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If you need to pay for college, always explore your federal aid options first. But if you still need help covering costs, that’s where private student loans come in.

We researched the best private student loans of 2024 to get you started. Plus, check out the other resources we’ve put together to help you make smart decisions when it comes to paying for school.

Editor’s note:This article contains updated information from a previously published story.

Best private student loan lenders

Why trust our student loan experts

Our team of experts evaluated hundreds of student loan products and analyzed thousands of data points to help you find the best fit for your situation. We use a data-driven methodology to determine each rating. Advertisers do not influence our editorial content. You can read more about our methodology below.

  • 18 private student loan lenders reviewed.
  • 270 data points analyzed.
  • 6-stage fact-checking process.

Our top picks for private student loan lenders in 2024

Compare the best private student loan lenders

 FIXED APRVARIABLE APRLOAN TERMS
Ascent
3.79% to 15.41%*
5.99% to 15.85%*
5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 years
SoFi
4.19% to 14.83%
5.74% to 14.83%
5, 7, 10 and 15 years
Citizens
4.24% to 15.60%
5.99% to 16.60%
5, 10 and 15 years
MEFA
5.75% to 8.95%
N/A
10 or 15 years
RISLA
4.05% to 8.64%
N/A
10 to 15 years
College Ave
3.99% to 17.99%
5.59% to 17.99%
5, 8, 10 and 15 years
Advantage Education Loan
4.38% to 10.94%
N/A
10 years

All rates include discounts where noted by the lender and are current as of July 12, 2024.

Methodology

Our expert writers and editors have reviewed and researched multiple lenders to help you find the best private student loans. Out of all the lenders considered, the seven that made our list excelled in areas across the following categories (with weightings):

  • Loan details: 10%
  • Loan cost: 40%
  • Eligibility and accessibility: 30%
  • Customer service experience: 15%
  • Ease of application: 5%

Within each major category, we considered several characteristics, including available loan repayment terms, APR ranges and applicable fees. We also looked at minimum credit score requirements, whether each lender accepts co-signers and if they offer co-signer release. Finally, we evaluated each provider’s customer support options, borrower perks and features that simplify the borrowing process like mobile apps.

Current student loan interest rates

The interest rate you’ll get on a student loan will vary depending on the type of loan you choose. Federal student loan rates are set by Congress each year and are fixed, meaning your rate will stay the same throughout the life of the loan.

Here are the rates and fees for federal student loans for the 2023-2024 academic year: 

FEDERAL LOAN TYPE BORROWER TYPE FIXED INTEREST RATE
Direct Subsidized Loan
Undergraduate
5.50%
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
Undergraduate
5.50%
Direct Unsubsidized Loan
Graduate or professional
7.05%
Direct PLUS Loan
Graduate or professional
8.05%

As for private student loans, rates vary by lender and can be fixed or variable. While a fixed rate won’t change through the life of the loan, a variable rate can fluctuate based on market conditions. You’ll also typically need good to excellent credit — or a creditworthy co-signer — to qualify for the lowest rates. 

As of April 2024, private student loan interest rates range from about 4% to 17%.

Average student loan debt in the 91Ӱ

As of the fourth quarter of 2023, Americans owed about $1.73 trillion in student loans, according to the . Just over half of bachelor’s degree students (51%) who graduated from four-year schools in the 2021-2022 academic year had education debt, according to the latest data from the . The average student loan debt balance upon graduation was $29,400. 

Average federal student loan debt

The majority of 91Ӱ student loan debt — $1.6 trillion — comes from federal student loans and is spread across 43.2 million borrowers, according to (an office of the Department of Education). 

As of the 2021-2022 academic year, 49% of bachelor’s degree students at public schools and 52% of those at private schools graduated with federal student loans, according to the College Board. Their average balances were $20,700 and $22,200, respectively.

Average private student loan debt 

Private student loan borrowing is less common than taking out federal loans. During the 2021-2022 academic year, only about 9% of bachelor’s degree students at public colleges and 13% at private colleges took out private student loans, according to the College Board. 

Among those borrowers, the average private student loan debt upon graduation was $34,600 and $44,600, respectively. 

How to qualify for a student loan

Federal student loans

To qualify for a federal student loan, you must be eligible to receive federal financial aid. This means you must:

  • Be a 91Ӱ citizen or qualifying non-citizen.
  • Show you’re qualified to earn a college or career school education (meaning you have a high school diploma, GED or similar).
  • Attend a school that participates in the federal aid program. 
  • Be enrolled as a regular student in an eligible degree or certificate program.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress at your school.
  • Show financial need (for need-based programs like Direct Subsidized Loans and Pell Grants).

