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With 45% of high school graduates finding it necessary to take on student debt to finance their higher learning, that's an important question to answer. While most student loan debt comes from federal loans, some people discover that their government loans just aren't enough to cover the full costs of tuition, room and board, expensive textbooks, and everything else necessary for their college education.
If you find yourself in that situation - for your studies or your children's - you might get overwhelmed trying to figure out where the money will come from. And even once you've selected a lender, you still need to decide what repayment terms are best. Fixed- or variable-rate? Interest-only or small fixed repayments while still in school or fully deferred for 6-9 months after graduation? Repaying over five years or twenty? There are a lot of factors to consider that are unique to you.
Friday, March 24th
Although Ascent is extremely new to the student loan marketplace, getting its start in 2018, the service has easily captured our first-place ranking. Both Forbes and Money named Ascent as their top choice for Private Student Loans, giving high praise to the service for affordable interest rates and fees, available loan terms, hardship options, loan eligibility requirements, and overall application processes. All student loans funded through Ascent are designed "to expand your possibilities, not limit them" - and that's a philosophy we can get behind.
Loans with or without a cosigner
Compared with other sources of student loans, Ascent has the widest range of options. There are three loan types to choose from:
Basic requirements to qualify
So, what are the overall eligibility requirements? It's tricky to find those specifics on the Ascent website, but with some digging here's what you'll learn. If you're taking out a loan with a cosigner, you'll need a minimum personal credit score of 540 if your cosigner's score is at least 740. If not, your own credit score will have to be 600+. Without a cosigner, you'll have to demonstrate at least two years of credit history and a score of 680+. For both types of credit-based loans, you'll need a minimum annual income of $24,000.
Very flexible loan repayments
Ascent offers plenty of flexibility with student loan repayments. If you're in school and you have a cosigned loan, you can defer your repayments until six months after graduation or if you start taking classes below the half-time threshold. Or, you can make a flat-fee repayment of $25/month while in school and/or through the six-month grace period. A third option is to make interest-only repayments until your grace period ends, which will probably save you the most money overall.
Forbearance, graduated repayment available
On non-cosigned loans or ones taken out post-school, you have a grace period of nine months. Ascent offers a graduated repayment option for qualified borrowers, allowing for smaller payments at first and gradually increasing over the original loan term. If you've earned a Bachelor's degree and are accepted into a medical or dental residency, you can defer your payments for up to 24 months. Finally, forbearance is available for up to four periods of 1-3 months.
Cosigner release eligibility after 24 repayments
Similar to most student loans, Ascent's are forgiven if the student dies or becomes totally and permanently disabled. This doesn't apply if the cosigner dies or becomes disabled. And, you can apply to have your cosigner released after making the first 24 payments on time, as long as you meet the eligibility requirements (which are similar to those needed to apply for a non-cosigner loan).
Big money-saving perks here
Ascent has some perks you probably won't find with most rival student loan providers. You can get rate discounts of 0.25% on credit-based loans and 1% on non-cosigned loans when you have your repayments automatically debited from your bank account. And, Ascent offers a 1% cash back award when you graduate, provided you meet the criteria (proof of graduation, no loan refinancing, graduate within 5 years of the loan's first disbursement).
Best choice for all student loans
Across the board, experts and borrowers alike are raving about the student loan experience with Ascent. For almost every imaginable loan type - undergraduate, dental school, law school, MBA programs, and more - Ascent is regularly the highest-rated option. Students say that it's extremely easy to apply and to reach the US-based customer service team if they have questions or need help, that conditional loan approval is almost instantaneous and final approval typically happens within a week, and there are no nasty surprises when it comes time to start making repayments. For all of these reasons, Ascent earns our highest recommendation for all types of student loans.
There are so many advantages to getting a student loan through Discover. It's one of the only lenders that offers funding for associate's degree programs, and no matter which type of loan you need, you only have to be enrolled a minimum of half-time. The minimum loan amount is $1,000, which makes it easier to borrow only what you need; some rival lenders have $5,000 minimums for comparison. And, Discover can prequalify you for subsequent academic years, to help the process go quickly and smoothly - and no further impact on your credit report. Also, this is one of the only lenders we've seen that lets students as young as 16 apply for a loan; given how many students are graduating high school early and moving on to college, that's needed more than ever.
