Find the Best Private Student Loans

Private student loans can help pay for school after you hit federal limits. Compare private student loans, eligibility rules, rates, and terms before borrowing for college or grad school.

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Choose from a range of great options

Citizens Bank
Rates from (APR)
Fixed: 5Variable: 5
Loan term

5, 10, 15 yrs5

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

College Ave
Rates from (APR)
Fixed: 6Variable: 6
Loan term

5, 8, 10, and 15 yrs8

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

Student Loans
Rates from (APR)
Fixed: APR - APR12
Variable: APR - APR12
Loan term

15, 20 yrs12

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

Rates from (APR)
Fixed: Variable:
Loan term

7, 10, 12, 15, 20 yrs

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

Rates from (APR)
Loan term

20 yrs

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

Rates from (APR)
Fixed: Variable:
Loan term

5 - 15 yrs

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

raise^ private
student loans
Rates from (APR)
Loan term

5, 7, 10 yrs

Eligible degrees

Undergrad & Graduate

Sallie Mae
Rates from (APR)
Fixed: APR - APR9
Variable: APR - APR9
Loan term

5 - 15 yrs10

Eligible degrees


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Commonly asked student loan questions

What are private student loans?

Private student loans are provided through private lenders, such as online lenders, banks or credit unions who determine their own student loan interest rates, eligibility requirements, and terms and conditions. While federal student loans typically involve no underwriting and take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to interest rates, private student lenders can offer lower rates to borrowers with good credit.

Federal student loans issued by the U.S. Department of Education have fixed interest rates that are “one-size-fits-all.” Your credit score or credit history is not taken into account when determining your eligibility for most federal loans (PLUS loans require a credit check). Loans to undergraduates carry the lowest rates, while loans to graduate students and parents carry higher rates. But everyone receiving the same type of federal loan in the same academic year has the same interest rate for the life of their loan.

Some federal loans are subsidized, meaning the federal government pays the interest while a student is still enrolled in school, in deferment, or under a “grace period.” This is not the case for unsubsidized federal loans or private student loans, where interest accrues while students are still enrolled in school.

Federal student loans also come with important borrower benefits, including options for deferment and forbearance, access to income-driven repayment plans, and the potential to qualify for loan forgiveness. Federal loan benefits are aimed at helping borrowers who are having trouble repaying their loans, in many cases allowing them to temporarily suspend or lower their monthly payments.

College financial aid offices use the information you submit on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. The calculation is based on the school’s cost of attendance and your expected family contribution. If you need more funds to cover your expenses, you may need to look toward scholarship opportunities, grants, or private loans.

Who funds private student loans?

Private student loans are funded by banks, credit unions, and investors who provide funding to online lenders. A number of state student loan authorities also have the ability to issue tax-exempt bonds that allow them to offer student loans and student loan refinancing on terms that are similar to private loans.

Although private student lenders are strictly regulated, they have a good deal of flexibility to determine the rates and terms of the loans they offer. Most private lenders offer borrowers a choice of variable or fixed interest rates, and the option to defer payments while they’re still enrolled in school.

When applying for a private loan, borrowers (or their co-signers) must demonstrate their ability to repay the amount they wish to borrow. Most lenders will only provide funds up to the school’s certified cost of attendance, minus other loans and financial aid already received. Applications for private student loans often require documentation that federal loans do not. For example, private loans almost always require a credit check.

How you can use the funds?

You can use private student loans to pay for living expenses and qualifying education-related costs, which may not be covered by your federal student loans. These include college tuition and fees, and other expenses such as food, transportation, and housing. Other qualifying educational expenses may include books, school supplies, computers, electronics, and other personal needs related to your education. If you have other expenses that you cannot afford, you can consider a personal loan for students.

Interest rates and terms on private loans can vary, depending on your needs, financial situation, and credit history. In many cases, private student lenders will require a co-signer, such as a parent or relative, who has a strong credit history and good credit score. Although private students loans can help cover your unmet needs, you still need to know how to take out a student loan.

What is the difference between federal student loans and private student loans?