Tip: Unlike private loans, most federal student loans don’t require a credit check or a co-signer. This means you could be eligible even if you have bad or no credit

Private student loans

The specific requirements to get a private student loan vary by lender. But here are some common criteria you’ll usually need to meet:

  • Good credit: Most lenders require you to have good credit — usually meaning a credit score of 670 or higher. 
  • Verifiable income: Lenders also want to see that you’ll be able to afford repayment. 
  • Low DTI ratio: Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio compares your income to how much you pay toward debt each month. Having a low DTI ratio shows that you can reasonably afford to take on another debt payment. 

Along with these, you’ll generally have to attend an eligible program, meet citizenship requirements and live in a state where the lender operates. 

Tip: If you can’t meet these requirements on your own, you could consider applying with a co-signer. Don’t worry — this is pretty common for college students who haven’t yet built much of a credit history. In fact, as of 2023, nearly 91% of private loans were co-signed, according to . 

There are also some lenders that offer non-cosigned student loans to students. But these sometimes have higher rates and fees than credit-based loans.

How to apply for student loans

Applying for federal student loans

Federal student loans are often the best school loans to rely on as they come with federal protections. To apply for federal loans, follow these steps:

  1. Submit the FAFSA. You’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply for federal student aid. You can do this online at StudentAid.gov. Be prepared to provide personal and financial information — plus your parent’s info if you’re a dependent student. Your school’s financial aid office will then use the information from your FAFSA to determine your financial need and eligibility. 
  2. Review your financial aid award letter. Once the financial aid office has reviewed your FAFSA, it will send you a financial aid award letter detailing what federal aid you qualify for. This could be a mix of federal grants (like a Pell Grant) and federal student loans. You might also be eligible for a federal work-study program. 
  3. Choose which federal aid to accept. After you’ve looked over your financial aid award letter, you can decide what aid to accept. It’s best to rely on aid you don’t have to repay (like grants or scholarships) before taking out any student loans.

Don’t miss the deadline! The FAFSA usually becomes available on October 1 of the previous academic year, and you have until June 30 at the end of the academic year to submit it. The deadline for the 2023-2024 academic year is June 30, 2024, and for 2024-2025, it’s June 30, 2025. Some states also have their own deadlines, so check with your school’s financial aid office.

Plus, some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis — so it’s a good idea to fill out the FAFSA as early as you can.

Applying for private student loans

After you’ve looked into scholarships, grants and federal student loans, private student loans can help to fill any financial gaps left over. If you’re ready to apply for a private loan, follow these steps:

  1. Determine how much you need. Consider how much you’ll need to borrow to cover your education expenses. This way, you can set a budget and avoid borrowing more than necessary. 
  2. Compare lenders. It’s important to shop around and compare your options with as many lenders as possible. This way, you can find a student loan that works best for you. As you do your research, consider lenders based on interest rates, fees, repayment terms, eligibility requirements and other important factors. This can also help you see if you’ll need a co-signer to qualify. 
  3. Get pre-qualified. Many of the best student loan lenders let you get pre-qualified with only a soft credit check to see if you’re eligible for a loan. This doesn’t hurt your credit or go on your credit report. Getting pre-qualified will give you an idea of the rate and terms you could get approved for if you opt to submit a formal application. 
  4. Pick a loan option and complete an application. After you’ve compared lenders, choose the loan option you like best. You’ll then need to complete a full application. This is when you’ll answer information about yourself, your school and how much you need to borrow. This is also when you’ll agree to a hard credit inquiry, which can stay on your credit report for a couple of years. 
  5. Get your funds. It could take a few days or a few weeks for you to get fully approved for a student loan, based on your application and any corresponding information the school needs to provide to the lender. If you’re approved, the funds will typically be sent directly to your school. If there’s any left over, you’ll get a check that you can use toward school-related costs, like books, room and board, supplies or transportation.

Tip: Before applying for private student loans, it’s important to exhaust your other options. Be sure to complete the FAFSA to take advantage of federal student aid — including federal student loans, which come with federal benefits and protections that private loans don’t offer.

Also, apply for as many private scholarships and grants as you can since they don’t have to be repaid like student loans.

