Best graduate student loans of fall 2021

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Federal student loan options for graduate students are limited. Private student loans could help you fill the gap and fund your graduate degree.

Graduate student loans can help you pay for school as you pursue a law degree, medical degree, MBA or higher education in another graduate program. 

While the federal government offers some loans for graduate students — offering lower interest rates and more protections than many private student loans — they’re not always enough. And federal loan options for graduate students are limited.

Credible has evaluated private graduate student loans based on minimum interest rates, fees, customer service and other factors to help identify some student loans for graduates to consider. 

9 best graduate student loan lenders of fall 2021

Eight of the following lenders are Credible partners, and offer loans for graduate students.

Ascent

Loan types offered: MBA, medical, dental, law, general and Ph.D. 

Minimum credit score: 600 

Fees: No application, origination or disbursement fees

Eligibility: Based on the borrower’s credit score, school, program of study, GPA and cost of attendance

Repayment options: Defer nine to 36 months after graduation, depending on program. Interest-only or $25 minimum payments in-school 

Loan amounts: $2,001 to $200,000

Loan terms: Seven, 10, 12, 15 or 20 years

Interest rates: Fixed or variable 

Discounts: 0.25% rate reduction with automatic payments

Cosigner release: After 24 on-time monthly payments

Pros

  • Check rates without a credit score drop. Ascent gives you the opportunity to see what you qualify for without a hard pull on your credit.
  • Many loan terms available. Ascent is flexible with its terms, giving you a lot of control over your monthly payment.
  • No fees. You won’t face origination fees with Ascent.

Cons

  • Must be enrolled at least half-time. Part-time students with fewer courses won’t qualify.
  • Must be enrolled in a degree program. Certificate programs or other coursework won’t make you eligible.
  • International students must have cosigner. Only U.S. citizens or permanent residents are able to apply without a cosigner.

You can learn more about private student loans from Ascent and other lenders through Credible. 

Citizens Bank

Loan types offered: Graduate, Business/Law, Medical/Dental, Bar Study, Medical Residency, Parent

Minimum credit score: 720

Fees: No application, origination or disbursement fees. 

Eligibility: Must not have previously defaulted on a student loan. Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree program. 

Repayment options: Full payments or interest-only payments while in school, or defer payments completely until graduation 

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $350,000. Maximums depend on degree type 

Loan terms: Five, 10 or 15 years, fixed or variable rates

Discounts: 0.25% rate discount with automatic payments. Additional 0.25% rate discount for people with a checking account, auto loan or other product from Citizens Bank at the time they apply 

Cosigner release: After 36 on-time monthly payments

Pros

  • Get approved for multiple years at once. Citizens Bank allows you to apply one time and potentially be approved for a loan for each year until you graduate.
  • Loyalty discount. If you have an account at Citizens Bank already, you can get another quarter-point knocked off your rate.
  • Waives common fees. Citizens Bank does not charge origination fees on its student loans.

Cons

  • No prior defaults. If you’ve previously defaulted on a student loan, you won’t qualify for a new one with Citizens Bank.
  • Long time until cosigner release. At 36 months, it takes a relatively long time to qualify to release a cosigner on your loan.
  • Must be enrolled at least half-time. Students with lighter loads or in other programs won’t qualify.

College Ave

Loan types offered: Graduate, MBA, medical, dental, law 

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: No origination or application fees 

Eligibility: Must be enrolled in a degree program full-time, half-time or less than half-time at an eligible school 

Repayment options: Full payments, interest-only payments or flat $25 payments while in school, or defer payments completely until graduation 

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $150,000, or $300,000 for medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary students 

Loan terms: Five, eight, 10 or 15 years, fixed or variable rates

Discounts: 0.25% rate discount with automatic payments 

Cosigner release: After 24 on-time monthly payments

Pros

  • Quick application. College Ave says its application takes just three minutes, and you get a credit decision immediately.
  • Good for part-time students. Many student loans require you to be enrolled at least half-time, but College Ave allows you to be less than half-time.
  • No fees. You won’t pay origination fees with College Ave.

Cons

  • Relatively low loan limits. You’ll be limited to $150,000 for most programs; other options go up to $300,000.
  • Little information on forbearance. While College Ave offers forbearance for economic hardship, it’s hard to find information on it.
  • Must have Social Security number to apply. International students will need to apply for a Social Security number to be able to qualify.

