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Best Student Loan Companies

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When the cost of college seems too high, a student loan can help. There are two types of student loans available: federal and private. The former is funded by the government, and the latter is funded by a bank, credit union or another lender. While there are unique benefits and drawbacks to each type of loan, both can be useful tools to help you fund your education.

When you’re searching for the best private student loan provider for your degree, there are several factors to consider, including rates, limits and repayment terms.

You can apply for private student loans from online lenders, banks and other financial institutions. We compared 19 popular student loan companies on features, including loan types, rates and repayment options. We also considered overall ConsumerAffairs satisfaction ratings and availability before making our top picks.

Note that our picks may be Authorized Partners who compensate us. This does not affect our recommendations or evaluations but may affect the order in which the companies appear.

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Compare our top 5 choices for student loans

PNC Student LoansPNC Student LoansCredibleCredibleSoFi Student LoansSoFi Student LoansEarnestEarnestSallie MaeSallie Mae
# of reviews11254801,441
Our pick for Best overall No fees Loan discounts Repayment help Career training loans
Loan types Undergraduate, graduate, professional Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional Undergraduate, graduate, professional, career training
Fixed rates* 4.24% to 12.24% 3.65% to 16.43% 4.49% to 13.80% Starting at 4.45% 4.50% to 14.83%
Variable rates* 4.89% to 12.89% 3.99% to 15.33% 5.16% to 13.07% Starting at 4.99% 5.99% to 16.33%
Read reviews Read reviews Read reviews Read reviews Read reviews
*As reported by the companies on date of publication.

More info on our top choices for student loans

The right student loan provider can help you fund your educational dreams with easy-to-manage repayment terms after you graduate.

Best overall
Loan types
Undergraduate, graduate, professional
Fixed rates
4.24% to 12.24%
Variable rates
4.89% to 12.89%

PNC Bank provides private student loans and refinancing for undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Students can borrow up to $50,000 per year, with a maximum combined federal and private student loan debt total of $225,000. Opting for automated payment gives you a 0.50% interest rate discount.

Repayment options are available as immediate, interest-only or deferred, and terms range from five to 15 years. Co-signers are not required for all applicants but are recommended for borrowers who do not meet the income or credit score criteria. Co-signers can be released from the loan after 48 months of consecutive on-time payments.

For all students except bar study applicants, loan funds are sent directly to the school. You will need to provide specific school details when applying, such as your enrollment date, expected graduation date and major. You will need to contact the school to see if and how you can access any excess funds.

PNC also offers $2,000 scholarships for 12 winners each year. Scholarships, unlike loans, are money that does not need to be repaid. To apply, create a free financial literacy account through PNC.?

  • No prepayment penalty
  • Automated payment discount
  • Flexible repayment terms
  • Not for international students
  • Funds sent directly to school for most students
  • Co-signer release option after 48 months

Many borrowers felt that PNC excelled in customer service and was happy to answer any question. Others felt that the customer service reps actually cared for the borrowers and worked hard to work with their budgets. One reviewer from Missouri loved working with PNC, saying, “They are willing to work with me to help me stay ahead. The repayment options is great. … I have always been lent enough to cover all of my schooling needs.”

Best for no fees
Loan types
Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional
Fixed rates
3.65% to 16.43%
Variable rates
3.99% to 15.33%

Credible does not issue direct loans but rather connects potential borrowers to up to eight private student loan providers within three minutes. It is free to use, and your credit will not be dinged for checking pre-qualified rates. You can compare lenders for undergraduate, graduate, parent and professional loans.

Credible claims that borrowers can find funds for up to 100% of their schooling costs, but some partner lenders, like Ascent, do have maximum loan limits that can interfere with total coverage. If you pre-qualify for a lower interest rate with another lender, Credible will pay you a $200 “Best Rate Reward.” The catch? This offer comes with a lot of fine print, including that the lender must not be on Credible’s website.

Credible connects borrowers with lenders that do not charge origination fees or prepayment fees. Credible also states that it does not get paid to rank select lenders higher, and it doesn’t sell your data. Make sure you know each lender’s cost breakdown before you proceed.

Not all of the student loan partners will require co-signers, but Credible reports that about 85%  of its applicants use one.

  • Compare up to eight lenders
  • No origination or prepayment fees
  • Easy to add co-signer
  • Not a direct lender
  • Some partners have maximum loan limits
  • Does not compare all lender features

Several Credible reviewers liked that they were able to compare different lenders and see a variety of repayment options before proceeding with their choice. A reviewer from Chicago said that the company treated them like a human and not a machine. “The application process was easy to understand and most of all short and accurate,” they said.

