Best Student Loans

Earnest offers the overall best student loans

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It’s always best to opt for federal student loans and free financial aid first, but sometimes that’s not enough to cover the cost of your education. Private student loans can help you bridge any last gaps in paying for school, but they also come with a lot of challenges. You may not know how debt works quite yet, and private student loans operate quite differently than most other loans.

If you choose the lowest-rate loan, that’s a good start. But other factors go into making the best student loans too, like flexible repayment options, generous financial assistance plans, co-signer release, and more. Looking at these other factors can help you long after you’ve graduated, especially if your path deviates a bit from what you have planned now (and that’s guaranteed to happen to some extent). To help you find what you need, we’ve rounded up the best student loan companies for a variety of situations. 

Best Student Loans of January 2023

It's best to exhaust all of your federal student loan options before even considering private student loans. Rates for federal loans issued between July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023, are just 4.99% for undergraduate Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans.

Best Overall : Earnest

Investopedia's Rating
4.9

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • $100 rate-match guarantee

  • Offers loans for part-time students

  • Customizable loan and repayment terms

Cons
  • Does not offer co-signer release

  • Not available to Nevada residents

  • Parent student loan repayment options limited

Why We Chose It

Aside from choosing your own loan amount, most private student loan lenders offer rather one-size-fits-all options. That’s not the case with Earnest; aside from its low rates, it offers the most customizable private student loans you’ll find on the marketplace, and that’s why it’s our top pick. If anything, it’ll be a tougher challenge to dial in the exact options for your own loan. 

Earnest starts by asking you what payment you can afford each month, and that can be a tough number to pin down since you don’t have a crystal ball to know how much you’ll be earning. But give it your best guess, and Earnest will present you with 180 different term length options to choose from (you can also just opt for a certain term length, too). You can choose from four different repayment plans while you’re in school (parents will only have two options) which can help you better control your loan payments post-graduation.

Earnest lets you skip a payment once every year as a reward for making all your payments on time, but it does tack on an extra month of payment and reduces the amount of forbearance you have available going forward. 

Repayment Options
  • Deferment: You don’t have to make any payments at all while you’re in school and for a generous nine-month grace period thereafter (compared to a six-month grace period for most other lenders), although interest will accrue during this time. This option is not available for parent student loans.
  • Forbearance: If you’ve made at least your last three payments on time and an unexpected financial problem pops up, you can request up to 12 months’ total of forbearance if you need to take a short leave from your payments. 
  • In-school fixed payments: If you want to prevent your loan balance from growing too much, you can opt to make $25 monthly payments while you’re in school and for the nine-month grace period after graduating before starting to make full payments. This option is not available for parent student loans.
  • In-school interest-only payments: Similar to the $25 in-school payment option, you can also opt for interest-only payments while you’re in school and for a nine-month grace period thereafter to keep your loan balance from growing at all.
Eligibility Requirements
  • 650 or higher credit score
  • $35,000 minimum annual income
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • At least three years of credit history
  • Available in all U.S. states except Nevada
  • No prior bankruptcies, and no accounts currently in collections
  • At least two months’ worth of emergency fund savings (only for co-signed loans)

Best for Negotiating Low Rates : Juno

Investopedia's Rating
5.0

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Rate-match guarantee

  • Long nine-month grace period

  • Potential for lowest student loan rates

Cons
  • Only one choice of lenderOnly one choice of lender

  • Limited timeline for loan acceptance

  • Negotiation process can be somewhat confusing

Why We Chose It

What if you were able to band together with other students to negotiate for a lower rate on your private student loans, a-la a union? That’s the premise behind Juno (formerly LeverEdge). It’s not a student loan lender in its own right, but it is a first-of-its-kind student loan negotiation company. 

Juno works like this: First, you sign up to join its free list by providing your estimated financial details (actual verification comes later). You’re essentially putting your name down as someone who may be interested in a negotiated deal on a private student loan. You can sign up anytime, but Juno doesn’t start negotiations until the spring when it sends its list details out to “dozens of lenders,” who compete to offer the lowest rate. 

