Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

Whether your college plans involve heading to campus or logging on for online learning, one thing is certain: You will need a way to pay. Although federal student loans are often the most affordable way to borrow, they may not be enough to cover all of your college costs. Private student loans, as well as grants and work-study programs, can cover the gap between what you need and how much you can afford to pay toward your college expenses.

But be cautious about borrowing too much. “With so much uncertainty regarding college campuses and fall class schedules, planning for expenses is not an easy task,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and U.S. News contributor.

This guide can help you navigate the uncertain school year. What you’ll learn here:

  • How do private student loans work?
  • What are the drawbacks of private student loans?
  • How can you choose the best private student loans?

The Best Private Student Loans of 2020

Methodology: U.S. News compared the top lenders offering private student loans nationwide. Each lender was reviewed based on products, customer service ratings, eligibility requirements, costs and other features.

Because each student has unique financial aid needs, no single lender is a good choice for everyone. These lenders are a good starting point for your private student loan research.

Best for online service

SoFi is an online lender that has provided more than 375,000 borrowers with over $30 billion in refinanced student loans, including undergraduate, graduate and parent loans. The company has expanded from refinancing in all 50 states to also offer its own undergraduate, graduate and parent loans.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A

Best Features

  • Refinances all types of student loans

  • Allows borrowers to complete the lending process entirely online

  • Provides loan terms from five to 20 years

  • Charges no late, origination or application fees

See full profile

Best for instant approval

College Ave Student Loans offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans to borrowers in all 50 states. The lender specializes in simple student loan applications with instant decisions.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, international, law, MBA, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Provides loans from $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance

  • Allows full, interest-only, flat or deferred payment options

  • Charges no origination or prepayment fees on student loans

See full profile

Best for product availability

Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and specialty degrees. The company has helped thousands of students and their families with its range of student loans.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers student loans that completely cover school-certified expenses

  • Well-rated customer service

  • Charges no loan origination fee

See full profile

Best for customer service

Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a national student loan refinancing program for federal and private student loans from Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank. Undergraduate, graduate and parent loans can be refinanced, as well as loans for MBA programs, and for law, dental and medical school.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Sets no maximum loan amount

  • Refinances all types of student loans

  • Approves some borrowers with up to 50% debt-to-income ratios

See full profile

Best for instant approval

Citizens Bank provides fixed- and variable-rate private student loans for undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as parent loans. Borrowers can get approved for several years’ worth of student loans.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: graduate, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers multiyear approval, meaning you won’t have to reapply each school year

  • Provides a 0.5% interest rate discount to Citizens Bank borrowers who sign up for automatic payments

  • Allows international students to apply with a U.S. citizen co-signer or permanent resident with good credit

See full profile

Best for minimal fees

Discover Bank has been operating for more than 100 years, and since 2010, it has offered private student loans to students attending more than 2,400 colleges and universities. Fixed or variable-rate loans are available to cover up to 100% of school-certified costs.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, international, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Makes loans as small as $1,000 to help families bridge the gap between financial aid and out-of-pocket college expenses

  • Accepts co-signers to help students qualify for lower interest rates

  • Charges no origination, application or late fees

See full profile

Best for fair credit

Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as refinance loans. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms from the company, founded in 2013, to fund up to the full cost of their education.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 650
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Charges no origination, application or late fees

  • Allows borrowers to choose a monthly payment and a repayment period

  • Permits co-signers on undergraduate or graduate student loans

See full profile

Best for minimal fees

Founded in 2009, LendKey is an online platform connecting credit unions and community banks with borrowers seeking undergraduate or graduate student loans as well as student loan refinancing. LendKey has helped more than 99,000 borrowers by funding more than $3.1 billion in loans from partner lenders.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: graduate, medical, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A

Best Features

  • Allows borrowers to consider multiple lenders with a single application

  • Charges no origination or application fees

See full profile

Best for no minimum FICO score

MPower Financing offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students who are within two years of graduating from, or about to start a one- or two-year program at, an approved U.S. or Canadian school. The lender specializes in working with international students, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: graduate, international, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Requires neither a credit history nor a co-signer

  • Offers loans to international students and DACA recipients

See full profile

Best for ACH discount

PNC was chartered in 1845 and operates in all 50 states. The bank offers student loan refinancing, with both fixed and variable rates, and neither application nor origination fees.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers a range of loans for undergraduate, graduate and professional education

  • Makes loans as little as $1,000 in all 50 states

  • Provides interest-rate discounts for automatic payments from a checking or savings account

See full profile

Best for fixed APR

The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority, or Risla, is a nonprofit agency that helps students and parents finance college. A specialty is lending to Rhode Island students and residents, although not all Risla loans require residency.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: graduate, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: undisclosed
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: unrated

Best Features

  • Allows students enrolled less than half-time to qualify

  • Charges no prepayment fee

  • Waives residency requirement for refinancing loans

See full profile

Best for flexible loan terms

U-fi offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate programs as well as refinancing loans to borrowers in 49 states. The lender specializes in flexible repayment options.