Cash rewards for good grades
But, there's more! You know Discover Card as one of the original ways to get cash back when using a credit card, and they add those kinds of rewards to their student loans as well. For example, their undergraduate loans offer a one-time cash reward of 1% on each new loan if you have at least a 3.0 GPA. Undergraduate freshmen are also eligible for an additional 1% reward on their first loan: Discover wants to encourage you to consider them for all of your educational financing, right from the start of your studies. Finally, like most lenders, you'll get a rate discount of 0.25% if you set your account up for automatic debits of your payments.
3 repayment options
Discover student loans have three repayment options: in-school interest only (which comes with a 0.35% interest rate discount), in-school fixed payments of $25, or deferred until six months after graduation or when your enrollment goes below half-time. Of course, you're welcome to make extra payments at any time you like even if you're not in your repayment period.
15-year term on all loans
Every Discover student loan has a 15-year repayment term. Interest rates are very competitive on both variable-rate loans and fixed-rate loans. Their posted rates tend to be higher than other student loan lenders, but the reality is that very few students qualify for those super-low rates advertised elsewhere - so you'll likely wind up with a very competitive rate here.
We're also very pleased to see how much improvement has been made with Discover's reputation as a student loan provider. In previous evaluations, we noted that the company had serious servicing issues back in 2015, and we're glad to report that those problems genuinely seem to be a thing of the past. Not only does Discover Card have a perfect "A+" and accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, but their unfiltered student loan reviews describe an easy application process, fantastic customer service (including 24/7 phone help), and being able to get funding here when other lenders said no. Many comments come from students (and parents) who have used Discover student loans for every academic year and who wouldn't go anywhere else. That's the kind of feedback we love to hear!
No preapprovals, no cosigner release
We only found two slight downsides to these student loans. One is that there's no way to determine in advance if you're likely to qualify for a loan here: you jump right into the loan application, which results in a hard pull on your credit report, and Discover offers no ballpark of which credit scores are likely to be approved (neither for you nor for any cosigner you might have). Speaking of cosigners, that's the other disappointing aspect of these loans: there's zero option for cosigner release, even after the fairly standard 24 months of consecutive, on-time payments required by other lenders. If you cosign for a Discover loan, you are responsible for it for the full 15-year life of that loan. Ouch.
Great choice for most students
You might not have thought that a credit card company would be an option for your student loans, but we hope you'll think again! Discover has made a huge leap in our rankings, and for good reason: why not get some money back for those terrific grades you're getting? For many students who wouldn't be eligible for a loan somewhere else, Discover provides a reliable avenue to paying for an education.
SoFi got its start back in 2011 as an alumni-funded lending model founded by Stanford business school students, and in 2012 they became the first company offering refinancing options for both federal and private student loans. SoFi launched its own student loans program in 2019, with the goal of helping students cover educational costs more easily. Across all of their financial products, which include personal loans, mortgages, and even crypto, SoFi has over two million members and more than $50 billion in funded loans. This is clearly a company that knows how to lend money!
Broad eligibility requirements
Most students will qualify for a loan with SoFi. Residents of all 50 states and DC are eligible for SoFi loans, which range from basic undergraduate studies to graduate programs, medical school, and so on. You also only have to be enrolled half-time (or more): a big plus over lenders that require full-time enrollment to get a loan. However, students enrolled in associate's degree programs aren't eligible for student loans here.
Minimum loan of $5,000, no fees
You can borrow up to 100% of your school-certified attendance costs, which covers everything from tuition and books to room and board, travel, and laptops or other necessary equipment. The minimum loan amount, regardless of the type of student loan (i.e. undergraduate, graduate, dental school, etc.) is $5,000. We love that this provider charges absolutely no fees: you'll never be charged for applying, for your loan's origination, or even for an "insufficient funds" situation.