Juno picks the winner, and then sends you the details of the negotiated offer, and you can choose whether you want to apply from there. It’s a somewhat-confusing process but it does have the potential to offer the lowest private student loan rates you’ll ever get, and that’s why we included it on our list. 

Repayment Options

Repayment options vary based on the lender issuing the loan.You may have access to the following options: 

  • Fixed payments
  • Interest-only payments
  • Deferred payments
  • Immediate repayment
Eligibility Requirements
  • 650 or higher credit score
  • Some lenders not available in all states
  • U.S. citizen, permanent resident, international student, and DACA students accepted
  • Must be the age of majority
  • Must be enrolled in a four-year, Title IV, non-profit university or college
  • Must be pursuing a bachelor’s or graduate degree

Best Student Loan Marketplace : Credible


Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Very low rates

  • Best rate guarantee

  • Transparent lender network

Cons
  • Loan options may differ

  • May not qualify with all lenders

  • Only eight lenders in its partner network

Why We Chose It

One way you can speed up the loan shopping process is by using a student loan marketplace, and Credible is one of the best. When you get pre-qualified through Credible you can check your rates with up to eight lenders at once, allowing you to easily see who you qualify with and what rates the lenders can offer you. Unlike some marketplaces, Credible lets you know exactly which lenders are in its partner network so you don’t need to worry about checking with the same lender twice if you shop around on your own. 

Credible also offers a best-rate guarantee. If you can find a lower rate with another lender, subject to certain terms, Credible will offer you a $200 gift card. The downside is that Credible doesn’t cover the full range of lenders out there (no marketplace does, after all), so it’s still a good idea to do some rate shopping on your own.

Repayment Options

Repayment options vary by lender, but you may be able to choose from the following: 

  • Fixed payments
  • Interest-only payments
  • Deferred payments
  • Immediate repayment
Eligibility Requirements
  • Available in all 50 states
  • 640 or higher credit score
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Certain requirements vary by partner lender

Best Parent Student Loan : SoFi

Investopedia's Rating
4.8

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Generous member benefits

  • Lots of options for payment assistance

  • Children can refinance parent student loans

Cons
  • Requires good credit

  • International students not eligible

  • No deferment options for parent student loans

Why We Chose It

SoFi has somewhat of a reputation as a premier student loan lender. Perhaps it’s because you or your co-signer will need a higher credit score compared with other lenders (650 to 700 minimum). Or maybe it’s because of the wealth of benefits that SoFi rains down on its borrowers: everything from complimentary one-on-one access to financial planners and career coaches to exclusive events and lounge access at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium. 

SoFi is a good private student loan option for just about anyone (assuming you qualify), but it has some extra-special benefits for parents. If you take out a loan for your child’s college education, SoFi is one of the few lenders that will later allow your child to refinance your loan in their own name, assuming they’re willing and able to take over repayment on the loan for you. 

In addition, SoFi offers a rare perk in the private loan world: loan forgiveness in the unfortunate case that you pass away, which can be important if you want to leave an estate behind for your heirs.

If you take out a parent student loan, be prepared to pay it off entirely by yourself. It can be very tough to transfer to your kids later, and unless you’re able to do that, your child has no legal requirement to help you pay it back.

Repayment Options
  • Reduced payment: If you’re facing a financial hardship but are able to keep making some amount of payments, SoFi is willing to work with you on a reduced payment schedule.
  • Forbearance and deferment: SoFi allows you to defer payment while you’re in school and for certain other instances, like if you’re a soldier deployed to a war zone or if you’re completing a medical residency (not available for parent loans)
  • Interest-only repayment: While your child is in school, you only make payments against the interest that accrues. 
  • Immediate repayment: You make payments against the interest and principal as soon as the loan is disbursed. 
Eligibility Requirements
  • Recommended 650 or higher credit score
  • Available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or DACA recipient

Best for Graduate School : Iowa Student Loan (ISL) Education Lending

Investopedia's Rating
4.5

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Very low rates for grads

  • Options for non-co-signed loans

  • Loan discharge for death or disability

Cons
  • Benefits may vary by loan type

  • Not available for Maine residents

  • Some loans only available in Iowa and Illinois

Why We Chose It

Most lenders charge higher rates for private student loans for graduate students, but that’s not the case with the nonprofit lender Iowa Student Loans, or ISL. Instead, it offers four different loan options: two each for undergrads and graduate students without a co-signer, one for parents and families, and one general-purpose loan that’s co-signer-optional for undergraduates and graduates. 