Who to talk to if you have student loan questions

If you have questions about student loans, here are some people and resources that might be able to help: 

  • Financial aid office: Financial aid administrators in your college’s financial aid office can help answer your student loan questions. You can find the contact information and address of your financial aid office on your college’s website or by asking student services. 
  • Financial advisor: If your family has a financial advisor, they can discuss student loans and college financing options with you. You can also check with your bank, a brokerage company or a student lender to find out if it offers free or low-cost financial advice or courses to students. 
  • Credit counselor: Credit counselors can also help you understand the ins and outs of student loans — as well as help you improve your credit. Organizations like the and the can help you find a reputable credit counselor. 
  • Lender or loan servicer: If you have specific questions about a loan you’ve already taken out, your lender or loan servicer could be your best resource. Depending on your lender or service, you can reach out by phone, email or web chat to get your questions answered.

Tip: Take advantage of trusted online resources to learn as much as you can about student loans before you borrow. For example, the covers a ton of information about federal student loans.

Pros and cons of student loans

Like any other kind of debt, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of student loans before getting one to pay for school. 

Pros 

  • Can help cover education costs: College can be very expensive, and you might not be able to cover all the costs using savings, scholarships or other financial resources. Student loans can help you access an otherwise unaffordable education program. 
  • Borrower protections: If you take out federal student loans, you’ll have access to federal perks and protections, like income-driven repayment (IDR) plans and forgiveness programs. Some of the best student loans from private lenders offer benefits like forbearance — but these are provided at the discretion of the lender.
  • Available to most students: Federal student loans are available to anyone who’s eligible for federal aid. Private student loans, on the other hand, can be harder to qualify for as you’ll usually have to meet credit and income requirements.

Cons 

  • Interest and fees can be expensive: When you take out a loan, you’ll have to pay back your principal balance along with any interest and fees that accrue. Depending on your rate and how fast you pay back your loan, this can end up being pretty expensive — and could cause financial hardship in the future. 
  • Severe consequences for missed payments: Missing payments on either federal or private student loans can cause major damage to your credit. Defaulting on federal loans can lead to garnishment of your wages, tax refund and Social Security benefits while private lenders could send you to collections or take legal action. 
  • Risk to a co-signer: If you need a private student loan but can’t qualify on your own, you might have to apply with a creditworthy co-signer. Your co-signer is liable for the loan if you can’t make your payments — and missing payments will damage not only your credit but theirs as well. 

Rates, refinancing and forgiveness: Avoid the top five common student loan myths 

Alternatives to private loans

Private student loans aren’t always the right financing option for all students. Here are some alternatives to consider before you borrow: 

  • Federal student loans: It’s usually a good idea to rely on federal student loans before turning to a private student loan. This is because federal loans have less strict requirements as well as come with access to federal protections — which generally makes them the best student loans for college. 
  • Grants: Submitting the FAFSA can also open the door to federal grants for students with financial need. For example, the Pell Grant offers up to $7,395 in the 2024-2025 academic year. You can also look for private grants offered by nonprofit organizations, professional associations and both local and national businesses.
  • Scholarships: Like grants, scholarships don’t have to be repaid and can help bring your cost of attendance down. You can use scholarship search engines like Fastweb and Scholarships.com to more easily search for awards that could be a good fit based on your grades, athletic achievements, community service, hobbies and other factors. Your school might also offer scholarships depending on your FAFSA. 
  • Work-study: If you have financial need, you might qualify for the federal work-study program. This connects students with part-time jobs related to their course of study.
  • Part-time job: You can also find your own part-time job on or off campus to earn money for school and reduce the amount you need to borrow in student loans. 
  • Savings: If you have savings from a high school or summer job, you could put those toward tuition or living expenses. Your family might also have savings to use for your education, such as in a 529 plan.

Is it a good idea? Should you refinance your student loans?

Choosing the best private student loans

There’s no universal standard between private student loan lenders. That means you’ll need to compare many different lenders based on what you qualify for as well as your needs to find the right loan for you. Here are some important factors to consider as you weigh your options:

  • APR: Your annual percentage rate (APR) includes your interest rate and any fees the lender charges. The lower your APR, the less you’ll pay on top of what you borrow.
  • Loan amounts: While some lenders let you borrow up to your cost of attendance (minus other financial aid you’ve received), others have maximum limits. 
  • Repayment terms and options: For private student loans, terms typically range from five to 20 years, depending on the lender. While a longer term will get you a lower monthly payment, it also means paying more in interest over time. It’s usually best to choose the shortest term you can afford to avoid excessive interest charges. 
  • Repayment options: Depending on the lender, you might have the option for immediate repayment, interest-only payments during school or full deferment. Making payments while you’re in school — even interest-only payments — can help keep a lot of interest from racking up during that time.
  • Fees: Some lenders charge fees, such as origination or late fees, that can add to your borrowing costs.
  • Eligibility: Some lenders are more stringent in their qualifications. Common criteria include meeting minimum income and credit requirements, citizenship (or permanent residency) and attending a qualified school. If you can’t qualify on your own, you could consider applying with a creditworthy co-signer — though keep in mind that this person will be liable for the loan if you don’t make your payments.