No credit score impact to check your rates
Checking your loan rates won't affect your credit score, but you'll need to create an account to see them. The process will ask you for your contact information, your date of birth and citizenship, whether you're applying as a student/parent/cosigner, your school and estimated graduation date, year in school, and several other details. (As an aside, it was interesting to see how much SoFi had funded for different schools: over $30 million to students and alumni of University of Central Florida, over $260 million for Harvard students, and so on.) We encourage you to go through this process to find all of the rates and options you prequalify for. In our case, on a $12,000 loan, we were given fixed-rate loan offers and variable-rate loan offers that seemed to be on the higher side (despite having a credit score of 800+ and sufficient income).
Many combinations of loan types and repayment terms
SoFi's student loans have terms of 5, 7, 10 or 15 years. You'll typically choose among four repayment plans on student loans here: full immediate repayment, interest-only payments while in school, fixed $25/month payments while in school, or no payments while in school and up to 6 months after graduation. SoFi makes it easy to see every possible combination of rates, interest rates, and repayment terms until you're left with a list just with the student loans that best match your needs.
Get perks that help you succeed
SoFi student loans come with an attractive array of perks. You'll get the 0.25% autopay discount offered by most lenders, but if you're a SoFi member with another product (like auto insurance or investment accounts) you'll get an additional discount on the interest rate on your student loan. Also, SoFi has several partners, like Grammarly, Coursera and Evernote; you'll get 3-6 months of access to those services with your loan. That demonstrates an admirable commitment to student success that goes above and beyond what many financial institutions offer.
Some mixed feedback about loans
How about reputation? Because SoFi has so many financial products, including several types of loans, most client feedback isn't limited strictly to educational funding. Overall, SoFi is about average. They've got an "A+" with the Better Business Bureau but no accreditation; that could be related to the number of complaints filed there (150 over the last 12 months alone) or the fact that there was an FTC action that wasn't resolved until 2019. The majority of the negative comments on the BBB site mention frozen accounts, missing referral bonuses, or delays in disbursing loan funds. Going beyond the BBB listing, we found students who said that loans were funded slowly (up to six weeks) and that interest rates were much higher than rival lenders' - and higher than what students expected based on the rates advertised while going through the prequalification process. That lines up with our experience as well.
Good enough for most students
SoFi winds up with a better-than-average rating, mostly because they offer so many possible combinations of loan types and repayment terms, and because their student loans are available even to students who aren't enrolled in school full-time. However, SoFi's higher-than-most interest rates and somewhat lackluster client feedback keep this lender from earning the best ranking among providers of educational loans.
For 25+ years, LendingTree has served as an online loan marketplace for everything from credit cards to personal loans. They've connected over 100 million customers with more than $50 billion in funds. With respect to student loans, this service can help you get an idea of which lenders might be available for the school you attend, but you'll have to go to each lender's site to determine if you actually prequalify.
Does your school qualify?
You'll start by entering your school name, because that determines which LendingTree partners will show up in your list of possibilities. For example, a popular large university in Florida matched with eight lenders, while a small liberal arts college in Michigan came up with none (and neither did the state's largest university). That's far from ideal, but at least LendingTree lets you know right away if you're not going to be eligible for a loan with their partners, instead of making you walk through a multi-step prequalification application first.
Find your matches
Let's say your school qualifies for LendingTree's service. What can you expect next? First, you'll get a list of lenders that might be a good match. For the school in Florida we entered, we were given eight to consider: College Ave, Sallie Mae, Ascent, Earnest, Funding U, Education Loan Finance, SoFi, and Citizens Bank. You'll find in-depth reviews for all but one of those lenders in our other evaluations.
More information, please
Unfortunately, LendingTree doesn't take that extra step of offering borrower feedback or even expert reviews of those financial institutions. All you get is a "see more details" button that tells you some of the highlights, like whether or not there are fees and if they offer interest rate discounts. If you click the "Apply Now" button, you're taken directly to the lender website to begin the application process.