The difference for the designated non-co-signer loans is that you’ll need to meet certain academic requirements and they’re fairly limited, only being available for students studying in Iowa (undergrads and grads) or Illinois (undergrads only). But the rates are exceptionally good. Even if you only qualify for the highest rates that ISL has to offer, they’re still half of what most other lenders charge. 

Repayment Options
  • Deferment: You can postpone your payments entirely while you or your student is in school if you choose, but keep in mind that interest will accrue during this time. 
  • Forbearance: ISL offers forbearance, although it doesn’t disclose any details on how the program works. However, it’s typical for student loan lenders to offer up to 12 months of forbearance across the life of your loan if you run into temporary financial snags.
  • Interest-only repayment: If you’re not yet ready for full payments but you don’t want your loan balance to grow, you can opt to make interest-only payments while you or your student is in school. 
  • $25 monthly payments: If you opt for a partnership loan for undergrads without a co-signer, you’ll be required to make $25 monthly payments while you’re in school until you start normal repayment. 
  • Full repayment: You can opt to start repaying your loan right away, a handy option if you’re a student with income or a parent.
Eligibility Requirements
  • Recommended 660 or higher credit score
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Available in Washington, D.C. and all states except for Maine
  • 40% or lower debt-to-income ratio (for non-partnership loans)
  • 2.75 GPA or higher (for undergraduate partnership non-co-signed loans)
  • No prior bankruptcies or student loan defaults, or late payments (two 30-day-late payments are OK)

Best for International/DACA Students : Ascent

Investopedia's Rating
4.5

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • 1% graduation reward

  • Long grace period and forbearance

  • Lower rates and long deferment for med students

Cons
  • Higher rates for marginal borrowers

  • Co-signer release not available for all people

  • Outcomes-based loan limited and expensive

Why We Chose It

Getting funding for school in the U.S. can be tougher if you’re an international student or have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status; in that case, we recommend checking your rates with Ascent. You’ll need a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident if you’re an international student, although that’s not required for DACA students unless you’re unable to meet the requirements for a non-co-signed loan. 

Ascent also offers many loan options, both with a co-signer and without. Its non-co-signed loans do have an (undisclosed) minimum credit score and come in two flavors: one for if you already have at least two years of credit history, and one “outcomes-based” loan based on other factors like your GPA, major, etc. While some of its loans are expensive, Ascent does offer a unique graduation reward where, if you meet certain conditions (be sure to check these in advance), you can receive 1% of your loan balance back in cash. 

Repayment Options
  • Deferment: Deferment lets you avoid making any payments at all while you’re in school and in certain other cases, such as for active-duty military service. Interest still accrues, and you’ll begin normal repayment after a nine-month grace period (12 months for dental students, and 36 months for medical students).
  • Forbearance: Similar to a deferment, Ascent allows you to avoid payments for up to 24 months over the life of your loan if you run into financial problems—twice the length that most other lenders offer. 
  • $25 monthly repayment: If you want to prevent your loan balance from growing too much while you’re in school, this allows you to make monthly $25 payments to limit how much interest accrues.
  • Interest-only repayment: Similar to the above repayment plan, this allows you to make interest-only payments while you’re in school, thereby preventing your loan balance from growing at all while you complete your studies. 
  • Progressive repayment: Similar to the graduated repayment plan for federal loans, this allows you to start paying your loan back with smaller payments that increase over time, allowing you to pay it off within the same time frame as a normal repayment plan.
Eligibility Requirements
  • Available in all 50 states and Washington, D.C.
  • U.S. citizens, permanent residents, international students, and DACA recipients

Best Average Interest Rate : Education Loan Finance (ELFI)

Investopedia's Rating
4.6

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Very low rates

  • Flexible in-school repayment options

  • Dedicated customer support representative

Cons
  • Doesn’t offer co-signer release

  • Not available to international or DACA students

  • Not available to associate-degree-seeking students

Why We Chose It

The rates that Education Loan Finance (better known as ELFI) offers on its student loans are some of the lowest out there, making it an attractive candidate to add to your rate-shopping list if cost is a primary factor for you. And if you’ve heard horror stories about bad customer service in the student loan industry, ELFI is a good option because it’ll assign you a dedicated customer support representative who can get to know you and your situation better, rather than talking to a random person every time. 

