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College Students and Recent Grads

A Beginner’s Guide to Using a Credit Card

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.

secured credit cards
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Are you thinking about opening a credit card? Or have you recently opened a card? You may be overwhelmed by the various terms associated with credit cards, but worry not — we’ve compiled a guide to walk you through the common fees you may encounter as well as how to use your credit card beneficially.

How credit cards work

On a basic level, credit cards are lines of credit that you can use over and over again as long as you pay off your balance. They’re a handy way to pay for purchases and can help you build credit when used responsibly. Credit cards usually have detailed terms and conditions that list fees, rewards, benefit restrictions and more. As a new cardholder, you may be confused by these terms, but we’re here to help you understand common features so you can avoid unnecessary fees.

Typical credit card terms

  • Annual fee: This is the fee you will be charged each year — if your card has one.
  • Credit limit: The maximum amount of credit you can charge on your card.
  • APR: This is the annual percentage rate or, simply, the interest rate you will be charged on balances carried. Since the rate is annual, divide it by 12 to get your monthly interest rate. Most often, this rate is variable and fluctuates with the prime rate, so your APR may change at any time.
  • Cash advance APR: If you use your card to take out cash, you will be charged at a higher interest rate versus regular purchases.
  • Penalty APR: This is a higher APR than you are typically charged and is often the result of a late payment or returned payment. The penalty APR can be in effect for several months or indefinitely, depending on the issuer.
  • Intro 0% period: You may be fortunate to have a credit card that offers an introductory period — upward of six months — where you can benefit from carrying a balance and not being charged interest during that time. The terms for these intro periods vary.
  • Late payment fee: If you pay late, you will incur a fee typically greater than $30.
  • Returned payment fee: Payments you submit that aren’t approved may be subject to a fee usually upward of $30.
  • Foreign transaction fee: Some cards charge a fee for purchases made outside the U.S. that is typically around 3%.
  • Cash advance fee: Cash advances you request most likely will be charged a 3%-5% fee of the amount requested.
  • Balance transfer fee: Any balances you transfer from an existing credit card to an eligible new card may be subject to a balance transfer fee, on average 3%-5% of the amount transferred.

Other common credit card features

  • Sign-up bonus: Your card may offer a sign-up bonus, which typically requires you to spend a certain amount within a given time period (usually three months) to receive a bonus.
  • Rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards programs that can earn you cash back, points and miles for purchases. This can be a great way to be rewarded for your spending, but don’t overspend and risk falling into debt for the sake of earning rewards.
  • Alerts: Issuers often let you set up fraud or balance limit alerts and reminders when it’s time for a payment.
  • Autopay: If available, set this up so you avoid late or missed payments.

Choose a card that fits your needs

There are numerous credit cards available for a wide range of needs from building credit to earning rewards, to getting out of debt and more. You should decide what your goal is with a credit card, then compare cards from various issuers prior to applying. Some issuers allow you to fill out a pre-qualification form that performs a soft pull on your credit to see if you may qualify for a card. This does not affect your credit score and is a great way to shop around for the best deals. One note: Pre-qualification is not a guarantee of approval.

Read our list of the best credit cards in a variety of categories to find a card for your needs.

Read the terms and conditions

An important step prior to applying for a credit card is to review the cardmember agreement. Each card has different rates and fees that vary based on any number of reasons, including credit history, actions you take (or don’t take), the prime rate in the market and more. It’s key to review the cardmember agreement so you’re aware of any fees you may be charged as well as how the card works. On our site, we’ve reviewed cards from top issuers as well as lesser known cards to help you make sense of some of the terms you face — but still be sure to read the cardmember agreement before you apply.

Practice responsible credit behavior

Make on-time payments. Perhaps the most important part of maintaining a credit card is to make timely payments. By doing so, you avoid late payment fees and penalty APRs that hurt your credit score. Autopay is a helpful feature to ensure your bill is paid on time, or you can set up reminders.

Pay your balance in full. A great goal is to always pay your bill in full so you don’t carry a balance. Any unpaid balance will be charged interest (unless associated with a promotion) and can cause you to rack up debt. This also negatively affects your credit score.

Avoid overspending. It’s common for people to mismanage their credit cards and be tempted to overspend, but with proper budgeting, you can avoid falling into debt. A good rule of thumb is to only spend what you can afford to pay at the time of purchase — this way you know you can pay off your balance. Also, if you have a rewards card, don’t overspend just to earn rewards because the debt you incur will counteract any rewards.

Keep a low utilization rate. The percentage of available credit you use is known as utilization, and is a factor in your credit score. It’s important to keep a low utilization rate so issuers see you’re not a risk. Constantly maxing out your card raises concerns for issuers and can cause you to fall into debt.

Check your monthly statements. By simply reviewing your monthly statements, you can proactively notice any fraud that may occur on your account and isn’t flagged by your credit card company. Most companies send notifications if they think there’s fraud on your account, but they don’t catch every instance of suspicious behavior.

Check your credit score and credit report. Checking your credit score on a monthly basis is a good habit to get into and can promote positive credit behavior. Read our guide for where to access your free credit score and other credit tips. It’s also a good idea to check your credit report every few months to make sure everything checks out and no unknown accounts are open in your name. Annualcreditreport.com is the only source for authorized credit reports from the three major credit bureaus and you can run one report every year for each bureau — we recommend spacing them out every four months.

Secure your card. Don’t leave your card unattended and don’t loan it to friends since neither of those actions have a positive result. Your card is your responsibility and should be treated with care. If you happen to lose your card or it’s stolen, contact your issuer immediately and put a hold on your account until your card is found or replaced.

Don’t request a cash advance. Cash advances are notorious for high fees and tricky terms than can draw you into debt, so it’s best to avoid them at all costs. If you need cash, look to personal loans, which may have better terms.

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.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads

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.

Top Checking Accounts for College Grads
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For many college students, their default banking option while in school is a student checking account, which is typically free. Unfortunately, when you graduate you lose those benefits. Many student checking accounts will begin to charge you monthly maintenance fees unless you meet certain requirements.

So, where do you go from there?

Few young adults would turn to their parents for fashion or dating advice and, yet, one of the most common ways we’ve found young people choose their bank account is by going with whichever bank their parents already use. This could be a bigger faux pas than stealing your dad’s old pair of parachute pants.

The bank your parents use may carry fees or have requirements that don’t meet your lifestyle or budget, and make accounts expensive to use.

But where do you even begin to choose the right checking account?

When you’re nearing graduation, start planning your bank transition.

Many banks send a letter in the mail a few months prior to your expected graduation date informing you that your student checking account is going transition to a non-student account. If you’re not careful and you disregard the letter, you may be transitioned into an account that charges a fee if you don’t meet certain requirements.

You can always call the bank and ask to switch to a different account or you can choose a new account that offers more benefits, like interest and ATM fee refunds.

The 5 key things you should look for in a checking account

When you’re shopping around for a new checking account, there are several things you should look for to ensure you’re getting the most value from your account:

  1. A $0 monthly fee: Sometimes banks may say they don’t charge a monthly fee but read the fine print — they may require a minimum monthly balance in order to avoid it. There are plenty of free checking accounts available for you to open, so there’s no reason to stay stuck with an account that charges a monthly fee. Take note some accounts may require you to meet certain criteria to maintain a free account like using a debit card, enrolling in eStatements or maintaining a minimum daily balance.
  2. No minimum daily balance: Accounts without minimum daily balances mean you can have a $0 balance at any given time. This may allow you to have a free account without meeting balance requirements — note, other terms may apply to maintain a free account.
  3. APY: Annual Percentage Yield is the total amount of interest you will earn on balances in your account. Opening an account that earns you interest on your balance is an easy way to be rewarded for money that would typically sit without earning anything. Some checking accounts earn interest, albeit rarely, but you should definitely aim to earn a decent APY on your savings account.
  4. ATM fee refunds: You may not be able to access an in-network ATM at all times, so accounts providing ATM fee refunds can reimburse you for ATM fees you may incur while using out-of-network ATMs. Those $3 or $5 charges add up!
  5. No or low overdraft fees: Most banks charge you an overdraft fee of around $35 if you spend more money than you have available in your account. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose an account that has no or low overdraft fees.

Top overall checking accounts for college grads

The best checking accounts will have a number of features that are both simple and low cost. For the top overall checking accounts, we chose accounts that have no monthly service fees, no ATM fees, refunds for ATM fees from other banks, interest earned on your deposited balances and with strong mobile banking apps. While there is no all-inclusive account that contains every benefit, the accounts below are sure to provide value whether you want a high interest rate, unlimited ATM fee refunds or 24/7 live customer support.

1. Aspiration – The Aspiration Summit Account

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$10

Unlimited

0.25% APY on balances up to $2,499.99

1.00% APY on balances $2,500+

The Aspiration Summit Account offers a wide range of benefits for account holders and has few fees. The amount to open is fairly low, and once you open your account there is no minimum monthly balance to maintain — though the more money you keep in your account, the more interest you’ll earn.

Another helpful feature is unlimited ATM fee refunds. That means you can either use in-network ATMs (filter by checking “SUM”) and avoid fees, or use any other ATM and be reimbursed for any fees incurred at the end of the month. If you’re looking for an interest checking account with no ATM fees, the Aspiration Summit Account is a solid choice.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

2. nbkc bank – Personal Account

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$5

Up to $12 a month

0.90% APY on all balances

nbkc has several locations in the Kansas City region. Anyone can sign up for an account, however. This just means if you don’t reside nearby, you’ll have to rely on their online banking system.

