A private student loan is a common way to finance college expenses. Applying for a student loan ahead of time can help you avoid rushing your application at the last minute.

While the student loan process can seem overwhelming, you can start by ensuring that you have good credit and a co-signer (if you need one). Making sure you’re enrolled in an eligible school and keeping your college tuition numbers handy is helpful.

MoneyGeek analyzed top lenders based on loan amounts, service quality and APR ranges to help you select your best option. Our research revealed that College Ave is the best overall private student loan lender.

MoneyGeek’s Picks for the Best Private Student Loans

Loan size, repayment terms, APR ranges and fees are some factors that MoneyGeek evaluated to rank the best private loans for students. College Ave emerged as our top pick since it charges minimal fees, doesn’t require co-signers and has flexible loan amounts. Additionally, the variable APR of College Ave starts at 3.99%, one of the lowest rates available.

MoneyGeek also highlights top-performing loan lenders based on their outstanding features. Citizens Bank, for example, offers fast approval.

Best Private Student Loan Overall: College Ave

  • College Ave

    Students can take advantage of borrowing up to 100% of the cost of their education

    • 4.44% - 15.99%Fixed APR Range
    • 5.09% - 15.99%Variable APR Range
    • $1,000 minimum, no maximumLoan Amount Range
    • Not requiredCo-signer

    College Ave

Best Private Student Loan for No Co-signer: Ascent

  • Ascent

    A co-signer isn’t required unless you’re a non-U.S. citizen or temporary resident.

    • 4.36%–14.08%Fixed APR Range
    • 1.47%–11.31%Variable APR Range
    • $2,001–$200,000Loan Amount Range
    • Non-U.S. citizens and temporary residentsCo-signer


Best Private Student Loan for Competitive APRs: RISLA

  • Risla

    Ten-year loans have a starting APR of 4.99% plus a possible 0.25% autopayment discount.

    • 2.99%–4.74%Fixed APR Range
    • Not availableVariable APR Range
    • $1,500–$150,000Loan Amount Range
    • Not required if borrower meets qualificationsCo-signer


Best Private Student Loan for Fast Approval Process: Citizens Bank

  • Citizens Bank

    Loan approval is almost immediate in specific situations.

    • 3.48%–10.78%Fixed APR Range
    • 1.99%–8.39%Variable APR Range
    • Up to $150,000Loan Amount Range
    • Only for some borrowersCo-signer

    Citizens Bank

Best Private Student Loan for Automated Payment Discounts: PNC Bank

  • PNC

    PNC Bank offers a relatively sizable autopayment discount at 0.50%.

    • 2.99%–9.89%Fixed APR Range
    • 1.09%–8.19%Variable APR Range
    • $1,000–$50,000Loan Amount Range
    • AllowedCo-signer


Best Private Student Loan for Member Benefits: SoFi

  • SoFi

    SoFi provides members with the opportunity to earn and redeem rewards points by using the SoFi app.

    • 3.22%–11.16%Fixed APR Range
    • 1.10%–11.68%Variable APR Range
    • $5,000 minimum, no maximumLoan Amount Range
    • OptionalCo-signer


Private Student Loans vs. Federal Student Loans

If you’re looking for the best student loans, it’s smart to know the difference between private and federal student loans.

Banks, credit unions or state-affiliated organizations offer private student loans. The government provides federal student loans following terms set by law. Students who need to refinance a federal and private loan can consider private lenders such as SoFi.

Student loan eligibility varies based on the lender, regardless of loan type. For most loans, U.S. citizens and permanent residents can qualify. However, some private lenders allow international students to apply and others don’t. You may need to prove your financial need and provide proof of enrollment in an eligible certificate program from your school.

Federal student loans don’t charge prepayment penalty fees, while there’s a possibility of fees for early repayment with private student loans. Students with a federal student loan can defer payments until after graduation. Certain private student loans might require payments throughout your time in school.

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It’s smart to consider a private student loan only if your federal student loan isn’t sufficient to cover the cost of your education.

How to Choose the Best Private Student Loan

Before you apply for a student loan, it’s smart to consider a few factors that could affect which option is best for you.

  • Assess the product details: Each lender offers different features, loan limits and APR ranges. Read about the features of a private student loan to help you decide whether it’s a suitable option.
  • See if you meet eligibility requirements: Eligibility can vary greatly between lenders, so it’s best to check if you tick all the boxes. For instance, some lenders don’t allow international students to apply for a private student loan.
  • Look into the repayment terms: Certain lenders have a short grace period and require immediate repayment. Other lenders allow you to defer payments until you graduate or leave school.
  • Know your financial profile: Take note of factors such as having a co-signer, your creditworthiness and your debt-to-income ratio. Lenders usually check these to assess your ability to repay.
  • Wait a couple of days: It’s good practice to take a day or two to consider the pros and cons before applying for a loan. It could help you arrive at an objective decision.
  • Get a funding estimate: Knowing how much you need to borrow beforehand is best to avoid overborrowing.
  • Account for monthly payments: Loans are usually paid each month, so ensure that you can keep up with payments.
  • Read the fine print: Avoid surprise costs by understanding your loan’s conditions.

Taking time to evaluate options can help you find the best private student loan that caters to your specific needs.

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We reviewed more than 30 private student loan lenders using 35+ individual data points across six key categories: loan affordability, accessibility, consumer friendliness, customer service, flexibility and lender transparency.

Within each ranking criteria category, we considered several individual data points that carry the most weight when choosing a private student loan lender. These factors include APR ranges, available loan amount, minimum credit score, minimum income amount, application fees and disbursement time.

With the consumer in mind, we also factor in each lender’s customer support, business ratings and additional features that could make your experience easier and more accessible — like pre-qualification, payment options and mobile apps.

Frequently Asked Questions About Private Student Loans

MoneyGeek answered the most commonly asked questions about private student loans so you can find an excellent fit. Consider your needs and weigh different lender options.

Experts' Insight on Finding the Best Private Student Loans

  1. What are the factors to consider when deciding which private student loan is the most suitable for them?
  2. What are the pros and cons of a private student loan?
  3. What advice would you give to someone considering a private student loan?
Todd Engmann
Todd Engmann

Financial Advisor and Director at at Cary Street Partners

Bryan Vance
Bryan Vance

Founder of Bucks & Cents

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