You’ve applied for federal aid by turning in your FAFSA, you’ve applied for scholarships and grants, and you’ve inquired about receiving any extra aid for which you’re eligible from your school. There’s just one problem: you still have a balance to cover.
Sometimes federal aid, scholarships, grants, and school-specific aid might not be enough to fund your college education. Private student loans are the solution some borrowers turn to when faced with this gap.
Getting a student loan from a private lender is a good last-resort option, but we encourage you to go about it the right way so you’re not left paying more interest on your loans than you have to.
Below are the top 5 private student loan lenders you should look into, and the criteria we used to determine these lenders worthy being a top choice.
It can be overwhelming to sort through all of the private student loan options available. To simplify things, we used the following criteria to determine whether or not to include a lender. If you choose to look for other options, consider the following:
- Repayment terms: Many private lenders offer longer repayment terms than federal loans do, but be aware that you’ll pay more in interest over the life of the loan. It’s great to have flexibility, but keep the extra cost in mind. To off-set that cost, most lenders also offer different repayment structures, so you can choose to make payments while in school, or wait until after you graduate.
- Fees: None of the lenders on this list have upfront fees associated with their loans. The only fees you should encounter are late fees for making a payment past your due date.
- Co-signer release: All but one of the lenders named offer a co-signer release. Having a co-signer for your loan increases your chances of securing the loan and getting lower rates. However, circumstances may change in the future once you’ve graduated and have a decent salary, so the ability to release them from the loan is nice. Many lenders require that a set amount of consecutive and on-time payments be made before applying for a release, and your credit must be up to par for the loan to be solely in your name.
- Repayment assistance: Federal student loans come with a variety of repayment assistance options, such as Income-Driven Repayment Plans, forbearance, deferment, forgiveness, etc. Quite a few private lenders are taking a cue and offering some of these options as well.
- Who services the loan: Even though these lenders are “big name” banks, not all of them service their own loans. Be sure to ask about this when you apply, or read through your loan agreement beforehand, so you’re not met with any surprises.
In summary, you want to apply for private student loans that don’t have any fees, offer a co-signer release, and offer flexible repayment terms.
Not an undergraduate, but still need to bridge the gap to cover tuition? Almost all of these lenders have private graduate loan options as well.
Discover Undergraduate Student Loan
Discover offers a decent middle-of-the-road option for undergraduates. Its APRs aren’t the lowest, but they’re not the highest. The only downside is that there’s no co-signer release option available, and this is the only loan on this list with that restriction. However, Discover offers a cash-back bonus that no other loan offers, and there aren’t any late fees to worry about, so it balances out.
- You can borrow up to the cost of your “school-certified college costs”, and the minimum amount you can borrow is $1,000
- Variable APRs: 3.24% – 9.37%
- Fixed APRs: 6.15% – 11.99%
- You can borrow funds on a 15 year repayment term and either repay your loans while you’re in school (with a $25 fixed monthly payment) or defer payments until 6 months after graduation
- No fees whatsoever, not even late fees
- There’s no co-signer release available
- Many repayment assistance options are available such as deferment, extended grace period, forbearance, etc.
- Your student loan servicer will be Great Lakes as it processes payments on behalf of Discover
- If you maintain a 3.0 GPA, you’re eligible to receive a one-time cash bonus of 1% of your loan amount for each new loan you take out
Wells Fargo Collegiate Loan
Wells Fargo’s private student loan isn’t particularly impressive as it doesn’t offer any unusual benefits, but it’s still a decent option if you have an account there or if a branch is nearby.
- The minimum loan amount is $1,000 and the maximum is $120,000
- Variable APRs: 3.39% – 9.03%
- Fixed APRs: 5.94% – 10.93%
- You have 15 years to repay your loans and your first payment is due 6 months after graduation
- No fees associated with the loan
- Co-signer release is available after 24 consecutive, on-time payments
- Repayment assistance options such as in-school forbearance, extended grace periods, and military forbearance are available
- Wells Fargo services its own loans, so the process is fluid and it stays in-house
Citizens Bank Student Loan
Citizens Bank has fairly low APRs and flexible repayment terms. If you choose Citizens Bank, be aware that you’ll be making payments through Firstmark, not Citizens Bank, so the interface may look a bit different.
- You can borrow a minimum of $1,000 up to a maximum of $180,000 (depending on the degree you’re receiving)
- Variable APRs: 3.99% – 10.79% (3.99% – 10.59% for a 10-year term; 4.19% – 10.79% for a 15-year term)
- Fixed APRs: 5.99% – 11.45% (5.99% – 11.24% for a 10-year term; 6.19% – 11.45% for a 15-year term)
- You can repay the loan on 5, 10, or 15 year terms, and you can choose to pay immediately, pay only the interest during school, or start paying 6 months after graduating
- There are no fees
- Co-signers are eligible for release after 36 consecutive and on-time payments have been made
- Deferment and forbearance may be offered on a case-by-case basis
- Citizens Bank doesn’t service its own loans. Instead, borrowers pay through Firstmark Services
Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan
Sallie Mae has a mixed reputation among student loan lenders, but it’s still an option worth looking at. Its APRs are on the lower end, and it has the lowest co-signer release period out of all the lenders named here.
- You can borrow up to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance
- Variable APRs: 2.50% – 9.59%
- Fixed APRs: 5.74% – 11.85%
- You have 10 years to pay off the loan, and you can do so on an interest-only repayment option, a fixed repayment option, or a deferred repayment option
- There are no fees associated with this loan
- Co-signers can be released after 12 consecutive on-time payments have been made
- This loan has a graduated repayment option in which you make interest-only payments for the first 12 months, and then make full principal and interest payments in the years following
- It looks like you can pay your loans through Sallie Mae’s portal, although many of its earlier student loans are serviced by Navient
- If you choose to make payments while in school, 2% of your monthly payment amount will go into your Upromise rewards account as a bonus
PNC Solution Loan
PNC’s student loan is a good solution for those who aren’t looking to borrow much. Its cap of $40,000 per year is on the low end compared to other lenders on this list, but it has decent APRs and you have up to 15 years to repay your loans.
- The minimum amount you can borrow is $1,000, and the maximum amount you can borrow is $40,000
- Variable APRs: 4.53% – 11.48%
- Fixed APRs: 6.49% – 12.99%
- You have up to 15 years to repay your loan, and you can either defer payments until six months after you graduate, make interest-only payments, or you can choose to begin making payments immediately
- There are no fees to pay
- Co-signers can be released after 48 consecutive, on-time payments are made
- If you experience financial hardship, you may be eligible for forbearance
- Information about how to repay your student loan isn’t readily available on PNC’s website. There’s another site called RepayReady, provided on behalf of Great Lakes and its affiliates as well as NorthStar Education Services, that makes it seem like PNC doesn’t service its own loans
- If the borrower dies, the debt will be forgiven and not passed onto the co-signer, if there is one
Shop Around for the Best Rates
You don’t have to choose just one lender from this list – you can apply for all of these loans. In fact, we encourage you to do so to make sure you’re getting the best rates you possibly can. As long as you apply for each of these loans within a 30-day period, all of the separate inquiries into your credit will get grouped as one. Take advantage of this and shop around, then run the numbers and look at the pros and cons of each option to decide which is right for you.