The nbkc Personal Account earns interest on your balances and has no hidden fees. Typical checking accounts charge overdraft fees and stop payment fees, among others, but nbkc doesn’t.

The two fees that may apply are for less common transactions — $5 to send domestic wires and $45 to send or receive international wires.

You can use 24,000+ MoneyPass® ATMs in the U.S. for free, and if you use out-of-network ATMs you’ll be reimbursed up to $12 a month. This account is a good choice if you want a checking account that has minimal fees and earns interest.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Nbkc Bank’s secure website

3. Ally Bank – Interest Checking Account

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$0

Up to $10 per statement cycle

0.10% on daily balances less than $15,000

0.60% on daily balances $15,000+

Ally Bank is an overall great online bank and their Interest Checking Account is a standout choice if you want to open an account without depositing any money. There are some standout perks with this card like 24/7 live customer care and the ability to send money with Zelle®.

There are also no ATM fees at U.S. Allpoint® ATMs, and you’ll receive up to $10 per statement cycle for fees charged at other ATMs nationwide. This account earns at a lower interest rate than the two mentioned earlier, but it’s still better than typical banks. Ally Bank’s Interest Checking Account provides account holders with a well-rounded experience and the ability to earn interest.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Ally Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Check out our full list of the best checking accounts.

Top free checking accounts for college grads

Free checking accounts are a great way to save on the monthly service fees many banks charge if you don’t meet deposit or balance requirements. The checking accounts listed below are all free, and if there are requirements, they’re minor like enrolling in eStatements or using a debit card. These accounts can be a good choice if you often have a fluctuating or low account balance and don’t want to worry about maintaining the requirements big banks impose to keep their accounts free.

1. Atlantic Stewardship Bank – Cash Back Checking

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$1

Unlimited

Does not earn interest. But it does offer 0.50% cash back if you meet requirements*

Atlantic Stewardship Bank is headquartered in New Jersey and donates 10% of its profits annually to Christian and nonprofit organizations. Its Cash Back Checking account has a minor opening deposit and basic requirements for you to meet to get the added perks.

*When you make 12 debit card transactions each cycle and enroll in online banking and eStatements, you can receive unlimited ATM fee refunds and the chance to earn rewards at 0.50% cash back on debit card purchases.

2. Radius Bank – Radius Hybrid Checking

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$10

Unlimited

0.85% on balances $2,500+

Radius Bank is a community bank headquartered in Boston. The Radius Hybrid Checking account is free as long as you open the account with the required deposit and meet three simple requirements: Enroll in online banking, receive eStatements and choose to receive a debit card. Unlike other checking accounts that require you to make a certain number of debit card transactions a month, Radius Bank does not. In addition to simple requirements, there are unlimited ATM fee refunds at the end of each statement cycle.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Radius Bank’s secure website

3. Bay State Savings Bank – Free Kasasa Cash®

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$0

Unlimited

0.05% if qualifications are not met

(2.01% up to $20,000 if you meet requirements listed below*)

Bay State Savings Bank was founded in Worcester, Mass., and is an independent community bank with the goal of maintaining long-term relationships with consumers and giving back to the community via the Bay State Savings Charitable Foundation.

If you want a free account that is always free — meaning no requirements for you to meet — check out their the Free Kasasa Cash® account.

There’s a small minimum deposit to open the account and you automatically earn interest on your balances.

*If you want the added perks of unlimited ATM fee refunds and a higher 2.01% APY, you need to enroll in electronic statements and online banking, as well make 12 PIN-based debit card transactions each month.

If you don’t meet those requirements, you’ll still earn 0.05% APY, but will have to pay $0.75 per ATM transaction (plus any fee the ATM operator charges). There are thousands of surcharge-free ATMs provided by the SUM® ATM network.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Bay State Savings Bank’s secure website

Check out our full list of the best free checking accounts.

Top high-yield checking accounts for college grads

Since most checking accounts offer little to no interest, high-yield checking accounts are a great way for you to maximize the money that typically would just sit in your account without earning interest. These accounts often offer interest rates that fluctuate depending on how much money you have in the account. However, in order to earn interest, there are some requirements that you may have to meet such as making a certain number of debit card transactions and enrolling in eStatements.

1. First Financial Credit Union – High 5 Checking

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$0

Up to $10 per statement cycle

5.00% APY on balances up to $2,500

0.10% APY on balances of $2,500.01 or more

The High 5 Checking account from First Financial Credit Union is a free account that has fewer requirements for you to follow to qualify for the interest rates compared with other high-yield checking accounts. That’s why it tops our list.

All you need to do is enroll in eStatements and complete 15 signature-based debit card transactions in the statement period. In addition, there are surcharge-free STAR® ATMs to use, plus out-of-network ATM fee refunds of up to $10 per statement cycle. You can also earn Buzz® Points with your debit card that can be redeemed as statement credit, gift cards and other rewards.

LEARN MORE Secured

on First Financial Credit Union’s secure website

2. America’s Credit Union – Affinity Checking

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$0

$0

$0

None

5.00% APY on balances up to $1,000

0.10% APY on balances between $1,000.01 - $15,000

0.25% APY on balances over $15,000

Like most high-yield checking accounts, you’ll need to jump through a few hoops before you qualify for the higher rate. Here are the four requirements:

  • Have $15,000 in combined loans or deposits with ACU
  • Have a $500 direct deposit each month
  • Sign up for eStatements
  • Complete 10 debit transactions in-store that post and settle during the monthly statement period

In addition, there are 30,000+ surcharge-free ATMs for you to use, and while there are no ATM fee refunds, you receive 10 free ATM fee withdrawals per month — that means America’s Credit Union will not charge you for using an out-of-network ATM, but you will have to pay whatever fee the ATM operator charges.

LEARN MORE Secured

on America's Credit Union’s secure website

3. La Capitol Federal Credit Union – Choice Plus Checking

Monthly Fee

Minimum Monthly Balance

Amount to Open

ATM Fee Refunds

APY

$2, waived if you enroll in eStatements

$0*

$50

Up to $25 per month

4.25% APY on balances up to $3,000

2.00% APY on balances $3,000-$10,000

0.10% APY on balances over $10,000 (or on all balances if you don’t make 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month)

This checking account has a $2 monthly service fee, which can easily be waived if you enroll in eStatements.

*While the terms state a minimum balance requirement of $1,000 and a low balance fee of $8, the fee can be waived if you make 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month.

To earn the top interest rate on your checking balance, you just need to make at least 15 or more posted non-ATM debit card transactions per month. There are numerous surcharge-free La Capitol ATMs for you to use, and after signing up for eStatements you can receive up to $25 per month in ATM fee refunds when you use out-of-network ATMs.

LEARN MORE Secured

on La Capitol Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Check out our full list of the best high-yield checking accounts.

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.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Everything You Need to Know About the TEACH Grant

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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A March government study found that about 12,000 recipients of the TEACH Grant, a grant for college students who agree to teach needed subjects at lower-income areas, had their grants converted into loans.

This happens sometimes because students didn’t fulfill their service obligations, and other times it was due to minor process errors, according to the U.S. Department Education’s study of the TEACH Grant program.

The report said 63 percent of TEACH Grant recipients who began their teaching service before July 2014 had their grants converted to a loan, either because they had not met the service requirements or the annual certification requirements. When TEACH Grant recipients first received their grants, the study says, 89 percent participants thought they were likely or very likely to meet the service requirements.

Ashley Norwood, consumer and regulatory adviser at American Student Assistance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students complete the financing and repayment of higher education, told MagnifyMoney she has seen more grant recipients face the grant-loan-conversion issue as more students have signed up for the program, and it happened for various reasons.

“I don’t think anyone is all at fault. I think that it’s a combination of errors,” said Norwood.

The program is complicated — the amount of paperwork and procedures required to administer and participate in the TEACH Grant is onerous, she said. Oftentimes, schools don’t offer rigorous upfront counseling about the grant due to a lack of resources or personnel. And on the students’ part, they don’t always stay on top of the service obligations and other requirements they agreed to, Norwood said.

In this guide, we offer expert tips for getting the grant and avoiding the grant-loan conversion. We also provide actionable advice for grant recipients whose grants have been converted to loans.

What is a TEACH grant?

Since 2008, the federal government has been offering TEACH grants to college students who commit to teach in a needed field, like math and science, at a school that serves students from lower-income families.

A student can receive a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant of up to $4,000 a year, but budget cuts reduced the maximum award in recent years:

  • For any 2017–18 TEACH Grant first disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2016, and before Oct. 1, 2017, the maximum award was $3,724.
  • For any 2017–18 TEACH Grant first disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2017, and before Oct. 1, 2018, the maximum award is $3,736.

Recipients must complete coursework needed to begin their career as a qualifying teacher, and must sign an agreement to teach at least four years in an eight-year time frame after graduation. After finishing their program, they must provide an annual certification that they are currently teaching in a high-need field and a low-income school or intend to do so. Those who do not meet the requirements will see their TEACH Grants be converted to unsubsidized loans.

How to get the TEACH grant

Step 1: Do the research

If you are interested in applying for TEACH Grant, you should contact the financial aid office at your school to find out whether your school participates in the TEACH Grant and which courses of study are TEACH Grant-eligible. The financial aid office staff should be able to walk you through the benefits and service requirements.

As of the first quarter of the 2017-18 academic year, 572 higher education institutions participated in the grant, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Schools determine which programs are TEACH Grant-eligible.

