Best Private Graduate Student Loans

Matt is a Certified Financial Planner® and investment advisor based in Columbia, South Carolina. He writes personal finance and investment advice, and in 2017 he received the SABEW Best in Business Award.

We've fully vetted the most popular student loan providers on the market and put together a shortlist of picks with top grades. You're sure to find an option for your needs, whether it's a low rate, low to no fees, or flexible term options.

Here are The Ascent's pick for the best private graduate student loans:

  • College Ave -- Great for flexible term options
  • SunTrust private student loans -- Great for low rates
  • Credible -- Great for best rate guarantee
Provider Rates & Terms Great For Get Started

College Ave Student Loans

Rates & Terms:

Fixed Rates: 5.29 - 12.78%

Variable Rates: 4.2 - 11.44%

Terms: 5, 8, 10, 15 years

Great For:
  • Graduate and career loans
  • Flexible term options
  • Graduation reward
  • Checking rates won't impact your credit score

Suntrust private student loans

Rates & Terms:

Fixed Rates: 4.551 - 11.3%

Variable Rates: 3.751 - 10.8%

Terms: 7, 10, and 15 years

Great For:
  • Low rates
  • Discounts
  • Graduation reward
  • Get a 2% reduction in your student loan principal when you graduate

Credible Student Loans

Rates & Terms:

Fixed Rates: 4.73 - 12.99%

Variable Rates: 3.87 - 11.99%

Terms: Varies by lender

Great For:
  • Best rate guarantee
  • $0 fees for origination
  • $0 prepayment penalty
  • Checking rates won't impact your credit score
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College Ave private student loans

College Ave offers graduate student loans with no origination fees and will loan up to 100% of the borrower’s total cost of attendance, minus other financial aid. One of the more unique aspects of College Ave’s student loans is that there is no half-time enrollment requirement, which makes them an ideal choice for graduate students who are taking just one course at a time.

A cosigner isn’t required, so creditworthy graduate students can apply on their own, and if you do use a cosigner, they can be released from your loan in as little as 24 months. College Ave has one of the easiest and most user-friendly application processes in the entire industry, and also offers a $150 statement credit once you graduate. With lots of choices when it comes to in-school payment options and term lengths, and some of the lowest APRs in the industry for borrowers with strong credit, College Ave is one of our favorite lenders for graduate students.

  • Fixed Rates: 5.29 - 12.78%
  • Variable Rates: 4.2 - 11.44%
  • Loan amounts: 100% of their school’s cost of attendance.
  • Soft inquiry: Yes
  • Funding: Undergraduate and Graduate
  • Autopay discount: 0.25%
  • Graduation discount: $150 as statement credit
  • Loyalty discount: None
  • Fees: None
  • Deferred interest: None
  • Forbearance: No
  • Cosigner: Yes

SunTrust private student loans

SunTrust’s student loans offer low APRs (for borrowers with strong credit) and also offer a 0.50% interest rate discount for borrowers who autopay their loans from a SunTrust bank account. Borrowers can also get an industry-leading 2% principal reduction upon graduation (1% for business school loans), which can be an extremely valuable benefit. For example, if you borrow a total of $50,000 during graduate school, this translates into $1,000 in loan forgiveness.

  • Fixed Rates: 4.551 - 11.3%
  • Variable Rates: 3.751 - 10.8%
  • Loan amounts: $150,000
  • Soft inquiry: No
  • Funding: Undergraduate and Graduate
  • Autopay discount: 0.25%
  • Graduation discount: 2% reduction in principal when you graduate
  • Loyalty discount: 0.25% discount for auto pay from a SunTrust bank account
  • Fees: $0 origination, $0 prepayment penalty
  • Deferred interest: No
  • Forbearance: No
  • Cosigner: Yes

Credible private student loans

Credible isn’t actually a lender itself but is a platform that partners with other lenders (Citizens Bank, Discover, EDvestinU, and iHELP are just a few examples) to provide as many as eight different student loan offers with a single application. It takes about two minutes to fill out the pre-qualification form, which won’t affect your credit score, and none of Credible’s lending partners charge origination fees.

  • Fixed Rates: 4.73 - 12.99%
  • Variable Rates: 3.87 - 11.99%
  • Loan amounts: Varies by lender
  • Soft inquiry: Yes
  • Funding: Undergraduate and Graduate
  • Autopay discount: Yes, varies by lender
  • Graduation discount: Yes, varies by lender
  • Loyalty discount: Yes, varies by lender
  • Fees: $0 origination, $0 prepayment penalty, $0 service fee
  • Deferred interest: Yes, varies by lender
  • Forbearance: Yes, varies by lender
  • Cosigner: Yes, varies by lender

How we picked the winners

There are several factors we evaluated when it comes to private graduate student loans, and here are some of the most important factors that determined our picks for the best:

Interest rates -- While a private grad student loan’s interest rate isn’t the only factor you should consider, it’s certainly important. After all, other factors being equal, you certainly want to pay as little as possible to borrow money.

