places only offer auto-pay discounts.
  • Competitive rates: Discover’s fixed rates are in par or lower to its competitors.

Where Discover student loans fall short:

  • No cosigner release option: Only a certain type of loan purchased by Discover is eligible for cosigner release. Otherwise, you cannot release your cosigner from a Discover student loan (unless you refinance). Other banks and credit unions offer cosigner release if the borrower has met certain requirements such as a satisfactory credit history and on-time payments.
  • High variable rates: Discover’s variable rates are considerably higher compared to other financial institutions.
  • Longer terms: Competitors offer shorter terms whereas Discover’s are anywhere from 15 to 20 after the grace period has ended.

The application process

Discover says its application takes about 15 minutes to fill out online. Before applying, have the following information ready to enter:

  • Your school’s information
  • Your field of study and the academic term for which you’re applying
  • Social Security number
  • Loan amount requested
  • Amount of financial aid you’ve already received
  • If applicable, financial information such as salary and rent/mortgage payments
  • Your address (permanent and where you’ll reside once at school)

Discover makes the application process simple. You can select the state your school is in, and a list of schools in that state will populate. Choose your school from the list or search for it.
You’ll then be asked to enter all your personal information and any other details Discover needs.

If any additional documentation is requested, you can upload it online. By submitting your application, a hard inquiry of your credit will be conducted. The same is true if a cosigner applies with you.

Funds will be disbursed according to your school’s financial aid office deadlines.

Repayment assistance options

Discover has multiple options for you in case you experience financial hardship while paying back your loans. Federal student loans come with certain benefits such as deferment and forbearance, so you don’t need to make monthly payments during a period of financial difficulty. Private lenders aren’t required to offer these benefits, but some lenders do. Keep in mind they’re not guaranteed and can be taken away in the future.

While it may seem like paying your student loans off is years away, it helps to know what your options are as they vary among private lenders. You should take this into consideration when shopping around for private student loans.

Discover offers a range of solutions like deferment, payment extension, forbearance and reduced payments. Take a look at what each entails and what it takes to qualify here.

Refinancing student loans with Discover

Discover offers loan consolidation to help you lower your interest rate and simplify your loan payments. If you cannot get a cosigner release, refinancing your student loan allows you to do so by paying off your existing loans. You can choose to consolidate some or all of them with a minimum of $5,000 up to $150,000 upon credit approval.

Like their student loan options, there are no application, origination or early payment fees. If you are able to make additional payments, you can pay off your loan sooner and save on the cost of your loan. You can consolidate while enrolled in school, during your grace period or after it expires. Once you qualify, your first payment is due anywhere from 30-45 days after the loan is disbursed.

However, Discover’s student consolidation rates are higher compared to its competitors, even with the auto pay discount. Also, the repayment period is anywhere from 10 to 20 years depending on your creditworthiness, which is longer than other places that offers terms as short as 5 years. If you have a cosigner for your refinance loan, you cannot release them, unlike some other banks.

To qualify, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, be the primary borrower for loans you’re planning on consolidating, have a good repayment history and prove you have sufficient income to handle your payments. Discover also requires its borrowers to have no more than $150,000 in aggregate student loan debt, including federal student loans, though depending on your field of study you may be eligible for higher limits.

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Who benefits the most from a Discover student loan?

Overall, students who have applied for federal aid and have received the maximum amount they’re qualified for, but still need additional assistance to fund their college tuition, may benefit from Discover’s student loan. Its rates are somewhat comparable to federal loans as long as you or a cosigner have excellent credit, and it offers great repayment assistance options along with a few bonuses that don’t come with federal loans.

Consider all options

While Discover has a decent student loan program to offer borrowers, it’s far from the only option out there. You may be able to get better rates and terms with another private lender. It’s a good idea to shop around to see the different loans you’re eligible for. Some credit scoring models will count multiple applications for student loans as a single inquiry, as long as they’re made within a short period of time (generally between 14 and 45 days, depending on the score). By shopping around, you’ll be able to choose the best loan offer and may not see much impact on your credit score.

Also, remember to compare APRs and not just interest rates – other lenders may charge late, origination and application fees that need to be factored into the cost of the loan. Check to see what repayment options are available, and any other “bonuses” lenders may be offering.

The fine print

There really isn’t any. There are no prepayment penalties, and no origination, late or application fees associated with the loan. Still, make sure you take the time to read your loan agreement before signing it.

A word of warning on choosing a variable interest rate, though – while variable rates are lower and look more attractive, keep in mind the rate may change at any time. That means your loan may become more expensive.

No one can predict where the market will go, so rates may stay low, or they may skyrocket in the future. A fixed interest rate can provide valuable peace of mind, even if you have to pay for it.

Erin Millard contributed to this story.
This post has been updated. It was originally published Sept. 1, 2015.