It’s not as simple as an English major hoping to teach English after graduation being eligible for the grant. A program of study that’s eligible for the TEACH Grant is a specific program designed to prepare students qualified to teach in a high-need subject. You want to make sure you are enrolled in the right program. It could be an undergraduate, graduate or post-baccalaureate program.

A post-baccalaureate program is not TEACH Grant-eligible if your school also offers a bachelor’s degree in education.

Step 2: Apply

Once you decide to participate in the program and are enrolled in the right program, you will need to apply for a TEACH Grant by completing a FAFSA form.

Step 3: Complete counseling

Then you will need to complete TEACH Grant Initial Counseling, which occurs online and explains the terms and conditions of the TEACH Grant service obligation.

This is an important task because you will learn what exactly you are signing up for during the process. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the counseling, and you will need a FSA ID and your school name for it. You must complete the counseling process every year you receive a TEACH Grant, and you can do so here.

Step 4: Sign the agreement

The last step in the grant application process is completing an Agreement to Serve, a legally binding document that explains the service obligations and conditions of the TEACH Grant, as well as your rights and responsibilities if the grant is converted to a loan. You commit to those terms when signing the Agreement to Serve.

Each year you receive a TEACH Grant, you must sign an Agreement to Serve. A read-only version of the agreement can be accessed here. You can sign the document here. Your school will be notified once you submit your Agreement to Serve.

An additional note

It is important to keep a copy of all of your TEACH Grant paperwork and correspondence with your grant servicer for your records.

What to do while you’re still in school

You only qualify for a grant if your score is in the top 25th percentile on college admissions tests, and you need to maintain a cumulative 3.25 GPA to maintain your eligibility for the funds, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Remember to complete the counseling and the Agreement to Serve each year that you receive a TEACH Grant.

When you’re looking for employment, make sure that you are going to teach full time in a high-need subject in a school serving low-income families.

Experts suggest grant recipients be cognizant that this grant can turn into a loan if you are not careful.

Norwood said if you decide that you are not going to teach or you are not going to serve in a low-income area, you may return the grant, but you have very little time to make that decision. You can cancel the full grant or a portion of it the first day of the school’s payment period or 14 days after your school sends you a notification stating your right to cancel. If you do so during the timeframe, your school will return to the Department of Education your awarded funds, which won’t be converted to a loan.

How to prevent the TEACH grant from turning into a loan

Meet all the service requirements

Once you complete your education, you have to meet all the requirements stated in your Agreement to Serve:

1. You must teach in high-need fields

They are identified by the federal government or a local education agency. Common high-need fields include bilingual education, science, reading specialist, math and foreign language. The subject you teach must be listed within the Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing for the state in which you teach, either when you begin your service or when you sign the Agreement to Serve, according to the Department of Education. The most recent list is here.

Norwood said that it’s fine if teachers bounce around qualifying subjects, but if you teach any of the fields not considered a high-need one, then you’re not performing the required service.

2. You must work full time in qualified fields for at least 4 years

They don’t have to be four consecutive years, but you need to finish your teaching service within eight years of graduating. And more than half of the classes you teach each school year are in high-need fields.

3. You must teach in a school serving low-income families

You must perform the teaching service as a highly qualified teacher (defined by Title IX) at a low-income elementary school, secondary school (public or private) or educational service agency.

Qualified schools are listed in the department’s annual Teacher Cancellation Low-Income Directory. Schools operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) or on Indian reservations by Indian tribal groups under contract or grant with the BIE qualify as low-income schools. That list is here.

4. You must provide your TEACH Grant servicer with documentation of service performance process

Within 120 days of completing the education for which you received a TEACH Grant, you must tell your TEACH Grant servicer in writing that you are working as a full-time teacher (or that you plan to do so), according to the terms and conditions of the TEACH Grant service obligation.

Complete the annual certification

Every year, you have to offer your grant servicer paperwork documenting your teaching service. You can obtain the required form from your servicer. The paperwork must be signed off by the chief administrative officer or an authorized official at the school where you taught for the year being certified. The official must confirm you performed qualified service in the right school and more than half of your classes were in high-need fields.

If you have completed your education but are not employed in a qualifying teaching position, you must notify your grant servicer at least once each year that you still intend to satisfy your service obligation.

Your TEACH Grant servicer is supposed to contact you periodically to confirm your intent to satisfy your obligation, but experts said you need to be on top of providing annual information. Take it upon yourself to make regular contact with your servicer, particularly if you don’t start your qualified service immediately after finishing your education.

At the latest, you should start your qualified teaching service four years after completing the program where you received the TEACH Grant, Norwood said.

If you don’t meet any of the service requirements, your grant will be converted to a direct unsubsidized loan. Read more about conditions that convert a TEACH Grant to a loan here.

Common problems

Norwood said many people encountered issues because they didn’t get the right paperwork to keep the servicer updated of their progress, possibly because they didn’t keep their address up-to-date with their servicer. It could also be that they didn’t complete the form correctly or missed the deadline to submit their annual certification.

“If I had a piece of advice, I would say just to students to make sure they really pay attention to what they’re signing, and open mail from the Department of Education or a servicer as soon as it comes,” Norwood said. “Don’t ignore it.”

A staff member at the American Federation of Teachers spoke on background that sometimes the grant is converted to a loan because the recipient made a minor error in their paperwork, but there is no appeal process with the servicer, and so the teacher can’t correct it.

Because the servicer is very particular and exact about details, the American Federation of Teachers advises educators to carefully review all the forms they send to the servicer.

What to do if you feel you your grant is wrongly converted to a loan

The Department of Education contracts servicers to handle the TEACH Grant, and FedLoan Servicing currently services TEACH Grants. It monitors the process to make sure recipients do everything correctly and, after you complete the paperwork certifying that you’ve met all the qualifications, you send over the documentation. In the event that a grant must convert to a loan, FedLoan Servicing will execute it, apply interest retroactively and begin loan servicing.

If you think you have done everything correctly and met all the requirements but your grant is converted to a loan, experts suggest you engage with your grant servicer first.

Norwood advised grant recipients in this situation to reach out to the people whom you have been working with on the grant. If that doesn’t work, you can then seek help from the servicer’s ombudsman, an impartial mediator who will take a look at the situation, identify problems and help settle the issue, Norwood said.

If FedLoan Servicing’s ombudsman can’t help solve the problem, you can then file a dispute with the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group with the education department. The ombudsman is established as a neutral party to help fix problems that include grant-loan conversion.

You can reach the ombudsman online, by phone at (877) 557-2575, or at:
Office of the Ombudsman
U.S. Department of Education
830 First Street NE, Mail Stop 5144
Washington, D.C. 20201-5144

Depending on specific situations, Norwood said issues caused by recipients, such as missing a deadline, may not get much sympathy. But if processing errors occurred on either side, there may be some leeway there, and a loan may revert back to a grant, Norwood said.

How to repay a TEACH grant that converted to a loan

If the grant converts to a loan, you will be given the opportunity to pay the interest that accrued before it capitalizes.

“If you can make extra payments,” Norwood said, “I would make extra payments to help pay down that interest.”

But if you can’t, interest capitalizes when the loan enters repayment at the end of a 6-month grace period, which starts the day after your grant is converted to a loan.

Norwood advises you make sure to get on a repayment plan that works for you. If you have other federal loans in your name, you may consolidate them.

Interest rates

The loan servicer will retroactively apply interest, which accrues from the time you received your first grant, as if you signed a loan instead of received a grant.

For instance, if you signed the agreement in September 2013, it would be subject to the interest rate applied to unsubsidized direct loans disbursed in September 2013. The servicer will calculate your outstanding interest as if it had accrued over the last five years.

If the grant is wrongly converted to a loan, Norwood suggests the recipient still make payments, because you could always get refunded later.

You can also ask for the loan to be placed in forbearance while your case is being investigated by the Department of Education. This way, you can put off making payments until you’ve received a resolution. If the grant was indeed wrongly converted to a loan, Norwood said you won’t need to get a refund because you haven’t paid anything upfront. But if the loan doesn’t revert back to a grant, you at least paid the interest that accrued during the forbearance.

Repayment plans

The repayment plans for a student loan converted from a TEACH Grant are the same for all other federal loans. You can go with the standard repayment plan, graduated plan or income-driven plan, among others. Your loan servicer will be FedLoan Servicing.

Consolidate and refinance

You can consolidate the loan with other eligible federal loans, but there’s no refinancing option in the federal loan program. However, you could refinance with a private lender, Norwood said. Just remember you will lose all of the federal benefits such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness, deferment, forbearance and income-driven repayment plans if you are out of the federal student loan system.

This article may include links to SimpleTuition, a subsidiary of LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

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.

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Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at shenlu@magnifymoney.com

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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*

3.624-10.675%

5.40-10.84%

3.62-8.56%

4.51-9.59%

4.63-11.43%

Fixed APR*

4.75-11.50%

6.84-11.67%

5.74-8.56%

5.36-9.69%

5.99-11.45%

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.

*Rates are current as of April 12, 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 April 1, 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.

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.