Lender Highlights

  • Loan types: dental, graduate, law, MBA, medical, parent, refinancing, undergraduate
  • Minimum FICO credit score: 680
  • Co-signer accepted: yes
  • Better Business Bureau rating: A+

Best Features

  • Offers repayment terms of up to 25 years

  • Provides an interest rate discount for automatic payments

  • Allows full, interest-only or deferred payment options

See full profile

U.S. News Survey: Student Loan Payments Can Hinder Retirement Savings, Personal Goals

Many borrowers don’t regret their student loans, according to a U.S. News survey of consumers with federal or private student loans. They revealed how much they borrowed, whether their payments are affordable and other details about how their student loans have affected their lives.

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • About half of student loan borrowers said their student loan payments are reasonable.
  • Student loan debt can impede personal goals, including saving for retirement, increasing disposable income and setting aside money for a down payment on a home.
  • Although lenders typically offer hardship options, such as deferment and forbearance, only about half of borrowers said they’ve used them.
  • More than half of respondents said they didn’t research lenders before getting a student loan.
  • About 41% of student loan borrowers surveyed said they have regrets about taking out student loans.

Most student loan borrowers surveyed took out less than $50,000 in loans.

A little more than half of survey respondents said their monthly student loan payments are affordable.

Student loan debt can get in the way of personal goals.

Only about half of student loan borrowers have used hardship options, such as deferment or forbearance.

More than half of student loan borrowers didn’t research lenders.

Student loan borrowers tried financial aid alternatives before taking out private student loans.

Survey respondents are somewhat split on whether they regret taking out student loans.

Student loan borrowers said interest rate was the most important factor when choosing a loan.

  • U.S. News ran a nationwide survey in April 2020 through Google Surveys.
  • This survey sampled 500 people in the general American population who visit desktop and mobile sites where Google conducts surveys.
  • The survey asked 10 questions related to student loans.

How Can Students Maximize Federal and Free Financial Aid?

Before you consider private student loans, try to make the most of federal and free financial aid, including private scholarships.

You may be eligible for federal direct unsubsidized loans, but there are limits on how much you can borrow each academic year and overall. Limits range from $5,500 for dependent undergraduate students to $20,500 for graduate or professional students.

“Your first step in financing your education is to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly called a FAFSA,” says Jay S. Fleischman, a lawyer who advises student loan borrowers on effective repayment strategies.

Even if you don’t think you’ll need financial assistance, or think you won’t qualify, submit a FAFSA. The FAFSA is the key to most financial aid.

It’s a requirement for the student financial assistance programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, including federal loans, grants and work-study programs. These do not have income or GPA cutoffs, which are common myths.

Although it’s primarily used for federal aid, the FAFSA is often necessary for other forms of assistance. “Many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for state and school aid,” Fleischman says.

How Do Private Student Loans Work?

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans do not offer standard options and interest rates. Your credit, and that of a co-signer if you have one, will affect what types of loans you qualify for and the interest rate you’ll receive.

Private lenders may offer different types of loans, depending on the degree you’re pursuing. The loan type can affect your loan amount, interest rate and repayment terms.

  • Community college or technical training. Some lenders provide loans to students who are pursuing two-year degrees, attending nontraditional schools or going to career-training programs.
  • Undergraduate school loans. You can take out undergraduate loans to pay for expenses while you pursue a bachelor’s degree. Undergraduate loans may have lower interest rates and higher loan limits than community college loans.
  • Graduate or professional school loans. Graduate school loans tend to have higher maximum loan amounts than undergraduate loans, reflecting the higher cost of attending school for a master’s degree or doctorate. Some lenders have special loan programs for business, law or medical school.
  • Parent loans. Parent loans are offered by lenders to parents of students. Some families have an informal agreement that the child will make loan payments after graduating, but the legal responsibility to repay the loan falls on the parent.

The loan term is the length of the loan’s repayment period, which could range from five to 20 years for private student loans. Typically, shorter loans have higher monthly payments, lower interest rates and lower total costs. Longer loans have lower monthly payments but higher interest rates and higher total costs.

Loan minimums: Most lenders have minimum amounts you can borrow, which may vary based on your state. Because the minimum could be as low as $1,000, a private student loan may not be the best option if you only need a few hundred dollars for, say, books.

Loan maximums: Lenders can have several limits that affect how much you can borrow. There could be a maximum annual amount you can borrow. Or there could be a maximum combined private and federal student loan amount you must be under to qualify for a loan.

