Last Updated: April 2018

If savings, scholarships, and grants aren’t enough to fully fund your college education, you might be considering taking out a private student loan. If so, it’s wise to do some research first. While you want to make sure that you’re getting the best deal possible, it’s also important to ensure that you’re working with a reputable lender.

Securing a loan with reasonable interest rates and borrower-friendly repayment terms will allow you to invest in your future, knowing that you won’t be saddled with unreasonable debt after you graduate.

Check out our carefully screened partners below to find your best option.

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Overall Best Private Student Loans of 2018

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Variable Rates (APR) w/ Autopay

3.87 - 10.75%1

3.78% - 11.79%1

4.04% - 11.65%1

4.51% - 9.59%1

3.91% - 11.45%*

Fixed Rates (APR) w/ Autopay

5.74% - 11.85%1

5.25% - 11.91%1

6.07% - 12.66%1

5.36% - 9.69%1

5.40% - 10.76%*

Loan Types

Undergrad & Graduate

Undergrad, Graduate & Parent

Undergrad, Graduate & Parent

Undergrad & Graduate

Undergrad & Graduate

Loan Terms

5-15 years*

5, 10 & 15 years
Rate & Repayment Examples

8, 10, 12 & 15 years3

5 - 15 years

10 & 15 years

Visit Sallie Mae

Visit Citizens One

Visit College Ave

Visit LendKey

Visit Connext

Variable Rates (APR) w/ Autopay

Fixed Rates (APR) w/ Autopay

Loan Types

Loan Terms

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3.87 - 10.75%1

5.74% - 11.85%1

Undergrad & Graduate

5 - 15 years*

Visit Sallie Mae

Learn More

3.78% - 11.79%1

5.25% - 11.91%1

Undergrad, Graduate, Business/Law, Medical/Dental, Parent & Multi-year

5, 10 & 15 years
Rate & Repayment Examples

Visit Citizens One

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4.04% - 11.65%1

6.07% - 12.66%1

Undergrad, Graduate & Parent

8, 10, 12 & 15 years 3

Visit College Ave

Learn More

3.35% - 10.89%*

5.40% - 11.76%*

Undergrad & Graduate

10 & 15 years

Visit Connext

Learn More

4.51% - 9.59%1

5.36% - 9.69%1

Undergrad & Graduate

5 - 15 years

Visit LendKey

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What Makes the Best Student Loan Lenders?

So where can you get the best deal on a private student loan for college? Which lenders have the best rates and terms? And which lenders can you trust?

At Nitro, we have relationships with several lenders that we’ve put through an intensive vetting process. We have researched and compared:

  • the competitiveness of their rates
  • repayment options and terms
  • discounts
  • fees and penalties
  • responsiveness to customers and applicants, and
  • the lender’s reputation, history, and solvency

Let’s talk about what you should look for in a loan.

The Benefits of a Private Student Loan

A good student loan should have a few key elements, including:

PAYMENT FLEXIBILITY

A variety of payment plans, so you can structure repayment terms in a way that will allow you to pay off your loan in affordable monthly installments without racking up additional debt. For example, if you’re not able to make full payments while you’re in school, making interest-only payments until you graduate can prevent additional interest from accruing and inflating the size of your loan.

TIME TO FIND EMPLOYMENT

A grace period is allowed by many lenders before you’re obligated to start making full payments on your loan after you’re no longer in school. Typically, the grace period is about six months after graduation or after your enrollment drops to half-time.

GROWING INDEPENDENCE

The ability to release your cosigner. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report states that up to 94% of recent college loan applicants applied with a cosigner. The reason for that is simple: few incoming college students have the credit history to qualify for a loan on their own. Most reputable lenders will allow you to release your cosigner from his or her obligation after you’ve established your own positive credit history and made a certain number on of-time payments.

REDUCING YOUR RATE

Discounts. Many lenders offer discounted interest rates to qualified lenders. For example, signing up for autopay can often yield a discount of 0.25 percentage points. While it may not seem lik e a big discount, that quarter of a percent can save you a lot of money over the life of your loan.