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

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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: April 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% - 7.13%


Fixed Rate*

2.54% - 7.38%


Variable Rate*

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
earnestA+

20


Years

3.25% - 6.37%


Fixed Rate

2.57% - 5.87%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
commonbondA+

20


Years

3.14% - 7.25%


Fixed Rate

2.72% - 7.27%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
lendkeyA+

20


Years

3.15% - 8.12%


Fixed Rate

2.56% - 7.94%


Variable Rate

$125k / $175k


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

3.37% - 7.02%


Fixed Rate

2.80% - 5.90%


Variable Rate

No Max


Undergrad/Grad
Max Loan
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

3.50% - 8.34%


Fixed Rate

2.88% - 7.98%


Variable Rate

$90k / $350k


Undergraduate /
Graduate
Learn more Secured
A+

20


Years

5.24% - 8.24%


Fixed Rate

4.74% - 7.99%


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 student loans, 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 to refinance student loans?

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 your student loans 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

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on SoFi’s secure website

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SoFi : Variable rates from 2.54% 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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on CommonBond’s secure website

Read Full Review

CommonBond : Variable Rates from 2.72% and Fixed Rates from 3.14% (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 Bank

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Laurel Road Bank : Variable Rates from 2.80% and Fixed Rates from 3.37% (with AutoPay)

Laurel Road Bank 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 Bank may forgive some, if not all of the amount owed.
  • Offers good perks for Residents and Fellows: Laurel Road Bank 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 Bank’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 Bank, 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 Bank 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 2.88% and Fixed Rates from 3.50% (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 4.74% 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% – 3.95% 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 4.74% and fixed rates starting at 5.24%. 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 4.75% 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 4.07% and fixed rates start at 4.70%.
  • Thrivent: Partnered with Thrivent Federal Credit Union, Thrivent Student Loan Resources offers variable rates starting at 3.63% APR and fixed rates starting at 3.99% 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 3.57% (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% – 6.69% 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 3.82% – 7.42% 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 2.88%-8.23% APR and fixed interest rates ranging from 3.20% – 9.64% 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
Nick Clements |

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 April 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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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

Read Full Review

Discover it® for Students

Annual fee
$0
Cashback Rate
up to 5%
Regular APR
14.49%-23.49%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit
Fair

Best for Commuter Students

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students

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on Bank Of America’s secure website

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
14.49%-24.49%

Variable

Credit required
fair-credit

Average

Best Flat-Rate Card

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

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on Capital One’s secure website

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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
12.65%-22.65%

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
15.15%

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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on Bank Of America’s secure website

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
16.49%-24.49%

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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on Discover Bank’s secure website

Rates & Fees

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Discover it® Secured Card - No Annual Fee

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
24.49%

Variable

Credit required
bad-credit
Bad

Best for No Credit History

Deserve Edu Mastercard

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on Deserve’s secure website

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Annual fee
$0 For First Year
$0 Ongoing
Cashback Rate
1% on all purchases
Regular Purchase APR
20.24%

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 and we detail them 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.

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

Should I Upgrade My Student Credit Card When I Graduate?

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.

Graduating from college is an exciting time filled with the promise of new challenges. Taking control of your finances is one of the more difficult challenges you’ll encounter, especially if you’re looking to build up a solid credit history.

While you were in school, you might have signed up for a student credit card. If you used your card responsibly while working toward your degree, you will likely graduate with a solid credit score and an important choice to make — should you upgrade your student card after graduation?

So long as your credit is strong, you’ll likely have the chance to upgrade to an equally good, if not better, credit card.

In this guide, we’ll help you decide if you should upgrade your student card and what to watch out for, as well as how credit card issuers handle student cards.

Should I upgrade my student card?

First of all, let’s discuss what upgrading your card really entails since you have several options:

Transitioning to a new card with the same issuer. If you like the issuer of your current credit card, you can request to transition your account to a new card they offer. For example, if you have the Discover it® for Students, you may decide the Discover it® chrome is more suited toward your spending habits. Call the number on the back of your card to request the transition, but keep in mind you’re not guaranteed the new card. Issuers look at various credit factors prior to the transition. If you are moved to the new card, the majority of the time issuers will issue your new card with the same account number.

Pros:

  • By simply transitioning to a new card, you aren’t closing your existing account. That means you won’t lower the average age of your credit, which can sometimes hurt your credit score.
  • Often similar terms and fee structure.
  • Familiarity with the online and mobile interfaces.
  • Typically, the ability to keep the same account number.
  • Don’t need to manage multiple credit card accounts.

Cons:

  • May have an annual fee.
  • May require a higher credit score.
  • Because you are technically applying for a new card in a sense, the credit issuer will have to pull your credit again. That will result in a new credit inquiry, which could lower your score by a few points.

Keeping your student card open and applying for a new card somewhere else. If you want a new credit card, a good option to consider is keeping your student card open and applying for a new card elsewhere, whether it’s a store card like Target or a card from another issuer. By keeping your student card open, you help your credit score in several ways.

Pros:

  • Improves your credit score by increasing your credit utilization rate (the amount of your total credit you use vs. the amount of credit you have available to you).
  • Doesn’t lower your average length of credit as significantly as closing your student card. This is likely your oldest credit account and when lenders calculate your credit score, they consider the average age of your credit accounts in that math. The older your accounts are, the better your score could be.
  • You may be able to find a card that offers rewards or benefits your student card does not

Cons:

  • New terms and fees to keep track of.
  • May have trouble managing two accounts.
  • Results in a new credit inquiry, temporarily lowering your score a few points.

Closing your student card and opening a new card. You may decide that you don’t want to keep your student card open anymore, and instead want to close it and open a new card. However, we don’t recommend closing your student card since it hurts your credit score. Most student credit cards don’t charge fees anyway, so you have nothing to lose by keeping your account open.

Pros:

  • Don’t need to manage multiple credit card accounts.

Cons:

  • Lowers your credit score by decreasing your average length of credit history.
  • Lowers your credit score because it will decrease the total amount of credit you have available to you. When that happens, it’s much easier for you wind up with a higher utilization rate. Your utilization rate is the amount of your total credit you use vs. how much you have access to.
  • Results in a new credit inquiry, temporarily lowering your score a few points

What if I have a poor credit score?

A poor credit score is typically considered to be anything under 669. It’s not impossible to qualify for credit cards, but you won’t have as many options as someone with good credit.

Applying for credit cards dings your credit score slightly, though it will bounce back. So, if your score is already less than perfect, applying for a new card or cards that you may have low approval odds for isn’t the best idea for a number of reasons.

Besides temporarily lowering your score for each application you submit, opening a new card lowers the average length of your credit history — which is an important factor in your credit score.

An alternative is to request a credit limit increase on your student card, which can help your credit score by improving your credit utilization (the amount of your total credit you use). Overall, it can be more beneficial to continue using your student card coupled with responsible credit management in order to improve your credit score. Then, when you’ve established good credit, consider applying for a new credit card.

But, if you’re eager to open a new card, check to see if the issuer offers pre-qualification. This allows you to check if you may be approved for a card without harming your credit score and can give you a good idea of where you stand. However, keep in mind pre-qualification is not a guarantee that you’ll be approved for the actual card.

What if I have good or excellent credit?

If you have good or excellent credit, you can apply for a new card or stick with your student card. Having good or excellent credit when you graduate is great, and opens you to the best credit cards on the market. If you want a different card that suits your spending more than your student card, shop around for different cards like rewards and cashback, then apply for the card of your choosing.

What to watch out for when upgrading to a new card

Annual fees. Your student card most likely doesn’t have an annual fee, but many non-student credit cards come with annual fees that can have lows around $39 but highs of $550. Since you’re still relatively new to credit, it may be a good idea to stick with no-annual fee cards until you can justify an annual fee card. Check out the best no annual fee rewards cards here.

APRs. APR stands for Annual Percentage Rate. This is the fee you may have to pay the bank on any overdue balances. Unless you pay your balance in full with each statement month, you’ll get charged your APR on top of whatever you owe. The majority of credit cards have variable APR ranges, and you won’t know yours until after you apply. That means if a card has a 12.24%-24.24% variable APR, you may get the lowest rate, a rate in between or the highest rate — and it can change at any time. Therefore, you should take note of the APR range before you apply. However, if you always pay your bill on time and in full, the APR you receive won’t be a major factor, though it’s something to note in case of an unexpected emergency.

Overspending. When you open a new card post-graduation, you most likely will have more income to report than during college (due to a full-time job). And, as a result, issuers may grant you a higher credit limit than you had with your student card. This increased line of credit may tempt you to overspend, but don’t fall into common debt traps. Try to spend only what you can afford to pay when your statement is due — or better yet, only spend what you can afford to pay immediately.

What should I do with my student card?

Don’t cancel it! If you decide to open a new card, don’t cancel your student card since that will hurt your credit score. Canceling your card lowers your average length of credit history and your utilization rate — two factors that make up 45% of your FICO® Score.

Continue to use it. Don’t put your student card in a drawer and forget about it. Most issuers will close your account if there is no activity for a while. To keep your card active, set up a small recurring payment for a monthly service, like Netflix or Spotify.

What happens to my student card when I graduate?

Many of the top credit card issuers offer a non-student version of their student card with nearly identical terms. Since the two cards are so similar, you may be able to keep the same student card without any action on your part, or your issuer will transfer you to a similar non-student card. Below, we list the student card you may have and what happens when you graduate.

Student card

 

Card when you graduate

Discover it<sup>®</sup> chrome for Students

Discover it® chrome for Students

No action required, card remains the same

Discover it<sup>®</sup> for Students

Discover it® for Students

No action required, card remains the same

Citi ThankYou<sup>®</sup> Preferred Card for College Students

Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card for College Students

No action required, card remains the same

Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card for Students

Bank of America® Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

No action required, card remains the same

Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card for Students

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

No action required, card remains the same

Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card

Wells Fargo Cash Back CollegeSM Card

Automatic upgrade to the Wells Fargo Cash Back Visa® Card when you graduate and meet the credit requirements.

