If you need to secure funding for college, you have two options: federal and private student loans. Federal student loans have better borrower protections and forgiveness options. Private student loans must be paid back in full.
Why would anyone use private student loans then? There are three good reasons:
- Private student loans offer you a lower interest rate. Grad PLUS and Parent PLUS federal loans have a 4.23% origination fee and a 5.30% interest rate. If you know you need to pay your debt off someday, you might choose a private student loan over a federal one if the private loan offered a lower interest rate.
- You’re unable to secure federal student loans. For undergraduate degrees, you can only borrow $5,500 to $7,500 per year as a dependent student. If your parents are unable or unwilling to get a Parent PLUS loan to cover extra costs, then you might have to turn to private student loans. Another example would be international students or DACA recipients who can’t qualify for federal student loans but qualify for private student loans with a cosigner.
- You made a mistake with financial aid. Unfortunately, many students and their families simply fail to fill out the FAFSA on time. This sometimes results in rushed decisions where a student needs thousands of dollars to pay tuition by the deadline in a hurry. If your only alternative is dropping out or skipping the semester, private student loans can be a better alternative since students who don’t complete their degrees are three times as likely to default and unable to pay back their debt.
In this guide, we’ll go over all of the private student loan options available so you can find the best deal if you fall into one of these three categories.
We list the best converting student loan companies at the top if you want to apply to only a few lenders. Otherwise, read the full page for our list of 9.
1.13% - 11.23% APR¹
4.25% - 12.59% APR¹
- No origination fee
- Competitive rates
1.30% - 11.69% APR
3.74% - 13.03% APR
- No origination fee
- Check rates in 2 min
2.14% - 12.94% APR
3.61% - 14.50% APR
- No origination fee
- Large autopay discount
1.24% - 11.99% APR²
4.24% - 12.49% APR²
- No origination fee
- Flexible in-school terms
1Sallie Mae Disclosures 2Discover Disclosures: Lowest APRs shown for Discover Student Loans are available for the most creditworthy applicants for undergraduate loans, and include an interest-only repayment discount and a 0.25% interest rate reduction while enrolled in automatic payments.
Student Loan Planner may earn money if you get a private student loan through our referral links. However, we review each lending partner in detail before listing them on the site.
Here’s how we determine what lenders to feature and where:
- How many readers successfully financed with this lender in the past few months? If a high percentage of the people who apply through our site accept a loan, it tells us which lenders are doing a good job and which aren’t.
- What are we hearing from applicants? We look at weekly reader feedback and data from annual surveys we conduct. Our readers’ feedback on a lender’s website, the application process, and rates must be excellent to receive prominent placement.
- How much does a lender pay us? It takes a lot of work to put together lender reviews, do due diligence, and put out free content to make sure you don’t take out private student loans without knowing exactly why you’re making that choice instead of federal student loans (which we generally recommend prioritizing). What a lender pays us can influence where and how we list them on this post. However, it’s not the primary ranking factor.
Private student loans for the 2020-2021 school year
For all federal student loans issued between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, the interest rates will be:
- Stafford Subsidized: 2.75%
- Stafford Unsubsidized: 4.30%
- Grad PLUS / Parent PLUS: 5.30%
The Stafford interest rates this year are among the lowest rates of the past two decades.
Because the economy isn’t on the surest of footing, we’re seeing a wide variance among lenders with how low their interest rates are.
That means for the 2020-2021 school year, only the highest qualified borrowers with a cosigner can expect to get a lower interest rate than what’s offered by federal student loans.
Private student loans should generally be your last option
That means most borrowers taking out private student loans for the 2020-2021 school year are doing so because they can’t access federal student loans or they made a mistake with the FAFSA.
It doesn’t hurt to apply and double-check that you can’t find a better rate than what’s available with federal student loans. That said, your first priority must be obtaining all of the student loans you can get from the government.
Some private student loans offer interest rates higher than 8%.
If that’s all that you’re offered, you wouldn’t accept it unless you didn’t have another option to maintain progress toward your degree.
Are private loans right for me?
We generally recommend taking out federal student loans before turning to private student loans. Federal student loans have repayment plans that can be based on your income, which is something you won’t find with a private lender.
However, federal loans have limits on how much you can borrow. Your federal loan might not be enough to cover the cost of going to school. That’s where private loans can help.
Many private lenders let you borrow up to 100% of the cost of attendance. If you’ve exhausted your federal lending options, taking out a private loan can give you more funding to pay for your education.
Depending on the lender, you may have several options to repay your loan. For instance, some lenders let you make interest-only payments while you’re in school while others won’t ask for any payments until after you graduate.
All 9 private student loan companies compared
Common private student loan FAQs
Here’s a list of some of the most common questions we get from readers who are thinking about taking out a private student loan.
If you have a question that isn’t listed here, we’d love to hear it! Just comment on this post below.
The biggest difference between federal and private student loans is who provides them. While federal student loans are administered by the federal government, private student loans come from banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. Interest rates and repayment options can vary greatly, so make sure you understand the difference before applying.
After submitting your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may not have enough to cover all of your educational costs. That’s where private student loans come in. Choose a bank, credit union or online lender and submit an application. You may need to provide your tax returns, pay stubs or other personal information. The lender may also require a cosigner as part of your application.
Yes! Private loan lenders use your credit history to determine your eligibility, but there are non-cosigned options if you have no credit or poor credit. Here’s our list of lenders that offer private student loans without a cosigner.
Federal student loans have stricter limits on how much you can borrow, but some private lenders put a cap on the loan amount, too. In most cases, private student loans let you borrow up to the cost of attendance, which can include tuition, fees, books, supplies and living expenses.
It’s best to exhaust all of your grant, scholarship and federal student loan options before applying for a private student loan. Even with your financial aid award package, you might need private loans to bridge the gap and cover all of your educational costs.
For students who have a well-off cosigner, we sometimes see private student loan interest fixed rates between 4% and 5%. However, most private student loan interest costs fall in the 6% to 10% range, which you would only select if that was your only choice.
No, you should seek to refinance your private loans as soon as you graduate for a lower interest rate. There’s a better chance than not that you’ll lock in a lower interest cost.
Start applying or ask a question
Ready to take out a private student loan? Just click the links at the top of the page and get started.
If you’re an undergrad, try to get all of the federal loans you can and apply for the private student loans if you need to.
If you’re attending graduate or professional school, we offer a pre-debt consultation so you can be fully informed, financially, about what your options are going into your program. That way, you don’t have to stress about what your financial life might look like after graduation.
Have a question? Go ahead and ask in the comments below. Many readers have extra questions because of the economic volatility out there.
The more details you give, the better answer we can supply. Also, use the comments to ask any lender specific questions or just to share your experience with taking out private loans.