Because studying is hard enough without having to think about your bank balance
College can be one of the best and most memorable times of our lives, but it can also be one of the most stressful. I spent the four years of my university education scrounging for pennies, eating microwaved noodles, and working three jobs just to scrape by and pay tuition. Had I known then what I know now from our private student loan reviews, it would have been much different.
Student Loan Options
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What is a Student Loan?
Student loans are financing products designed specifically to help students pay their way through higher education, be it undergraduate or graduate studies, and even specialized tracks and professional degrees. These loans come in two major varieties: private and federal. The former are offered by banks and other private lenders, and work much like any other loan does, with a few differences that benefit students (such as deferred payments, interest reductions for academic achievement, and more).
Federal student loans work similarly, but they are extended and backed by the US federal government. This comes with some benefits--such as less of a focus on your financial record and credit, loan forgiveness and repayment programs, and need-based loans. These loans can also be subsidized, meaning that the government will cover part of your interest payments while you’re in school.
Student Loan Providers: Our Top 6 Picks for 2020
If you’re ready to start exploring options for the right student loan provider for you, check out some of our top choices in the market, and read more in-depth in our best private student loans reviews:
For a lender which is dedicated to the success of its borrowers, look no further than CommonBond for a borrower-centric model that focuses on flexibility, education, and mentorship.
Though you’ll need to have a cosigner, CommonBond offers amongst the widest range of loan amounts available, starting from $2,000 all the way to $500,000.
No matter your chosen path, CommonBond has a loan type that fits your educational ambitions and even student loan refinancing options for those who have finished their degrees with 5 applicable repayment payment periods stretching from 5 to 20 years.
Moreover, by accessing a loan through CommonBond, you’re giving back to the community. For every loan the CommonBond funds, the lender contributes to Pencils of Promise to fund children’s education.
Some of our other favorite Commonbond features include:
As one of the older student loan institutions available today—at over 150 years old—Citizens One gives you competitive rates and a wide range of repayment options to choose from.
The company’s biggest strength is that it lets you apply for multi-year approval, unlike many competitors that require yearly applications. This means you can apply for your loan once and finish your studies without having to worry about where the money's coming from next semester. We were also happy to see that Citizens One offers different loan alternatives depending on your education track, all the way from undergrad to postgraduate studies.
One thing we loved to see, and which not many lenders do, is offering a loyalty discount to customers who are already signed up to their service, as well as an automatic payment discount. All in all, you can get up to 0.50% off your interest rate.
Some other standout features include:
Despite being one of the “new kids on the block”, College Ave has already made quite a name for itself in the student loans market.
The company works exclusively with student lending, and its programs are all geared to helping college kids get through school with a minimal amount of debt. As such, you can choose to pay full monthly payments, interest-only payments, or even a flat $25 monthly fee for your interest. You can also ask for a deferral for your payments, although those are taken case-by-case by College Ave.
We were also impressed to see that unlike some lenders that have a hard cap on their maximum amounts, College Ave will lend you up to the total amount of your school’s cost of attendance.
Some of our favorite highlights from College Ave include:
Originally established as a Federal guaranteed student loans program, Sallie Mae today is a consumer banking division, though it still focuses on student loans. One of our favorite aspects of the company’s service is their friendliness to part-time students, a group most student lenders ignore.
Additionally, the company has one of the longer grace periods on the market, giving you a full 12 months of interest-only payments on your loan after you graduate.
Sallie Mae also helps you cover up to the full amount of your school’s cost of attendance and offers a fast cosigner release after a year of on-time payments. You can also pay when you’re ready, including early thanks to no prepayment fees.
Some other standouts include:
With its online-only business model, Discover is one of the leaders in student loans and finances. The company offers you a variety of loans depending on your education level, ranging from undergraduate to master’s courses, and even covering health professions and law students.
We were impressed to see that even so, Discover does not charge you late fees, and it is always ready to help struggling students who have a good track record.
We would have liked to see a greater variety in the company’s repayment terms—which are available in 10 or 20 years—but Discover does have friendly fixed and variable interest rates, as well as a high limit on its maximum loan amount.