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.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at alexandria@magnifymoney.com

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College Students and Recent Grads

Parent Loans (Parent PLUS and Private Parent Loan Options)

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 and graduate students may have several options when it comes to paying for school, including federal student loans that don’t depend on the student’s income or credit, or the family’s financial situation.

However, sometimes a student hits the federal loan limit and still needs money for school or living expenses. Parents who want to help shoulder some of the financial burden also have options. They may be able to take out a federal parent PLUS loan after their child submits a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or apply directly with a private lender, and use the money to pay for a student’s educational expenses.

In this guide, we’ll explain everything you need to know about parent loan options.

Private vs. federal: Which is the right choice for you?

You have two choices in parent loans, federal parent PLUS loans or a parent loan from a private student lender. In either case, the loan will be in your name (rather than the student’s), there’s a credit check and you’ll be responsible for repaying the debt. However, there are important differences to consider.

Eligibility: The parent PLUS loans have a credit check which looks for an adverse credit history, such as a recent default, foreclosure, repossession or bankruptcy. However, parent PLUS loan eligibility isn’t dependent on a credit score or the applicant’s income or other debts that are in good standing. And every borrower during a given loan disbursement period receives the same fixed interest rate and pays the same disbursement fee.

Private student loans are also credit-based, and the lender may have a more rigorous underwriting process than what you undergo for a federal student loan. Your eligibility for a loan could depend on your income, debts, credit history and credit score, and these can also affect your interest rate.

Cost: While private student loans often don’t charge disbursement or origination fees, your annual percentage rate (APR), which is the cost of borrowing inclusive of fees, could be higher with a private student loan than a parent PLUS loan. On the other hand, especially creditworthy borrowers may find private student loans are a much less expensive option.

Terms and benefits: In addition to the cost of borrowing, you may want to consider the loan’s term, repayment plans and benefits. For example, a federal parent PLUS loan will be discharged if the student dies. The policies may vary from one private lender to another, and depending on the servicer that the lender partners with to collect loan payments.

Flexibility: Also, consider your options if you’re having trouble making payments later. You may be able to put a parent PLUS loan into forbearance and temporarily stop making payments. There are different repayment plans that can lower your monthly payments, and private lenders may vary their policies and offerings.

Parent PLUS loans: Explained

Parent PLUS loans are a subtype of direct PLUS loans, which are part of the U.S. Department of Education’s William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan program. The department offers direct PLUS loans directly to graduate and professional degree students and parents of dependent undergraduate students. Sometimes these loans are called grad PLUS loans.

Parent PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate and disbursement fee for all borrowers, although it may vary from one year to the next.

Parent PLUS loan rates

Interest rates for loans disbursed July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018

7%

Disbursement fee for loans disbursed on or after Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018

4.264%

Annual and aggregate loan limits

Cost of attendance minus the student’s other financial aid.

Unlike some types of federal student loans which limit how much you can borrow each year, or aggregate, parent PLUS loans don’t have a preset limit. However, you’re still limited to the school-determined cost of attendance for the student, minus other financial aid that the student received.

Eligibility requirements

To qualify for a parent PLUS loan, you must meet these requirements:

  • Your child must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • You meet the basic eligibility requirements for federal student aid.
  • You can’t have an adverse credit history.
  • You must take out the loan on behalf of a biological or adoptive child. Stepchildren may also qualify, in some cases.

The student you’re borrowing money for also must meet the eligibility guidelines for federal aid and must be taking at least a half-time course load at an eligible school. Your child also has to be a dependent student as determined by the education department, which uses different guidelines than tax-related dependency status.

If you don’t qualify for a parent PLUS loan due to having an adverse credit history, you may still be able to still take out a parent PLUS loan if you add an eligible endorser (similar to a cosigner on the loan) to the loan. The endorser will have to repay the loan if you’re unable to make payments in the future.

You may also qualify if you can prove that the there’s an error in your credit reports that led to the adverse credit, or if there are extenuating circumstances related to your adverse credit. For example, if you have adverse credit due to recent foreclosure, you may be able to qualify if you sold the home with a short sale and can prove the sale was approved and completed.

If you’re qualifying for a parent PLUS loan because of an endorser or extenuating circumstances, you’ll also need to take an online PLUS Credit Counseling session. All borrowers are required to take an online entrance counseling course.

How to apply for a Parent PLUS loan

Fill out the FAFSA. To take out a parent PLUS loan, your child will need to complete the FAFSA, which you can find on FAFSA.gov. You’ll need to share some information for FAFSA, including your Social Security number, tax and some financial information. MagnifyMoney has a guide to filling out the FAFSA, and the education department offers shares helpful information and guides online.

Resubmit FAFSA each year. Your child will need to resubmit the FAFSA each year to remain eligible for federal financial aid, and for you to qualify for parent PLUS loans.

For students beginning their first year at school, they’ll hear back from all the schools that received their FAFSAs with financial aid offers. Otherwise, they’ll just get a response from their current school. The award letter will list the types of aid the student is eligible for and maximum loan limits.

Review your financial award letter. The next step can vary from school to school, so you should reach out to the school’s financial aid office if it hasn’t already given you instructions on how to request a PLUS loan.

Your child’s award letter may list a parent PLUS loan, but even if it doesn’t, you could still be eligible for a parent PLUS loan. On the other hand, even if a parent PLUS loan is on the award letter, you’ll still need to meet the eligibility criteria to qualify for the loan. In either case, you may need to apply for the loan on StudentLoans.gov.

Complete your paperwork. If you qualify, you’ll also need to sign the direct PLUS loan Master Promissory Note. If you’re not able to get a parent PLUS loan, your child may be eligible for additional direct unsubsidized loans.

Repaying a parent PLUS loan

How PLUS loans are disbursed: The education department disburses (sends) the money you borrow with a parent PLUS loan to your child’s school to cover his or her expenses, such as tuition and fees. If the parent PLUS loan is for more than your child’s outstanding expenses, the school will send you a refund for whatever is left over. You can alternatively authorize the school to send the money to your child.

Making payments: Parent PLUS loans have a standard 10-year repayment plan and you may need to start repaying your loan after the last disbursement. You can also apply to defer your loan for as long as your child is enrolled at least half time at an eligible school, and for the six months after he or she leaves the school. However, your loan will accrue interest during this period, which could add to your total cost of repaying the loan.

Repayment plan options: In addition to deferring the loans, you may be able to switch to a different repayment plan. Changing plans to the extended repayment plan will increase your loan’s term and lower your monthly payments. You can also switch to the Income-Contingent Repayment plan after consolidating your parent PLUS into a direct consolidation loan. The ICR plan bases your monthly payments on your income, family size and where you live.

Liability: Some parents have an arrangement with their child where the child helps repays the parent PLUS loan. However, because you took out the loan in your name, legally you must repay the money. Children won’t be able to take legal responsibility for a parent PLUS loan, even after they graduate, unless they apply for student loan refinancing from a private lender that lets them include a parent’s loan.

Private student loans for parents: What are your options?

Similar to parent PLUS loans, some private student lenders offer student loans to parents who want to help finance a child’s education. These are credit-based loans, and each lender may have different underwriting requirements and loan offerings. Therefore, if you’re considering a parent loan from a private student lender, you may want to compare lenders and their loans’ terms.

Where to find private parent loans

Parents can find private parent loans from banks, credit unions and student loan companies. The five companies featured here are among the largest national private student loan lenders that offer loans specifically for parents who want to finance a student’s education.

There’s no single company that’s best for every parent borrower, nor is there one lender that will always offer you the lowest APR. Even the lender with the lowest advertised APR might offer you a higher rate than a different lender. However, there may be other requirements or features, such as the minimum loan amount or repayment plans, that make one lender a better fit for your situation.

Pre-approval with private parent loans

Some private lenders let you apply for loan pre-approval with a soft credit inquiry, which won’t affect your credit score. If you’re pre-approved, you may see an estimated APR, or APR range, which could help you decide between lenders.

When you decide to take out a loan, you’ll need to agree to a hard credit inquiry and will then see your official loan offers. You can still decide to turn down the loan and keep looking if you want.

A hard credit inquiry could hurt your credit score. However, multiple hard credit inquiries from student loans get treated as a single inquiry for credit-scoring purposes when they occur within a 14-day period. Since you’ll eventually have to agree to at least one hard inquiry to take out a private parent loan, you may want to apply with several lenders (including those that don’t offer a soft credit inquiry pre-approval) once you’re ready to take out a loan.

Private parent loans options

All of these rates and loan terms are current as of March 26, 2018, and may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

SoFi

Variable APR*

4.090%-7.515%

Fixed APR*

4.250%-8.000%

Loan terms

Five or 10 years

Loan balance range

$5,000 to the cost of attendance

Fees

No application, disbursement, origination or prepayment fees.

Late fee is up to $5.

Interest rate discount

0.25% with autopay

Additional 0.125% if you were a SoFi member before applying.

Soft credit check

Yes

Alternatives to parent loans

Some parents may want to help pay for a child’s education but don’t want to take out a parent loan or are having trouble getting approved for a student loan with a good rate.

Here are a few alternatives options you can consider.

Max out federal aid

Whatever you do, you and your student’s first step should always be to max out the federal student aid options, from grants to student loans. These options are nearly always the best bet financially, because they come with more flexible loan terms, repayment plans and typically have lower rates than what you’ll find from private lenders.

