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  • APR rates starting at 4.44% APR1
  • Cover up to 100% of your cost of attendance: tuition, fees, and other costs2
  • Option to start repaying immediately or after you complete your degree
  • Choose how long it takes to repay your loan based on your budget
  • No application, origination, or prepayment fees
Our Partner
  • APR starting at 4.50% with autopayment discount1
  • Apply online in minutes and receive an instant credit result2
  • Multiple repayment options from in-school payments to deferred.1 No origination fee or prepayment penalty.3
  • Borrow up to 100% of school-certified expenses5
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  • APR starting at 4.45%* 
  • Provides customized private loan options for students
  • Enjoy no early prepayment penalties
  • Skip a payment once per year (once repayment period restarted)**
  • APR starting at 4.44%1
  • Flexible repayment terms from 5 to 15 years
  • Loan powered by College Ave for the 2023-2024 academic year
  • AI platform helps students pay down student debt while building wealth
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  • Student loans for undergrads, graduates, and parents
  • Get approved for multi-year funding
  • No application, origination, or disbursement fees
  • APRs starting at 4.59% (variable) and 4.99% (fixed)
  • Discounts can reduce your rate by 0.5%

There are two main types of student loans: federal student loans — issued by the U.S. Department of Education — and private student loans. Both differ in interest rates, eligibility requirements, loan modification options and forgiveness programs.

Although federal loans offer more flexible repayment terms and borrower protections, a private student loan can help cover your school’s total cost of attendance after you’ve hit the federal borrowing limit and exhausted all other options.

Take advantage of our best student loan guide and find the best lenders to help meet your higher education goals.

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Our Top Picks For Best Student Loans

Best Federal Student Loans:

Best Private Student Loans:

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Education and offer exclusive benefits and repayment options that are not available with private student loans.

There are three main types of federal student loans available to students and parents of students:

  • Direct Subsidized Loan: For those undergraduate students in financial need. The U.S. Department of Education pays the interest while the student is in school at least half-time, during the grace period after leaving school, and during deferment.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan: For undergraduate, graduate, and professional students regardless of financial need. Students are responsible for paying interest at all periods.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: For graduate and professional students and parents of undergraduate students. Unlike other federal loans, PLUS loans require credit checks. Borrowers with adverse credit histories may need to meet additional requirements, such as adding an endorser to their applications and completing PLUS loan credit counseling.

Benefits of federal student loans

  • No credit checks for most federal loans
  • No minimum income requirement
  • Lower interest rates for undergraduate loans
  • Subsidized interest payments on some loans
  • Financial hardship forbearance available
  • 6-month grace period after graduation for most loans
  • Access to income-driven repayment plans
  • Possibility of loan forgiveness

Best Private Student Loans Reviews

Why we chose it: College Ave ranks as best overall due to its variety of loan options, in-school payment plans and lengthy grace periods for graduate students.

  • Loan terms as long as 15 years
  • Nine-month grace periods for graduate students
  • Borrow up to total cost of attendance
  • International students must have a valid Social Security number and cosigner that is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify for a loan
  • Cosigner releases only available after half the repayment term is completed
  • International students aren't eligible for cosigner releases


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.09% - 15.32% with autopay discount
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 4.44% - 15.32% with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 5.09% - 13.99% with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 4.44% - 13.99% with autopay discount

College Ave Student Loans offers private loans for students, international students and parents. Borrowers can receive a College Ave loan if they’re enrolled at least part time, as long as they’re registered at a qualifying, degree-granting institution and show satisfactory academic progress.

College Ave finances up to the total cost of attendance and disburses the loan directly to the institution.

College Ave partnered with Payce Rewards, a free service where students earn cash back for online and in-store purchases to help them pay down their student loans. Payce Rewards is linked to around 61,000 stores and restaurants across the United States, including CVS, Walmart and DoorDash.

College Ave offers loans for undergraduate, graduate, MBA, medical school, graduate health professions, dental school, law school and career training programs. College Ave also allows borrowers to refinance their loans.

Basic Requirements

To apply for a private student loan with College Ave, student borrowers must:

  • Be at least 16 years of age
  • Be enrolled in an eligible school in the USA
  • Have a Social Security number
  • Meet the school’s satisfactory academic progress guidelines

Students interested in applying for a private student loan with College Ave can obtain pre-approval with a soft credit check that won’t impact their credit score.