Other highlights include:
Finding the Best Student Loan: What to Look For
With so many loan options available just a single click away and so many different criteria to look for, it can be tricky to find the right loan for you. The ability to repay your loans over longer periods, potential discounts, cosigner releases, and more are some things to consider. These are a few positives and red flags to look for when exploring student loans reviews:
|Federal Loans||Private Loans|
|Pros||They have fewer requirements for approval||They have much higher loan amount ceilings|
|They offer need-based options||They’re available at a wider range of interest rates|
|You can have interest subsidized while in school||They offer opportunities for interest rate discounts|
|You can have your loan forgiven and removed||You can choose from fixed or variable rate loans|
|Loans are backed by the federal government||You can refinance at any time|
|There are multiple repayment options and programs||You can consolidate with federal loans into a single payment|
|Loans and forgiveness offered for specific professions|
They have much higher loan amount ceilings
|There is a much wider variety of loan options and companies|
|Federal Loans||Private Loans|
|Cons||They usually have a cap on how much you can borrow||They don’t offer debt forgiveness programs|
|If you refinance, you’ll lose access to any benefits federal loans offer||They have much stricter qualification requirements|
|They only cover your cost of attendance||They’re not always clear about fees and costs|
|They only offer fixed rates||They don’t offer repayment programs based on need|
|Forgiveness programs take a long time to apply||Repayments are much stricter|
Student Loans FAQs
What is the difference between federal and private student loans?
This is one of the most important distinctions to make when you’re looking for student loans and can have big implications. Federal student loans are offered directly by the US government, and their terms, conditions, and interest rates are usually defined by federal law. They also have some benefits, such as income-driven repayment plans and student loan forgiveness programs, that are not available with private loans.
Private student loans, on the other hand, are offered by private institutions such as banks and lenders. These loans have a lot more variance in terms of interest rates, repayment terms, approval rates, and conditions. This means that you’re getting a different deal from each private lender, but you have a greater chance of getting favorable conditions for your loan.
Will I need a cosigner for private student loans?
The short answer is “not necessarily, but yes”, though that depends on a few different factors. In general, most student lenders prefer, or require (in many cases), that you have a cosigner. This is because when you’re first applying for a student loan (when you’re 18), you’re not likely to have a credit score yet to define your loan terms. Moreover, 18-year-olds are not likely to have a steady income out of high-school, so lenders are not able to ensure they’ll be able to pay back their obligations.
Recent statistics show that nearly 90% of all student loans are cosigned, so odds are you’ll likely need one too. Even so, if your parents or guardians can’t cosign, you can still find a loan that may be good for you. To do so, you’ll need to have some sort of credit history (taking out a credit card and paying it back consistently is a start), as well as to prove you have a steady income to repay your debt.
Can I still get a student loan with bad credit?
Credit scores are one of the most important criteria for any loan application, and they can make or break your approval in some cases. However, having a poor credit score isn’t the end of the world if you’re looking to get a student loan. Most private student loans reviews will quickly let you know which companies are better for bad credit borrowers.
One of the most common workarounds is to have a parent or trusted adult cosign the loan for you (although this carries its own risks, and you should always be careful). Alternately, there are some student loan providers that are willing to work with lower credit scores, though this may affect the interest rates or terms you’re able to get for your loan.
I have too many student loans to keep track of; how can I simplify my payments?
This is a common problem for many students as most lenders will only extend you a loan for a single school year (or even term, in some cases). Even worse, the same lender may not approve your loan twice, requiring you to have multiple loans open. This can affect your ability to pay, as each loan may have different rates and terms.
One of the most common solutions is student loan consolidation, in which you take out a single loan that covers the cost of all your active loans. This helps you bring all your debt under a single institution and gives you a single interest rate to worry about. Most student lenders also give you the option to refinance your existing loans to a more favorable rate.
I graduated recently but can’t find a job and will fall behind on my payments. What can I do?
It’s one of the most heard-of stories when it comes to student loans, but the job market isn’t what it used to be, and it can be hard to find employment. Even so, your debt obligations are not going anywhere, and in fact, are growing. Luckily, many of the best student loan providers are happy to work with borrowers on repayment, as it’s in their best interests to get paid.
Most lenders offer a grace period of 6 months to a year for recent graduates, where you don’t have to worry about loan payments. If you’re past that point, and still unemployed or financially restricted, you can talk to your lender about student loan forgiveness. While this isn’t guaranteed to work (you can’t just wish away debt), many lenders have programs to help borrowers work toward paying their debt responsibly and sustainably.
Student loans are a tricky subject. It took me the better part of six months to do the research and find the top options among the hundreds of private student loan reviews, but I’m glad I did. When it comes to higher education, having a lack of resources now can mean hurting your chances of financial success in the future, so student loans can help you get where you need to go. More importantly, they give you the peace of mind to know you’re covered while you’re preparing for life. We hope the information we gave you helps, and if you want to find the right lender for you, explore our best private student loan reviews to see which meets all your needs.