If you still feel the need to seek additional sources of aid, here are some alternatives:

A personal loan

Personal loans are unsecured loans that you can take out for almost any purpose. However, check the lender’s restrictions as some loan companies specifically state you can’t use a personal loan for educational expenses.

A personal loan may be a good idea if you want to receive the money directly rather than have it sent to your school. And personal loans may be easier to get discharged during a bankruptcy. But those two potential pros are outweighed by many cons.

Personal loans may have a much higher interest rate than student loans. If you have poor credit, the APR could be over 30% and you may have to pay origination fees that can eat into how much money you receive. Those with poor credit may be able to get a much lower interest rate with a federal parent PLUS loan, which doesn’t have a minimum credit score. And they’ll have access to federal loan repayment programs and benefits in case they have trouble making payments later.

Those with good-to-excellent credit may get a lower rate with a private student loan. Although private student loans can be harder to discharge than personal loans during a bankruptcy, private student lenders may offer forbearance or deferment options that let you temporarily stop making payments.

Also, you may be able to deduct up to $2,500 in interest payments on student loans, including private students loans, which isn’t an option with a personal loan.

Compare personal loan offers at MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree.

A home equity loan

If you’ve built equity in your home, you may be able to take out a home equity loan and use the money to help pay for college.

In turn, you may be able to save money if you use a home equity loan as interest rates could be similar, or maybe even lower, than on a parent loan. The home equity loan won’t be eligible for federal student loan repayment plans, but sometimes you can make interest-only payments on the loan. Although, as with student loans, making smaller payments now will increase your overall cost of repaying the loan.

There are also a few downsides to taking out a home equity loan. Since the passing of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the new tax bill), if you use a home equity loan to pay for educational expenses, the interest payments aren’t tax-deductible. But one of the biggest drawbacks is that you could be taking on a lot more risk.

With a student loan or unsecured personal loan, if you don’t make payments you could wind up getting charged fees, hurt your credit and lead to your wages or Social Security payments being garnished. Falling behind on a home equity loan can also result in fees, damage to your credit and garnished wages, and the lender may foreclose on your home.

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.

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, Reviews

Sallie Mae Student Loans Review 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.

mortar board cash

Most students who borrow money for their education should start with federal student loans. The federal loan programs offer borrowers a variety of repayment, forgiveness, cancellation and discharge programs that aren’t available from private lenders.

But if you reach your federal loan limits, or exam your options and find you might be better off with a private student loan, you can compare loan offerings from private student lenders. One of the largest private student loan companies, Sallie Mae, has a dozen education loan products you can consider.

What is Sallie Mae?

Started over 40 years ago, Sallie Mae has played a variety of roles in the student loan space, including lending federally guaranteed loans and private student loans, and servicing federal and private loans.

Sallie Mae spun off a portion of its student loan servicing business to form a new company, Navient, in 2014. And due to changes in the federal student loan programs Sallie Mae no longer originates federally guaranteed loans. Now, Sallie Mae offers and services its private student loans, and also has banking products, such as savings accounts.

Types of student loans Sallie Mae offers

Whether you’re a parent of a grade school student or about to begin your doctorate, Sallie Mae may have a student loan that fits your needs. Its loan products include two for parents or sponsors of students; seven for students enrolled in a degree, training or certification program; and three for health profession and law students to cover residency or bar exam costs.

  1. K-12.For a parent or sponsor of a child who wants to take out a loan to pay for a student’s private kindergarten-through-high school education.
  2. Parent.For a parent or sponsor of a child who wants to take out a loan and pay for an undergraduate, graduate or certificate program.
  3. Career training. For students at eligible non-degree granting schools.
  4. Undergraduate. For students at degree-granting schools who are earning an associate or bachelor’s degree.
  5. Graduate. For students at degree-granting schools who are earning a master’s, doctorate or law degree.
  6. MBA. For business school students.
  7. Health professions graduate. For graduate health profession students, including those in nursing, psychology and dental assistant programs.
  8. Dental school. For graduate dental degree students, including those in dentistry, endodontics and orthodontics programs.
  9. Medical school. For graduate medical degree students, including those in allopathic, osteopathic and podiatric programs.
  10. Medical residency and relocation. For medical residency students to help pay for board examinations and residency-related travel and moving expenses.
  11. Dental residency and relocation. For dental residency students to help pay for board examinations and residency-related travel and moving expenses.
  12. Bar study. For law students and recent graduates to help pay for bar review courses, registration and living expenses while you study.

Sallie Mae student loans in a nutshell

Most of Sallie Mae’s loans are identical when it comes to fees, cosigner release options and discounts.

Fees

  • Aside from the K-12 loan’s 3% disbursement fee, none of the loans have application, origination, disbursement or prepayment fees.
  • Late payments result in a fee that’s 5% of the amount due (capped at $25).
  • Returned checks carry a $20 fee.

Cosigner release

  • You can apply to release a cosigner after making 12 consecutive, on-time, full interest and principal payments. However, parent loans don’t offer a cosigner release option.

Discounts

  • With all but the K-12 loans, you can receive a 0.25% interest rate discount if you sign up for automatic payments.
 

K-12 loans

Parent loans

Career training

Undergraduate loans

Graduate loans

MBA loans

Fixed APR range*

Not available

5.74% - 12.87%

Not available

5.74% - 11.85%

5.74% - 8.56%

5.74% - 8.56%

Variable APR range*

8.61% - 15.26%

5.12% - 11.49%**

5.87% - 12.98%**

3.62% - 10.54%**

3.62% - 8.56%**

3.62% - 8.56%**

Loan terms

Three years

10 years

Five to 15 years

Five to 15 years

Five to 15 years

Five to 15 years

Loan amount

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of tuition

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

Repayment plans

Full interest and principal payments

Full interest and principal payments

Interest-only payments

$25 a month

Interest-only payments


12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

**Variable rates are capped at 25%.

 

Health professions

Dental school

Medical school

Medical residency

Dental residency

Bar study

Fixed APR range*

5.74% - 8.56%

5.75% - 8.37%

5.74% - 8.36%

Not available

Not available

Not available

Variable APR range*

3.62% - 8.56%**

3.62% - 8.37%**

3.62% - 8.36%**

4.55% - 10.88%

4.55% - 10.88%

4.62% - 11.32%

Loan terms

Five to 15 years

20 years

20 years

Up to 20 years

Up to 20 years

Up to 15 years

Loan amount

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to the school-certified cost of attendance

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to $20,000

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to $20,000

$1,000 minimum

Borrow up to $15,000

Repayment plans

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Deferment

$25 a month

Interest-only payments

12-month interest-only repayment that begins after your separation or grace period ends

Full interest and principal payments

Two- or four-year interest-only repayment

Full interest and principal payments

Two- or four-year interest-only repayment

Full interest and principal payments

Two- or four-year interest-only repayment

**Variable-rate loans have a 25% APR cap.

How Sallie Mae compares with other lenders

Sallie Mae is one of MagnifyMoney’s top five private student lenders for 2018. We compared undergraduate student loan products and began with the nation’s 10 largest national lenders. The reviews focused on loans’ APR ranges, discounts, fees and repayment terms, as well as lenders’ policies for releasing a cosigner, deferring loan payments and their online applications.

Sallie Mae took third place, behind SunTrust Bank and Wells Fargo, partially because it only offers one discount opportunity (the other two allow borrowers to get up to 0.50% or 0.75% interest rate discounts).

In addition to having a top-rated undergraduate loan, Sallie Mae differentiates itself by offering such a wide variety of different student loans. Many of these other loans share characteristics with the undergraduate loan, including the 12-payment cosigner release requirement, lack of a specific maximum loan amount and 0.25% interest rate discount for auto debit.

However, as with any lender, there are pros and cons to consider before taking out a loan from Sallie Mae.

Advantages of Sallie Mae Student Loans

You may be able to choose a repayment plan. Depending on the loan product, you may be able to choose from up to three different repayment plans. A plan that requires you make payments while you’re in school could help you save money in the long run; however, deferring your full payments can give you more money to cover education and living expenses now.

12-month payment requirement for cosigner release. With most Sallie Mae student loans, you can apply to release your cosigner once you make 12 consecutive, full, on-time payments. Other lenders may let you apply for cosigner release, but it could take longer to qualify. For example, some lenders require you make 48 full monthly payments before you can apply.

In addition to the payments, you’ll need to pass a credit check and meet Sallie Mae’s requirements for releasing a cosigner.

Discharge due to death or permanent disability. Similar to the federal student loan guidelines, Sallie Mae will waive a borrower’s current balance if he or she dies or becomes permanently and totally disabled. The benefit may be especially important to borrowers who have a cosigner or dependents, such as a spouse or child, who could be affected if the debt isn’t waived.

No preset loan limit. While some federal student loans and private student loans set dollar-amount limits on how much you can borrow, most Sallie Mae student loans allow you to borrow up to your school’s certified cost of attendance.

Loans for less than half-time students. Some private school lenders require borrowers to have at least a half-time course load to qualify for a student loan. Sallie Mae’s loans for students don’t have this requirement.

Forbearance and deferment options. Putting your loans into forbearance or deferment lets you temporarily stop making payments without getting charged late payment fees or hurting your credit. Forbearance is generally for when you have trouble making payments, perhaps due to losing a job or a medical emergency, and deferment may apply to other circumstances, such as returning to school.

Sallie Mae could approve up to 12 months of forbearance in three-month increments and up to 60 months of deferment in 12-month increments. Interest continues to accumulate and your long-term costs may increase, but forbearance or deferment are still better options than missing a payment or letting a loan go into default.