Repayment Options and Fees

While in school, College Ave offers borrowers several repayment options. Depending on the type of loan you’re applying for, you may be able to choose from the following options:

  • Interest-only payments
  • Flat $25 monthly payments
  • Deferred payments
  • Full interest and principal payments

You can select a loan term of five, eight, 10 or 15 years for most loans. If you are attending medical school, loan terms can be as long as 20 years.

For those experiencing financial hardships, College Ave offers up to 12 months of forbearance for the life of the loan. It’s usually provided in three- or six-month increments, but varies based on your situation.

This online lender doesn’t charge application fees, origination fees or prepayment penalties. Its late payment fee is 5% or $25.

Read full College Ave student loans review>>

Why we chose it: With Sallie Mae, medical school students can borrow up to 100% of the total cost of attendance. Sallie Mae’s medical school loans feature a 36-month grace period, and borrowers can defer payments for up to 48 months during their residency and fellowship.

  • Grace period of 36 months for medical school students
  • Offers medical residency and relocation loans
  • Cosigner releases available after just 12 monthly payments
  • No information available about credit score requirements
  • No loan prequalification option
  • Discontinued parent student program


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.99%–16.33% with autopay discount
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 4.50%–14.83% with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 6.50%–16.09% with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 5.25%–14.48% with autopay discount
  • Medical school rates — Fixed: 5.25%-14.48% with autopay discount
  • Medical school rates — Variable: 6.49%-16.07% with autopay discount

Sallie Mae loans has loan options for undergraduate, graduate, professional and medical school programs. Sallie Mae’s loans can cover your total cost of attendance, with no borrowing limits.

Its medical school loans have several unique features that make it the standout choice for healthcare students, including multiple repayment options and 12 months of reduced payments after your grace period ends. You can also take advantage of Sallie Mae’s medical residency and relocation loans to borrow up to $30,000 to cover your expenses.

Borrowers can improve their chances of qualifying for a loan — and securing a competitive rate — by adding a cosigner to your loan application. Sallie Mae has the shortest payment period to qualify for a cosigner release; you can apply after making just 12 monthly payments on time.

Basic requirements

To apply for a private student loan with Sallie Mae, student borrowers must:

  • Show evidence of academic enrollment status, degree and course of study
  • Be a US citizen, permanent resident or international student with cosigner
  • Include references from two personal contacts other than the cosigner
  • Provide financial information, including bank statements and mortgage or rent payments
  • Provide income and employment information (cosigner or student)

Although Sallie Mae doesn’t disclose its minimum income and credit score requirements online, the average FICO score for approved borrowers was 747 in 2022, and 86% of Sallie Mae’s private loans were co-signed.

Repayment options and fees

Borrowers can choose from the following payment options:

  • Interest-only payments
  • Flat monthly payments while in school
  • Deferred payments

Eligible borrowers can also utilize Sallie Mae’s Graduated Repayment Period. It allows borrowers to make interest-only payments for a year after the six-month grace period ends.

Students can also get a 0.25% interest rate discount by setting up automatic payments. Sallie Mae charges a late payment fee of 5% of the amount of the past due payment (up to $25).

Read full Sallie Mae student loans review>>

Best for Parents: Earnest

Why we chose it: While other lenders have limited repayment options for parents, Earnest has four repayment plans to choose from, and parents can take advantage of a longer-than-usual grace period.

  • No loan maximum
  • Four repayment options for parent borrowers
  • Lengthy grace period
  • $100 rate match guarantee
  • For parent loans, first-, second- and third-year students must be enrolled full-time
  • Student must pursue a bachelor's or graduate degree
  • Loans not available to residents of Nevada


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.16%-16.20%
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 4.45%-14.90%
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 5.49%-16.42%
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 4.45%-14.75%
  • Parent loan rates — Fixed: Starting at 4.45%
  • Parent loan rates — Variable: Starting at 4.99%
    (Lowest rates include 0.25% autopay discount)

Earnest is a lender of undergraduate, graduate and parent student loans. Parent borrowers can borrow up to their child’s cost of attendance. And parents can choose to take advantage of a nine-month grace period, giving them more time after their child graduates before full interest and principal payments are due.

