The Best Private Student Loans of January 2020

Last Updated: 1/3/2019

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.

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Top Private Student Loan Options of January 2020

  Variable Rates (APR)
w/ Autopay
Fixed Rates (APR)
w/ Autopay
Loan Types Loan Terms  
Variable Rates (APR) w/ Autopay
2.87% - 10.75%1 4.74% - 11.85%1 Undergrad 5-15 years3
Visit Sallie Mae

View Loan Disclosure

3.52% - 9.50%1 5.45% - 9.74%1 Undergrad & Graduate 5, 10 & 15 years
Visit CommonBond

View Loan Disclosure

2.84% - 10.97%1 4.54% - 11.98%1 Undergrad, Graduate & Parent 5, 8, 10, & 15 years3
Visit College Ave

View Loan Disclosure

3.28% - 12.59%1 4.26% - 13.22%1 Undergrad & Graduate 5, 10 & 15 years4
Visit Ascent

View Loan Disclosure

2.73% - 10.07%1 4.40% - 11.35%1 Undergrad, Graduate & Parent 5, 10 & 15 years
Rate & Repayment Examples
Visit Citizens One

View Loan Disclosure

3.79% - 10.61%1 4.86% -11.24%1 Undergrad & Graduate 10 years
Visit LendKey

View Loan Disclosure


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:


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.


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.


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.


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

  Interest Rate Discounts Multi-year Borrower Option Repayment Options (Monthly) Cosigner Release Grace Period  
Interest Rate Discounts
0.25 percentage point deduction for auto debit1 No Pay now or later: Make interest payments, pay a fixed $25 payment,3 or defer payments until after school.1 Yes4 6 months1 Visit Sallie Mae

View Loan Disclosure

Auto-Pay (0.25%)1 No Immediate repayment, interest-only, fixed monthly payments in school, fully deferred Yes 6 months Visit CommonBond

View Loan Disclosure

Auto-Pay (0.25%)1 No Flat Payment (In-School), Full (principal & interest), Deferred, & Interest-only Yes 6 months Visit College Ave

View Loan Disclosure

0.25% for enrollment in automatic debit5 No In-School interest only, Deferred, and $25 minimum payment Yes10 6 months Visit Ascent

View Loan Disclosure

Autopay (0.25%)3
Loyalty (0.25%)2
Yes8 Full (principal & interest), Deferred, Interest-only, Immediate-Repayment10 Yes4 6 months Visit Citizens One

View Loan Disclosure

Auto-Pay (0.25%)3 No Full payments (Principal and Interest) Yes 6 months Visit LendKey

View Loan Disclosure

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

  Min Loan Limits Max Loan Limits Annual Income Requirements US Citizenship / Permanent Resident Proof of School Enrollment  
Max Loan Limits
$1,000 Up to 100% of school-certified expenses5 Yes Yes Visit Sallie Mae

View Loan Disclosure

$3,000 Up to cost of attendance (or $200K) No min Yes Yes Visit CommonBond

View Loan Disclosure

$1,0002 $80,000 (Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance2 $35,000/year Yes Yes Visit College Ave

View Loan Disclosure

$1,000 Undergrad: $90,000
Grad: $110,000
Business/Law: $180,000
Medica/Dental: $295,0009
$12,000/year Yes6,7 Yes
Half-time required
Visit Citizens One

View Loan Disclosure

$2,000 $200,000 Cosigner minimum gross annual income of $24,000 Yes* Yes Visit Ascent

View Loan Disclosure

$2,000 Up to 100% of school-certified Cost of Attendance $15,000/year Yes Yes Visit LendKey

View Loan Disclosure

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.


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.


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.