Extra perks. Many of Sallie Mae’s student loans also come with the Study Smarter benefit. Borrowers can get four months of free study tools or 120 minutes of live online tutoring through Chegg Study® or a combination of the two.

All of Sallie Mae’s loans also give borrowers and cosigners quarterly access to a FICO® credit score.

Drawbacks of Sallie Mae Student Loans

No additional interest rate discount. Sallie Mae’s 0.25% interest rate discount is standard for most federal and private student loans. But other private lenders offer borrowers opportunities to get an additional 0.25% to 0.50% interest rate discount by having other financial products from the same lender or making auto debits from an account with the lender.

Sallie Mae assigns loan terms. Many Sallie Mae student loans have a repayment term that ranges from five to 15 years. Other lenders that offer a range of terms let borrowers choose their term, and the corresponding monthly payment and interest rate. Sallie Mae will assign you a term.

No loan pre-approval. Private student loans require a credit check. Some lenders will do a soft credit pull, which doesn’t hurt your score, to determine if you can qualify for a loan or need a cosigner and to show you estimated interest rates if you qualify. Sallie Mae will only show you rates after a hard credit inquiry, which could hurt your score.

What it takes to qualify with Sallie Mae

All Sallie Mae student loans have the same basic requirements:

Minimum credit score. Sallie Mae doesn’t disclose a minimum credit score requirement. In 2016, applicants that were approved for a Sallie Mae student loan on average had a 748 FICO® Score 8 at the time of approval.
Minimum age for borrowers. Borrowers must be the age of majority in their state (often 18 years old). Younger applicants will need an eligible and creditworthy cosigner.
State residency requirements. Sallie Mae student loans are available in every state.
Eligible schools. Sallie Mae doesn’t publish a list of eligible schools, but you can search for the name of a school at the beginning of the loan application to see if your school qualifies.

 

K-12 loans

Parent loans

Career training

Undergraduate loans

Graduate loans

MBA loans

Additional requirements

The student you’re taking the loan out for has to be enrolled in a private school.

The student you’re taking the loan out for has to be pursuing a certificate or an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree at a degree-granting school.

You must be enrolled at a non-degree granting school and pursuing professional training or a certification.

You must be a enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a certification or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

You must be enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a master’s, doctorate or law degree.

You must be enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a masters of business administration degree.

 

Health professions

Dental school

Medical school

Medical residency

Dental residency

Bar study

Additional requirements

You must be enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a degree in one of the eligible areas of study.

You must be enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a degree in one of the eligible areas of study.

You must be enrolled at a degree-granting school and pursuing a degree in one of the eligible areas of study.

You must either have a half-time course load and be in your last year at an eligible school, or graduated from an eligible school in the previous 12 months.

If you didn’t already earn your medical degree, you must expect to earn the degree in the current academic program year.

You must either have a half-time course load and be in your last year at an eligible school, or graduated from an eligible school in the previous 12 months.

If you didn’t already earn your dental degree, you must expect to earn the degree in the current academic program year.

You must either have a half-time course load and be in your last year at an eligible school, or graduated from an eligible school in the previous 12 months.

You must take the bar exam within 12 months of graduating.

What borrower is Sallie Mae best for?

Sallie Mae offers a variety of student loan products that could be a good fit for parents or students. If you, or a student you’re supporting, can’t take out additional federal student loans but need more money for school, Sallie Mae’s lack of a predefined loan limit could make it a good option.

The medical and dental residency programs and the bar study loan do have a loan limit. But even then, it’s higher than the limit of some competitors’ who offer similar types of loans.

You also may want to consider Sallie Mae if you think you’ll need a cosigner and would like to release the cosigner later. Although you still may not qualify depending on your creditworthiness, the 12 months of consecutive full payments is shorter than some other lenders require.

Taking a closer look at the online platform

You can learn a lot of details about Sallie Mae’s student loans on its website. There are landing pages for each loan product that have a lot of the basic information you’ll want to know. And there are pages with generally helpful information, such as how to make a loan payment or options if you’re having trouble making payments.

Some of the informational pages, such as on the one about interest rates and interest capitalization, also have quick video explainers to help you understand the topic and why it’s important to student loan borrowers.

The actual loan application doesn’t have quite as nice of a design as the other parts of the Sallie Mae website. But the application is still easy to navigate and fill out.

The fine print

The Sallie Mae product and informational pages give you a lot of the basic information you’ll want if you’re comparing student loans from several lenders. There are also loan application and solicitation disclosure forms for many of the loans online. In these, you can see fine-print items like the variable-rate loans’ interest rate cap and late payment fees.

It’s more difficult to find fine-print information on some of the loans, though. The K-12, residency and bar loans don’t have application and disclosure forms on their pages, for example. We were only able to confirm these loans’ fees and interest rate caps by reaching out to a representative from Sallie Mae.

While you would have a chance to review your loan details after agreeing to a credit check but before signing the loan agreement, it would be nice to have that information up front.

We were also disappointed in how difficult it is to understand how loan terms work with Sallie Mae student loans.

Some private lenders only offer one term. Others offer a variety of terms and let borrowers choose their loan term. Most of Sallie Mae’s undergraduate and graduate student loans have a five- to 15-year term, but Sallie Mae chooses which term to offer you. The loan term range, and the fact that Sallie Mae chooses the term rather than the borrow, isn’t clearly disclosed on the loan’s main page.

What to expect during the application process

Sallie Mae has an online loan application system that makes the process fairly uniform for all its student loans. A few questions may differ, but you can expect the process to be similar to the following steps. Applicants with cosigners may need their personal information, including the cosigner’s Social Security number and date of birth.

Basic information

General information. Basic information about the student and borrower:

  • Your name, email address and phone number.
  • Your date of birth, citizenship status and Social Security number.
  • Your relationship to the student, if you’re taking out a loan for someone else.

Address. Your permanent address and a previous address if you moved in the last year. If you have a different mailing address you’ll have to fill that in, too.

Student and school information. If you’re taking out the loan for a student, you’ll need the student’s name, date of birth, citizenship status and Social Security number.

Enter the name of the school and your, or the student’s academic information:

  • Degree type or certificate of study
  • Major or specialty
  • Enrollment status
  • Grade level
  • Academic period that the loan will cover
  • Anticipated graduation or certification graduate date

Loan application

Loan amount. The cost of attendance, which the application can help you estimate, as well as your estimated financial assistance.

You’ll automatically have a loan amount for the difference between your cost of attendance and financial assistance. You can choose to request less money, and even if you’re approved, Sallie Mae could offer you less than what you requested.

Employment info. Fill in information about your work, including:

  • Employment status
  • Employer’s name
  • Your occupation
  • Work phone number
  • Years with the current employer
  • Gross annual income.

Financial info. You can list additional income and assets you have, such as:

  • Income from alimony, child support or a rental property
  • Investments
  • Disability
  • Social Security
  • Income from a household member, such as a spouse

Your current assets that could be in checking, savings, CD or money market accounts.

You’ll also be asked about your expenses, including monthly housing payments (when applicable).

Personal contacts. Unless you’re taking out a loan for someone else, you’ll have to share two personal contacts that Sallie Mae can use as references. These could be a relative or family friends, and you’ll have to have their name and phone number.

Submit application. Choose to apply on your own or add a cosigner. You’ll be prompted to read and agree to an electronic delivery consent form, and may then get a copy of the loan’s disclosure form and Sallie Mae’s privacy policy.

You’ll have to agree to let Sallie Mae review your credit history to submit your application.

Finalize the loan

Once you’ve completed an application, you may need to send verification information (such as pay stubs or tax returns). But generally, Sallie Mae will offer a quick response based on your credit.

If you’re approved, you can choose your type of interest rate and repayment plan before accepting the loan. Once you accept the loan offer, Sallie Mae will contact your school to verify that you’re eligible for the loan and loan amount.

The school certification process may take several weeks, and could even be put on hold until about a month before your term begins. As long as everything checks out, Sallie Mae will send the loan to you or your school, depending on the type of loan.

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.

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

Common Student Loan Debt Relief Scams and How to Avoid Them

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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If you’re looking for relief from your student loans and see a claim that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Knowing that borrowers can find themselves in dire straights, scammers may advertise that you can get some or all of your loans forgiven due to a new law or rule. They may take your money and do nothing. Or, they may not rip you off completely, but charge you a one-time or monthly fee to sign up for a federal program — a program that you could easily sign up for free on your own.

In October 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 11 states and the District of Columbia launched Operation Game of Loans, which is a coordinated effort to address student loan scams. And in case you thought the reference to “Game of Thrones” was unintentional, the acting chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen, said, “Winter is coming for debt relief scams that prey on hard-working Americans struggling to pay back their student loans.” The resulting court cases claim that the companies collected over $95 million from student loan borrowers looking for help.

While managing student loans can be tricky, take your time and research a company or person before agreeing to pay for assistance and watch out for scams.

Student loan debt relief scams to watch out for

Some companies provide legitimate help to borrowers who want to better understand or deal with their student loans. But it’s best to be cautious. The scams often involve similar promises or premises, and some of the most common scams include:

Student loan debt elimination/cancellation/settlement scams

One of the most enticing offers involves a promise to eliminate or cancel all your student loan debt. It may sound great, and vaguely possible as you may have heard of legitimate student loan forgiveness, repayment, discharge or cancellation programs. However, a promise that you can quickly get rid of your student loans is almost certainly a scam.