Good reputation overall
That's really the extent of what you'll get with LendingTree for student loans. Yes, this company is "A+" rated and accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and over 8200 people give LendingTree a 5-star rating too (across all products, not just educational loans). And yes, you can learn a lot about student loans on their website, which has everything from a payment calculator to helpful blog articles to help you understand how loans work, the differences between federal and private loans, and much more.
You'll still have to apply directly with a lender
But to earn a higher ranking among student loan providers, LendingTree would have to expand what they offer: at a minimum, maybe a rating and analysis for the lenders they include, and ideally a way to prequalify for those preferred lending partners without having to go to each website individually. After all, that's what their competitors do! You could use LendingTree to do some research, but ultimately you'll get your loan somewhere else - because that's how this service is designed.
More than 125,000 people have used Earnest to borrow funds for education or for personal reasons. The company aims "to make higher education accessible and affordable for everyone" , with lower-than-average interest rates and a helpful "Client Happiness" customer service team.
Most students need to be enrolled full-time
What are the eligibility requirements to get a student loan through Earnest? If you're a college freshman, sophomore or junior, you have to be enrolled full-time at a Title-IV qualified, not-for-profit four-year institution (no associate's degree programs). The enrollment requirement drops to "at least half-time" if you're a college senior. You have to borrow at least $1,000, and either you or your cosigner (if you have one) must have a FICO score of 650+ and at least three years of credit history, among other financial criteria. Finally, Earnest student loans are available in Washington DC and in all states but Nevada.
Needs to be more direct
We wish that Earnest were more forthcoming with specifics about their student loans. For example, looking in the FAQ for more details about their interest rates, all you'll see is a generic "we try to be competitive" non-answer. The same goes for the question of how much applicants can borrow when using Earnest: a lengthy description of how much can be gotten through federal loans and then another "generally speaking" about all private student loans. Why not just come out and say it - or at least give a ballpark - without making prospective clients click on the "Apply Now" button? On the undergraduate student loans page, even the "Today's Rates" section only gave a "starting at" rate, that's it.
Look around to see current rates
It was only on the "Cosigned or Independent?" page of that application process that we found their complete rates: they advertise different ranges for both cosigned loans (which are lower), and independent student loans. All of those rates include a 0.25% discount that assumes you'll make your payments automatically. We also dug around in the Earnest Help Center and eventually found out that their loans have a minimum of $1,000 borrowed and go up to 100% of your cost of attendance for the school year.
No actual rates without hard credit pull
But, here's where we got really aggravated: throughout the process, Earnest reassures you that your credit score won't be affected by checking your rates. Great! But there's no point during the application that lets you see any possible loans: once you enter the amount you want to borrow, the last page asks for your phone number, your social security number, and then consent to a hard credit inquiry. Um, what? That's a serious disadvantage compared with many of Earnest's rivals, who more often than not will tell you what loan rates and terms you prequalify for, and who only use a soft credit pull to do so.
Some unique benefits here
However, there are still some upsides to Earnest that stop us from kicking this lender to the curb, so to speak. While many student loan providers only offer a 6-month grace period after graduation where no repayments are required, Earnest gives you 50% more (nine months). Also, once you've made six consecutive, on-time payments, you're eligible for their once-a-year Skip-a-Payment option. So, if you've had a costly car repair or there's a slowdown in your income, you've got some breathing room here.
Surprisingly positive reputation
Beyond that, borrower feedback tends to be much more positive than we expected. There were nearly 4,000 Earnest clients who gave them a perfect five-star rating, saying that on both loans and loan refinancing they were able to get extremely low interest rates. Almost every review said that the experience was seamless, and many students have used Earnest from one year to the next to get their educational expenses covered. The BBB concurs, giving this lender an "A" rating and accreditation.
Room for improvement but not bad overall
Out of all of the student loan providers we evaluated, Earnest left us feeling the most conflicted. Clients tend to love them, and if you qualify for a low interest rate you could save thousands of dollars over the life of your loan(s). But, you have to get there first - and Earnest makes that much harder to do without having a hard inquiry on your credit report. With more transparency prior to the formal loan application process, Earnest could easily jump in our rankings. Until or unless that happens, Earnest gets a "maybe, maybe not" ranking here.