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

    Undergrad Graduate Parent Fees & Penalties  
Loan Type
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)2.87% - 10.75%1
Fixed (APR)
4.74% - 11.85%1
3.87% - 9.52%1 5.12% -11.74%2 No origination or disbursement fees Visit Sallie Mae

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)4.74% - 11.85%1 5.50% - 10.23%1 5.49% - 12.87%2    
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)3.52% - 9.50%1
Fixed (APR)
5.45% - 9.74%1
3.52% - 9.50%1 N/A None Visit CommonBond

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)5.45% - 9.74%1 5.40% - 9.74%1 N/A    
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)2.84% - 10.97%1
Fixed (APR)
4.54% - 11.98%1
4.45% - 10.97%1 2.72% - 10.88%1 None Visit College Ave

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)4.54% - 11.98%1 5.20% - 11.68%1 4.64% - 12.01%1    
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)3.28% - 12.59%1
Fixed (APR)
4.26% - 13.22%1
3.28% - 12.59%1 N/A None Visit Ascent

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)4.26% - 13.22%1 4.26% - 13.22%1 N/A    
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)2.80% - 10.91%1
Fixed (APR)
4.72% - 12.04%1
2.75% - 10.07%1 4.35% - 7.49%5 None Visit Citizens One

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)4.72% - 12.04%1 4.64% - 11.35%1 5.48% - 8.52%5    
Variable (APR) Variable (APR)3.79 - 10.61%1
Fixed (APR)
4.86% - 11.24%1
3.79 - 10.61%1 N/A None Visit LendKey

View Loan Disclosure

  Fixed (APR) Fixed (APR)4.86% - 11.24%1 4.86% - 11.24%1 N/A    

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 six lenders:

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 Loan® from Sallie Mae:

  • Competitive interest rates — variable rates start from 2.87% APR to 10.75% APR1 for undergraduate students (as of December 26, 2019). Lowest rates shown include the auto debit discount.
  • 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 and make monthly payments by auto debit.1
  • Detailed review of Sallie Mae Student Loans

Get the money you need for school from Sallie Mae

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

CommonBond entered the student loan marketplace five+ years ago with a novel idea: bring the concept of crowdsourcing to college loans. The idea quickly garnered attention from investors and CommonBond took off.

Key features of a private student loans through CommonBond:

  • Competitive rates: We use technology to keep our costs low so that we can offer you a competitive interest rate. The best part? No double-digit rates here!
  • Protections: Temporarily postpone payments if you run into financial difficulties. We’ve got your back, while you get back on track.
  • Service: Our award-winning service is second to none – and we're available by phone, email, and chat to answer any questions you have.
  • Social promise: For every loan we fund, we also fund the education of a child in need. So your loan doesn't just help you achieve your dreams, it helps a child in the developing world as well.
  • Detailed review of CommonBond Student Loans

Get your rate from CommonBond now

Key features of a private student loans through Ascent:
    • 1% CASH BACK Graduation Reward9
    • AFFORDABLE fixed or variable rates1
    • CUSTOMIZE your loan with flexible repayment options
    • COVER UP TO 100% of your tuition & living expenses
    • AVOID FEES - No application, origination or disbursement fees
    • NO PENALTY FEE if you pay off your loan early
    • 0.25% INTEREST RATE REDUCTION for enrolling in automatic payments
    • RELEASE YOUR COSIGNER after 24 consecutive on-time payments
    • 100% US-Based Customer Service
    • FREE financial Tools
    • Detailed review of Ascent Student Loans

It’s wrong to lose your financial freedom before you’ve even had a chance to earn it! To help you borrow responsibly, Ascent has incorporated financial education into their application process and give you exclusive access to tools to help you manage your money.

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 2.73%1 APR, and fixed rates as low as 4.40%1 APR with loyalty2 and autopay3 discounts. (as of December 2019). 
  • 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.

LendKey is one of the most exciting new players in the student loan space. It connects borrowers with smaller, local banks and credit unions around the country, giving you access to potentially great deals that might not otherwise be on your radar screen.

Key features of a student loan from LendKey:

  • All loans funded by community lenders like not-for-profit credit unions and community banks.
  • 30-day no-fee return policy for all borrowers.
  • Cosigner release available.
  • No origination fees or prepayment penalties.
  • 0.25% Interest Rate Reduction with automatic payments.
  • After you’ve paid off 10% of your loan, you may qualify for a 1% reduction in your interest rate.
  • 97% borrower satisfaction shows our best in class customer service.
  • Detailed review of LendKey Student Loans

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: 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.