Editor's choice: Splash Financial Student Loan Refinancing
- Referral bonuses
- Risk-free rate check
- Cosigner release on general refinancing
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Graduate students are eligible for fewer outside scholarships and federal loans than undergraduates. With low rates, and highly flexible repayment options, federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans are generally your best option. But if you’ve reached your limit, private lenders can offer a more competitive deal than a federal PLUS loan — in some cases.
|Loan||Loan amount||Variable APR||Fixed APR||Loan terms||Fees|
|Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan||Up to $20,500 per year with a $138,500 federal loan lifetime limit||None||4.3% interest||10 to 25 years, depending on repayment plan||1.059% fee|
|Federal Direct PLUS loan||Cost of attendance||None||7.08% interest||10 to 25 years, depending on repayment plan||4.236% fee|
|CommonBond Graduate Student Loan||$2,000 to 100% of school-certified costs, with a $500,000 lifetime limit||1.33% to 7.41% with autopay discount||5.4% to 9.74% with autopay discount||5, 10 or 15 years||None|
|College Ave Graduate Student Loan||$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs||1.24% to 10.97% with autopay discount||4.39% to 11.98% with autopay discount||5 years to 15 years||None|
|Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loan||Up to $150,000||1.42% to 11.04% with discounts||4.64% to 11.53% with discounts||5, 10 or 15 years||None|
|Discover Graduate Student Loan||$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs||2.74% to 11.99% with discounts||Variable APRs: 1.24% - 10.99%
Fixed APRs: 4.49% - 12.39% with discounts
|Up to 15 years||None|
|Sallie Mae Graduate School Loan||Up to 100% of school-certified costs||2.25% to 7.96% with autopay||5.5% to 10.23% with autopay||Up to 15 years||None|
Rates accurate as of June 2020
Unfortunately, the most competitive federal loans are only available to undergraduates. But you still have two choices to pick from when you’re in graduate school: a Direct Unsubsidized Loan or Direct PLUS Loan. You can find out how much you’re eligible for by completing the FAFSA as a graduate student.
A Direct Unsubsidized Loan is the least expensive federal option for graduate students, with lower rates and fees than a PLUS Loan. It doesn’t require a credit check, so it could be your only option if you don’t have a history of paying off debt yet.
However, the annual and lifetime limits might not be enough to cover your expenses, especially if you’re in law or medical school. If so, you might want to look into Direct PLUS Loans and private student loans after you’ve maxed out your Direct Unsubsidized funding.
A Direct PLUS Loan could be a good choice for students who’ve already built a credit history and need to take on more debt than the Direct Unsubsidized program allows. However, with higher rates and fees, this option may not be your first choice.
If you have excellent credit and expect to enter a high-paying career after graduation, you might want to compare it with some private student loan providers — several offer lower rates to their most creditworthy customers.
Aside from low fees and fixed rates set by Congress, federal loans offer benefits that private student loan companies simply can’t afford to provide. These include:
Private student loans are designed to pick up the expenses that federal loans can’t. If you’re on a student visa, you aren’t eligible for federal loans at all. This means private student loans are one of your few options — though you’ll likely need a cosigner. You might want to check out our guide to international student financing for more details.
Students who need more money than a Direct Unsubsidized Loan can offer — and don’t qualify for a PLUS Loan — might also benefit from private student loans. And if you have good credit, you may want to compare your private loan options anyway to see if you can get a better deal.
CommonBond offers one graduate student loan for all types of programs. While it has some of the lowest rates out there, it also only has terms up to 15 years. Borrow as much as you need to cover your costs, pause repayments for up to 12 months if you hit hard times and apply for cosigner release after two years of repayments.
Borrowers have a six-month grace period after they graduate or leave school. While you’re in school and during your grace period, you have a choice between four repayment plans:
College Ave also offers a graduate student loan that you can use for any master’s, postgraduate, doctoral or professional degree. There are no origination fees, and you have a choice of terms ranging from five to 15 years. After making 24 on-time repayments in a row, you can apply for cosigner release.
College Ave Graduate Student Loans come with a nine-month grace period after you graduate or leave school. While you’re in school, you have four repayment options:
Citizens Bank offers separate student loans for graduate students, MBA students, law students and students studying to be healthcare professionals. Graduate students are limited to borrowing up to $150,000, but other professions can borrow as much as $350,000, depending on their program.
It’s one of the only lenders that offers multiyear approval, meaning you can secure funding for your entire grad school education with just one application. Plus, if you have an account with Citizens Bank and sign up for autopay, you could save a cool 0.5% off your interest rate.
You have a six-month grace period and three repayment options when it comes to Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loans:
Discover is one of the few lenders that gives discounts to students with good grades. If you have at least a 3.0 GPA during the semester that Discover provides funds, you’ll earn a 1% cashback reward. It’s also one of a handful of private student loan providers with terms that compare with federal loans, making it a more affordable option.
Discover offers borrowers a nine-month grace period after graduating or leaving school before full repayments begin. While you’re in school and during those nine months after, you have three repayment options:
Sallie Mae’s graduate student loans are designed for master’s and doctoral students only. If you’re pursuing another degree, you might want to look into its other financing options for MBA students, law school students, medical professionals and more.
Some of the perks that come with this loan include cosigner release after making one year of on-time repayments, 48 months of deferment during an internship or fellowship and 12 months of interest-only repayments if you hit a financial rough patch.
Borrowers have a six-month grace period after graduating or leaving school before full repayments begin. While you’re in school and during the grace period, you have three repayment options:
A graduate degree can open you up to more career opportunities and higher salaries than you would have had before. And in some cases, these opportunities can outweigh the interest and fees you’ll pay on a student loan.
But that’s not always the case. And student debt can come with hidden costs — like making credit cards, auto loans and mortgages more expensive. Make sure you’ve exhausted your free financing options first before you decide to borrow.
Not sure where to start when comparing graduate student loans? Consider these features in your search for financing.
In most cases, yes. You can defer your federal student loans by filling out the In-school Deferment Request form and submitting it to your servicer. Contact your servicer to learn what the deferment process is like if you have private student loans. If your private lender doesn’t offer in-school deferment, consider refinancing with a lender that does.
If you didn’t take on student debt when you were in college, it’s likely you’ll need a loan if you go back to school. Federal loans are usually more competitive, though you might not want to ignore private student loans if the Direct Unsubsidized Loan isn’t enough.
To learn more about how it all works, read our comprehensive guide to student loans.
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