The fees charged by some lenders can significantly increase the cost of the loan. A loan with a relatively low interest rate but high fees can ultimately cost more than a loan with a somewhat higher interest rate and no fees. (The lenders that do not charge fees often roll the difference into the interest rate.) A good rule of thumb is that 3% to 4% in fees is about the same as a 1% higher interest rate.
Private loans are typically made through private banks, credit unions, state agencies, or financial institutions. They may have rates and terms that are different from federal loans. If you’re considering applying for a private loan, be sure that you’ve taken advantage of all federal aid opportunities first. There are two types of private education loans:
Whether it’s completing the FAFSA to get federal student loans or submitting an application to a bank for a private student loan, applying for student loans can seem like a complicated process. There are a lot of steps and information needed from students and their families, so this guide can help you prepare for and navigate through any student loan application process.
If you’re more about saving as much money as possible, you might want to give the debt avalanche a shot. “With this method, you throw the largest payment you can at your highest-interest-rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts.” By focusing on interest rates rather than the balances, you save more money overall.
Not sure where to begin your search? Here’s our list, in no particular order, of some of the best private student loans offered by the top lenders. To compile it, we looked for established lenders offering competitive rates and additional benefits which are detailed below. Of course, there are other great choices out there, but think of it as a jumping-off point as you start your research.
Student loan Refinance: Fixed rates from 3.46% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% APR (without AutoPay). Variable rates currently from 2.31% APR (with AutoPay) to 7.61% (without AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.31% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.31% plus 0.75% margin minus 0.25% for AutoPay. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your credit history and the term of the loan and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.
As you can see, federal student loans have many benefits, including fixed interest rates and student loan forgiveness programs. Because of those benefits, it often makes sense to prioritize paying off private student loans first if you have multiple student loans. You’ll need to know you know how much you owe and make a personalized plan for your situation.

“If you refinance a federal loan into a private loan, you walk away from important federal benefits and consumer protections, such as income-driven repayment, loan forgiveness programs, default resolution options, flexibility during times of hardship and discharges based on disability or death of the borrower,” said student loan lawyer Adam S. Minsky.
There are no origination fees or prepayment penalties associated with the loan. Lender may assess a late fee if any part of a payment is not received within 15 days of the payment due date. Any late fee assessed shall not exceed 5% of the late payment or $28, whichever is less. A borrower may be charged $20 for any payment (including a check or an electronic payment) that is returned unpaid due to non-sufficient funds (NSF) or a closed account.
Variable Rates: Starting variable rates range from 2.93% to 11.57% APR (with autopay), and will never exceed 13.95% (sometimes lower in certain states as required by law). For variable rate loans, the variable interest rate is derived from the one-month LIBOR rate plus a margin of between 0.86% and 9.76%. The current one-month LIBOR rate is 2.27%. Changes in the one-month LIBOR rate may cause your monthly payment to increase or decrease. Interest rates for variable rate loans are capped at 13.95%, unless required to be lower to comply with applicable law. Zero fees, period.
Being so large, Sallie Mae can offer pretty much any variation of private student loan that exists. Loans are available to students and parents. There are no origination fees or pre-payment penalties and it takes about 15 minutes to apply. For undergraduate loans, variable rates range from 4.37 to 11.23% and fixed-rate loans range from 5.74 to 11.85% APR. Once you make 12 on-time payments, you can qualify for a co-signer release and carry the loans on your own.
As a general rule, students should only consider obtaining a private education loan if they have maxed out the Federal Stafford Loan. They should also file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which may qualify them for grants, work-study and other forms of student aid. Undergraduate students should also compare costs with the Federal PLUS Loan, as the PLUS loan is usually much less expensive and has better repayment terms.
With our Standard Repayment Plan, the plan you’ll enter if you don’t take any action, you’ll have your loans paid off in 10 years. If you can’t afford that amount or if you need or want lower payments because you haven’t found a job, aren’t making much money, or want to free up room in your budget for other expenses and goals, you should apply for an income-driven repayment plan. Your monthly payments will likely be lower than they would on the standard plan—in fact they could be as low as $0 per month—but you’ll likely be paying more and for a longer period of time. If you choose an income-driven plan, you must provide documentation of your income to your loan servicer each year (even if your income hasn’t changed) so that your payment can be recalculated. To compare the different repayment options based on your loan debt, family size, and income, use our repayment calculator.
×