Fixed interest rates for life

Federal student loans are provided directly by the U.S. Department of Education, which does not evaluate your ability to repay. Rates on federal student loans issued to new borrowers are recalibrated once a year, on July 1. So it’s not uncommon for borrowers to have different interest rates for the federal student loans they take out each year they’re in college. Everyone taking out the same type of loan (undergraduate, graduate or PLUS) at the same time pays the same rate.

Once taken out, rates on federal student loans are fixed for life. While rates on federal student loans for undergraduates can be tough to beat, they are higher for graduate students and parents.

Rates and terms of private loans are determined by the lender, which is usually an online lender, bank, or credit union. Because each lender has its own procedures for evaluating borrowers, it’s important to check the actual rates and terms you qualify for with multiple lenders to find the loan that’s the best fit for your needs. The Credible marketplace lets you request prequalified rates from multiple lenders without affecting your credit score or sharing your personal information with lenders unless you see an option that you want to proceed with.

Qualify with FAFSA

To qualify for federal student loans, you must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year you’re in school.

Although they are not required to, borrowers who are considering taking out private student loans will probably fill out the FAFSA, too. That’s because private loans are usually considered only as a last resort for paying for college when borrowers have exhausted their eligibility for more affordable federal loans. Borrowers who are considering costlier federal PLUS loans may find that private lenders offer competitive rates. In addition to having the highest rates and fees of any federal student loans, PLUS loans offer fewer repayment options.

Benefits and protections

Federal student loans offer borrowers a number of important benefits and protections — such as loan deferment and forbearance options, access to income-driven repayment, and the potential to qualify for loan forgiveness — that most private lenders can’t match.

If you’re exploring private loans, there are more options available than there were just a few years ago. More private lenders have begun adding their own borrower benefits and protections to better compete with federal loan offerings. Most private student lenders offer a choice of fixed- or variable-interest-rate loans, and many offer a choice of repayment plans, including the option to defer payments until after leaving school.

Private lenders may also offer borrowers who have difficulty making their monthly payments after leaving school the option of placing their loans in deferral or forbearance. Read the terms and conditions offered by your lender carefully, and keep in mind that suspending your loan payments can result in higher interest charges and other fees.

How much money can I borrow with a private student loan?

The amount you can borrow through a private loan is determined by several factors. But be careful not to borrow more than you can reasonably repay in a given timeframe, or your monthly payments may be hard to manage.

The cost of attendance

With a private student loan, you may be eligible to borrow up to 100% of what your school says it costs to enroll and attend classes (the “cost of attendance”), minus other aid and loans you’ve already received.

Private loans are often used to cover the gap between what a student receives in federal student loans and other aid, and what it costs to attend a school, including living expenses. Once students have hit their limits on the most affordable federal student loans, interest rates on private loans can be competitive with costlier federal PLUS loans for parents and graduate students.

Limits vary by lender

How much you can actually borrow from private lenders is determined by each lender’s underwriting rules. These vary by lender and, as is the case with federal student loans, can include annual or cumulative borrowing limits.

Unlike the government, private lenders will evaluate your ability to repay before lending you money, which may also limit how much you can borrow or require that you seek a co-signer. Other private lender criteria that can affect how much you can borrow include your credit history, the credit quality of your co-signer, your school’s cost of attendance, the degree you’re earning, and your corresponding expected income with that degree.

Can I get a private student loan with bad credit?

You may need a co-signer

Yes, you can get a private student loan, but not necessarily on your own. Most federal loans are credit independent -- you can get a loan regardless of your credit score, at predetermined rates. Your eligibility to take out a private student loan, and the rates and terms you are offered, depend on your credit history, credit score, and income. Many students don’t qualify for private loans on their own because they don’t have a credit history or earnings that would allow them to repay it. If that’s your situation, you may need to add a co-signer to qualify for a private loan to assure the lender that you are able to keep up with your monthly payments.

A co-signer can help lower your student loan interest rate

Private student loans require a credit application that provides the lender with your income, employment, and a credit report. The lower your credit score, the higher the risk for the lender, which translates into higher interest rates. One way to get approved for a loan with a lower rate can be to add a co-signer with better credit to your application. This is typically a parent or a relative who trusts the borrower to repay the loan on time.

Compare co-signers for the best rate

Credible makes it easy to invite a co-signer to your application and even compare multiple co-signers to see which one gets you the best rate.

