Best Private Student Loans of 2021

Whether your college plans involve heading to campus or logging on for online learning, one thing is certain: You will need a way to pay. Although federal student loans are often the most affordable way to borrow, they may not be enough to cover all of your college costs. Private student loans, as well as grants and work-study programs, can cover the gap between what you need and how much you can afford to pay toward your college expenses.

But be cautious about borrowing too much. “With so much uncertainty regarding college campuses and fall class schedules, planning for expenses is not an easy task,” says Bruce McClary, vice president of marketing for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and U.S. News contributor.

Find the Best Student Loans for You

Best for fair credit


Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to current college and graduate students and student loan refinancing to graduates. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.

Best for customer service

Education Loan Finance

Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan refinancing program offered by SouthEast Bank. Options are available in all 50 states and Puerto Rico to refinance private and federal student loans, including undergraduate, graduate, parent and MBA loans, as well as loans for law, dental and medical school. ELFI also offers private loans for students at eligible institutions.

Best for instant approval

College Ave

College Ave Student Loans offers student loans to borrowers in all 50 states. Undergraduate, graduate and parent loans are available. The lender specializes in simple applications with an instant decision.

Best for product availability

Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and specialty degrees. The company started in 1972 as a government entity that serviced federal student loans. It went private in 2004 and has served nearly half a million students and families with its range of student loan products. Beyond student loans, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products to help families plan and pay for college, and credit cards with incentives for using cash back rewards to pay back student loans.

Best for no fees


Discover Bank has been operating for more than 100 years, and since 2010, it has offered private student loans to students attending more than 2,400 colleges and universities. Loans of up to 100% of education costs with fixed or variable rates are available.

Best for flexible loan terms


U-fi from Nelnet offers private student loans and refinancing loans to borrowers in all U.S. states except Vermont. Undergraduate, graduate and refinancing loans are available. The lender specializes in offering flexible repayment options.

Best for graduate health care program loans.

Laurel Road

Laurel Road, which became part of KeyBank in 2019, offers graduate student loans and refinancing on a variety of student loans.

Best for minimal fees


LendKey is a student loan lending platform that connects credit unions and community banks with online borrowers. Founded in 2009, LendKey has served more than 99,000 borrowers with more than $3.1 billion in loans from partner lenders. Undergraduate and graduate student loans are available, as well as student loan refinancing.

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