Earnest also has a skip-a-payment feature. All borrowers can skip one payment once per year without penalty or negative effect on their credit. And Earnest offers a rate match guarantee; If you’re approved for a loan with another lender that has a better rate, Earnest will give you a $100 Amazon gift card.

Earnest’s rates for parent student loans are quite low, and you may qualify for an even lower rate by signing up for automatic payments; the discount will reduce your rate by 0.25%.

Earnest’s loans are only eligible for degree-granting programs, and it doesn’t issue loans to residents of Nevada.

Basic requirements

To apply for a loan with Earnest:

  • You must be the age of majority in your state
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • You must have a FICO score of 650 or higher
  • You must earn at least $35,000 per year (or have a cosigner)
  • If you’re a parent borrower, first, second and third-year students must be enrolled full-time. College seniors can be enrolled half-time, and graduate students have no enrollment requirement.

Earnest’s loans are not available in Nevada.

Repayment options and fees

Earnest has several options for student and parent borrowers, including:

  • Interest-only repayment
  • Flat monthly payments
  • Deferred payments
  • Immediate repayment

Borrowers also may have a nine-month grace period to repay their loans.

Earnest does not charge origination, application or late fees, nor does it charge prepayment penalties.

Why we chose it: Credible allows borrowers and cosigners to compare multiple lenders with only one application and a soft credit check that won’t impact their credit scores.

  • Compare multiple offers with a soft credit check
  • Loan terms as long as 20 years
  • High loan maximum
  • Doesn't include all major lenders
  • APR rates, loan terms and repayment options depend on the lender
  • Not all Credible partners offer cosigner release


  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 3.65%-15.91%
  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 4.99%-16.20%
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 4.50%-15.83%
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 6.37%-15.97%

Credible isn’t a lender. It is a free online marketplace that partners with private student loan lenders like Brazos, Citizens Bank and College Ave. Borrowers can prequalify with a soft credit check and compare offers from different lenders at once.

Through the platform, you can shop for undergraduate, graduate and parent student loans. Credible also offers undergraduate, graduate, parent, medical school, law school and MBA loans.

Depending on the lender you choose, you may be able to borrow up to the total cost of attendance. But rates, terms and policies vary by the lender issuing the loan.

Eligibility requirements

To apply for a student loan with Credible, potential borrowers must:

  • Be a US citizen or permanent resident
  • Be enrolled at least part-time in a qualifying institution
  • Provide income and employment information

Other eligibility requirements and documentation vary by lender.

Repayment options and fees

Credible partners offer a variety of in-school repayment options, including full principal and interest, interest-only, and partial interest payments. Some lenders also offer forbearance for those borrowers who want to delay repayment until after graduation.

This marketplace doesn’t charge any origination fees or prepayment penalties.

Read full Credible student loans review>>

Why we chose it: SoFi is our choice for the best student loan lender for no fees and discounts because of its rate discounts, membership benefits and the lack of origination or late fees.

  • No late or insufficient fund fees
  • Autopay discount and multiple loan discounts
  • Cosigner releases after 24 months
  • Extra member benefits
  • Only students attending four-year schools are eligible for loans
  • High credit score required
  • International students are not eligible for loans


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.16%–13.70% APR with autopay discount
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 4.49%–13.80% with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 5.79%-13.07% APR with autopay discount
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 5.25%–13.60% APR with autopay discount

SoFi offers private student loans for undergraduate, graduate, law and medical school programs, and it also offers private parent loans and student loan refinancing. SoFi doesn’t charge any fees at all, so there are no application, origination, late or insufficient payment fees, nor are there prepayment penalties.

You can take advantage of SoFi’s discounts to lower your interest rate. You can qualify for a 0.25% reduction by signing up for autopay. And if you take out additional loans to pay for the rest of your education, you’ll qualify for another 0.125% discount.

When you take out a loan through SoFi, you qualify for its membership benefits, including unemployment protection and career coaching.

However, you will need very good credit to qualify for a loan. Although SoFi accepts credit scores in the mid-600s, the weighted average FICO score on originated loans was 773 in 2022, a higher-than-typical score.