Credible offers comparison shopping for several financial products, ranging from student loans and refinancing to home and personal loans and beyond. Since 2012, more than 1.4 million users have taken advantage of this service.
Prequalify with up to 8 lenders
This is the only platform we evaluated that lets you check out your prequalified rates on loans from more than one institution at a time, though you'll still need to fill out a full application with the lender you choose to get a firm student loan offer. There are eight lenders in Credible's network: Ascent, Citizens Bank, College Ave, Custom Choice, EDvestinU, INvested, MEFA, and Sallie Mae. You'll find several of those discussed in detail in our other evaluations, or you can use Credible's ratings and reviews to learn more.
Easy to use
It's pretty much a no-brainer to use this service to check out your student loan options. Go to the Student Loans tab and choose "Find My Rate" , then indicate if you're a student or a cosigner. You'll be asked for your name, phone number, citizenship, school name, degree type, graduation year, monthly housing payment, and several other details about your financial situation. Finally, it'll tell you if you've prequalified for any loan within their partner network.
Set your preferences, change as needed later
From there, you'll answer questions about your desired repayment terms (e.g. making no payments, $50 monthly payments, or full payments while you're in school). Those just set the loan filters and aren't a commitment to any specific repayment structure. Same goes for choosing a shorter-term or longer-term loan, or variable vs. fixed rates. Once you've set those preferences, you'll see the student loans that match; feel free to tweak any of the settings using the dropdowns at the top of the list.
Clicking continue = filling out the actual application
The next step is where things start to depend on the lender. For example, when we clicked to continue with a College Ave loan, it asked for our Social Security number - and it didn't indicate if that would be a soft or hard credit inquiry. (We suspect the latter, especially since we didn't prequalify when applying for a loan directly from College Ave. See that review for more details.) In contrast, when we selected one of the EDvestinU student loans, the next screen asked about our housing status, employer name, and other details - culminating in asking for our SSN as well. That makes sense - because from that point onward, Credible is helping you apply for a loan with that lender, not just showing you what you prequalified for.
$200 Best Rate Guarantee
Credible is so confident that they can connect you with the best private student loan rate, they're willing to offer you $200 if you find a lower interest rate with any lender that's not in their network. You'll want to read their terms and conditions before you get too excited, but it's definitely worth the time to prequalify with Credible first before you search somewhere else.
Reputation-wise, Credible is solid. They've gotten an "A+" rating and accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, with very few complaints lodged there. We also found over 4200 independently-verified five-star ratings for this provider, though keep in mind that those cover all of Credible's financial products, not just student loans. Most people say that using this service helped them find a great loan with attractive rates and terms.
Worthwhile resource for comparing lenders
In general, Credible is a trustworthy way to see if you prequalify for a student loan from several well-known lenders - without having to enter your information multiple times on different providers' sites. (And it may even help you with tricky ones like College Ave!) As with any referral service, remember that the actual servicing of your loan will depend on the lender you choose: we encourage you to get to know the provider you're considering before signing on the dotted line.
There's something reassuring about getting a student loan from a provider that only does that: no mortgages, personal loans, or other financial products to worry about, just educational funding. You'll get that with College Ave. Headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware, this lender is "A+' rated and accredited by the Better Business Bureau.
Use the Loan Estimator for a general reference
We used the Loan Estimator to get started with College Ave. It gave us a general understanding of how different student loan scenarios would work out, but it wasn't tied to our specific information. To get those details, we had to click on the "let us help you" link where we were asked if we wanted to walk through the steps of prequalification - which doesn't impact credit reporting. What it asks for is basic: type of loan, desired loan amount, name, address and date of birth.
Does anyone actually prequalify here?
We were staggered to be told that we didn't prequalify for the loan on our own and that we should apply with a cosigner "who has good credit" . We tried to prequalify with a credit score over 800 and an excellent credit history and were told we weren't eligible. Reaching out to College Ave's live chat, the rep told us to enter the information of a cosigner with good credit and see if that person would qualify. Even entering the information of another individual with an 800+ credit score and exceptional credit, that person didn't prequalify either. Short of allowing College Ave to run a hard credit check by clicking on "Apply Now" (which, incidentally, would impact our good credit), there was no way to find out what our loan terms would be here. Compared with rival lenders who prequalified us easily, College Ave left us with a lot of unanswered questions. (And, making things even weirder, we did prequalify with College Ave when we went through a referral service.)