CustomChoice

Loan types offered: Graduate and undergraduate

Minimum credit score: Does not disclose

Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents (excluding residents of Arizona, Iowa or Wisconsin) enrolled at least half time in a degree-granting program at an eligible school

Repayment options: Immediate repayment, interest-only, flat or full deferment

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $99,999 annually ($180,000 aggregate limit)

Loan terms: Three and five years

Discounts: Autopay discount, principal reduction for graduating with a bachelor’s degree or higher

Cosigner release: Apply after 36 consecutive, on-time principal and interest payments

Pros

  • Small loan amounts available
  • Funds can be used to pay past-due education balances
  • Four different repayment options

Cons

  • If you live in Arizona, Iowa or Wisconsin, you can’t get a loan from CustomChoice
  • Only three loan terms available
  • Not a good choice if you need a high amount

EDvestinU

Loan types offered: Graduate

Minimum credit score: 750 without a cosigner

Fees: No application, origination, disbursement or deferment fees

Eligibility: Must be enrolled at least half-time. Borrower or cosigner must have income of at least $30,000 

Repayment options: Full payments or interest-only payments while in school, or defer payments completely until graduation

Loan amounts: $1,000 to $200,000 

Loan terms: Seven, 10 or 15 years, fixed or variable rates

Discounts: 0.5% rate discount with automatic payments 

Cosigner release: After 36 on-time monthly payments for borrowers with 750 or higher credit score, and $30,000 minimum income  

Pros

  • Non-degree programs applicable. Many private student lenders require you to be in a degree program, but EDvestinU will lend to people in programs that do not grant a degree.
  • Hardship assistance available. You may qualify for deferment or forbearance with economic hardship.
  • Large discount. The 0.5% rate discount for automatic payments is twice the industry standard.

Cons

  • Hard to release cosigner. At 36 months, it takes a relatively long time — and the 750 credit score may be hard to achieve.
  • No special programs for professional schools. Only standard graduate school loans are available.
  • Strict income requirements. Borrowers or cosigners must be making at least $30,000 per year.

INvestEd

Loan types offered: Graduate

Minimum credit score: 670 for borrower or cosigner 

Fees: No origination fee. Late fee of 5% (with a minimum of $5 and maximum of $15). Returned payment fee of $10 

Eligibility: Must be Indiana resident or attending Indiana university 

Repayment options: Full payments or interest-only payments while in school, or defer payments completely until graduation

Loan amounts: $1,001 up to the cost of attendance minus other aid you receive 

Loan terms: Five, 10 or 15 years, fixed or variable rates 

Discounts: 2% principal reduction at graduation. 0.25% rate reduction with automatic payments. 

Cosigner release: After 48 on-time monthly payments if borrower qualifies 

Pros

  • Principal reduction at graduation. INvestEd will take off 2% of the principal of your loan at graduation, an unusual but generous perk.
  • Short and long-term repayment periods available. Terms are as short as five years and as long as 15.
  • No fees. You won’t pay origination fees on INvestEd loans.

Cons

  • Must have Indiana connection. Only Indiana residents or students attending Indiana universities are eligible.
  • Maximum four year in-school period. This means these loans won’t be great for medical school.
  • Long time to release cosigner. At 48 months, this is one of the longer time periods to release a cosigner

MEFA

Loan types offered: Graduate

Minimum credit score: 670

Fees: No application, origination or late payment fees. 

Eligibility: Enrolled at least half-time in a degree program and make academic progress. Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident 

Repayment options: Interest-only payments while in school or defer payments until graduation 

Loan amounts: $1,500 to the cost of attendance (minus any other financial aid received)

Loan terms: 15 years, fixed rate only 

Discounts: None

Cosigner release: After 48 on-time monthly payments

Pros

  • No late payment fees. You won’t pay origination or even late payment fees at MEFA.
  • Flexible borrowing for summer school. You can be enrolled less than half-time over the summer and still qualify for a MEFA loan.
  • Low rates. The maximum rate on a MEFA loan is lower than most lenders’ maximums.

Cons

  • Only fixed rates available. If you’d like a variable rate loan, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
  • No tailored programs available. MEFA only offers standard graduate school loans.
  • No rate discounts. You won’t get a discount for automatic payments as many lenders offer.

Sallie Mae

Loan types offered: Graduate, MBA, medical school, medical residency, dental, dental residency, health professions, law school, bar study 

Minimum credit score: Does not disclose

Fees: No application, origination, or prepayment fees. Late fee of 5% of payment amount, up to $25. Returned check fee up to $20

Eligibility: Must be attending a degree-granting school. Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident unless applying with a cosigner who is 

Repayment options: Interest-only payments or flat $25 payments while in school, or defer payments completely until graduation

Loan amounts: $1,000 to the cost of attendance

Loan terms: 15 years, fixed or variable rates

Discounts: 0.25% with automatic payments

Cosigner release: After 12 on-time monthly payments

Pros

  • Less-than-half-time students are eligible. You don’t need to be a full-time or half-time student to qualify for these loans.
  • Streamlined application after the first year. Sallie Mae offers a “multi-year advantage” program that makes it easier to apply for funding for subsequent school years.
  • Cosigners can be released quickly. At only 12 months, Sallie Mae offers one of the quickest cosigner releases among private lenders.

Cons

  • No prequalification. You’ll need to go through a full application and hard credit pull to see what rates you’ll be offered.
  • Few loan term options. Sallie Mae only offers 15-year terms for most graduate loans.
  • Does not offer full payments while in school. Students who want to start paying their loan back right away may face difficulty.

The following lender is not a Credible partner lender for student loans.

