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As the costs of higher education rise, so does the need for student loans. While some individuals are eligible for federal loans, those loans don't always cover the full cost of getting an education - not just tuition and room/board, but books, laptops, transportation and other expenses. And, people who are ineligible for federal loans don't necessarily have overflowing savings accounts to match their college or university costs.
Private student loans are the way that many students close that gap. On average, students have nearly $40,000 in student loan debt at the time of graduation; without those funds, their aspirations of being a teacher, engineer, or social worker may have been put on hold indefinitely.
Sunday, September 19th
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 (e.g. 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.
As a partner of University Account Service (UAS), College Ave Student Loans provides funding for students starting at $2,000 up to 100% of educational costs verified by a college or university. At the time of our review, College Ave maintained an "A" rating as an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau, evidence of their commitment to integrity and quality of service in the student loans industry.
Student loan qualification
In order to be eligible for a College Ave student loan, you'll need to meet the following criteria:
Customize the terms
One unique feature of College Ave student loans is the ability to customize, or "configure", the terms of the loan to meet your specifications. By clicking on the yellow box that says "Configure It Out", you'll be taken to a page that allows you to enter your basic information, from the approximate amount of money you'd like to borrow to your preferences for making payments while still in school or deferring until after graduation. Your results page will show you an approximation of the loan terms for which you might qualify, and you can use the sliders on that results page to change any of the assumptions that were made while calculating the details of your prospective loan.
Competitive student loan rates
We found that College Ave has interest rates that are extremely competitive, with a variety of repayment options that make it easy to stick to a budget. Also, if you sign up to have your payments automatically deducted from your bank account, you'll receive a 0.25% discount on your interest rate. Unlike some of their competitors, College Ave does not punish borrowers or cosigners in the event of permanent disability or death of the student: they forgive all loans 100% when the student borrower dies or suffers a permanent disability.
Also, College Ave allows cosigners to be released from the loan after 24 consecutive on-time payments. This is a fairly standard timeframe among providers of student loans, although some lenders require four to five years of on-time payments prior to releasing the cosigner.
The only caveats to consider when looking at getting a student loan with College Ave are their short time in operation - their first loans were funded in December 2014 - and the fact that College Ave was founded by two former executives from Sallie Mae, one of the lowest-ranked student loans providers in our review. As College Ave continues to prove itself as a strong contender in the student loans market, however, we wouldn't be surprised to see their rating increase. They are worth your consideration for a student loan.
If you like the thought of having your student loan financed by a community bank rather than a big-name financial institution, you'll want to check out what iHelp has to offer. Since 2010, they've managed more than $600 million in private student loans as a subsidiary of the Student Loan Finance Corp. (which maintained an A+ rating as an accredited business with the Better Business Bureau at the time of our review).
It's important to note that iHelp has a single student loan product: a variable-rate Private Student Loan with a 20-year repayment term, so if you feel more comfortable with fixed-rate products and/or shorter terms, you will want to choose another lender. On the other hand, if current market interest rates leave you feeling like a variable-rate loan is a good thing (as it often is), here's what iHelp requires for eligibility:
Your loan must be a minimum of $1,000 ($3,000 in Georgia) and can be a maximum of $100,000 for undergraduate studies and $150,000 for graduate programs.
Student loan interest rates
Your interest rate will be based in the LIBOR, the interest rate London banks charge each other for loans, which is a common benchmark used for bank rates around the world. At the time we looked at iHelp, their interest rates were as follows:
Interest rate reduction
Unlike the majority of the lenders we considered, iHelp does not offer a rate discount for making automatic payments to the account. On the other hand, for borrowers who qualify only for the highest interest rate, you may be eligible for a reduction of 0.30% after you have made your first 24 payments on time. We also like that cosigners can be released after those same 24 on-time payments, regardless of the interest rate on the loan.
Loan repayment options
iHelp also has a great range of possibilities for loan repayments. If you're attending school at least half-time, you can opt to make interest-only payments, no payments at all until you graduate or attend less than half-time; or making principal and interest payments as normal. Or, after your loan enters the repayment period; you can also choose principal and interest; interest-only for 24 months, or graduated repayment, which starts with interest-only repayments and moves up gradually until you're making the full principal plus interest payment amount.
Generous deferment options
iHelp also has one of the most generous deferment and forbearance options we've found. Like most lenders, you can defer repayments as long as you're enrolled half-time or more at an eligible school. But, what happens if you have a temporary financial difficulty, military service, or a natural disaster? iHelp will work with you to forbear your payments for up to 24 months, or to make partial payments, if you can demonstrate the need.
Overall, if you're comfortable with the relative uncertainty of a variable-rate loan and like the idea of borrowing from a community bank, iHelp is an excellent option for your student loan.