Many options available for terms and repayments
However, in general, here's what this lender says you can expect from their student loans. They offer all types of loans, from undergraduate to graduate degree programs, parent loans and so on. You can choose a loan term of 5, 8, 10 or 15 years, either fixed-rate or variable-rate. Finally, the four repayment options are similar to most student loan providers: in-school payments of full principal and interest, interest-only, or $25 flat payments, or deferred payments until you're out of school.
Easy to get approved for subsequent loans
For undergraduate student loans, you only have to be enrolled half-time or more: a nice advantage over lenders who require full-time enrollment. College Ave says that they have "multi-year peace of mind" , with 90% of their undergraduate students approved for further loans after their first year (but keep in mind that the approval rate applies to students who apply with cosigners).
Plenty of praise for this lender...
College Ave gets slightly mixed reviews from borrowers. There were almost 1000 on their site, and over 900 of them gave the lender a 4- or 5-star rating. Students describe the process as quick and easy, and they report that the funds were disbursed to their schools within a few weeks. College Ave's reputation with the Better Business Bureau is solid as well: "A+" and accreditation, with only 30 complaints filed in the three years leading up to our evaluation. That's hard to beat!
...but several concerns as well
On the other hand, we found more than a few students commenting elsewhere (outside of the BBB listing and College Ave's posted reviews) that interest rates here were much higher than average. This lender's advertised rates for both fixed-rate and variable-rate loans are competitive with other lenders (including a 0.25% autopay discount). However, if you look at the fine print at the bottom of the College Ave site, it says the "typical loan terms" for a freshman borrower have interest rates that are much higher than the low end of the advertised ranges. We're not sure who's qualifying for the low end of the rate spectrum, but given that we didn't even prequalify, we'd bet that virtually no students get loans with interest rates that low.
Decent reputation, frustrating process in general
College Ave could be a decent place to get a student loan - if you manage to qualify for one. We're glad to see plenty of positive reviews from happy borrowers, but we still have serious concerns about this lender's application process. It shouldn't take a full application (with hard credit check) to get loan rates for two people with excellent credit, and College Ave was definitely a let-down in that regard. You may want to see what loan options you have with a higher-ranked student loan provider before counting on College Ave.
Funding University, or Funding U for short, believes that all high-achieving college students deserve access to student loans, even if - or especially if - they lack the cosigners or income that most lenders require.
Many states not included
While we love the spirit behind this institution, Funding U is limited in several ways. First, they're not available to residents of all states. At the time of this evaluation, the list of eligible states (which you can find at the bottom of the site) only included 32 out of 50. Fortunately, the six most populous states were in that eligibility list (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois).
Loans limited to undergraduate programs
There's also only one type of loan here: 10-year fixed rate, with discounted rates if you set your loan repayments to be automatic. Funding U reserves their best rates to seniors with "outstanding academic performance" , and your rate will be determined by your school year, GPA, and overall creditworthiness. There are no loans available outside of full-time undergraduate bachelor's degree programs, and you can only borrow from $3,001 to $15,000 per academic year.
2 repayment options
With Funding U, you only have two choices for repayment terms: $20 monthly fixed payments or interest-only payments, both while you're still in school and for up to 51 months. Your regular repayments begin six months after you graduate, and that's when your 10-year loan term actually begins. But, if you want to make extra payments either during or after graduation, prior to your required repayment schedule, you definitely can.
Not much feedback from borrowers
Finally, it's challenging to find borrower perspectives on the experience of getting student loans with Funding U. The company doesn't have a rating from the Better Business Bureau despite being in business for at least six years, and there were no complaints or reviews on their BBB listing. The three student testimonials on the Funding U site are nice, but we'd feel more confident in this lender if we could find several dozen more - particularly independently-verified ones. There's nothing here that screams "red flag!" , though.