Eligibility requirements

To apply for a private student loan with SoFi, student borrowers must:

  • Be US citizen, permanent resident or non-permanent resident alien
  • Permanent residents and non-permanent resident aliens must show their permanency residency card or DACA or asylum documents
  • Be employed or have a cosigner
  • Be enrolled at least half time in a four-year, degree-granting program
  • Have reached the age of majority in their state of residence
  • Use the loan for higher education expenses at an eligible institution
  • Attend a four-year school

Repayment options and fees

SoFi offers flexible repayment options for all student loan borrowers while in school, including options for full principal and interest payments, interest-only payments or a $25 flat monthly payment. Borrowers can also choose a deferment option to delay paying their loans until six months after graduation.

Along with no late fees, SoFi also does not charge application, origination or prepayment fees.

Read full SoFi student loans review>>

Why we chose it: We chose Discover as a runner-up for best for no fees and discounts because it doesn’t charge any fees — not even late payment fees — for its student loans.

  • No late fees
  • Cash reward for earning good grades
  • Multiple financial hardship options
  • No cosigner release
  • Only one repayment term
  • Doesn't offer online preapproval


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.87%-15.12%
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 5.49%-14.99%
  • Graduate rates —Variable: 6.62%-16.72%
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 5.99%-15.99%

Discover is mostly known for its credit cards and home loans. However, it also offers student, parent and student loan refinancing. Through Discover, you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance, and Discover doesn’t charge any added fees. There are no origination fees, late fees or prepayment penalties.

Discover has several financial hardship programs for borrowers struggling to afford their payments. Depending on your situation, you may be able to postpone your payments, qualify for a temporary interest reduction or lower your monthly payments.

Discover only has one repayment term — 15 years — so it offers less flexibility than other lenders. And you’ll likely need a cosigner to qualify for a loan, but Discover does not offer cosigner releases. The only way to remove the cosigner’s responsibility for the loan is to refinance the loan.

Eligibility requirements

To apply for a private student loan with Discover, student borrowers must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be a US citizen, permanent resident or international student (international students must have a cosigner that is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident)
  • Be enrolled at least half-time
  • Be enrolled in a bachelor’s or associate’s degree program at a qualifying institution

Repayment options and fees

Discover only offers a 15-year term for student loan repayment. This lender doesn’t charge any application, origination, disbursement, prepayment or late fees.

Read full Discover student loans review>>>

Why we chose it: We chose Ascent as the best for borrowers without a cosigner due to its specialized non-cosigned loan options for undergraduate, graduate and DACA students.

  • Loans without cosigners or credit histories available
  • Options for students attending certificate programs and bootcamps
  • 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward
  • First- and second-year students not eligible for non-cosigned loans
  • International students must have a cosigner that is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Low loan maximums


  • Undergrad rates — Cosigned — Variable: 6.16%-15.49%
  • Undergrad rates — Cosigned — Fixed: 4.62%-15.66%
  • Undergrad rates — Noncosigned credit-based — Variable: 9.75%-15.74%
  • Undergrad rates — Noncosigned credit-based — Fixed: 9.74%-15.91%
  • Undergrad rates — Noncosigned outcomes-based — Variable: 12.62%-14.57%
  • Undergrad rates — Noncosigned outcomes-based — Fixed: 12.67%-14.24%
  • Graduate rates — Cosigned credit-based — Variable: 7.18%-15.74%
  • Graduate rates — Cosigned credit-based — Fixed: 5.62%-15.91%
  • Graduate rates — Noncosigned credit-based — Variable: 7.18% - 15.74%
  • Graduate rates — Noncosigned credit-based — Fixed: 5.62% - 15.91%

Ascent is one of the few private lenders offering non-cosigned loans to undergraduate, graduate and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students. (DACA protects eligible immigrant youth who came to the United States as children from deportation and helps them apply for a Social Security number, a driver’s license and a work permit.)

The Non-Cosigned Outcomes-Based loan is available to full-time junior and senior students. For students without an established credit history, Ascent bases eligibility on the school, program, major, academic performance (GPA), graduation date and cost of attendance.

Ascent also offers cosigned loans for undergraduate, graduate, DACA and international students. Cosigned loans include perks like a 1% cash back graduation reward and a 0.25% deduction rate with autopay. Students can apply for a cosigner release after making 12 consecutive on-time payments.