LendingTree is a great place to start if you want to get a feel for the range of possibilities for a student loan. Although they do not fund student loans directly, LendingTree can help you sort through all of your options before making a decision.
Student loan center
One of LendingTree's best resources is their Student Loan Center. There, you'll find numerous articles on the topic, from whether or not you should pay off loans early to what cosigners need to know before signing on the dotted line. Be sure to check out the Glossary Terms on the right-hand side of the page, to help you understand any concepts that might be unfamiliar to you as you begin the process. There's also a FAQ section that allows you to enter any remaining questions you have.
Multiple lender responses
We found two primary ways to see what LendingTree has to offer. On their main student loans page, you can enter your school name and the amount you wish to borrow. That information returns a general overview of the programs you can choose from and an approximate total cost and number of payments. We entered a college in Michigan and a loan amount of $20,000 and got offers from four different lenders, with a mixture of fixed and variable rates, and APRs ranging from 2.37% to 5.74%.
On the other hand, if you're willing to provide more personally-identifiable information, such as your address and your phone number, LendingTree will use those details to give you a more customized list of lenders and offers; that path came up as both a landing page and on their Offers site.
Good place to shop
We give LendingTree high marks for helping students understand the student loan market and for providing a marketplace where they can shop around for the best terms and rates.
If you think "credit cards" when you hear the name Discover, you'd be right - but they are also one of the nation's largest lenders when it comes to private student loans. Whether you're studying as an undergraduate, heading to graduate school, or need a loan to cover your residency, MBA, or period of study for the bar exam, Discover has a student loan for you.
Undergraduate loan eligibility terms
While eligibility terms depend on the loan you're seeking, here's what you need for a Discover Undergraduate Loan:
You can borrow up to 100% of the cost of attendance at your school, including books, housing, tuition and more; the amount will be certified by your school, ensuring that you don't borrow more than you'll actually need.
It's also no surprise that Discover has rewards that will remind you of their Cashback Bonuses offered with their credit cards. Like many lenders, Discover will give you a .025% interest rate reduction if you enroll in automatic payments during your repayment term. Also, if you get a minimum GPA of 3.0, you can qualify for a one-time cash reward of 1% of your total disbursed loan principal amount. Depending on the size of your loan, that could cover quite a few textbooks!
Low monthly payments
Other benefits of student loans through Discover are low monthly payments ($25/month) if you choose an in-school repayment option, deferment periods if you're on active military duty or serving in a public service organization or medical residency, and an assistant department if you're having financial difficulties that are impacting your ability to repay your student loans.
Loan servicing issues (in the past)
Although Discover Student Loans' perks are attractive, it's important to be aware of their history in the student loans market. Back in 2015, Discover Bank was ordered to pay a fine of $2.5 million dollars to a penalty fund established by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with returning $16 million to over 100,000 borrowers. The reasons for the fine included illegal debt collection tactics, such as early-morning and late-night calls to borrowers, illegal servicing practices, and other issues. While it appears that Discover has cleaned up its act in the meanwhile, we can't ignore that their loan servicing has had significant issues in the past.
Overall, Discover Student Loans offer significant discounts and cash bonuses to borrowers with competitive terms and rates on their student loans. We give them a good rating that could easily improve as Discover continues to show improvement in honesty and ethics when servicing student loans.
You may be familiar with SallieMae already when it comes to student loans. Until several years ago, they were responsible for the administration of federal student loans as well as private ones; however, they have since split off into a lender strictly for private student funding, in addition to other consumer products such as banking and credit cards.
As you might expect from a website that used to be a government program, SallieMae is not flashy or interesting to look at: just a basic site for getting a student loan, known as the Smart Option program.
Borrow up to 100% of college costs
Like most private student loan programs, you'll be able to apply with no application fee and no origination fees. Also, SallieMae is one of the few lenders we reviewed that allows you to borrow up to 100% of your school-certified cost of attendance, with no arbitrary caps or other limits.
To qualify for a SallieMae Smart Option student loan, you'll need to meet these criteria:
3 repayment options
If you choose a SallieMae Smart Option student loan, you'll have three primary repayment options:
You can get additional savings of 0.25% on your interest rate if you choose to make automatically-debited payments while still enrolled in school.
Graduated repayment period
And, for new graduates, you have the option of requesting a "Graduated Repayment Period". This means that if your loan is in good standing and you've graduated, you can request to make 12 interest-only payments, helping you ease into you full payment amount for up to a year after you've graduated (and hopefully gotten a job!).
Other student loan products
SallieMae has several other student loan products that may be applicable to your situation: Career Training Smart Option, Medical/Dental Residency and Relocation Loan, and Bar Study Loan. We recommend you visit the website if your loan falls into those categories.