Discounts and Additional Benefits for Private Student Loans

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Interest Rate Discounts

Yes,
0.25 percentage point deduction for auto debit2

Yes,
Autopay3(0.25%)
& Loyalty2(0.25%)

Yes,
Auto-Pay (0.25%)1

Yes,
Auto-Pay (0.25%) 3

Yes,
(0.25%) recurring autopay1

Multi-year Borrower Option

No

Yes8

No

No

No

Repayment Options (Monthly)

Pay now or later: Make interest payments, pay a fixed payment, or defer payments until after school.1

Full (principal & interest), Deferred, Interest-only, Immediate-Repayment10

Flat Payment (In-School), Full (principal & interest), Deferred, & Interest-only

Full (principal & interest)

Fully deferred or immediate repayment

Cosigner Release

Yes5

Yes4

Yes

Yes2

Yes

Grace Period

Yes, 6 months

Yes, 6 months

Yes, 6 months

Yes, 6 months

Yes, 6 months

Visit Sallie Mae

Visit Citizens One

Visit College Ave

Visit LendKey

Visit Connext

Interest Rate Discounts

Multi-year Borrower Option

Repayment Options (Monthly)

Cosigner Release

Grace Period

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Yes, 0.25 percentage point reduction for auto debit2

No

Pay now or later: Make interest payments, pay a fixed payment, or defer payments until after school.1

Yes5

Yes, 6 months

Visit Sallie Mae

Learn More

Yes, Autopay3(0.25%) and Loyalty2(0.25%)

Yes8

Full (principal & interest), Deferred, Interest-only, Immediate-Repayment10

Yes4

Yes, 6 months

Visit Citizens One

Learn More

Yes, Auto-Pay (0.25%)1

No

Flat Payment (In-School),
Full (principal & interest), Deferred, & Interest-only

Yes

Yes, 6 months

Visit College Ave

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Yes, Auto-Pay (0.25%) 3

No

Full (principal & interest)

Yes3

Yes, 6 months

Visit LendKey

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Yes, ACH (0.25%)
recurring autopay1

No

Fully deferred or immediate repayment

Yes

Yes, 6 months

Visit Connext

Would I be Eligible for a Private Student Loan?

Most lenders determine loan eligibility based on a defined set of characteristics that paint a picture of your credit worthiness.

What are banks looking for, specifically? To give you an idea, here’s what our preferred lenders typically evaluate when considering a new loan.

Eligibility Requirements for Private Student Loans

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Min Loan Limits

$1,000

$1,000

$2,0002

$2,000

$2,000

Max Loan Limits

Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of
Attendance3

Undergrad: $90,000
Grad: $110,000
Business/Law: $180,000
Medica/Dental: $295,0009

$80,000 (Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance2

Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance

Undergrad: $100,000
Graduate: $150,000

Annual Income Requirements

No min

$12,000/year

$35,000/year

$24,000/year

$35,000/year

Credit Score Requirements (Min)

Free credit pre-qualification tool offered

660 w/out cosigner
no min w/cosigner

620 w/cosigner;
660 w/out cosigner

US Citizenship / Permanent Resident

Yes

Yes6,7

Yes

Yes

Yes

Proof of School Enrollment

Yes

Yes,
Half-time required

Yes

Yes

Yes,
must be on ReliaMax eligibility list

Visit Sallie Mae

Visit Citizens One

Visit College Ave

Visit LendKey

Visit Connext

Min Loan Limits

Max Loan Limits

Annual Income Requirements

Credit Score Requirements (Min)

US Citizenship/Permanent Resident

Proof of School Enrollment

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$1,000

Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of
Attendance3

No min

Yes

Yes

Visit Sallie Mae

Learn More

$1,000

Undergrad: $90,000
Grad: $110,000
Business/Law: $180,000
Medica/Dental: $295,0009

$12,000/year

Yes

Yes, Half-time required

Visit Citizens One

Learn More

$2,0002

$80,000 (Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance2

$35,000/year

Free credit pre-qualification tool offered

Yes

Yes

Visit College Ave

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$2,000

Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance

$24,000/year

660 w/out cosigner
no min w/cosigner

Yes

Yes

Visit LendKey

Learn More

$2,000

Undergrad: $100,000
Graduate: $150,000

$35,000/year

620 w/ cosigner;
660 w/out cosigner

Yes

Yes, must be on ReliaMax eligibility list

Visit Connext

Important: Remember, most rising college students don’t have enough of a credit history to qualify for a loan on their own.

Applying with a cosigner can help get you over that hurdle. Or, if you can’t qualify with your current cosigner, consider asking someone else. Keep in mind that cosigners do not have to be parents, guardians, or relatives. Even if you can qualify for a loan on your own, applying with a cosigner may get you a lower interest rate.

What are the Rates and Fees for a Private Student Loan?

Private student loan costs can be broken down in several ways.

FEES

The first and most-obvious thing to consider are fees, which are one-time charges that usually attached to a specific service. For example, some lenders charge an application fee.