Basic requirements

To apply for a student loan with Ascent, borrowers must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, DACA recipient, or U.S. temporary resident (international students can qualify for a loan if they have a creditworthy cosigner that is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident)
  • Be a full- or half-time student at an eligible institution
  • Have at least a 2.9 GPA
  • Meet a minimum gross annual income of $24,000 for the current and previous year, and submit satisfactory proof-of-income (cosigners)

Repayment options and fees

Ascent has multiple repayment options. The available repayment plans vary based on the type of loan you have, but you may be able to make interest-only payments, flat monthly payments or defer payments until after graduation. You may also qualify for a nine-month grace period.

Read full Ascent student loans review>>

Why we chose it: We chose LendKey as the best marketplace because it partners with a large network of loan providers and the company also services student loans.

  • Partners with credit unions and community banks
  • Services loans and offers in-house customer service
  • Some lending partners offer a cosigner release after 12 on-time payments
  • $200 referral bonus with Refer and Earn program
  • International students aren't eligible for loans
  • Only one (10-year) repayment option
  • Policies vary by partner lender


  • Undergrad rates — Variable: 5.56% - 10.37% with autopay
  • Undergrad rates — Fixed: 4.89% - 10.39% with autopay
  • Graduate rates — Variable: 5.56% - 10.37% with autopay
  • Graduate rates — Fixed: 4.89% - 10.39% with autopay

LendKey is not a lender but a digital loan marketplace that partners with over 13,000 small banks and credit unions. Unlike other marketplaces, LendKey services the loans borrowers take through its marketplace and offers in-house customer service. In other words: it will not underwrite or disburse your loan, but it will manage all administrative and customer-related aspects of it.

Private student loans obtained through LendKey begin at $2,000 and can finance 100% of school-certified expenses, including tuition, room and board and supplies.

Applications are credit-based, and cosigners are allowed if the borrower doesn’t meet eligibility criteria. Cosigner release will depend on the lender’s approval and requirements. Some lenders on Lendkey’s marketplace offer it after 12 months of payments, while others require up to 48 months.

Lendkey offers undergraduate, graduate, and student refinance loans.

Eligibility requirements

To apply for a loan through LendKey, students must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Be enrolled at least half-time in an eligible school
  • Be the age of majority
  • Have a credit score or cosigner

Repayment options and fees

Repayment options for LendKey’s student loans include flat monthly payments and interest-only payments while in school, and a six-month grace period after leaving school.

As a marketplace, LendKey offers private student loans and student loan refinancing with no application or origination fees. Late payment or insufficient funds fees depend on the lender.

Read full Lendkey student loans review>>

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Student Loans Guide

In this guide, we outline what students and their families need to know to easily navigate the student loan application process.

How do student loans work?

Student loans are issued by the federal government or private lenders to help students pay for undergraduate or graduate studies. The loan goes toward tuition, books, student housing and other education-related expenses.

Once a student loan application is approved, the funds are sent directly to the school to cover tuition, fees and on-campus student housing. The remaining balance is disbursed to the student.

Private loans accrue interest from the start of the loan, while some federal loans have more flexible terms. Repayment options include deferment, interest-only, or full payment.

Types of student loans

Since private loans don’t offer the same protections that federal loans do, the general advice is to seek private student loans after you’ve exhausted every federal option.

Federal student loans

Federal student loans are the first choice for many due to their low rates, flexible repayment options and federal protections.

The U.S. Department of Education offers the following loan options:

  • Direct Subsidized
  • Direct Unsubsidized for Undergraduate and graduate students
  • Parent PLUS
  • Grad PLUS

To apply for federal loans and additional financial aid, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) once every school year. Your school will calculate how much you’re eligible to borrow based on the cost of attendance and your family’s financial information.

The federal government limits how much a student can borrow annually and over their lifetime based on the academic year, loan type and the borrowers’ dependency status.

  • Income-driven loan repayment plan options
  • Opportunities for student loan forgiveness
  • Low interest rates
  • Eligible for forbearance if experiencing a financial hardship
  • No credit checks for most loans
  • Disbursement fees apply
  • Federal loans aren't subject to statutes of limitations
  • Only available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents with Social Security numbers
  • Strict annual and aggregate limits

Private student loans

Private student loans are similar to personal loans, as they are issued by private banks or credit unions.

Private student loan lenders look at students' credit scores and credit reports to determine interest rates and loan approval. Since most students don't have enough credit history, lenders often require a qualifying cosigner.

