Understanding the Dos and Don'ts of Private Student Loans
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As reported by Aly Yale for CBS News, the advent of a new school year brings a rush for students to arrange financial aid for their college education. Although scholarships and grants are favored, they’re often insufficient, pushing students towards private student loans. Experts urge these borrowers to carefully consider their options and understand the implications before signing on the dotted line.

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Key Takeaways:

  • The type of interest rate can significantly impact the cost of your loan.
  • The requirement of a co-signer depends on factors such as your credit score.
  • Be vigilant about additional fees charged by lenders.
  • Understanding the various repayment options can save you money in the long term.
  • Look out for potential red flags when choosing a lender.

Interest Rates: Fixed vs Variable

Interest rates play a vital role in determining the long-term cost of a loan. Nate Hoskin, founder and lead advisor at Hoskin Capital, advises students to understand whether their interest rate is fixed or variable. A fixed interest rate means that the rate and payments stay the same throughout the loan’s lifetime. On the other hand, variable rates adjust regularly and can increase or decrease, affecting the monthly payment amount and potentially the total cost of the loan.

Many private loan providers require a co-signer, particularly for applicants with low or no credit history. A co-signer is a legally responsible adult who agrees to make loan payments if the student fails to do so. Not having a willing co-signer can hinder, as Derek Brainard, national director of financial education at AccessLex Center for Education and Financial Capability, points out. Lenders might still offer loans without a co-signer, but the interest rate is usually higher to offset the perceived risk.

The Hidden Costs: Additional Fees

Beyond the interest rates, lenders often impose various fees. These could include application fees, origination fees, and even penalties for late payments. Kristin Balazentis, senior vice president of student lending at PNC Bank, emphasizes the need for students to read the fine print and understand all potential fees. Future charges, such as forbearance fees, deferment fees, or charges for refinancing the loan, could significantly add to the loan’s cost over time.

Understanding Repayment Options

Repayment options for private student loans can vary widely. Some lenders might require students to start making payments while still in school, while others may offer a grace period, deferring payments until after graduation. Additionally, the repayment term’s length can range from a few years to as long as 25 years.

Balazentis recommends thoroughly understanding these options as they impact the total amount repaid over the course of the loan. It’s also wise to consider hardship repayment options, such as forbearance or deferment, allowing payment pauses during financial struggles.

Potential Discounts: A Silver Lining

Lenders may offer discounts or rate reductions for various reasons, such as setting up autopay, graduating on time, or opening an account with the lender. Even a small rate discount could significantly reduce the monthly payment and the total loan cost over time. Balazentis urges students to explore and compare these opportunities when choosing a loan.

Spotting Red Flags

While seeking a private student loan, students should be wary of unresponsive customer service, aggressive selling tactics, lack of transparency, and excessive fees. Checking for negative reviews, ratings, and complaints with the Better Business Bureau can provide useful insights into the lender’s credibility and track record.

Balazentis advises, “It’s best to avoid lenders or loans without transparent terms and conditions, those charging excessive fees, or those pressuring the prospective borrower to sign quickly.”

Consider Federal Student Loans First

Before turning to private loans, experts suggest students exhaust federal student loans first. These loans typically offer lower interest rates, more favorable terms, and additional benefits such as loan forgiveness and income-based repayment options. Private student loans should only be considered once all federal options have been utilized.


1. What is the difference between federal and private student loans?

The U.S. government funds federal student loans and usually offer lower interest rates, more favorable repayment terms, and additional benefits like loan forgiveness. Private student loans are issued by private lenders, like banks or credit unions, and their terms, interest rates, and repayment plans can vary widely.

2. Can I apply for a private student loan without a co-signer?

Yes, it’s possible, but it might be difficult, especially if you have a low credit score or no credit history. Many private student loan lenders require a co-signer to reduce their risk. Lenders might still offer you a loan if you don’t have a co-signer, but often at a higher interest rate.

3. How do I choose between a fixed and variable interest rate?

A fixed interest rate remains the same throughout the life of the loan, making your payments predictable. Variable interest rates, on the other hand, can change over time, meaning your payments may increase or decrease. Choosing between the two depends on your financial situation, loan term, and comfort level with potential rate changes.

4. What are the typical fees associated with private student loans?

Private student loan lenders can charge various fees, including origination fees, application fees, late payment fees, payment return fees, forbearance fees, deferment fees, and fees for later refinancing the loan. Always read the fine print to understand the total cost of your loan.

5. What repayment options are available for private student loans?

Repayment options can vary significantly by lender. Some may require you to start making payments while still in school. In contrast, others offer a grace period and allow you to defer payments until after graduation. The repayment term can also range from a few years to up to 25 years.

6. What should I consider when choosing a private student loan lender?

Look for a lender with good customer service, transparent terms and conditions, and reasonable fees. Avoid lenders with aggressive selling tactics, poor customer service, or a bad reputation. Always check the lender’s ratings and reviews before making a decision.

7. Are there any discounts available on private student loans?

Yes, some lenders offer discounts or rate reductions for actions like setting up autopay, making on-time payments, opening an account with the lender, or graduating on time. Always inquire about potential discounts when comparing lenders.

Related stories:

Record £4.8bn Interest on UK Student Loans Adds to Soaring Debt Crisis

Students’ Opinions on the The Wealth Disparity in Universities

A Student Distresses Over Looming Monthly Student Loan Payment

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