SoFi

Loan types offered: Graduate, undergraduate, parent, professional programs

Minimum credit score: Not disclosed

Fees: None

Eligibility: Enrolled at least half-time in a degree-seeking program at an eligible school

Repayment options: Deferred, interest only, partial or immediate repayment

Loan amounts: $5,000 up to cost of attendance

Loan terms: Five, seven, 10 or 15 years

Discounts: Autopay discount, additional discount if cosigner is a SoFi member

Cosigner release: Apply after 24 months of on-time, full principal and interest payments

Pros

  • Fast online application process
  • Job offer letter may be accepted as proof of income when applying for graduate loan
  • Flexible repayment options

Cons

  • Must have sufficient income from a job or other sources
  • Graduate student loans not available to international students
  • Not good for borrowers who need smaller amounts

Credible makes it easy to compare rates from multiple lenders.

How to comparison shop for graduate student loan lenders

The first thing to consider when shopping for a graduate student loan is whether you qualify for a federal student loan or will need a private loan. Federal loans tend to have lower interest rates and more protections for borrowers, so you’ll want to exhaust those first before turning to the private market. 

If you’re certain you need a private student loan, there are a number of different factors to consider that can vary from lender to lender. You should be able to easily compare these factors between lenders before making your final decision.

  • Interest rate: Lenders may offer you very different interest rates based on your credit score and whether you choose a fixed- or variable-rate loan. Even a small difference in interest rate can make a major difference in how much you pay over the course of your loan.
  • Fees: The best student loan lenders don’t charge origination, application or disbursement fees. You want to avoid fees if possible, so be sure to read your lender’s loan disclosures before committing.
  • Loan terms: You may be able to choose how many years you want to take to repay your loans. For smaller loan amounts, a shorter term may be more attractive to help you save money in interest.
  • Loan maximums and eligible expenses: Lenders may have different maximum loans they offer, which may or may not cover the cost of your program. Also, make sure the lender you choose will allow you to use loan proceeds for all the different kinds of living expenses you’ll incur while in school.
  • Repayment options: You may be able to make full payments while in school, which can be a good way to save money. Or you may want to defer payments until after you graduate. Different lenders may have different grace periods after graduation before you need to start paying.

How to select the best graduate student lender for you

With the number of options available, finding the right lender for your individual situation is extremely important. Here are a few common situations and the types of graduate student loans that might work best.

For all borrowers

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Graduate students may be eligible for loans directly from the U.S. government. Interest rates tend to be significantly lower than many private loans, and you may be able to have your loan forgiven under certain circumstances.

For borrowers with no credit or cosigner

Federal Grad PLUS Loan: Most private lenders require a cosigner if you don’t have good credit. If you don’t have good credit or a cosigner available, the Federal Grad PLUS Loan offers relatively low fixed-interest rates and will let you borrow up to the cost of attendance for your program. If you have major problems with your credit, you may be able to document the circumstances to the government and still qualify for a loan.

For high-balance loans

Many graduate school lenders have maximum loan amounts. Here are two with relatively high limits you might consider if you’re attending a particularly expensive program:

  • Citizens Bank: Up to $350,000 for some programs
  • College Ave: Up to $300,000  for some programs.

Some lenders may not disclose maximum loan amounts. If you’re concerned you may run into an issue, contact the lender before you apply. 

For good credit

Borrowers with the best credit scores usually qualify for the lowest interest rates. These lenders have the lowest minimum interest rates on graduate school loans, according to Credible:

Graduate student loan Frequently Asked Questions

What is the maximum amount I can borrow for graduate student loans?

The maximum amount you can borrow may vary from lender to lender. With federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you can borrow up to $20,500 per year. You could then qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan that will cover up to the “cost of attendance” determined by your school. 

The cost of attendance typically includes: 

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board
  • Living expenses
  • Books and supplies
  • Transportation
  • Loan fees
  • Child care
  • Study abroad
  • Miscellaneous expenses

Many private lenders also use the cost of attendance when determining how much they will lend to you.

How do I apply for a graduate student loan?

If you’re applying for a federal loan, you’ll start by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Your school will use the application to determine what financial aid you qualify for, including Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which tend to be the best option for most borrowers. You’ll need to fill out a separate application for Direct PLUS Loans, should you need them to help fill in the gaps. Both offer online applications.

With private student loans, the lender will have an application for you to complete. 

What is a cosigner release?

Many private lenders require a minimum credit score or other credit history to qualify for a loan. If a student doesn’t meet the requirement, they can bring in a cosigner who does. A cosigner is equally responsible for paying back the loan. 

Some lenders will allow cosigners to be taken off the loan after a period of time, often 24 or 36 months if all payments have been made on time. To release your cosigner you, as the student and primary borrower, will generally need to meet loan qualifications on your own. 

How do I find the best student loan rates for graduate school?

To find the best rates, it’s important to shop around and compare as many lenders as possible. Credible makes this easy — you can compare your prequalified private student loan rates as well as loan terms and fees from multiple lenders in just two minutes. Keep in mind that your credit score will have a major impact on the rates you’re offered. 

Methodology

Credible evaluated private student loan lenders in 10 different categories to determine the best lenders for graduate student loans. This included interest rates, repayment options, terms, fees, discounts, customer service availability, as well as eligibility requirements and cosigner release options.