You may also be limited to borrowing up to your school’s certified cost of attendance. The maximum loan limits may be higher if you’re going to graduate, professional or medical school, reflecting potentially higher costs compared with undergraduate programs.

Lenders offer student loans with either fixed or adjustable interest rates. You may not be able to switch your interest rate type after taking out a loan, so carefully consider your options before deciding.

When you’re comparing student loans from different lenders, look at the annual percentage rate, or APR, rather than the interest rate. The APR is your total cost of borrowing each year.

Fixed-rate loans. With a fixed-rate private student loan, your interest rate is set when you take out the loan, and it won’t change. The rate you lock in can depend on market rates, as well as your lender, your credit and your loan’s terms.

“In general, a fixed-rate loan is a better long-term option for financing your education,” Fleischman says. “You are able to plan for future payments without worrying that interest rates may increase payments faster than your income increases.”

Variable-rate loans. The same factors that may determine your interest rate with a fixed-rate private student loan can affect your initial interest rate when you take out a variable-rate loan. But with a variable-rate loan, your interest rate may rise or fall over the life of the loan.

Interest rates for variable-rate loans are tied to an index, such as the prime rate. The lender adds a margin to the index to determine your total interest rate. There may be a limit to how high or low your interest rate can go.

Variable-rate student loans tend to start with a lower initial interest rate than fixed-rate loans and could remain lower. However, you’re taking on risk because the loan’s interest rate could rise, causing your monthly payment and total cost of borrowing to increase.

A variable-rate loan may be best for those who can quickly repay the loan, which will limit your risk, or for those who can afford higher monthly payments if the interest rate increases.

What Are the Drawbacks of Private Student Loans?

Private loans can help students fill gaps in funding. Yet private student loans have drawbacks compared with federal student loans. These include:

Credit-based eligibility. Private student loan terms will depend on the applicant’s credit. Without a creditworthy co-signer, many students may not be able to get approved or may only qualify for a high interest rate.

Risk for co-signers. Co-signers take on debt and risk when they add their names to private student loans. If the student can’t make payments, this can hurt the co-signer’s credit.

In some cases, the co-signer will be responsible for the debt if the student dies or is permanently disabled.

Potentially higher interest rates. Private student loans do not always offer lower interest rates than federal student loans.

Interest rate accrual. With subsidized federal loans, the government will pay the interest while you’re in school and when the loans are in deferment. With private student loans, you’ll accrue interest during these periods.

No guaranteed hardship options. “The difference between unsubsidized loans and private loans is deeper than the accrual of interest,” Fleischman says. “Unsubsidized loans come with federally mandated periods of in-school deferment, forbearance opportunities and a variety of income-driven repayment options.”

Some private student loan lenders offer deferment or forbearance options, but they might not be as lenient or as lengthy as your options with federal student loans.

Shorter default period and little recourse. If you default on a private student loan, the entire loan balance becomes due immediately. Federal student loans default after 270 days of nonpayment, and when they do, you may have several options for getting your loans out of default.

Private student loans can default after one missed payment. You may be able to repay the late balance and bring the account current before the lender charges it off, often around four to six months, depending on the lender. But federal student loan programs can be much more forgiving.

How Can You Choose the Best Private Student Loan?

  1. Products
  2. Eligibility requirements
  3. Costs
  4. Additional features

Once you’ve determined the type of student loan you’ll need and how much you want to borrow, check to see that the lenders’ offerings match your requirements. You can then compare their loan terms and limits to narrow down your list. For example, make sure each lender offers financing for your degree type.

Research lender eligibility criteria, such as citizenship, enrollment status, income and credit history. You should make sure you’re likely to qualify for a student loan before you apply.

Student loan eligibility requirements typically include:

  • Citizenship. Private student loans are generally only available to U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals and permanent resident aliens. International students may be eligible if a U.S. citizen, national or permanent resident alien co-signs the loan.
  • Enrollment status. Lenders may only offer loans to students who are enrolled at least halftime at an eligible school.
  • Age. You must reach the age of legal adulthood in your state – usually 18 –or have an eligible co-signer.
  • Income. There may be income requirements, including debt-to-income ratio requirements, that you or your co-signer must meet.
  • Credit history. With private student loans, your credit history and score can determine your eligibility for a private loan and your interest rate. If you don’t have good credit or haven’t established credit, you may need a creditworthy co-signer, such as a parent or another trusted relative. Your co-signer’s credit will be considered with your application. This makes the co-signer legally responsible for the student loan.

The cost of your private student loan will depend on a variety of factors, including the interest rate and the type of interest you choose. Look closely at fees to calculate how they’ll affect your total cost of borrowing.