Has potential but not suitable for many students
All of this combines to give Funding U a "good enough" rating. We like what they have to offer for undergraduate students who might not qualify for a student loan they can afford, and all of their terms and conditions seem honest and uncomplicated. Funding U will need to expand into more states - and be available for a wider range of students who might not be seeking just a bachelor's degree - before it can move higher in our rankings. However, if you meet their eligibility criteria and can't get the funding you need with another student loan provider, give Funding U a try.
Sallie Mae is all about student loans. Originally, it was a governmental organization that serviced federal education loans, but the Sallie Mae Bank now operates as a standalone funding option strictly for private loans: more than $19 billion in current student loans, to be exact! You can be approved to borrow up to 100% of your school-certified expenses: this can include not just your tuition and fees but also books, housing, meals, travel, even a laptop.
High approval rates for subsequent loans
One reason that many students choose Sallie Mae to fund their education is because of the lender's high approval rate for returning students. According to the lender, 96% of undergraduate students who apply for a loan after their first year of borrowing continue to get funding (when they return with a cosigner). Note that Sallie Mae doesn't specify how much students get from year to year; some students report that their loans got smaller from one school year to the next.
Loans available even with less than half-time enrollment
Sallie Mae doesn't charge origination fees on any student loans, and they keep their interest rates competitive. We invite you to visit their site to get the current rates for your type of loan, but as a point of reference their advertised rates are a little higher than other lenders we reviewed. Also, you can be approved for a loan even if your enrollment is less than half-time; that's a plus over lending institutions that require a full-time commitment to be eligible.
Nice range of repayment options
How about repayments? You'll get a 0.25% discount when you make your repayments via auto debit; that's pretty common among student loan providers. Plus, Sallie Mae has a wide range of repayment options. While you're in school, you can choose from deferred repayments (no payments required while in school or during your grace/separation period), fixed repayments (pay the same amount every month), or interest repayments (just pay interest until you graduate and are out of your grace period). Once you've left school, you can take advantage of Sallie Mae's Graduated Repayment Period that allows you to make interest-only repayments for up to a year, or request deferment, forbearance, rate reduction or term/rate modification if you encounter financial difficulties.
Cosigners eligible for release after 12 consecutive, on-time payments
We appreciate that Sallie Mae allows for loans both with and without cosigners. If you choose one of their student loans and get approved with a cosigner, they can be released after just 12 on-time principal and interest payments. That's a big advantage over lenders who require a total of 24 payments before granting the release. Bear in mind that you'll need to meet certain criteria for approval, such as a credit review of your own history, proof of income, and proof of graduation.
Loans waived upon disability or death of the student
Also, this lender is more compassionate than average when it comes to the death or disability of the borrower. If the student "becomes totally and permanently disabled" or dies, Sallie Mae will waive the current balance on the loan, minus any tuition refunds paid out by the school itself.
Extra perks to help you learn
Finally, at the time of this evaluation, Sallie Mae was offering a promotional benefit of four complimentary months of Chegg Study for all undergraduate and parent loans. This study program lets students get expert answers on up to 20 questions per month.
Customer service is a nightmare
You might think that with so many perks for borrowers, 100% US-based customer service, and an "A+" rating and accreditation from the Better Business Bureau, Sallie Mae would be one of the best choices for taking out student loans. Unfortunately, student feedback on how this lender services their loans continues to be extremely negative. We found hundreds of complaints and unhappy reviews that can be described as troubling at best. One person said that Sallie Mae agreed to put their loan into deferral status, but instead they entered it as a charge off - which dropped the credit scores of the borrower and cosigner by 200 points! This error wasn't taken care of in a timely fashion and impacted the individuals' ability to rent an apartment. Not good at all! Another complaint described how a Sallie Mae representative called all of the members of the borrower's family looking for repayments and then suggested that the parents take out a home equity loan. Even though Sallie Mae responded to every complaint filed at the BBB, it often took a week or longer - and still left the issue unresolved.