Private loans don’t feature the same benefits as federal student loans, but they can help pay your school’s total cost of attendance if you’re no longer eligible for federal aid. Most schools will have a list of recommended lenders they partner with.

You will receive any remaining balance from the loan directly from the school after covering tuition, fees and student housing.

Most private lenders suggest borrowers start loan repayment while still in school, but most offer in-school deferment or grace periods, although interest will continue to accrue.

Pros Cons
Available to U.S. citizens and qualifying international students Not eligible for federal forgiveness programs
No financial need requirements Limited repayment options and hardship assistance programs
Fixed and variable rates Requires credit check
Higher loan limits for undergraduate loans May have higher APRs
Will likely require a cosigner

Student loan terms

Federal student loan terms are set by law, while the lender determines private student loan repayment plans. When shopping for private student loans, borrowers should compare repayment options to see which lender allows more flexibility.

Federal student loan terms

For federal student loans, the government offers multiple repayment plans that can be grouped as follows:

Repayment plan Monthly payment Repayment period How it works Eligible loans
Standard repayment plan Fixed monthly payments of at least $50 Up to 10 years (between 10 and 30 for consolidation loans) Payments are spread out in equal installments over the loan term • Direct Subsidized/Unsubsidized
• Direct PLUS
• Direct Consolidation
• Subsidized/Unsubsidized Stafford
• FFEL PLUS/FFEL Consolidation
Based Repayment
10% of your discretionary income if you are a new borrower as of July 1, 2014 20 years Payments recalculated annually based on your discretionary income Direct Subsidized
Direct Unsubsidized
Contingent Repayment
Lesser of 20% of your discretion- ary income or payments under a 12-year plan 25 years Payments recalculated annually based on your discretionary income Direct Unsubsidized
Parent PLUS loans if they’re consolidated with a Direct Consolidation Loan
Pay As You Earn 10% of your discretionary income, but never more than you’d pay under a Standard Repayment Plan 20 years Payments recalculated annually based on your discretionary income Direct Subsidized
Direct Unsubsidized
Revised Pay As You Earn 10% of your discretionary income 20 years for undergraduate loans
25 years for graduate loans
Direct Subsidized
Direct Unsubsidized
Direct Subsidized
Direct Unsubsidized
Graduated repayment plan Payments increase every two years Up to 10 years (between 10 and 30 for consolidation loans) Monthly payments gradually increase over time Same as standard repayment
Extended repayment plan A fixed or graduated amount Up to 25 years Allows you to make a lower payment for a longer period Same as standard repayment
-sensitive repayment
Based on annual income 10 years Fluctuate based on income FFEL Loans

Private student loan terms

While in school, most private lenders will allow you to:

  • Defer loan and interest payments until after you graduate
  • Make fixed monthly payments towards interest and principal
  • Pay a moderate monthly payment towards accrued interest only

Once you’re out of school, the repayment plans are standard “balance-based” ones, meaning your monthly payment is based on how much you owe plus interest; and you pay an equal amount each month over a period of five to 15 years.

Lenders also may offer grace periods and forbearance to students who cannot make their monthly payments. However, the student loan interest rates will continue to accrue, increasing their student debt.

How to apply for student loans

The following are general tips to consider before applying for student loans, whether federal or private.

1. Calculate your financial needs

Consider your school’s cost of attendance (tuition, materials, room and board, etc.) and then factor in additional living expenses. Money’s Best Colleges in America 2022 contains information about admission, costs, financial aid and graduation rates of hundreds of public and private institutions around the United States.

If you’re considering private loans, take the time to evaluate your creditworthiness and whether you will need a cosigner.

Private lenders base interest rates on your credit score, income and employment history. If you have a cosigner, lenders will also consider their credit for approval.

If you need to improve your credit before applying for a private student loan, start with our credit repair guide or check out our best credit repair companies if you don't want to DIY it.

2. Look into federal loans

We recommend you consider federal loans first, as they have several advantages over private loans and a variety of options to choose from.

If you need to take out a private student loan, keep in mind that each lender offers different terms, rates and benefits.

Shop around and compare fees and APRs from multiple lenders before making a decision.

3. Seek expert help

Read expert advice from sources like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and College Board before you apply for private student loans. Other options may be available to you, such as grants and scholarships.

If you are a graduate school student or parent looking into private student loans, it could also be worth paying a financial planner to help you weigh the costs and benefits. Search for a fee-only planner who has experience helping clients plan for college or pay down student debt.

