Let’s face it, college is expensive.

You try your best – you’ve got federal student aid, a part-time job, maybe even a grant or two. But sometimes it’s still not enough. In those instances, borrowers can look toward private student loans to fill the gaps.

So, what is a private student loan? I’m glad you asked.

In this piece, we’ll break down how a private loan can be used for and what makes them different from federal student aid. And here’s the best part – you don’t have to do research to find one. We’ve reviewed dozens of private student loan companies and provided details for you below.

Let’s get started!

Editor’s Picks

We’ll provide detailed explanations below, but if you can’t wait to get started, here are our top three picks:

What is a Private Student Loan?

Private student loans are available from private lenders such as banks, credit unions, and online companies. They can be used to pay for any type of schooling, including private universities, postgraduate studies, or even medical residencies.

Private loans don’t have all of the borrower protections that federal loans provide, but they can still save students thousands of dollars. Federal student loans have structured rates and terms, but private student loans offer personalized competitive interest rates and flexible repayment terms. Private lenders usually have options for fixed or variable rates as well. Having great credit can score you the lowest rates available, or you can get a cosigner.

Instead of filling out a FAFSA (though that may still be required), private student loans require a credit check to determine a borrower’s ability to repay loans. Many private student loans require a cosigner since borrowers usually haven’t established enough credit history on their own. Cosigners can help lower interest rates even more, depending on their credit. Some private lenders even offer cosigner release options after a consistent repayment history has been established.

Most private lenders also offer options to refinance your federal student loans. If you’re checking into private student loans to fill the gaps, you’ve come to the right place! Below is a comparison of some of our favorite private student loan companies

(Editor’s Note: We strive to provide the most current rate information. Rates listed are current as of November 1, 2019.)

Our Top Picks

Credible: Compare Rates from Multiple Lenderscredible logo

Did you know that Credible allows you to check rates from many of the best private student loan lenders in one spot? In less than 90 seconds, you’ll get the current rates from multiple lenders. You’ll also learn about each lender’s eligibility requirements and payment terms.

By providing personalized rates from multiple lenders, Credible users are able to compare and choose the most competitive interest rate for their situation. Fill out a short form and get customized private student loan rates in a snap. Receiving rate quotes is free and users can get a list of offers without it impacting their credit score.

Here’s more info on Credible:

  • Compare up to 9 lenders at once
  • Get a list of offers without impacting your credit score
  • Option to invite a cosigner to your application
  • No application, origination, or prepayment fees
  • Personal loans also available
  • Federal and private student loan refinancing available

Read our full Credible review for more.

CommonBond: Social Justice Through Lending

CommonBond is a private lender, but they also look to make a global impaCommonBond Logoct. They do this by donating to Pencils of Promise for every person who takes out a loan or refinances their loans. The company has built 470 schools and donated over $1 million to date.

CommonBond offers private student loans for undergraduate, graduate, MBA, medical school, and dental school. Their student loans allow you to borrow up to 100% of your school’s cost of attendance.

While their rates depend on what type of loan you get, they offer variable and fixed interest rates for 5, 10, and 15 year terms. They’ll never penalize you for prepaying and offer some really flexible repayment options if you have a hardship. Learn more about CommonBond private student loans:

  • Fixed rates on undergraduate loans start at 5.45%
  • Variable rates for undergraduate loans start at 3.31%
  • Forbearance and deferment options
  • 5, 10, and 15 year terms available
  • Cosigner release available after the first 48 consecutive monthly payments
  • No prepayment fees

Citizens Bank: Rewarding Current CustomersCitizens Bank Logo

Citizens Bank is known for its competitive student loan refinancing, but they also offer private student loans. And if you are a current customer (or your cosigner is), you are eligible for a 0.25% rate reduction. You can borrow from $1,000 up to $295,000 depending upon your degree and amount of federal aid. Citizens Bank also offers flexible repayment options, including 5, 10, and 15 year repayments. Learn more about private student loans through Citizens Bank:

  • Fixed rates starting at 4.40% APR
  • Variable rates starting at 2.83% APR
  • Current Citizens Bank customers are eligible for a 0.25% interest rate reduction
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction for automatic payments
  • Cosigner release option after 36 consecutive on-time payments
  • No application, origination, or disbursement fees

Other Top Private Student Loan Lenders

Advantage Education Loan: Offering Simple TermsAdvantage Education Loan Logo

Advantage Education Loan stands out for one reason – the simplicity of their loans. They offer very low interest rates for fixed loans only and all loans have a 10-year repayment term. There are no fees, they offer a discount for autopay, and they even have a postponed repayment program.