PENALTIES

Next, you’ll want to look at penalties. Some lenders may charge a penalty for early pre-payment. There may also be penalties for late or missed payments. Note: None of Nitro’s preferred lenders charge fees or penalties as listed in the table below, which is one major reason we’re happy to recommend them. Only penalty to consider is missed payments.

INTEREST RATES

Then, you’ll want to look at the largest cost of all: interest rates. Interest is how you pay the bank for giving you the loan. Interest is charged monthly, based on the annual percentage rate of your loan, or APR. The higher the APR, the most y ou’re going to pay every month, and ultimately, over the life of the loan. A fixed interest rate means that you’ll pay the same amount of interest for the life of the loan. A variable interest rate may fluctuate based on market conditions, meaning that your payments may increase or decrease over time.

Here’s how our preferred lenders stack up:

Interest Rates, Fees & Penalties to Consider for Private Student Loans

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Variable (APR)

Undergrad

3.87% - 10.75%1

3.78% - 11.79%1

4.04% - 11.65%1

4.51% -9.59%1

3.91% - 11.45%*

Graduate

3.87% - 8.79%1

3.78% - 11.44%1

4.20% - 9.72%1

4.51% -9.59%1

3.91% - 11.45%*

Parent

5.37% -11.74%1

4.58% - 9.56%1

Fixed (APR)

Undergrad

5.74% - 11.85%1

5.74% - 11.91%1

6.07% - 12.66%1

5.36% - 9.69%1

5.40% - 10.76%*

Graduate

5.74% - 8.56%1

5.74% - 11.46%1

6.22% - 10.66%1

5.36% - 9.69%1

5.40% - 10.76%*

Parent

5.74% - 12.87%***

6.64% - 7.24%5

6.62% - 10.57%1

Fees & Penalties

Application Fee

No

No

No

No

No

Origination Fee

No

No

No

No

No

Disbursement Fee

No

No

No

No

No

Prepayment Penalty

No

No

No

No

No

Visit Sallie Mae

Visit Citizens One

Visit College Ave

Visit LendKey

Visit Connext

Application Fee

Origination Fee

Disbursement Fee

Prepayment Penalty

Learn More

No

No

No

No

Visit Sallie Mae

Learn More

No

No

No

No

Visit Citizens One

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No

No

No

No

Visit College Ave

Learn More

No

No

No

No

Visit LendKey

Learn More

No

No

No

No

Visit Connext

How Should I Compare Lenders for Private Student Loans?

Hopefully some of the charts in this article have given you some insight into how different lenders compare. But there’s more to a loan than just crunching numbers. As we mentioned before, working with a reputable lender is key to ensuring that you’re getting a loan that you’ll be able to pay back.

Our review of the top banks for private student loans, and why we endorse the following five lenders:

With over 40 years of experience, Sallie Mae® has developed a wide range of private education loans, and other education-related services to help make students' dreams of higher education a reality.

Key features of Smart Option Student Loans from Sallie Mae:

  • Competitive interest rates — variable interest rates start from 3.87% APR to 10.75% APR1 for graduate and undergraduate loans (as of March 2018)
  • Pay now or later - Defer your payments until after school or choose an in-school repayment option that fits your needs.1
  • Discounts: Save with auto debit - get a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction when you enroll in auto debit.2
  • Detailed review of Sallie Mae Student Loans

Get the money you need for school from Sallie Mae

Citizens One is an established bank with a solid history in student lending. This lender also ranks high on the “feel good” scale, as it prioritizes charitable giving and offers financial literacy education in the communities where it does business.

Key features of a student loan from Citizens One:

  • Helpful online tools — Use the calculator to take a lot of the guesswork out of the application process.
  • Competitive rates — some of the lowest starting APRs in the student loan space, with variable rates as low as 3.13%1 APR, and fixed rates as low as 5.25%1 APR with loyalty2 and autopay3 discounts. (as of August 2017). 
  • Flexible repayment terms — conserve cash-in-hand by deferring payments or by spreading out your loan payments over several years.10
  • Detailed review of Citizens One Student Loans

Start your private student loan application now with Citizens One.

College Ave is one of the newest and most-innovative lenders in the private student loan marketplace. The company was founded by veterans of the student loan business who wanted to make student loan process more transparent and flexible.