Many felt that the lender rates were not always accurate. Additionally, one complained that Credible’s $200 “Best Rate Reward” is not awarded when you submit a claim with a better rate from one of its partners.

Best for loan discounts
Loan types
Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional
Fixed rates
4.49% to 13.80%
Variable rates
5.16% to 13.07%

SoFi offers private student loans ranging from $1,000 to 100% of your educational fees. Student loans can be used for undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as healthcare, law and MBA professional degrees, but the funds are sent to the school, not the borrower. Parent loans are also available. Note that if you are pursuing an associate’s degree or career training, you will not be able to obtain a SoFi student loan.

Students can also refinance their student loans through SoFi, provided they meet SoFi’s refinancing eligibility requirements. Borrowers interested in refinancing with SoFi must have graduated with an associate degree or higher from a Title IV school, and must be employed, have sufficient income from other sources, or have an offer of employment to start within 90 days.

Loans come with no fees (not even late fees), and SoFi offers several discount opportunities for student loan borrowers. A 0.25% rate discount is available to all who sign up for autopay. An additional 0.25% rate discount is available for those who have previously taken out a private student loan with SoFi.

Additionally, SoFi offers a Member Rewards program, which allows members to earn points for completing financially-responsible tasks, like checking their accounts often. These points can then be redeemed toward student loan refinance payments.

One of the most notable benefits of a SoFi student loan is its Unemployment Protection. If you become unemployed through no fault of your own and your loan is in good standing, SoFi will modify your monthly payments and provide job placement assistance.

  • Unemployment Protection
  • Interest rate discounts
  • No fees
  • Not available for career training or associate degree
  • Funds are sent directly to the school
  • Stringent loan refinancing requirements

The positive reviews for SoFi loans praise the company for friendly, caring customer service. Many were happy with the student loan refinance process and felt that they saved money. One borrower from Louisiana was happy with how easy the application was and said, “They offer you many different payment plans to help you pay back your student loan. … This was one of the fastest applications I have ever took.”

Some complaints in the past two years note that the company provided little help during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that SoFi did not give enough forbearance time for COVID-19-related job loss and financial hardship.

Best for repayment help
Loan types
Undergraduate, graduate, parent, professional
Fixed rates
Starting at 4.45%
Variable rates
Starting at 4.99%

Earnest, which was acquired by Navient in 2017 as an independent subsidiary, offers private student loans ranging from $1,000 to 100% of your education costs. Sign up for autopay to receive a 0.25% interest rate discount. Most student loans have a six-month grace period, meaning borrowers have six months after graduation before their first bill. Earnest gives you an additional three months.

If you find a lower private student loan rate with a competitor, Earnest will match that rate and give you a $100 Amazon gift card. You can also miss one payment each year without any penalties.

Co-signers can be added to your loan easily with an invite link. Co-signers will need to have a credit score of 650 or more and an annual income of at least $35,000 to be eligible. Earnest does not allow co-signer release at this time.

Through Earnest, private student loans have repayment options for borrowers who are struggling. The rate education program allows borrowers to pay a reduced rate for six months. In the case of a total and permanent disability (TPD), Earnest might discharge your private student loan.

  • No late or origination fees
  • 100% rate match
  • 9-month grace period
  • Co-signer must have 650+ credit score
  • No student loans available in Nevada
  • Only for students at eligible four-year institutions

There are no reviews of Earnest from ConsumerAffairs readers.

Best for career training loans

Sallie Mae

Loan types
Undergraduate, graduate, professional, career training
Fixed rates
4.50% to 14.83%
Variable rates
5.99% to 16.33%

Sallie Mae lends up to 100% of school costs to undergraduate, graduate, professional and career training students. Full-time enrollment is not required for funding, and you can receive lending for community college tuition too.

While student loan amounts cannot exceed the cost of attendance, miscellaneous expenses such as a laptop, equipment and traveling might be considered part of the cost of attendance. All loans come with no origination fees or prepayment penalties, and you can receive a 0.25% interest rate discount with autopay.

Having a co-signer is not required but strongly encouraged. Salle Mae says that 87% of its approved undergraduate borrowers have co-signers and that students have historically been three times more likely to be approved with a co-signer.

Sallie Mae does not offer a way for students and co-signers to check if they are pre-qualified or what rate they will get without a hard credit check. You don’t have to accept the loan terms if you do apply, but your score will still be affected. While Sallie Mae says that either the borrower or the co-signer needs to be creditworthy, it does not have credit or income requirements posted on its site.

If you find yourself struggling to pay for your student loans after graduation, Sallie Mae offers some assistance. After the six-month grace period, qualifying borrowers will have the option for interest-only payments for 12 months. This does not increase the loan term, but it will increase the total loan cost.