Advantage Education Loan also offers several repayment options with a minimum monthly payment of just $50. Here’s a little more info about Advantage Education Loan:

  • Fixed rates starting at 3.50% APR with autopay
  • Minimum loan amount is $1,000
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • No origination or prepayment penalties
  • Loans are funded and serviced by a nonprofit agency
  • Death and disability benefits

College Ave: Straight-A ExperienceCollege Ave Logo

College Ave is filled with former students and parents who work to provide a simple, clear, and personal experience. They offer competitive interest rates on loans for undergraduates, graduates, and parents. In fact, variable rates start at just 3.26% APR with autopay and fixed rates start at 4.72% APR with autopay.

With multiple repayment and term options, College Ave has a plan that is right for every borrower. They even offer a monthly $1,000 scholarship that anyone can enter. Here’s some more info:

  • Deferred payments, interest-only, or full payment options offered
  • Flat $25 payments in-school will reduce your overall accrued interest
  • 5, 8, 10, and 15 year terms
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • Cosigner release available after 24 consecutive months of on-time payments
  • International students are eligible with a cosigner

Sallie Mae: Loans for EveryoneSallie Mae Logo

Sallie Mae is probably the most well-known lender on this list. Once a government-sponsored enterprise, they became their own private company in 2004.

Sallie Mae offers private student loans for everyone. Whether you are looking for help with undergraduate studies, graduate programs, or parent student loans, Sallie Mae offers it all. You can also get postgraduate loans including medical school, law school, or an MBA.

Can’t do it on your own? No worries – they offer cosigner programs, too.

  • Fixed rates start at 4.74% APR for undergraduate loan
  • Variable rates start at 3.12% APR for undergraduate loan
  • Multiple repayment options
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Free access to FICO score

LendKey: Community LendingLendKey Logo

LendKey is most widely recognized as a top lender for student loan refinancing, but they also offer private student loans.

One of our favorite things about LendKey is that they use community banks and credit unions to fund their loans. LendKey’s platform also allows them to digitally offer you the loan you need. This digital platform saves them money, which they pass onto you. You can search for loans, customize your needs, and apply for funding all through one easy and convenient platform.

Here are some more details on LendKey private student loans:

  • Fixed rates start at 5.36% APR with autopay
  • Variable rates start at 4.05% APR with autopay
  • Community banks and credit unions
  • Get funds while you’re in school now
  • Finance many types of degrees
  • Ability to add a cosigner to the loan
  • Student loan refinancing options available

Discover Student Loans: Rewarding Good GradesDiscover Logo

Discover Student Loans offers a variety of loan programs for undergraduate, graduate, MBA, health profession, and law students. With U.S.-based loan specialists and zero fees, you can rest easy and concentrate on your studies. And that extra studying could get you a 1% cash reward on each new student loan if you have a 3.0 GPA or better.

Discover Student Loans also gives 12 scholarship awards each year for $5,000 each. The minimum amount is $1,000 for each loan. Here’s a bit more info on Discover Student Loans:

  • Fixed rates start at 4.74% APR with autopay
  • Variable rates start at 3.12% APR with autopay
  • Deferred payments, interest-only, or full payments offered
  • Pay $25/month while in school to reduce accrued interest
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • No cosigner release available
  • No origination or prepayment fees

 SoFi: Customer-Service DrivenSoFi logo

SoFi is best known for its student loan refinancing products. But did you know they do private student loans, too?

