When you consider the value of a college education — including the fact that average lifetime earnings for college graduates are nearly $1 million more than individuals with only a high school diploma or GED — student loans may be a smart investment. If you budget properly and have a good sense of the actual amount of money you need in loan funds to supplement other forms of aid as well as your resources, you can limit your overall indebtedness by borrowing only what you truly need. You should also consider the fact that there are no prepayment penalties. (Note: the lender partners on our site do not charge a prepayment penalty.)
The most expensive college in the United States—Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York—charges $44,220 a year for tuition. And that doesn’t include fees and room and board, which can cost an additional $14,000. Even more disturbing is that the annual cost of a college education has risen by 130 percent in the past 20 years, according to the College Board. As a result, Americans have racked up about $1 trillion in education debt from both federal and private student and parent 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.
Overview: This online-only lender, which was founded by former Sallie Mae executives, distinguishes itself with increased flexibility. Borrowers can expect greater in-school and post-school repayment options than what’s found elsewhere. Also, students and parents alike will appreciate perks, such as no fees and low rates, in spite of a slow path to cosigner release.

For undergraduate and graduate student loans, you can borrow up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance (including tuition, housing, books and more) minus other financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply. The minimum amount is $1,000 for each loan. We certify and disburse loan amounts through your school so you do not borrow more than you need.
The best private student loans will have interest rates of LIBOR + 2.0% or PRIME - 0.50% with no fees. Such loans will be competitive with the Federal PLUS Loan. Unfortunately, these rates often will be available only to borrowers with great credit who also have a creditworthy cosigner. It is unclear how many borrowers qualify for the best rates, although the top credit tier typically encompasses about 20% of borrowers.
If you’re thinking about signing up for an income-based repayment plan, this may not be the best choice if you want to pay off students loans fast. Income-based Repayment or Pay As You Earn plans may not cover all of the interest that’s accruing, which can lead to capitalized interest. In the short term, you may feel better covering your payments, but you may end up owing more in the long term.
Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, suggests creating a refinancing ladder to maximize your savings. “The way you do this is start with a payment you can afford pretty easily, say, a 10- or 15-year loan. Pay extra when you have extra, and you’ll cut down the amount that you owe rapidly,” Hornsby explained. “After a couple of years, you can refinance again to a seven-year loan, often with the same payment but with a lower interest rate. Finally, you could refinance one more time to a five-year loan before you finish paying off the entire amount.”
The APRs for variable rate loans, if listed, are only the current APRs and are likely to change over the term of the loan. Borrowers should be careful about comparing loans based on the APR, as the APR may be calculated under different assumptions, such as a different number of years in repayment. All else being equal, a longer repayment term will have a lower APR even though the borrower will pay more in interest.
Each federal student loan borrower is assigned to a loan servicer (some borrowers may have more than one servicer, depending on the types of loans you have). Your loan servicer is a company that collects your student loan payments and provides customer service on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. This is a FREE service. There are many companies out there who offer to help you with your student loans for a fee. Do not trust these companies. Remember: You never have to pay for help with your student loans. If you need advice, assistance, or help applying for one of our repayment programs, contact your loan servicer. They can help you for free. Just remember to keep your contact information up to date so they can reach you when they need to.
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.
You can discuss your repayment options with your lender. If you are unable to make payments while you are in-school, you do have the option to defer repayment on your loan until you are out of school. This option will obviously cost the most money because any unpaid (accrued) interest that is not paid before the end of your grace period will be capitalized — or added — to your outstanding principal balance prior to the start of repayment.

Lastly, accept the financial aid package from your chosen school, if you choose to receive aid. Your financial aid award letter will have an itemized list of all available types of aid, including grants and federal student loans. Remember, even after you've accepted your award letter, you should check with your school's financial aid office to see what other forms or documents you will need to complete in order to secure your funding (for example, completing your Direct Loan Master Promissory Note, or MPN).