  • Higher approval rate with co-signer
  • No origination fees
  • Can be used for community college and career training programs
  • Unclear credit and income requirements
  • Hard credit check
  • No pre-qualification check

Many felt that Sallie Mae provided the funding they needed to get their degrees and career certificates. Others praised the company for having customer service that was easy to connect with. One borrower from New Jersey said, “Their offers were great for my needs at the time and repayment was easy. I would definitely recommend them to any student who is in need and can’t find the funds.”

Others didn’t share the same sentiment about Sallie Mae, feeling that they were out of luck once they graduated. They said that Sallie Mae did not offer much time or assistance when their financial situations were tight or offer flexible repayment options.

Compare Student Loan Company Reviews

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What is a student loan?

Student loans are education loans that must be repaid with interest either immediately or after the set grace period. There are two types of student loans: federal and private.

Federal student loans are funded by the federal government, and they have fixed rates that are often lower than private loans. Federal loans can also come with more flexible repayment options if the borrower cannot repay them.

Private student loans come with a fixed or variable rate and are typically backed by banks, credit unions or other lenders.

Federal vs. private student loans

Most students obtain a federal student loan first and then seek private loans if they need additional funding. Both types come with different options, terms and conditions. It's important to know the differences between these two kinds of student loans:

Federal student loans

  • Income-driven repayment plans for some borrowers
  • No credit check required for most loan types
  • Repayment plans and terms can be changed

Private student loans

  • Offer a choice of fixed or variable interest rates
  • Interest-only and fixed repayment plan options for when you’re in school
  • Provides flexibility for students and parents

How to apply for student loans

To start your student loan process, submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid. The information provided can be sent to one or many schools. Based on your FAFSA results, the college you select will send you a financial aid offer letter containing the amount you're awarded and other pertinent information. This will allow you to access federal student loans and special school-specific aid.

If there are still gaps in tuition coverage, private student loans can help. You can apply for private student loans directly on a lender's website. You should apply after you've made your school decision and once you know how much you need to borrow.

Depending on the repayment option offered by the lender, you will have to start full or partial repayment right away or six months after graduation. Waiting to start repayment until after graduation is the costliest option since the interest still accrues even if you don’t have a monthly bill yet.

Do I need a co-signer for my student loan?

Not all lenders require co-signers, but if you are a student with limited or poor credit history, it is easier to get a private student loan with one. However, to get a student loan without a co-signer, consider federal student loans first — most of these don’t require one. If you need additional financing, some private lenders offer loans without co-signers.

If you do need a co-signer, they must be an eligible applicant who meets the lender’s income and credit criteria. Only one co-signer is allowed, so choose the applicant that is more creditworthy to get the best rates. Your co-signer is responsible for repaying the full amount of the loan if you default.

Student loans pros and cons

While student loans are a common financial tool to afford higher education costs, they should be considered carefully before you apply. Financial aid that you don’t have to repay, such as scholarships, grants and work-study programs, should be considered alongside private student loans. Here are the top pros and cons of taking out student loan debt:


  • Receive a higher education
  • Potential for a successful career
  • High borrowing limits
  • Paying it off builds credit


  • Debt (even if you don’t graduate)
  • Penalties for defaulting
  • Interest can be burdensome
  • Co-signer may be required


Who is eligible for student loans?

Undergraduate, graduate and professional school students who are U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens and have financial needs are usually eligible for student loans. Parents can also take out student loans for their children.

How much do student loans cost?

Student loan costs include the loan amount, origination fees and interest that you pay back over time. For example, if you borrow $10,000 with a 4.5% interest rate and a 15-year term, you'll pay back around $75 toward the loan each month. After 15 years, you’ll have paid back around $13,800.

Origination fees vary by lender. Federal student loans have fees based on a percentage of the total loan amount.

Is student loan interest tax deductible?

Borrowers can take a tax deduction on student loan interest paid. The maximum tax deduction you can take is $2,500 a year.

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

Having a limited or bad credit history does not disqualify you from getting a federal student loan. However, private student loan providers do have specific income and credit requirements. If you don’t have a good credit score, consider finding a co-signer to guarantee your loan with a private lender.

What is the maximum amount of student loans you can get?

Private student loan limits are set by the lender, but many will cover 100% of tuition costs.

For federal student loans, the limit depends on your year and dependent status. For example, first-year undergraduate loans are available up to $5,500 for dependent students (up to $3,500 can be in subsidized loans). Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 each year.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Compare Student Loan Company Reviews

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. U.S. Department of Education, “Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans.” Accessed Oct. 4, 2021.

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