Started in 2011 by Stanford University graduates, SoFi doesn’t rely solely on your credit score to determine your interest rate. They also consider the merit of your account, employment history, and many other factors.

Here’s some more info on SoFi:

  • Fixed rates start at 5.05% APR with autopay
  • Variable rates start at 3.19% APR with autopay
  • No origination, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees
  • Flexible repayment options
  • Discounts for existing SoFi members
  • Get .25% discount with autopay
  • Offers private student loans for parents
  • Can cover 100% of school-certified costs

Read our full SoFi review for more info.

Laurel Road: Flexible Repayment TermsLaurel Road Logo

Laurel Road is a private lender that specializes in student loan refinancing, but they also offer in-school loans for some graduate programs at eligible schools. They became part of Key Bank in 2019, which may help expand their offerings in the future.

Like many federal loans, Laurel Road offers a 6-month grace period at the end of your in-school period and offers lots of payment options. They have repayment terms of 5, 7, 10, 15, and 20 years.

Here are a few more details about Laurel Road private student loans:

  • Fixed rates start at 4.29% APR with autopay
  • Variable rates start at 4.45% with autopay
  • Only eligible graduate degree programs at some schools are available
  • Full deferment, flat $50 payments in-school, interest-only, or full payment plans available
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Minimum loan of $5,000

iHelp: A Customer-Driven ChoiceiHelp Logo

iHelp is a private lender known for its customer service. Each loan is assigned a dedicated account manager available by email or phone to help you.

This company offers private loan options for undergraduate and graduate programs through a network of small community banks. The minimum loan amount is $1,000 ($3,000 for Georgia residents) each. They offer competitive rates with a unique hybrid fixed loan program.

  • Variable rates starting at 4.13% APR
  • Hybrid fixed rate starting at 6.21% APR
  • Deferment and forbearance options available
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • Cosigner release after 24 consecutive months of on-time payments
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Flexible repayment plans including income sensitive

EDvestinU: Loans Designed for YouEDvestinU Logo

EDvestinU is a non-profit whose proceeds are reinvested in borrower incentives that reduce the cost of borrowing. They offer private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students. Additionally, they have a quarterly scholarship giveaway for $1,500 and are well-known for loan counseling.

At EDvestinU, the minimum loan amount is $1,000 per year with an aggregate limit of $200,000. International students are eligible with a U.S citizen or permanent resident cosigner. EDvestinU offers the highest autopay interest rate reduction we’ve ever seen.

  • Fixed rates start at 4.50% APR with autopay
  • Variable interest rates start at 3.78% APR with autopay
  • Earn a giant 0.50% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • Offers economic hardship deferment
  • Cosigner release after 24 consecutive months of on-time payments
  • No origination or prepayment fees

INvestED – Rewarding GraduationINvestED Logo

INvestED is an Indiana-based company that works to help students succeed financially. They host financial literacy events and have resources to help borrowers maximize free financial aid options first. 

At INvestED, you’ll find variable and fixed rates for 5, 10, or 15 year terms plus a really cool graduation rewards program. However, you must be either a resident of Indiana or attend an Indiana school to qualify. If you are, they definitely offer some unique programs.

  • Must be Indiana resident or attend Indiana school to qualify
  • Fixed rates start at 4.63% APR
  • Variable rates from 3.38% APR
  • Full deferment, interest only, and immediate repayment options
  • Earn .25% interest rate reduction with automatic payments
  • Earn a 2.00% principal reduction reward after graduation

Best Private Student Loans: Final Thoughts

Private student loans can help bridge the gap between federal student loans and your college tuition and living costs. While private student loans don’t have access to federal income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness, they can still be a good option if you’ve maxed out other financial aid opportunities.

Of course, you should always be sure you understand all of the terms and conditions before you take the leap. If you are using a cosigner, be sure you find someone you trust who has great to excellent credit. Remember, cosigners are financially responsible for your loan repayment if you can’t pay.

To learn more about any of the companies listed above, or to get free quotes, just follow the links!

Do you have private student loans with any of these companies? Tell us about it in the comments!

*SoFi disclaimers