Key features of a student loans from College Ave:

  • Easy online application process — apply through a streamlined user interface and get an answer in as little as three minutes
  • Build-your-own repayment plan — select from a variety of repayment terms to configure your loan payoff in the way that best fits your needs, including the option to make flat monthly payments while you’re still in school
  • Extremely user-friendly website with tools to help you select the right loan for your unique circumstances
  • Detailed review of College Ave Student Loans

Get a personalized quote from College Ave now

Connext Private Student Loans Powered by ReliaMax works with a network of lenders that enables you to get 100% of all school certified educational costs up to the loan maximum. Connext gets you started earning an undergraduate or graduate degree, and our network of lenders can refinance your loans when you are out of school.

Key features of a private student loans through Connext:

  • Working with smaller lenders can translate to extremely competitive interest rates and loan terms
  • Connext loans are powered by ReliaMax which means ReliaMax completes all the Origination and Servicing through its platform. You will have easy access to account information online.
  • You’ll be assigned a customer service rep to personally field all of your questions and concerns during the life of your loan
  • Detailed review of Connext Student Loans

Get a personalized quote from Connext now

LendKey is not one lender, but rather a community of lenders. This site serves as an online marketplace to connect borrowers with lenders that they might not have otherwise come across, such as credit unions or community banks.

Key features of a student loans from LendKey:

  • More choices — get free access to lenders from across the country to take advantage of the best rates possible
  • Helpful online tools — a streamlined application process means that applying is fast and easy
  • Excellent customer service — LendKey gets high marks for responsiveness to applicants and borrowers.
  • Detailed review of LendKey Student Loans

Only 3 simple steps to get your private student loan offer!

Ready to fill your gap in tuition costs and start your college journey?

Apply now and find out your personalized rates with:


** Remember the following two items **

1.) if you apply with a cosigner, you may increase your chances of getting approved for a loan & may get a lower interest rate, and
2.) if you apply through Nitro, any loan application fees will be waived.

Private Student Loans FAQs

Q. What do I need to apply?

For most student loans, you can apply online within a matter of minutes if you have the right documentation on hand. The information you might want to have at the ready includes:

  • Contact info
  • Dates of birth
  • Name of the school
  • Major
  • Social security number
  • Your financial information, including a recent pay stub or other proof of income
  • Proof of mortgage or rental payment amounts
  • Contact info for your employer (if applicable)
  • The financial aid award letter from the school you plan to attend
  • The total cost of attendance
  • Total financial aid offered
  • Anticipated graduation date
  • A personal reference

Note: If you’re applying with a cosigner, you’ll need the above info as it pertains to him or her as well.

Q: What else do I need to think about when applying for student loans?

Before applying for private student loans, be sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as FAFSA. Doing so will help determine your eligibility for federal grants and loans, as well as some scholarships. Accept all of your grant and scholarship money, followed by federal loans, before applying for private student loans. Then, use our free NitroScore tool to determine how much money you need to borrow before applying for loans.

Q: Does it cost money to apply for a private student loan?

Some banks may charge an application fee. However, all application fees are waived if you apply through Nitro.

Q: How long does it take to get approved for a student loan?

Most lenders will require certain kinds of documentation, including your (and your cosigner’s) social security number, address, and employment or income info. If you have your paperwork in hand, it should take about 15 minutes to go through the application process. Some banks may approve you within a few minutes. If you have to provide additional documentation, that process may take several days.

Q: What’s the difference between a federal student loan and a private student loan? Is one better than the other?

Federal student loans are issued by the government and often feature lower interest rates than loans offered by private lenders. It’s a good idea to utilize all federal loan money that’s offered to you before applying for private student loans.

Q: Should I opt for a variable or fixed interest rate?

A fixed interest rate will remain the same for the life of the loan. A variable interest may fluctuate based on market conditions. That may affect your monthly payment, as well as your overall loan amount. Fixed interest rates are generally a safer bet, although finding a good deal on a variable rate might make sense if you’re only taking the loan for a short period of time, or if interest rates are expected to fall.

Disclaimer:  NitroCollege.com is a free website designed to help students and their families evaluate how to responsibly pay for their college education. Before recommending any services we put lenders thru a vetting process that includes: the competitiveness of rates, repayment options and terms, any discounts offered, any fees or penalties to be aware of, responsiveness to customers and applicants, and the lenders overall reputation and history. Nitro is not a lender and is not involved in the private student loan approval process, nor do we make credit related decisions. The lenders profiled on our site are the ones who will issue and approve your private student loan applications. We will sometimes earn a bounty for recommending various products and services to you. Actual interest rates may vary depending on your credit score, income, savings, type of degree, and whether you apply with a cosigner. Here at Nitro we strive to provide the most up-to-date information, but you should always check with individual lenders for current rates, terms, and conditions before applying for private student loans.