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College Students and Recent Grads, News

5 Signs You’re Probably Going to Default on Your Student Loans

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

A newly released New York Federal Reserve analysis sheds some insight on factors that may determine if student loan borrowers are more or less likely to default on their loans.

According to Fed data, 28% of students who left college between 2010 and 2011 defaulted on their student loans within five years. That’s significantly higher than the students who left school five years earlier, between 2005 and 2006, of which only 19% defaulted within five years.

Defaulting on a student loan is big deal. Not only will someone who defaults on a student loan need to deal with collections calls, but a default can seriously harm a borrower's credit rating, making it difficult to qualify for a personal loan or other large credit purchases like a new home.

The New York Fed’s analysis highlights factors that could determine default rates years after students leave school. They range from things a student can't necessarily control —  family background and how selective the college they attended was — to things students may have a little more control over, like the degree and major they pursue.

The data show students in these categories are more likely to default on their student loans between ages 20-33:

  1. Dropped out before earning a degree.
  2. Enrolled in an associate's degree program.
  3. Majored in arts and humanities.
  4. Attended a for-profit institution, community college or nonselective college.
  5. Came from a low-income family.

A few of the factors relate to things a student has some control over, like the kind of school chosen and the degree pursued. Another big factor, family background, depends more heavily on chance.

Here’s what the Fed found about how the factors influence default rates.

The school

For-profit, public, or nonprofit?

If a student attended a private for-profit two-year institution, their chances of default were highest of all — just above 3% were in default at age 22, shooting up to 42% by age 33. Students at private four-year for-profits weren’t far behind, with a default rate of

38.8% by age 33.

On the other hand, students were much less likely to struggle to repay their student loans at nonprofit institutions, both public and private. Private nonprofit four-year student had the lowest default rate at 17.2%. They were followed by students who attended public nonprofit four-year institutions.

Source: FBNY

Selective vs. nonselective

The Fed’s analysis found students who attended colleges that were more selective or competitive defaulted at lower rates that those who attended less-selective colleges. The analysis used Barron’s Profile of American Colleges to classify colleges into selective and nonselective based on competitiveness.

The degree

Graduate versus dropout

Whether or not a borrower graduated was the second-strongest predictor of default among borrowers, according to the Fed analysis. Overall, students who dropped out had higher rates of default versus borrowers who graduated no matter what kind of degree they attempted. The analysis notes that may be attributed to the fact graduates are more likely to find more gainful employment that would give them the ability to pay off their loans after earning a degree.

Source: FBNY

Associate versus bachelor’s degree

No matter what kind of college a graduate attended, students in a two-year degree programs had higher default rates than their peers who enrolled in a four-year college, according to the New York Fed analysis.

But the gap between default rates of two-year and four-year students was widest among students who attended public schools — 21.4% to 36.5%, respectively— a difference of more than 15 percentage points

STEM versus arts and humanities

Students who majored in arts and humanities defaulted on their loans at the highest rates — 26.3% at nonselective schools, 14.6% at selective schools— while STEM majors at selective schools (12%) and business students at selective schools (11.5%) defaulted at the lowest rates.  Overall, default rates among students who majored in business or a vocational programs were closer to STEM students than to arts and humanities majors.

Arts and humanities majors defaulted at higher rates regardless of the college's selectivity, but if students majored in STEM, business or a vocational program, selectivity may have factored in more. By age 33, the default gap between students who chose a best-performing major and a worst-performing major was three percentage points at selective colleges, while at nonselective schools the gap was eight percentage points.

Source: FBNY

The student

Advantaged vs nonadvantaged

The Fed’s analysis took a look into defaulters’ income and family background, too. The analysis looked at the average income for the ZIP code area at a borrower’s youngest available age based on available loan data. The analysis defined students who came from households earning below the mean income based on ZIP code as nonadvantaged, and students from households earning above the mean income.

The analysis found borrowers who came from less-advantaged backgrounds based on income had higher default rates no matter what type of college they attended.

Taking both a borrower’s background and college into consideration, the widest gap in default rates observed in the analysis were among advantaged students who attended private nonprofit colleges (13% of whom defaulted by age 33) and nonadvantaged students who attended private for profit colleges (42.1% of whom defaulted by age 33).

Source: FBNY

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Best of, College Students and Recent Grads, Personal Loans

Top 6 Personal Loans & Student Loans for Career Development

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Personal Loans & Student Loans

Updated November 03, 2017
A few years after graduating college you may find yourself in a weird spot. You don’t want to go back to school for another degree in the traditional sense, but you want to pursue certification in an area like coding or UX design to give your resume a boost. Or maybe you want to get formal training in an entirely new field through intensive boot camp programs.

Fortunately, there are options outside of “going back to school” that give us the opportunity to continue learning without committing to an entirely new degree. You can also find funding to help ease the burden of paying completely out-of-pocket for career development.