A few things to keep in mind, however: If you need a co-signer to get approved for the loan (and most students do), there’s no way to remove them later like with many other lenders. The only way to remove a co-signer from an ELFI loan is by refinancing it entirely. In addition, it’s geared toward people who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and studying for a bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Repayment Options
  • Deferment: You can defer your loans while you’re in school, although your balance will continue to grow as interest accrues. After you graduate, you’ll get a six-month grace period.
  • Forbearance: ELFI offers forbearance if you qualify, although it doesn’t disclose the details you’ll need to qualify or what the forbearance looks like.
  • Immediate repayment: If you’re able and you choose, you can start full payments on your loan as soon as you take it out to start chipping away at it. 
  • Interest-only repayment: If you have some income but not enough for full payments and you want to save some money, you can opt to make interest-only payments while you’re in school so that your loan balance doesn’t grow. 
  • Fixed repayment: If you still want a way to keep your loan balance from growing too much but you can’t afford interest-only payments, ELFI also allows you to set up a $25 monthly payment plan while you’re in school.
Eligibility Requirements
  • $35,000 annual income or higher
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico
  • Student must be a dependent (for parent student loans)
  • 680 or higher credit score and at least 36 months of credit history

Best for Student Loan Refinance : Splash Financial

Investopedia's Rating
3.7

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Offers very low rates

  • Spouses may be able to refinance together

  • Medical professionals receive special benefits

Cons
  • Loan options vary

  • Must have completed your degree

  • Refinance only; not for in-school loans

Why We Chose It

Once you graduate, things often turn out very differently from what you had planned. Maybe you were able to grow a stellar credit score while finishing your studies, or maybe your post-graduation income didn’t quite take off as expected. 

Either way, if you need to reassess your private student loans once you’ve got your diploma in hand, Splash Financial is a prime choice. It’s a bit like a very small marketplace, checking your rates with a few lenders exclusive to Splash, but it specializes entirely in student loan refinances. 

With most refinance loans, you’ll need to begin making full interest-and-principle payments immediately. But if you refinance medical or dental school loans with Splash while you’re in residency, you’ll have the option of making fixed monthly payments of $100 instead. This can help lighten your monthly expenses, but you’ll end up paying more over the life of the loan compared to someone making full payments.

Splash and its partner lenders charge no application, origination, or prepayment fees, but there may be other fees involved depending on your lender. 

Repayment Options
  • Full repayment: Full principle-and-interest payments are required for most refinanced student loans.
  • Medical and dental school repayment: Refinance your medical or dental school loans and you'll only have to make fixed monthly payments of $100 while you're in a residency or fellowship, and for a six-month period after you leave those programs. 
Eligibility Requirements
  • 640 or higher credit score
  • U.S. citizen or permanent resident
  • Must have graduated or be in the final semester of studies with a formal job offer
  • Available in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Best for Students Without a Co-Signer : Funding U

Investopedia's Rating
3.2

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Available for DACA students

  • Generous forbearance policies

  • Loan decisions based on career, not just credit

Cons
  • Does not allow co-signers

  • Not available in many states 

  • Requires payments while you’re in school

Why We Chose It

Funding U is a very different lender than most, starting with the fact that it bases its lending decisions on your academic trajectory, rather than just income and credit like with most student loan companies. In fact, you don’t even have the option of applying with a co-signer. Funding U will look at your credit reports to make sure you don’t have any red flags like bankruptcy, but aside from that, it’ll base its decision on your career plans and current academic performance. 

