When outlining your plans for how to pay for college, student loans may be part of the financial picture. According to information published by the Pew Research Center, roughly one-third of adults under age 30 have some student loan debt as higher education costs continue to climb.
If you’ve already qualified for federal student loans and have sourced other forms of financial aid but still need more funding for school, private student loans can help close the gap. When applying for private student loans, your current bank might be the first place you look. But there are some reasons to cast the net wider and compare other borrowing options.
Here’s some helpful information worth knowing about how to choose a student loan lender other than your current bank and why it might make sense to do so.
Pros and Cons of Getting Private Student Loans With Your Current Bank
Applying for private student loans with your current bank may seem like a natural choice. If you already have checking and savings accounts at the bank or other loans, then it is possible you may feel more comfortable borrowing from a financial institution you’re familiar with.
And that can have certain advantages. For example, some banks might offer an interest rate discount or reduction for private student loans if you have another account with the bank that is in good standing. Scheduling your student loan payments may also be easier if you can link your checking account to your loan account and see balances and payments in one place.
On the other hand, there are some benefits to getting private student loans with another bank or private lender. Banks and other lenders that offer private student loans can vary greatly when it comes to things like:
• Minimum and maximum loan amounts
• Interest rates
• Loan fees
• Repayment options
Looking for a private student loan with a different bank or lender could give you more options for a better interest rate, fewer fees, being able to borrow more money, or qualifying for more flexible repayment terms. These are important considerations which can impact student loan repayment.
Choosing a Lender for a Student Loan
Whether you’re borrowing a little or a lot, it’s important to find a bank or lender that matches up with what you need for private student loans. If you’re starting from square one with how to choose a lender for a student loan, these tips could help.
1. Considering Loan Limits
When comparing banks, credit unions, or other private student loan lenders one of the first things to look at is the lending limits at each institution.
Some private student loan lenders impose a minimum loan amount and cap on the total lifetime amount you can borrow to finance your education. Being aware of those thresholds matters for making sure that you can borrow what you need.
Keep in mind, however, that the actual amount you’re able to borrow may be lower than the total loan maximum advertised by the financial institution. The amount you ultimately qualify for (or don’t) can depend on many factors including state laws and your credit history. (More on that and other factors below.)
2. Looking at What’s Needed to Qualify
Every private student loan lender is different when it comes to their minimum qualifications to borrow. While thresholds vary from lender to lender, common criteria reviewed to make lending decisions might include:
• Credit scores and credit history
• Enrollment status
• Citizenship or permanent residency status
Also, be aware that you may not be able to qualify for a new private student loan if you have any existing loans that are in default. In that case, you’d need to bring your old loans current first before you could be approved for a new loan by most lenders.
3. Checking Co-Signer Requirements
Credit scores and credit history can play a big part in private student loan approval decisions. Borrowers with little or no credit history may need a qualifying co-signer to get approved for private student loans. Depending on the bank or lender, a qualifying co-signer could be a:
• Other relative
For those who think they’ll need a co-signer to qualify for private student loans, there are a couple of things to remember.
First, it’s a solid idea to be upfront with the prospective student loan co-signer about the implications of signing off on the loans. As a co-signer, they’re equally responsible for the debt and all loan activity will show up on their credit report the same as it will on a primary borrower’s credit report. So if the borrower pays late or defaults, it could adversely affect both the co-signer and the primary borrower.
Second, you can check to see if the banks, credit unions, or private lenders you’re looking into offer a co-signer release. This allows the co-signer to be removed from the loans once certain conditions have been met. For example, you may be able to get a co-signer release after making a certain number of consecutive on-time monthly payments.
Going forward, then, only the primary borrower’s name would be listed on the loans. Each lender will have different requirements for co-signer release, and some lenders will not offer that option, so understand the policies at each institution before borrowing the loan.