4. Choose the right lender for you

To choose the best student loan, you should have a clear understanding of what each lender requires and what they offer regarding interest rates and repayment options:

  • Check your lender’s credentials: Only do business with reputable lenders. To determine this, use reputable sources like Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
  • Apply for prequalification: By prequalifying, you get to see what rates, terms and benefits each lender offers, while avoiding a hard credit inquiry. Be sure to understand how different interest rates and terms affect your payments.
  • Look for lenders with in-school repayment options: Starting loan repayment early will reduce the debt burden. Opt for private lenders with multiple options, a grace period, and no penalties for early loan repayment.
  • Opt for lenders with low or no fees: Application and origination fees are processing costs added to your principal, which means you’ll pay interest on them. If you can, look for lenders that don’t charge late fees or prepayment penalties either.
  • Take advantage of discounts and perks: Many lenders offer autopay discounts and other perks such as free study or tutoring programs and bonuses for good grades or referring friends.

Check what documents you need to apply

The application process for federal student loans starts by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). To do so, you will need:

  • Social Security Number or Alien Registration Number
  • Tax returns and income employment information
  • If applicable, bank statements, investment records or evidence of untaxed income

To apply for private student loans you will need:

  • Social Security number
  • Tax returns and income employment information
  • Rent or mortgage docs
  • Financial information from your cosigner
  • Application submitted no later than a month before tuition is due

How to pay off your student loans

Paying off student loans isn't easy. Americans owe a total of $1.7 trillion in student debt, a burden that can delay home ownership, starting a family and even retiring.

Ill-informed recommendations for paying off student loans include credit card balance transfers or filing for bankruptcy, but these can worsen your financial situation.

Some college students may be counting on student loan forgiveness to settle their debts. But this is only a viable option for federal student loans, and even then, it’s not a guarantee. Many of the existing federal forgiveness programs can be complicated to navigate, and it’s unclear whether the Biden administration one-time loan forgiveness plan will survive legal challenges.

With this in mind, we have outlined some of the best practices to help you stay on top of your student loan debt:

Start repayment while you’re still in school

Private student loans begin accruing interest while you’re still in school. To keep accrued interest down, begin repayment as early as possible. You can save thousands of dollars over the life of the loan by keeping up with interest payments while you finish your degree.

Take advantage of loan forgiveness programs

While borrowers wait to see where the Supreme Court lands on the question of whether the Biden administration can forgive billions of dollars of student debt, check to be sure you don’t qualify for any existing loan forgiveness programs.

Federal loans can be forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that helps borrowers who work in traditionally lower-paying positions at government agencies, schools and non-profit organizations. Borrowers working in an eligible job can have their debts forgiven after 10 years of payments.

If you don’t work in public service but you also don’t earn enough to pay off your loans, you may be able to benefit from an income-driven repayment plan. These plans tie your monthly payments to how much you earn, and after a certain number of years, any outstanding debt is forgiven. Right now, the shortest repayment timeline in these plans is 20 years, but the Biden administration has proposed a new repayment plan that, if implemented, would shorten it for borrowers with undergraduate loans.

Finally, even if you don’t qualify for full loan forgiveness, be sure to check for other forgiveness programs. Some states, for example, have programs aimed at recruiting health care workers or teachers to underserved areas.

Create a budget

Budgets help track your spending habits and organize your finances. You may identify areas where you can cut back on spending to be able to make more payments toward your student loan debt.

Look for a job with loan repayment as a benefit

You may be able to get hired at a company that helps employees pay off their loans, or you could encourage your current employer to add loan repayment to its benefits program. Approximately 25% of employers offer some kind of student loan assistance program, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Consider refinancing and debt consolidation

Student loan refinance can be a good option if you already have private loans, but it’s not always a smart move for those with federal loans. Learn more through our article on how to refinance your student loans and our list of best student loan refinance companies.

Pay more than the minimum toward your principal

Calculate the maximum you can afford to pay each month toward your principal loan amount. If you can pay more than what you owe each month, that’s the best way to pay off your loans quicker. When you pay extra, the additional money goes directly to reducing your principal debt.

Consider the debt snowball or debt avalanche methods

Two of the most popular strategies to minimize debt are the snowball and avalanche methods.