Fees -- Some graduate student loans, including those offered by the federal government, charge origination fees, while others don’t. These costs can make a big difference in your overall borrowing expense.

Discounts -- The student loan industry standard is to offer borrowers a 0.25% interest rate discount for auto-paying the bill, so this is what you should expect at a minimum. However, some lenders offer additional discounts for borrowers who have existing relationships, such as by maintaining a checking account.

Repayment flexibility -- Most lenders allow graduate students to defer payment while they’re in school. And while some offer deferment or forbearance options for when borrowers face financial hardships, this isn’t a universal practice.

High borrowing limits -- The main purpose of private graduate student loans is to be able to borrow more than you can through Direct Unsubsidized Loans. So you want to find lenders who will allow you to borrow up to the entire cost of attendance.

Term lengths -- Some lenders offer just one repayment term length, while others give the borrower a choice among a few options. More choice is definitely better.

Soft credit pull -- Some private student lenders will let prospective borrowers check their rates without affecting their credit score, but not all of them do.

Cosigners -- Some private lenders require a cosigner for all student borrowers, while others allow creditworthy graduate students to apply on their own. And most lenders offer a cosigner release provision, but the requirements can vary dramatically between lenders.

Why you can trust me

I’m a Certified Financial Planner® who has published more than 4,500 articles on various personal finance and investment topics, and my work has been syndicated on news outlets such as MSN Money, USA Today, CNN Money, and more. In addition, I’m a student loan borrower myself who has extensive firsthand experience with searching for the best student loans, repayment strategies, and refinancing a student loan.

Can you get federal student loans for graduate school?

Yes, there are federal student loans available for graduate school. While subsidized student loans are unfortunately no longer an option for grad students, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are available with a borrowing limit of $20,500 per academic year.

Not only are these loans available, but they are generally the best choice. Federal Direct student loans have some unique benefits that the private sector simply can’t match. Specifically:

  • These loans qualify for income-based repayment options, which caps your monthly payment at a certain percentage of your discretionary income and forgive any remaining balance after a certain period of time.
  • Direct loans can qualify for loan forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).
  • While private lenders sometimes have forbearance options, none are as flexible as deferment and forbearance options available with Direct Loans.
  • Since they are guaranteed by the government, Direct Unsubsidized Loans have a low fixed interest rate for all borrowers, regardless of credit history. And there’s no need to find a cosigner.

If your financial need is greater than $20,500 per year, the U.S. Department of Education has another program called Direct PLUS Loans, which are available to graduate students. They have slightly higher interest rates and significantly higher origination fees than Direct Unsubsidized Loans, but can be good options for certain grad students, which I’ll get to in a bit.

When you should apply for private graduate student loans

As I mentioned in the last section, Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans should be every graduate student’s first choice when it comes to borrowing money to pay for school.

Private graduate student loans are designed for graduate students who have maxed out their $20,500 annual borrowing capacity and still have a financial need. Most private student lenders will allow you to borrow the entire cost of attendance minus your other financial aid -- for example, if your school has determined its cost of attendance is $40,000 per year and you max out your Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you could borrow as much as $19,500 through a private lender.

The point is that you should apply for a private student loan (or several) if you’ve maxed out your Direct Unsubsidized Loan borrowing ability and still need more money to go to school.

What is a PLUS Loan for graduate students?

I briefly mentioned PLUS Loans in a previous section, and it’s worth discussing them in more depth. Direct PLUS Loans are a type of federal student loan designed for borrowers who have financial need above and beyond the Direct Unsubsidized or Subsidized Loan borrowing limits. PLUS Loans can be made to parents of dependent students (known as Parent PLUS Loans) or directly to graduate students (known as Grad PLUS Loans).

With a Grad PLUS Loan, the borrowing limit is capped at the student’s entire cost of attendance (as determined by the school) minus any other financial aid received. For example, if a school’s published cost of attendance is $30,000 per year and a student receives $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, their remaining cost of attendance is $9,500, so this would be the maximum they (or a parent) could borrow as a PLUS Loan.

Grad PLUS Loans don’t require as thorough of a credit check as private lenders, only requiring that borrowers don’t have an adverse credit history. Also, unlike private graduate student loans, every PLUS Loan borrower gets the same fixed interest rate, which is set at 7.6% for the 2018-19 school year. In addition, there is a loan fee, equal to 4.248% of the loan amount, which is deducted before the loan is disbursed to the school. To be clear, this is a high origination fee, and in my opinion is the key downside to Grad PLUS Loans.

On the positive side, Grad PLUS Loans enjoy many of the same benefits of other federal student loans, such as eligibility for income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

How to apply for graduate student loans

You can apply for Grad PLUS Loans through the Department of Education’s website, and you can apply for private student loans directly through each lender’s website. Generally speaking, each lender’s application will take you no more than 10-15 minutes.

How to choose the right graduate student loans

There is no such thing as a perfect graduate student loan for everyone, and if there is, I certainly haven’t heard about it. So when choosing the right graduate student loans to finance your degree beyond what you can borrow through Direct Unsubsidized Loans, it’s important to consider the features that matter most to you.

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