Another advantage of SallieMae's program is the possibility of cosigner release after 12 on-time principal and interest payments. This is an improvement over some of their competitors, who require as many as four years of on-time payments before being eligible for a cosigner release. There may also be options for deferment and forbearance - we found several references to those possibilities on other sites, but SallieMae does not make it easy to find the fine print on their own website.
Loan servicing issues
Despite competitive interest rates and some advantages over other student loan providers, SallieMae appears to come up very short when it comes to servicing borrowers' needs after the loan has been approved. We found a significant number of customers who said that they regretted the day they applied for a SallieMae loan, had payments applied incorrectly or not at all, or were sent to collections despite making regular on-time payments. Other reviews said that the representatives treated them rudely, going so far as to call them names or make condescending comments regarding ways in which the borrowers could get the money needed to make their next payment. This is unprofessional at best.
So, while we can't overlook some of the advantages SallieMae has over other student loan companies, we are concerned over the way they handle customer service after the loan has been approved.
Wells Fargo is a well-established name in the financial industry, from checking accounts to mortgages and investments. They offer a variety of student loans, including Wells Fargo Collegiate and Wells Fargo Graduate programs.
Student loan criteria
In order to be eligible for a Wells Fargo student loan, you must meet the following criteria:
Check current rates
Before starting an application, we recommend that you click on the green "Check Rates" arrow in the middle of the main student loans page. You'll enter your school's information (state and name), along with your field of study. You'll then be taken to a page that will show you all of the current interest rate ranges for your loan, whether that's a fixed-rate loan for graduate school or a variable-rate loan for your four-year degree.
During the actual application process, you'll need to provide your school's information, your Social Security number, your permanent (home) address, employment and income information for you (and your cosigner, if you have one), the costs of attendance, and, finally, the amount of financial assistance you expect to receive from any source.
Interest rate reductions
Wells Fargo offers several ways to reduce your interest rates. First, if you set up your monthly payments to be automatically withdrawn (known as ACH), you may qualify for a discount of 0.25% off your interest rate. Also, they offer three "relationship interest rate discounts" if you or your cosigner have an established history with Wells Fargo before you complete the loan process: 0.25% discount if you have a prior federal or private student loan through Wells Fargo, 0.25% discount if you have a qualifying consumer checking account with Wells Fargo, or a 0.50% discount for a Wells Fargo PMA Package (a combination of a specific number and type of accounts, including Premier Checking, investments, and so on). Finally, if you have newly-established (or poor) credit, having a cosigner with good credit can both help you qualify for a student loan and get a lower interest rate.
Wells Fargo also saves you money with no application or origination fees, and no prepayment penalties if you pay off your loan early.
No repayments for 6 months
With Wells Fargo student loans, you will not be required to make any repayments until 6 months after you graduate or leave school. Be aware that there's a maximum in-school period: you have four years from your first loan disbursement if you attended a 2-year school, five years if your loan covers graduate school, and seven years from your first disbursement if you attended a 4-year school. In other words, Wells Fargo doesn't penalize you for being on "the 5-year-plan" (taking longer than the traditional 2- or 4-year period expected with an Associate or Bachelor degree), but you can't claim to still be in school for an unlimited period of time without beginning the process of repayment.
Unfortunately, we found hundreds of reviews from students with loans through Wells Fargo that expressed deep dissatisfaction with the service they received once the loan was disbursed. Some of the problems we frequently found were errors on Wells Fargo's side that cost borrowers money and hurt their credit score, unhelpful representatives, and lack of flexibility when the unexpected occurs (such as death or disability interfering with borrowers' ability to repay). Across multiple websites, it was difficult to find reviews from students who were happy with the service they received from Wells Fargo over the course of their student loans, even when those individuals had been paying their loans faithfully over several years.
While Wells Fargo has the advantage of being a major player in the financial industry, it seems that they don't apply that experience and skill to their servicing of student loans. You may be more satisfied with the service you receive from another lender in our review.
Fortunately, there are many lenders who want to make it as affordable and simple as possible to complete undergraduate and graduate-level studies. Some represent well-known, established financial institutions, while others work directly with networks of community banks to get much-needed cash into the hands of eager learners.
Comparing offers from lenders can be as easy as going online; in a matter of minutes and mouse clicks, you can see a variety of interest rates, repayment terms, and other details of each program for which you are eligible. This saves you significant time compared with going hat in hand to your local bank or other lending institution, hoping that they will say yes to your loan application.
When deciding on which lender to use for your student loan, you should consider the following factors:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best Student Loan providers available today. We hope this information helps you to get the money you need for your studies right away!
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