Debt snowball Debt avalanche
Pay more toward your smallest debt and make minimum payments toward the rest. This can keep you motivated by helping you get rid of smaller debts quickly. Tackle debt with a higher interest rate first until completely paid off. This can help you save on interest payments and keep your debt from ballooning further.

Latest Student Loans News

This year is primed to be one full of big changes for student loan borrowers, with payments returning after a long hiatus and a Supreme Court decision coming for the Biden administration loan forgiveness plan. Here’s what to watch and how to prepare.

Aside from Biden's one-time loan forgiveness program, the Education Department will help millions of borrowers get closer to having their loans wiped out in a separate one-time payment recount. Check out if you qualify for any of the new flexibility measures applied to the income-driven repayment plans and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

Student Loan FAQ

When do federal student loan payments resume?


In November, the U.S. Department of Education extended the moratorium on federal student loan payments and interest so that the forbearance would remain in effect while legal challenges to the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness plan are settled.

With a Supreme Court case on the horizon, payments are now set to resume 60 days after the court makes its decision or 60 days after June 30, whichever is sooner.

How do student loans work?


Student loans are a financing option available to students and parents who are unable to cover education expenses out of pocket. There are two main types of student loans: federal and private.

Federal student loans are issued by the U.S. Department of Education. They tend to feature competitive rates and better repayment terms and protections. These are still loans, however, and they must be paid back with interest.

Private student loans are issued by private lenders. These types of loan don't offer the same protections as federal student loans, but they are an alternative for those who have taken the maximum federal student loan amount and still need help to fund their education.

Once you take out a student loan, interest will begin to accrue. For this reason, it's a good idea to start making payments toward your loans while you're still in school. Moreover, while you don't have to pay back your federal student loans while in school, some private lenders may require it.

How to apply for student loans


To apply for federal student loans, you first need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your financial aid officer at your school or university will provide you with information about what student loans you qualify for and other forms of financial aid.

What happens to student loans when you die?


It depends on the type of loans you have:

Federal loans:

  • Undergraduate and graduate loans: The loan is discharged if the borrower passes away.
  • Parent loans: The loan can be discharged if the student the loan was used for dies. If both parents die, the loan is discharged, but if only one parent borrower dies, the other is still responsible for the loan's repayment.

Private loans: Policies vary by lender, so the borrower's estate may have to repay the loan after the borrower's death. Some private lenders will discharge loans in cases of death or total and permanent disability, but it's not a universal policy.

What happens if you don't pay student loans?


If you cannot make your student loan payments on time, call your lender to see what your options are. Many private lenders offer protection programs, like the Unemployment Protection Program from SoFi, which allows your loans to be in forbearance for up to 12 months.

If you cannot make your payments and fall behind on your loans, your credit score and history will be affected. And if you have federal loans, the government can still take that money from you through a process called garnishment. The government can take money from your tax return, paycheck and even from your Social Security payments when you retire. Check our section on how to pay off your student loans for more information about payment options and other changes related to the coronavirus pandemic.

What is a private student loan?

A private student loan is a type of loan offered by banks and credit unions to cover tuition and other related expenses. It's available to parents and students and features either variable- or fixed-interest rates and different repayment options. To qualify for a private student loan, applicants must have good credit or apply with a qualifying cosigner.

How We Chose The Best Student Loans

To choose the best student loans of the year, we looked at both federal and private student loan options, outlining the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Our reviews, however, are focused on private student loan lenders. Private student loans don't offer the same benefits and protections you would have through federal student loans.

For this reason, we prioritized private lenders that offered the following:

Flexible repayment options

Federal student loans have several different standardized payment plan models, whereas private lenders often offer less flexibility. We looked for lenders that offered deferred payment options, forbearance plans and interest-only loans while still in school.

Low or no processing fees

Possible costs for private loans include late fees or insufficient fund fees. When we looked at the industry, we looked for lenders that waived these or offered reduced fees and had discounts available.

Competitive interest rates

For undergraduate degree loans, we preferred lenders with an annual percentage rate between 2.99% and 12%, and for graduate student loans, from 3.20% to 12%.

Students and parents should compare offers from multiple lenders to ensure they get the lowest rates. With this in mind, we also included student loan marketplaces that allow borrowers to compare loan offers from multiple lenders in one place.

Summary of Money’s Best Student Loans