Check out a few of these loan options:

1. SoFi

Fixed rates starting from 5.49% APR

When considering loans for career development, SoFi should be a loan at the top of your list because of its customer service and loan perks. The application is completely online and once approved funds are wired to your account. It also doesn’t hurt your credit score to see if you’re pre-approved and your rate.

SoFi offers fixed and variable interest loans. You can borrow $5,000 to $100,000. Loan terms are 3 - 7 years. There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties.

One feature of a SoFi loan that makes it stand apart from other loans is the unemployment protection. If you lose your job, there are resources like career coaching to help you find another position. You can also get payments postponed temporarily during your job search.

SoFi

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2. Earnest

Fixed rates starting from 5.25% APR

Earnest offers personal loans for multiple uses including career development. You can borrow from $2,000 to $50,000. Loan terms are 1, 2 and 3 years long with no hidden fees or prepayment penalties. Earnest does a hard pull to determine if you’re approved, so your credit score will be affected.

The loan application process is online as well and you’ll receive a response about your loan application within 2 to 3 business days. Earnest reviews many variables outside of just your credit score to qualify you for a loan. So, if your credit score is impacting the rate you get with other lenders, Earnest is worth checking out.

Earnest will take into account your savings, earning potential, education and your history of on-time payments to find you the best rate. Currently, this loan is not offered in Nevada, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Iowa, Vermont, Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota. Although, plans are in motion to open up lending to these states.

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3. Upstart

Rates starting from 7.43% APR

Upstart offers $1,000 to $50,000 in personal loans for courses or boot camps to further your career. Loan terms of 3 and 5 years are available. One negative of Upstart is it does have an origination fee of 0.00% to 8%. Similar to SoFi, Upstart does a soft pull of your credit report to determine if you’re pre-approved.

Upstart will accept borrowers with a credit score of 640 and above. If you have a limited credit history you may still be able to qualify. Similar to Earnest, Upstart reviews your credit score among other factors like your education, area of study and job history to determine if you're eligible for a loan.

Once approved for an Upstart loan, you can agree to terms and get your money within a few days.

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4. LightStream

Fixed rates starting from 5.99% APR (with autopay)

LightStream has loans from $5,000 to $100,000. Loan terms range from 2 to 7 years. There are no fees or prepayment penalties, but it will be a hard pull on your credit report to see if you’re pre-approved. One positive of LightStream is it’s very clear with how it determines interest rates.

You’ll get the most competitive rates with excellent credit. Since the term “excellent” can be subjective, LightStream outlines what’s considered excellent credit based on a profile of past excellent borrowers. These borrowers tend to have:

  • 5 or more years of credit history
  • A mix of credit accounts like various credit cards, auto loans and mortgages
  • Excellent payment history with no delinquencies
  • Proven ability to save
  • Stable income

Now, one important thing to mention, you can’t use a LightStream loan for college or postsecondary education. If you want to take out this loan for career development, contact customer service to double check that whatever course you plan to take is eligible for the loan.

5. Wells Fargo

Variable rates starting from 4.49% APR

Wells Fargo has a unique opportunity for students pursuing career training or non-traditional school education. This could be a good option if you’re looking to further your career in the form of certificates and licensing from a university.

There are no application, origination or repayment fees. Wells Fargo offers variable and fixed interest options. Rates include somes discount. You can get a 0.25% discount if you have a previous Wells Fargo student loan or another qualifying account. There's another 0.25% discount if you set up automatic payment.

You can take out up to $20,000 depending on the type of training you’re getting and from what school you’re getting it from. No payment on the loan is required until 6 months after you leave school, but interest will accrue during any deferment.

Wells Fargo does allow cosigners and cosigner release. Cosigners can be removed from the loan after 24 consecutive, on-time payments are made and you meet other credit requirements.

6.Sallie Mae

Variable rates starting from 3.25% APR

Sallie Mae has a program relatively similar to the Wells Fargo career-training program. Sallie Mae will fund up to 100% of the cost to attend school for training.

Both fixed and variable rate loans are available. There are no prepayment penalty or disbursement fees. You can apply with a cosigner and your cosigner can be released after you make 12 on-time payments, pass a credit review and meet other criteria.

Prepayment begins 6 months after you’re finished with classes. One perk of the Sallie Mae loan is while taking classes you have the option to pay interest or you can pay a fixed $25 per month to reduce your repayment schedule in the future.

How to decide

The world we live in today is constantly evolving, so naturally our skills will have to evolve as we move forward in our careers. Before choosing a personal loan or student loan for career development, get a good sense of your end goal.

Do you want to simply learn a new skill or do you want to gain a new credential (i.e. certification) from a university for your resume? Deciding your end game will help you choose the loan product that’s best for you.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Taylor Gordon
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Taylor Gordon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Taylor at taylor@magnifymoney.com

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