Do I need a co-signer for a private student loan?

Most students have a co-signer

It depends, but in most cases, yes. More than nine out of 10 private student loans taken out by undergraduate students are cosigned. Graduate students are more likely to take out loans without a co-signer, but many grad students apply with one as well.

Borrowers who are under the age of majority in their state (usually between 18 and 21) are typically required to have a co-signer. If you have a limited credit history or a poor credit score, a lender may also require that you add a co-signer to reduce their risk on the loan.

Adding a co-signer with good credit can improve your chances of qualifying for a private student loan. In general, the better your co-signer’s credit, the better the rates you can qualify for. Credible makes it easy to compare co-signers to see which co-signer can get you the best rate.

Co-signers should be aware they are taking on a serious responsibility. If a borrower can’t make their monthly payments, the co-signer will be required to step in. Late payments can also hurt the co-signer’s credit, and cosigning a loan can make it harder for the co-signer to take out loans themselves.

Once borrowers established a history of repaying their loan, they may be able to apply to their lender to have their co-signer released from their obligation. In order for the application for co-signer release to be approved, the borrower must typically be in a position where they could qualify for the loan on their own. Every lender will have their own rules for granting co-signer release that you and your co-signer should review.

How do you find the right private student loan?

Not all private student loans are created equal. Lenders will offer different options to students depending on whether they’re enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate, or certificate program.

Here are a few things to consider before taking out a loan:

  • The actual interest rates and terms you can qualify for
  • Whether the interest rate is fixed or variable
  • The repayment term (how many years you will have to repay the loan)
  • Total repayment costs
  • In-school repayment options
  • Hidden or additional fees
  • Opportunity for a grace period after graduation
  • Lender reputation

In general, the shorter the repayment term, the lower the interest rate offered by most lenders. While the interest rate on a variable-rate loan may initially be lower than a fixed-rate loan with the same repayment term, keep in mind that it can go up (or down) over time. The monthly payment and total repayment cost of a variable-rate loan can increase if interest rates go up.

Since interest begins accruing on private loans as soon as you take them out, deferring payments until after graduation will increase total repayment costs. Some lenders offer repayment plans that allow borrowers to pay some or all of their interest each month while they’re still in school.

Make sure you understand your repayment options for private student loans before you take one out. When you take out a federal student loan, you choose your repayment plan after you graduate or leave school. When you take out a private student loan, you choose your repayment plan before you receive the loan.

When you’re looking for a lender, you should also ask your school or institution for a recommended lender (or “preferred lender”) list. Remember that while a school’s preferred lender list can be a good starting point, you are not required to use those lenders. You may find a better deal with a lender that is not on the list.

You can also ask trusted friends or relatives if they have recommendations for lenders. But don’t forget to compare rates to make sure that you are getting the best rate possible. While most rate comparison sites only show a range of rates offered by lenders, the Credible marketplace lets you see the actual rates from lenders that you may be prequalify with.

How to manage private student loans

How to manage private student loans

Managing student loans can be difficult while you’re still in school, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re being responsible with them. Here are some quick tips to help:

  • Make in-school payments - Instead of waiting for your grace period to end before starting to repay your loan, consider making payments while you’re still in school. It can cut down on the total cost of repaying your loan in the long run. You can use our loan repayment calculator to help budget out your repayment plan while in school. Remember, you have the legal right to “prepay” -- make more than the minimum payment -- on any student loan, federal or private.
  • Stay enrolled - To qualify for loans each year you’re in school, you must be enrolled on at least a part-time basis.
  • Stay involved in the process - Whether you’re managing your loans independently or are receiving help from a parent or relative, you’ll need to apply for a new loan each year you have unmet expenses. Stay on top of this to avoid gaps in your funding.
  • Track your loans closely - Use a spreadsheet or online portal to track how much you owe, your interest rates, and your lenders.
  • Borrow responsibly - Borrow within your means, and don’t take on more debt than you can afford. Remember that borrowers typically take out new loans each year or semester they’re enrolled, but may not realize how they can add up until it’s time to start making monthly payments. Borrowing more than you need mean you’ll need more time to repay the loan. You may be paying off student loans for a long time.

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