4. Reviewing Repayment Options
Next, look at the different options a bank or lender offers for repaying private student loans. For example, do the loans come with five-year terms? 10 years? 15? Also, consider whether there is an option to make full payments or interest-only payments while in school or whether the lender offers a repayment deferment while enrolled.
Consider whether the lender offers any type of student loan grace period immediately after graduation in which no payments need to be made. And if a deferment or grace period is available, take note of what interest and/or fees accrue on your loan balances during that time.
5. Comparing Interest Rates and Fees
Cost is often one of the most important considerations for how to choose a student loan lender. After reviewing the other details of borrowing narrow the focus down to the interest rates and fees a private student loan lender charges.
Consider whether a bank offers variable rate loans, fixed rate loans, or both. On a variable rate loan, the interest rate is just that—variable. This means it can fluctuate over time, increasing or decreasing, depending on how the underlying benchmark rate moves. With fixed rate loans, the interest rate stays the same for the life of the loan.
Deciding which one to choose may depend on what’s happening with interest rates in general. With interest rates already low, a fixed rate loan option could make sense if you want reassurance that your rates won’t go up over time.
But if rates drop even further, a variable rate loan could allow you to capitalize on that and potentially save money on interest—provided rates don’t go back up again over time!
Other factors to consider when deciding between a fixed and variable rate loan include the length of the repayment term, and whether or not the borrower would be able to cover a higher monthly payment should the variable interest rate increase.
Aside from whether private student loan rates are fixed or variable, take time to compare the rates themselves across different lenders. If a lender offers a range of interest rates, look at how the high end and low end of that range lines up with what other banks or lenders are offering.
Remember, your credit score and history (or the credit score and history of your co-signer, if you need one) can play a big part in determining the rates you qualify for. But looking at how rates stack up overall can help with how to choose a lender for a student loan.
Banks and other lenders typically allow potential borrowers to see what rates they may qualify for. When getting rate quotes, double check that the lender is doing an initial “soft” credit pull. This won’t impact an individual’s credit score1, unlike a “hard” credit inquiry.
After you’ve compared rates, check out the fees a bank or lender charges as well. Some fees to consider include:
• Loan origination fees
• Late payment penalties
• Returned payment fees
The good news is, there are plenty of lenders that don’t charge fees like origination fees for private student loans. These fees could add up, and if there is a fee for paying late or for unforeseen insufficient funds, it can be important to factor those costs in.
6. Asking About Loan Discounts or Other Benefits
Another item on the list of things to consider for how to choose a student loan lender are the “extras” a bank might offer. For instance, it’s not uncommon for lenders to cut you a break on interest when you enroll in automatic payments for your loans.
While the specifics vary by lender, some may offer a reduction of the interest rate when the loan is enrolled in autopay, which can help reduce the cost of interest over the life of the loan. Another consideration may be whether a bank offers things like hardship programs or forbearance options in case there are issues repaying the loan at some point.
Unlike federal student loans, private student loan lenders aren’t required to offer hardship deferment or forbearance programs, but some do. SoFi members, for example, may qualify to pause their payments temporarily through the Unemployment Protection Program.
And finally, look at whether a lender offers anything else that could make help make your life as a student loan borrower easier. That could include an easy-to-use mobile app for managing loans, free online educational resources to help you better understand student loans, or career counseling.
All of those features can add value when choosing a student loan lender that isn’t your primary bank or another lender.
Doing Your Homework Can Pay Off When Choosing a Student Loan Lender
When considering private student loans, it’s important to remember that all banks and lenders aren’t created equally. If you’re willing to spend some time researching loan options, it might become easier to find a lender that’s the best fit for your personal needs and budget.
While we believe exhausting your federal aid options first before taking on private student loans is wise, when looking for private student loans beyond your bank, consider adding SoFi to your list of potential lenders.
SoFi offers no-fee private student loans for undergraduate and graduate school and for parents, too, all with flexible repayment options and competitive interest rates.
1Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.