Some lenders provide preapprovals, which will give you an estimated interest rate without hurting your credit. It’s worth getting a preapproval if that’s an option, as you can reliably find out the interest rate a lender will offer you.

Lenders often have fees for applying for or originating loans. Not all lenders charge these, but you should always read the loan terms closely to identify potential fees, such as the:

  • Application fee. The lender may charge a nonrefundable fee to process your application.
  • Origination fee. Origination fees, sometimes called disbursement fees, aren’t common for private student loans. If the lender charges one, it’s usually a fee that’s equal to a percentage of the amount you borrow.
  • Late fee. A fee is required if your monthly payment is late. It may be a percentage of the amount due, with a maximum amount, such as $15 or $25.

Interest capitalization isn’t a fee, but it occurs when unpaid interest is added to the principal of your student loan. How and when your interest is capitalized will influence your loan’s total cost.

Some lenders let you forgo loan payments during school and for the first several months after graduation. Interest accrues on your loan principal, and when your interest capitalizes, your principal increases. As a result, you’ll accrue more interest each month.

Interest capitalization also happens if you stop making payments but will continue to accrue interest in the future, such as when you put your loans into deferment.

One thing you don’t have to worry about with student loans are prepayment penalties. Unlike some other types of loans, such as mortgages or personal loans, student loans do not charge borrowers fees for early repayment.

The fine print of private student loans can vary from one lender to another. Some features or benefits could make repayment easier, lower your interest rate, or help you choose the right lender for your needs.

Here are some of those features and benefits:

  • Autopay savings. Many lenders offer an interest rate discount if you sign up for autopay. The discount is often 0.25% or 0.50%, but it may not take effect until you start making full principal and interest payments.
  • Other savings opportunities. Some lenders provide a discount if you have another financial product with them, such as a loan or bank account.
  • Early repayment options. Private student loans start to accrue interest as soon as they are disbursed. Some lenders have repayment plans that start while you’re in school. Making interest-only payments, full payments or fixed monthly payments will help lower your loan balance before you graduate.
  • Deferment options. You might be able to defer payments while you’re in school. Lenders may offer a grace period after you graduate, or if you drop below halftime, and you won’t need to make full payments until the grace period ends.
  • Financial hardship deferment. You may be able to defer your student loan payments if you go back to school, join the military or can’t afford payments for another covered reason, such as a job loss.
  • Discharge due to death or permanent disability. Find out whether your loan balance passes on to your estate or co-signer if you die before it’s repaid. Also, make sure you know what happens if you become permanently disabled and can’t afford to repay the debt.

Co-signer release. A lender may release a co-signer from a loan after the student makes a series of on-time payments and if the student qualifies to take on the loan.

How Can You Get a Private Student Loan?

You’ll take several major steps to obtain a student loan. When you apply, you’ll need to meet eligibility requirements, provide documentation, and go through processing before approval and disbursement.

1. Eligibility: The lender will check basic eligibility for the loan, including citizenship and enrollment status. With further documentation, your income, credit history and other eligibility factors will be verified.

2. Required documentation: You’ll need to provide personal and financial information when you apply for a private student loan. Organizing your documents could make this process easier.

Lenders may need this information for the borrower:

  • Name, address, phone number and email
  • Date of birth and Social Security number
  • Recent pay stubs or other proof of income
  • Bank account balances
  • Copy of mortgage statement or lease agreement
  • Employer’s name, phone number and length of employment, if applicable
  • School’s name and the student’s estimated cost of attendance
  • Student’s year in school and semester of enrollment
  • Amount of financial aid received (you can find this on the award letter from the school)
  • Expected graduation date
  • Desired loan amount and repayment period
  • References
  • Co-signer’s name and valid contact information, if applicable.

3. Processing: Many private student loan lenders let you apply online. You may receive a decision within a few minutes, after the lender analyzes your credit and other eligibility criteria. You may need to submit additional supporting documents or information if the lender has questions.

4. Approval and disbursement: Once you’re approved for a private student loan, you can then choose the interest rate type, the repayment plan and the other loan terms, and then sign the loan agreement.

The lender will contact your school to verify that you’re eligible for the loan amount you requested. The school could take two to five weeks to respond to the lender, and then it schedules disbursement dates and amounts for the loan.

Private student loans will be sent directly to the school. If your loan amount exceeds what you owe the school for that semester, you may receive a refund for the difference. You could return it to the lender, reducing what your debt, or you could spend the money on education-related expenses, such as room, board or books.

Advertising Disclosure: Some of the loan offers on this site are from companies
who are advertising clients of U.S. News. Advertising considerations may impact
where offers appear on the site but do not affect any editorial decisions,
such as which loan products we write about and how we evaluate them. This site
does not include all loan companies or all loan offers available in the marketplace.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *