When looking for an undergraduate student loan, it’s important to pay attention to interest rates, loan terms, and lender perks that can improve your borrower experience. With those factors in mind, the Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA) stands apart as the best overall lender. Despite its name, residents from any state can qualify for a RISLA loan. However, applicants who live, work, or attend college in Rhode Island may be able to get a lower interest rate than other borrowers.
Unlike some other lenders, RISLA only offers fixed-rate loans. However, the fixed rate loans have fairly low interest rates. As of Jan. 10, 2020, the interest rate on a loan with Student Immediate Repay is 3.64%, while a Student Deferred Repay loan has a rate of 5.64% (both of these rates include an autopay discount).
As an undergraduate borrower, you have two main repayment options:
- Student Immediate Repay: With this option, you begin making payments 15 days after the final loan disbursement. You’ll repay the loan over 120 months, and you’ll get the lowest possible interest rate.
- Student Deferred Repay: If you opt for Student Deferred Repay, you’ll get a higher interest rate. However, you won’t have to start making payments until six months after you leave school. You’ll have 180 months to repay your loan.
While RISLA offers low interest rates and different repayment plans, what really set the lender apart are the benefits it offers to borrowers:
- Income-Based Repayment: If you’re facing a financial hardship and can’t afford your payments, you may qualify for RISLA’s Income-Based Repayment Plan. With this approach, your repayment term is extended to up to 25 years, and your payments are based on your income and family size.
- Loan Forgiveness for Interns: Students who complete an eligible internship can receive up to $2,000 in student loan forgiveness.
- Autopay Discount: Sign up for automatic payments and receive a 0.25% discount on your interest rate.
- Nursing Reward Program: If you are a resident of Rhode Island or attended a university based in the state and are a licensed registered nurse, you can qualify for a 0% interest rate for 48 months, helping you save money.
- Forbearance: In some cases, you may be able to temporarily postpone your payments if dealing with financial issues.
Best Student Loan Interest Rate: Discover Student Loans
When applying for a private student loan, you can often choose between fixed and variable-rate loans. Fixed-rate loans have the same interest rate for the entire repayment term. By contrast, variable-rate loans often start off quite low. But over time, the interest rate can fluctuate along with market conditions. If you’re looking for the lowest possible interest rate, Discover has the lowest rate on variable loans; with rates ranging from 2.80% to 11.37% (both of these rates include an interest-only repayment discount and autopay discount). If you’d prefer a fixed-rate loan, consider RISLA, which offers loans with rates as low as 3.64%.
Best Student Loan Consolidation: Citizens Bank
Private student loan consolidation, also known as student loan refinancing, can be a smart way to reduce your interest rate and save money. If you want to refinance your debt, Citizens Bank is the top lender.
What makes it our choice? There are a few different factors that influenced our decision:
- Low Interest Rates: Variable rates range from 2.29% to 9.02%, while fixed rates range from 3.45% to 9.02% (both of these rates include Citizens Bank’s 0.25% Automatic Payment discount and a 0.25% Loyalty discount).
- Repayment Terms: You can choose a repayment term of five, seven, 10, 15, or 20 years so you find a repayment term that works for you and your budget.
- Cosigner releases: After making 36 consecutive, on-time payments, a borrower can request a cosigner release, removing the cosigner from the loan.
- Eligibility: Most refinancing lenders require you to have graduated from college to qualify for a loan. Citizens Bank is one of the few that does not. If you have an associate’s degree or no degree at all, you can be eligible for a loan if you make at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school.
Best Parent Student Loan: College Ave
As a parent, you want what’s best for your child. And that may mean helping them pay for their education by taking out a parent student loan. College Ave offers 11 different repayment terms for parent student loans, ranging from five to 15 years in length. That flexibility allows you to choose a loan term that works for your budget. College Ave allows parents to borrow between $1,000 and the total cost of attendance. As an added perk, the lender allows you to get up to $2,500 of the loan delivered directly to you, so you can manage purchasing books, dorm supplies, or a new computer for your child.
The lender also has low interest rates, with variable rates as low as 2.72% to 10.88%, and fixed rates as low as 4.64% to 12.01% (both rates include an autopay discount).10 College Ave has three different repayment plans, so you can decide which is best for you:
- Interest-Only Payment: While your child is in school, pay only the interest charges each month.
- Interest Plus Payment: Pay the monthly interest charges and whatever extra money you decide each month while your child is in school.
- Full Principal and Interest Payment: Start repaying the full payment—including the principal and interest—after the loan is disbursed.
Best Student Loan Company: Rhode Island Student Loan Authority
Unlike most lenders, RISLA is a nonprofit organization. As such, it’s able to offer low interest rates and extra benefits that most other lenders can’t match. Applicants can borrow $1,500 to $45,000 per year to pay for their undergraduate degrees. There are no application, origination, or prepayment penalties. Beyond its loans, RISLA provides families with information on how to find financial aid, including federal loans, grants, and scholarships. It also has programs that reward students for completing internships, helping them prepare for careers after graduation. In addition, RISLA has an outstanding reputation. It has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, and an “excellent” ranking with over 1,800 reviews on TrustPilot.
Best for International Students: SunTrust
Unfortunately, international students often struggle to find private student loans to pay for school. Of the lenders that will work with international students, SunTrust has the most competitive option. SunTrust’s Union Federal Private Student Loan available to international students as long as you have a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You can borrow $1,001 to $65,000 per year, with an aggregate limit of $150,000.
With the Union Federal Private Student Loan, variable interest rates range from 3.124% to 12.125% and fixed rates range from 4.299% to 13%. With Suntrust’s rate discounts, you could reduce your rate by up to 0.75%—0.50% with autopay discounts (0.25% for autopay and an additional 0.25% if you autopay from a SunTrust account) and 0.25% with the on-time payment discount. While international students will need a cosigner to qualify for the loan, SunTrust does offer cosigner releases. After making 36 on-time qualifying payments, you can apply to have the cosigner removed from the loan.
Choosing the Best Student Loan for You
When it comes to paying for college, it makes sense to start with federal student loans. They tend to offer lower interest rates and more generous repayment terms than private student loans, making them a more affordable option.
However, federal loans aren’t always enough to cover the full cost of your education, especially if the cost of housing is factored in. If that’s the case for you, private student loans can play an important role in helping you complete your degree. If you decide that a private loan is right for you, research different lenders to find the best loan for you.
Research for this article encompassed private student loan lenders of undergraduate private student loans (as well as companies that refinance student loans) narrowed down from national banks, credit unions, and lenders. The criteria for measuring each lender included all available APR ranges for these loans, fees charged, repayment plans and hardship options offered, and the inclusion of additional features such as cosigner release, the availability of a parent loan, and the ability to refinance.
Ultimately, the “best of” awarded the highest status to the lenders that are available nationwide that offered the lowest fixed APRs, the most comprehensive hardship programs, and the lowest number of fees.