Discover is best known for its role as a top-four credit card network in the United States, but it does a lot more these days than helping you pay with plastic. In addition to a bank, Discover also grew to offer student loans at competitive rates. Variable rates range from 3.37 to 11.87% APR and fixed rates go from 4.74 to 12.99% APR. Loans come with 15-year or 20-year terms with no flexibility. Cosigner beware, there is no cosigner release available at Discover.
If you or your child graduated before July 1, 2006, it pays to roll multiple federal loans into one—you’ll lock in an interest rate that’s lower than what you’re paying on each separate loan. Earned a diploma since then? All federal student loans now carry fixed interest rates, so there’s no financial benefit to consolidating. (And it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to combine any variable private loans.) Nevertheless, if you have trouble keeping track of payment deadlines and have been hit with late fees on occasion, go ahead and consolidate. (For more information, go to SimpleTuition.com.) You’ll save some dough by doing so.

For undergraduate and graduate student loans, you can borrow up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance (including tuition, housing, books and more) minus other financial aid. Aggregate loan limits apply. The minimum amount is $1,000 for each loan. We certify and disburse loan amounts through your school so you do not borrow more than you need.
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. 

Discover is best known for its role as a top-four credit card network in the United States, but it does a lot more these days than helping you pay with plastic. In addition to a bank, Discover also grew to offer student loans at competitive rates. Variable rates range from 3.37 to 11.87% APR and fixed rates go from 4.74 to 12.99% APR. Loans come with 15-year or 20-year terms with no flexibility. Cosigner beware, there is no cosigner release available at Discover.
The average savings amount is based on customers that consolidated student loans with us from 2014 through August 2018. Your actual savings amount might vary depending on your interest rate, loan balances, loan term and other factors. Depending on your new loan APR and repayment term, consolidation could increase the total cost and length of your loan.
Also be aware that many private student lenders require a cosigner, usually a parent or other relative who would take over responsibility for the loan if you stop payments for any reason. That also means your payment activity impacts their credit score, so if you do sign up for a loan with a cosigner it is important to both of you that you pay on time.
No matter who the lender is, private student loan applicants may need a cosigner, especially undergraduates or students who don’t have a credit history or steady income or meet the age of majority for their state of residence. However, a cosigner is not required in order to apply. Even if you have an established credit history, a cosigner may improve your ability to get approved, enable you to secure a lower interest rate, and speed up the credit decision process. Student borrowers that meet these requirements on their own do not need a cosigner (but may still choose to apply with a cosigner).

Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate ("LIBOR") published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of November 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.80%. Variable interest rates range from 2.83%-11.16% (2.83%-11.01% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Fixed interest rates range from 4.40%-12.19% (4.40% - 12.04% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a co-signer. Lowest rates shown requires application with a co-signer, are for eligible applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, borrower making scheduled payments while in school and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of the loan.
Loan tip#9: Since the Department of Education sets virtually no student loan borrowing standards to vet would-be borrowers, and outstanding student debt is now reported to be 1.3 trillion dollars, many bad-actors in the business of education have been for years falling over themselves attempting to gain access to this seemingly endless taxpayer funded pot of gold. Isn’t it past time that the DoED became more seriously proactive in protecting the hoards of naive student borrowers on the front-end before they fall victim to many post secondary schools that spend more on marketing than insuring that retention and graduation rates along with educational standards do not perpetuate the moral hazard of not having to perform to be enriched. The quid pro quo for schools that derive 80-90% of their revenue from these loans should not be measured arbitrarily in ever changing arcane regulations but in the firm expectation that graduation rates of 3% or even 30% (over a six year allowable tabulation period) are clearly unacceptable. Without this firm line in the sand drawn, there is no impetus for these businesses to effect positive change. Good, bad or indifferent, they know they will get a payday. Until strictly quantifiable measures are undertaken, the department’s purported advocacy for for the underserved student will continue to be gamed by some ingenuous students and many avarice colleges alike.
×