Companies may alternatively claim they can help you settle your debts for less than you owe. However, this is rarely the case. If you stop making payments, or the scammers tell you that they’ll make payments on your behalf, but they don’t, you could be left owning additional money in fees and accrued interest.

Lower monthly payment or interest rate scams

Some companies will ask for upfront enrollment fees or monthly maintenance payments with a promise to lower your monthly payments or reduce your interest rates. The companies may switch your federal repayment plan, which can lower your monthly payments but is also something you can do for free.

Even worse, some companies may request you send your monthly payments to them, instead of your loan servicer, and they simply keep the money and let your loans go into default.

The interest rate on federal loans is locked in when you the loan is disbursed and generally can’t be changed. You may be eligible for a 0.25 percent interest rate reduction on Direct Loans if you sign up for autopay. But again, this is something you can easily do for free by contacting your loan servicers.

Loan consolidation scams

If you have multiple student loans, consolidating (combining) the loans could make it easier to manage your finances and may lower your monthly payment. Eligible federal loans can be consolidated for free through the Direct Loan consolidation program. You may be able to consolidate private student loans by refinancing them with a new student loan.

The scam is when a company charges you hundreds or thousands of dollars to consolidate your loans without offering any additional aid or consultation. The Department of Education (ED) even has a warning on its site about paying others to consolidate your loans since there’s no application fee and the process is easy and free.

There is a lot to consider before consolidating or refinancing student loans. For example, if you consolidate a federal Perkins Loan, it won’t be eligible for the Perkins Loan cancellation and discharge options but may now be eligible for other federal forgiveness programs. Or, after you refinancing federal loans, they won’t be eligible for any federal programs. You may want to pay for an expert analysis of your situation and options. But spending hundreds of dollars to simply have someone else apply for consolidation on your behalf may not be a wise way to spend your money.

Red flags to watch out for

The specifics of a particular scam may vary, but there are a few trends and common themes that can tip you off that something isn’t right. For instance, Joshua Cohen, a student loan attorney based in West Dover, Vermont, says if the claim or offer has Trump or Obama in the name, that’s generally a clear red flag that it’s actually a scam.

Here are a few others to watch out for:

  • You’re promised all your loans could immediately be forgiven or cancelled. There are programs that may lead to loan forgiveness or cancellation, but they only apply to certain types of loans and the process can take years to complete.
  • There’s an upfront fee. Legitimate companies and individuals may charge fees to help you better understand your situation and options. However, it may be illegal for companies to charge a fee before they’ve done any work. In some cases, the scammers may try to convince you that the initial fee will pay down your debts, but then they actually pocket the money. Also, watch out for companies that ask you to make your monthly payments to them rather than your loan servicer.
  • They promise you relief based on a “new” program. Student loan programs may come and go, but tying an offer to a new program can be a warning sign. “Any company that claims there is a ‘new’ program under the Trump administration is a huge red flag,” says Cohen. “There is no ‘Trump forgiveness,’ nor was there ever ‘Obama forgiveness.’”
  • They pressure you with a limited-time offer. Some companies may tell you that you need to act now otherwise a program may end and you’ll miss out. Cohen says this tactic may be becoming more popular since many people know there haven’t been any new forgiveness programs under President Trump. “What I have seen is, ‘Sign up now before they take forgiveness away,’ or change the laws,” says Cohen. The added pressure can make some people fall for this trick. Cohen says while there are proposals that would end some federal forgiveness programs, they only affect future borrowers.
  • The salesperson isn’t knowledgeable about student loans. Whether you’re meeting with someone in person, on the phone, on social media or via email, do some independent research first and make sure what they say or write matches what you find on official government websites. “If the sales rep can’t explain the options, can’t point to a reference from the Dept of Ed. or offer anything in writing, that’s also a red flag,” says Cohen.
  • You’re asked to share your FSA ID. Your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) is the username and password you use to sign on to federal websites and manage your loans. While it may seem like the same info you use to log into dozens of other sites, your FSA ID may be much more important. It can be used to sign loan agreements, apply for different student loan repayment plans and to consolidate a loan. A company could make irreversible changes to your loans using your FSA ID.
  • You’re asked to give them legal authority. By signing a power of attorney or third-party authorization form, you may be giving the company the legal right to make changes to your loans on your behalf. The company could then change the contact info in your account so you won’t notice that it isn’t paying your bills.
  • They claim to be part of the Department of Education. Scammers may go as far as using the ED’s seal, or a logo that looks like it could belong to a government agency, to gain your trust and try to convince you they can offer something special or exclusive. But that’s not how forgiveness programs work. If you have federal student loans, StudentAid.gov is a reliable and official source of information. With private student loans, contact your servicer before trusting a third party.
  • The company doesn’t act professionally. Misspelled words, grammatical errors, a notice urging you to sign up in all caps or other unprofessional communications could also be a red flag. Even if the company has the best intentions, you may not want to work with it.

Already a victim of a student loan forgiveness scam?

If there are bells going off in your head and you realize that you may have been paying a company that isn’t following through on its promises or offering legitimate help, there are a few steps you can take to help rectify the situation.

1. Stop working with the company
First things first, if you suspect you’ve fallen for a scam you should stop paying the scammers. If you only paid a one-time fee, you may want to contact the company just to let it know you’ll no longer be needing its services. You could also ask for a refund, although the company may not have to give you one.

“If there is any kind of auto payment being made to the scam company, the borrower should call their bank immediately and cancel all future payments,” says Cohen. He says you should then call or write the company to cancel your contract and request a refund.

Also, let your loan servicers, the companies you send payments to, know that you were working with a scammer. If you gave the scammer legal authority to access and make changes to your account, ask the servicer what you need to do to take back full control.

2. Check the status of your loans
In some cases, the scammers take your money and don’t do anything to your loans. But other scammers may make changes to your account that need to be undone.

You can log into your accounts online or call your loan servicers to check the current status of your loans. Look for and ask about any missed payments, changes to your repayments plans and any other changes to the account or loans.

With federal student loans, you can check your loan balances on the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) website or by contacting your loan servicer. For private student loans, reach out to the company you were making payments to, which may be different than the company that lent you the money.

3. Tell the FTC and your State Attorney General
You can file a complaint against the company with the FTC, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your State Attorney General. Filing a complaint could lead to formal legal actions against the scammer, may save other borrowers from falling for the scam and in some cases could lead to refunds for victims.

4. Update your FSA ID.
If you gave the company your FSA ID, you can update your username and password online. You may also want to contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (you can call them at 1-800-433-3243) if you think the company used your FSA ID to make changes to your federal student loans.

5. Monitor your credit
If you don’t already monitor your credit, you may want to sign up for a free or paid credit monitoring service. The scammers may have stopped making payments on your loans, which could lead to late payments or defaults that hurt your credit. Check your credit reports for these derogatory marks. Although you may not be able to get them removed, it’s good to know where you stand.

You can also add a fraud report to your credit reports by contacting one of the credit bureaus, which you may want to do if you shared your Social Security number or other personal information with the scammer.

Legitimate student loan debt relief strategies

Getting scammed can be frustrating, expensive and put you in a worse position with your student loans. However, there are legitimate paths that you may be able to take towards student loan forgiveness or relief.

Federal repayment plans

If you’re having trouble making payments on federal student loans, look into the federal income-driven repayment plans. Switching plans can lower your monthly payments and depending on your income, family size and where you live your payments may drop all the way to $0 a month. Also, the remainder of your loan balance will be forgiven after 20 to 25 years of making payments on an income-driven plan.

You can use the federal repayment estimator tool to see how switching plans could change your payment amount.

Federal loan consolidation

Consolidating your federal loans may extend your repayment term. Although you’ll wind up paying more overall, this could lower your monthly payments.

Depending on the types of loans you have, consolidating the loans may make them eligible for, or disqualify them from, certain loan forgiveness or cancellation programs. Also, since you’ll receive a new loan that pays off your existing loans, payments that you’ve made towards a forgiveness or cancellation program won’t carry over to your new loan.

Federal loan forgiveness, cancellation and discharge programs

Depending on your loans and situation, you may be eligible for legitimate federal loan forgiveness, cancellation or discharge programs. For example, with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, you may be able to get the remainder of your loan forgiven after making 120 payments while working full-time for an eligible nonprofit or government organization.

Loan deferment and forbearance

You may be able to put federal or private student loans into deferment or forbearance. Eligibility can depend on your situation and the type of loan you have. Deferment is often for when you can’t make payments because you return to school, are on a military assignment or working with a public service organization. Forbearance could be granted for economic hardship, perhaps due to a loss of job or medical emergency.

With either deferment or forbearance, you can temporarily stop making payments without incurring late fees or defaulting on the loan. However, your loans in forbearance may continue to accrue interest during these periods.

Get real help managing your student debt

There are also people and organizations that can genuinely help you understand and manage your student loans. Some of them charge fees, but that isn’t necessarily an indication that it’s a scam.

Cohen suggests borrowers start with the free route by checking official government website if you have federal student loans, or your loan servicer’s site for private student loans. “If the borrower is still confused or uncertain, contact a student loan lawyer,” says Cohen. “Most folks don’t need a lawyer, but at least the lawyer is regulated by the State Bar which creates a higher degree of accountability.”

You can also look for assistance from nonprofit organizations. The National Consumer Law Center has a student loan borrower assistance project that you may find helpful. Many nonprofit credit counseling organizations also offer student loan and debt management counseling for a $50 to $200 fee. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling can help you find a certified counselor.

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.

Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

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

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