Watch out! Are you making one of the five top student loan mistakes?

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

The best private bank for getting student loans is the one that’s in line with your needs. In general, the best banks are those that offer the lowest interest rates, fewest fees and least stringent barriers to qualify.

Your first step to pay for college should be to exhaust all of your free money options, including scholarships and grants. These are awards that don’t need to be repaid, and they’re available at the institutional, local, state and federal levels as well as from private organizations.

After you’ve gotten as much free aid as possible, you can look at federal aid, including federal student loans. Federal student loans come with federal benefits and protections — such as access to IDR plans and student loan forgiveness programs. This generally makes them the best loans for college — and it’s a good idea to rely on them first before turning to private loans. Federal loans can also be easier to qualify for compared to private loans as most don’t require a credit check.

After all your free and federal aid has been exhausted, private student loans can help to fill any financial gaps left over.

Private student loans come from private institutions, not the federal government. This means that these loans don’t come with the federal benefits and protections that federal loans offer. For example, while federal loans have federal deferment and forbearance options, these sorts of hardship options for private loans are only available at the discretion of the lender.

You’ll also typically need good to excellent credit as well as sufficient income to qualify, which can make private loans hard to qualify for without a co-signer. Interest rates on private student loans are also sometimes higher than rates on federal loans.

As of 2023, borrowers have an average student loan debt of $37,338 in federal loan debt and $54,921 in private loan debt. How much debt you might leave school with can vary widely based on your cost of attendance, whether you attend public or private school, and whether you’re an in- or out-of-state student.

When you complete a formal student loan application, the lender will perform a hard credit check as part of the approval process. This can cause a slight but temporary drop in your credit score.

Additionally, private student loans could help to improve your credit in the long run, such as if you make all your payments on time or can diversify your credit mix.

Dori Zinn contributed to the reporting of this story.


Editor’s Note: This article contains updated information from previously published stories:

Blueprint is an independent publisher and comparison service, not an investment advisor. The information provided is for educational purposes only and we encourage you to seek personalized advice from qualified professionals regarding specific financial decisions. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

Blueprint has an advertiser disclosure policy. The opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Blueprint editorial staff alone. Blueprint adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. The information is accurate as of the publish date, but always check the provider’s website for the most current information.

Rebecca has been writing about personal finance and education since 2014. With a background in teaching and school counseling, she brings firsthand experience working with students and their families to her writing about student loans, financial aid and the college process. Formerly a senior student loans and personal loans writer for Student Loan Hero and LendingTree, Rebecca now covers a variety of personal finance topics, including budgeting, saving for retirement, home buying and home ownership, side hustles and more. Her work has been featured in MarketWatch, 91Ӱ News & World Report, Forbes Advisor, and other publications, and she's contributed expert commentary to Fortune, Money.com, NBC and more. When Rebecca's not writing about money, she's teaching people how to create profitable blogs on her website, Remote Bliss.

Jamie Young

BLUEPRINT

Jamie Young is Lead Editor of loans and mortgages at 91Ӱ Blueprint. She has been writing and editing professionally for 12 years. Previously, she worked for Forbes Advisor, Credible, LendingTree, Student Loan Hero, and GOBankingRates. Her work has also appeared on some of the best-known media outlets including Yahoo, Fox Business, Time, CBS News, AOL, MSN, and more. Jamie is passionate about finance, technology, and the Oxford comma. In her free time, she likes to game, play with her two crazy cats (Detective Snoop and his girl Friday), and try to keep up with her ever-growing plant collection.

Ashley Harrison is a 91Ӱ Blueprint loans and mortgages deputy editor who has worked in the online finance space since 2017. She’s passionate about creating helpful content that makes complicated financial topics easy to understand. She has previously worked at Forbes Advisor, Credible, LendingTree and Student Loan Hero. Her work has appeared on Fox Business and Yahoo. Ashley is also an artist and massive horror fan who had her short story “The Box” produced by the award-winning NoSleep Podcast. In her free time, she likes to draw, play video games, and hang out with her black cats, Salem and Binx.