That’s both good and bad news. Not everyone is able to find a co-signer, so this is a great option if that’s your case. You might have problems getting approved, however, if you’re a newer college student, don’t have good grades, or are in certain career paths that don’t point toward high incomes later. In addition, it’s only available to full-time undergraduates but it still requires payments while you’re in school. The minimum you can opt to pay is $20 so that’s not much, but if you’re going to school full-time, even that amount can be hard to manage. 

Repayment Options
  • Fixed repayment: Make $20 monthly payments while you’re in school, with a six-month grace period after you graduate before full repayment begins.
  • Interest-only repayment: Pay only the interest that accrues while you’re in school, and for the six-month grace period afterward. 
  • Forbearance: Up to 24 months of forbearance with no payments while interest still accrues (up to 51 months if you’re in school). Some forbearance options, such as for natural disasters, have no specified maximum length. 
  • Full repayment: Make full interest-and-principle payments on the loan.
Eligibility Requirements
  • Must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or DACA recipient.
  • Only available for full-time students working towards a bachelor’s degree.
  • Only available in the following states: Ala., Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., La., Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Mo., Neb., N.J., N.M., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Pa., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., and Wis.

Final Verdict

Earnest is our top pick for all-around best lender due to its unparalleled range of loan options and its low rates. However, if finding the absolute lowest rates is the most important thing for you and you’re not too picky about your lender, Juno is a good option. 

For students without a co-signer, Funding U and Ascent offer unique student loans based on your own academic qualifications and career trajectory, sans credit, although they are expensive. If you need to refinance, a company like Splash Financial could serve you well. Finally, don’t rule out lender marketplaces like Credible which can help you compare many lenders at once.

Guide to Choosing the Best Student Loans

Student loans are money borrowed from the government or a private lender to pay for college. The loan has to be paid back after graduation, along with the interest that has been accrued. The loan can usually be used to cover tuition, room and board, books, and other school related expenses. Student loans are different from scholarships and grants, which don’t have to be paid back.

You can apply for a student loan online and fill out your (and your parents', if applicable) financial information. Student loan qualifications are different depending on the type of loan you receive but can include FICO score and income. Typically, you will need multiple student loans to cover your entire tuition and all related expenses. A financial aid counselor from your high school or your future college should be able to help you better navigate the process. 

What Are Some Alternatives to Student Loans?

If you decide that a student loan isn’t for you or want to know what other options you have, there are some alternatives:

  • Parents pay for college
  • Merit-based scholarship
  • Athletic scholarship
  • Work-study aid 
  • Savings or an inheritance
  • Grants

What Are the Different Types of Student Loans?

Typically, student loans fall into two major categories: federal and private. Private loans are also called alternative loans. 

Federal Student Loans: There are multiple types of federal loans but, in general, they have lower interest rates and better repayment terms than private loans. They’re also more readily available and may be easier to obtain than a private loan. They have fixed interest rates and some options aren’t dependent on your credit history. 

Private Student Loans: These should be looked into after federal student loans are exhausted. Private student loans may cover continuing education without a degree, tuition for non-U.S. citizens, and for education costs incurred after graduation.

How Much Do Student Loans Cost?

The main cost associated with student loans is the interest. However, some loans may also charge origination fees, prepayment penalties, and late fees. Federal loans tend to have lower interest rates so it’s best to apply for them first. Currently, the interest rate on federal student loans for undergraduates is 3.73%.

Are Student Loans Worth the Cost?

Student loans can be expensive, with application fees and making monthly principal and interest payments. They can get especially expensive if you choose to go to grad, medical, or law school in addition to a four-year college. If you have an alternative way to pay for college, then it’s great to explore that first. Otherwise, student loans are generally worth the cost because you’re investing in yourself and your education, which should help you land a higher paying job or acquire the knowledge and skills to start your own business. 

Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing consumers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of student loan lenders. We collected thousands of data points across 30 lenders—including loan types, interest rates, fees, loan amounts, and repayment terms—to ensure that we help readers make the right borrowing decision for their education needs.

Best Student Loans

Best Student Loans 

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education: Federal Student Aid. "Federal Interest Rates and Fees."

  2. U.S. Department of Education: Federal Student Aid. "Federal Interest Rates and Fees."