There are better options
Obviously, there are lots of college students who use Sallie Mae for their student loans. This platform offers a vast array of loan types, repayment terms, and has some benefits that go above and beyond what you might see with other lenders. However, is it worth it if the servicing is a nightmare? If your credit score is damaged for no apparent reason? We would have to say no. Use Sallie Mae as your lender if you must, but we'd encourage you to check out a few other options for student loans before making the commitment here.
Who is ZuntaFi? Based in the Midwest, this company offers private student loans for undergraduate, graduate and medical school programs, refinancing for Federal and private student loans, as well as consumer loans. They aim to provide honest financial solutions no matter which type of loan you need.
Benefits that are on par with the competition
ZuntaFi offers some benefits on their student loans that are fairly similar to other lenders'. First, there are no loan origination or prepayment fees, and you'll get a 0.25% rate discount when you make automated repayments. Next, if you've applied for a loan with a cosigner, he or she is eligible to be released after 24 months of full, consecutive, on-time payments - as long as you meet the loan requirements yourself at the time that release is requested. Finally, ZuntaFi will release the cosigner and forgive the balance of the loan if the borrower passes away during the lending term.
Not the lender, just the originator/servicer
It's important to note that ZuntaFi isn't the lender for student loans. Your application allows them to match you with a lender for origination, and then ZuntaFi will service that loan once it's been funded.
Extremely limited range of eligible states
Why does that matter? At the time of our evaluation, this company was only originating loans in a handful of states: seven for undergraduate loans, twelve for graduate loans, and seven for medical school loans. Even though the site says to contact ZuntaFi if your state isn't included in the list, don't bother: in our call to the provider, the representative said that they only offer funding in those states (though they hope to have more in the future). She explained that their lenders were restricting loans to just those areas. Sounds like ZuntaFi needs to work on their lending network!
Very few eligible schools
It gets even more disappointing when you try to choose a school in one of the states serviced by ZuntaFi. Massachusetts? Only Harvard is in the list. New York? Just Columbia. Surprisingly, there were 14 schools in the West Virginia list - but think about how many students that covers, compared with all of the schools in New York and Massachusetts that weren't even on the list.
Not many loans to choose from
So, let's say that you're one of the lucky few who go to a school that ZuntaFi covers. You're not going to be blown away by your student loan choices. For example, the only options for Columbia undergrads we found were a 20-year variable loan and a 20-year fixed hybrid loan with rates slightly higher than other lenders. These were designated as iHelp loans, and that's the name that showed up on the caller ID when we dialed the toll-free number for ZuntaFi, but we're still unclear on the relationship between those two brands.
Feedback is hard to find
As you'd expect from a student loan provider with such a limited service area, borrower feedback on ZuntaFi is pretty scarce. The company has an "A+" rating and accreditation from the Better Business Bureau - always a reassuring sign. There were a handful of complaints registered with the BBB, but all of them received a timely, appropriate response from ZuntaFi representatives. But, as with many financial institutions, ZuntaFi has its share of unhappy customers who have complained about mistakes in recording payments, late fees and other penalties. Among the handful of negative reviews, more than one mentioned having a hard time reaching their loan representative. We got through to a ZuntaFi rep right away, but then again we were calling as a prospective borrower and not a current one.
Most students won't get loans here
Most students should look elsewhere for their student loans. ZuntaFi only operates in a few states - and covers an extremely small number of schools within those service areas. Plus, there's nothing so over-the-top amazing with their servicing that would give them an advantage over other student loan providers even for the states and schools they cover. ZuntaFi earns a below-average rating.
Fortunately, there are quite a few providers of student loans that can help you not only figure out those answers but also connect you with the money you need to pay for school. Many of them can even prequalify you for a loan with just your name, address and birthdate, with no impact on your credit report. Rest assured that millions of students (and many of their parents) have successfully navigated this process - and you can too.
Here are several aspects of student loan providers to keep in mind as you decide which ones merit further consideration:
To help you get the funds you need for your education, TopConsumerReviews.com has evaluated and ranked the best options for student loans today. We're confident that this information will make it possible to find the right way to cover the costs of your tuition, books and more!
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