Graduate student loans in 2018 | finder.com
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Graduate student loans

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Compare federal and private student loan options to pay for higher education.

Even if you didn’t need a student loan for your undergraduate degree, getting a master’s or professional degree might be another story. Around 80% of student debt is from graduate degrees, according to a College Board study. As a graduate student, your options aren’t exactly the same as they were when you were an undergrad — you might need to look beyond the Department of Education for funding.

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  • Must be enrolled at least half-time in a US higher education program and have a co-signer if you're younger than 18.

    Federal loans for graduate students

    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.

    Direct Unsubsidized LoanDirect PLUS Loan
    Annual limit$20,500Cost of attendance
    Lifetime limit$138,500Cost of attendance
    Interest rate6.6%7.6%
    Fees1.062%4.248%

    Direct Unsubsidized Loan

    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 school 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.

    Direct PLUS Loan

    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.

    Why apply for a federal loan first?

    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:

    • More flexible repayment plans
    • Multiple deferment options
    • Access to more forgiveness programs
    • No need for a cosigner

    How federal student loans work

      Private loans for graduate students

      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.

      LenderLoan amountVariable APRFixed APRLoan termsFees
      CommonBond Graduate Student LoanUp to 100% of school-certified costs3.87% to 9.77% with autopay discount5.3% to 9.79% with autopay discount5, 10 or 15 years2% origination fee
      College Ave Graduate Student Loan$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs3.69% to 8.89% with autopay discount5.29% to 8.76% with autopay discount5 year(s) to 15 year(s)None
      Citizens Bank Graduate Student LoanUp to $150,000 for graduate students4.19% to 11.57% with discounts5.74% to 11.65% with discounts5, 10 or 15 yearsNone
      Discover Graduate Student Loan$1,000 to 100% of school-certified costs3.99% to 12.99% with discounts5.99%–13.99% with discountsUp to 20 yearsNone
      Sallie Mae Graduate School LoanUp to 100% of school-certified costs4.25% to 9.28%6.25% to 9.16%Up to 15 yearsNone

      Rates accurate as of October 2018

      CommonBond Graduate Student Loan

      CommonBond offers one graduate student loan for all types of programs. While it has some of the lowest rates out there, it’s one of the few lenders that charge an origination fee. 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.

      Eligibility requirements
      • Currently enrolled at least half-time
      • Attend an eligible Title IV or nonprofit school
      • Strong credit or creditworthy cosigner
      Repayment options

      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:

      1. Deferred. Hold off on making repayments until after your grace period is up. Interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance, making it more expensive.
      2. Interest-only. Only pay the interest that adds up while you’re in school and during your grace period.
      3. Fixed. Pay $25 each month to keep interest from adding up. Any unpaid interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance.
      4. Full. Start making repayments on your loan’s interest and principal amount one month after your loan is disbursed.

      Read our review of CommonBond student loans

      College Ave Graduate Student Loan

      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.

      Eligibility requirements
      • Enrolled in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
      • US citizen, permanent resident or have a valid Social Security number
      • Satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school
      • Good credit or creditworthy cosigner
      Repayment options

      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:

      1. Full principal and interest. Start making full repayments right away to save on interest.
      2. Interest-only. Pay off the interest that adds up on your loan each month while you’re in school and during the grace period.
      3. Flat. Pay $25 each month toward your loan to reduce the amount of interest that adds up. Any remaining interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance.
      4. Deferred. Hold off on all payments until your grace period ends. Interest accrues during this time and is added to your total loan balance, making this the most expensive option.

      Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loan

      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 the program.

      It’s one of the only lenders that offers multi-year 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.

      Eligibility requirements
      • Enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible school
      • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
      • Age of majority in your state
      • Meet credit qualifications
      Repayment options

      You have a six-month grace period and three repayment options when it comes to Citizens Bank Graduate Student Loans:

      1. Immediate. Start making full repayments after your school receives its funds.
      2. Interest-only. Only pay interest on your student loans while you’re still enrolled and during your grace period.
      3. Deferred. Hold off on repayments until six months after you leave school. Interest accrues during this time and is added to your total loan balance.

      Discover Graduate Student Loan

      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.

      Eligibility requirements
      • Enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting graduate program at an eligible school
      • Satisfactory academic progress, as defined by your school
      • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
      • At least 16 years old
      • Pass a credit check or apply with a creditworthy cosigner
      Repayment options

      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:

      1. In-school interest-only. Only pay the interest that adds up on your loan while you’re in school and during the grace period. This option qualifies you for a 0.35% rate discount.
      2. In-school fixed. Pay $25 a month while you’re in school and during your grace period. Any unpaid interest accrues and is added to your total loan balance.
      3. Deferred. Don’t make any payments until after your grace period. This is the most expensive option, since interest accrues and is added to your total loan balance.

      Sallie Mae Graduate Student Loan

      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.

      Eligibility requirements
      • Attend a participating degree-granting institution or eligible study abroad program
      • US citizen, permanent resident or international student with a US citizen or permanent resident as a cosigner
      Repayment options

      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:

      1. Deferred. Make no repayments until your grace period is over. Any interest that accrues is added to your total loan balance, making this the most expensive option.
      2. Fixed. Pay $25 a month while you’re in school and six months after. Any unpaid interest gets added to your loan’s principal at the end of your grace period.
      3. Interest-only. Only make payments on the interest that adds up while you’re in school and during the grace period. This option knocks 0.5% off your interest rate compared to the deferred repayment plan.

      Compare more private student loan options for graduate school

      Rates last updated October 23rd, 2018
      Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR Product Description
      Credible Private Student Loans
      Good to excellent credit
      Varies by lender
      3.69% (As low as ) (variable)
      Get prequalified rates from private lenders offering student loans with no origination or prepayment fees.
      EDvestinU Private Student Loans
      675
      $200,000
      4.016%–10.010% (with Autopay) (fixed)
      Straightforward student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
      CommonBond Private Student Loans
      700
      $500,000
      3.20-7.25% (fixed)
      Finance your college education through this lender with a strong social mission and terms that fit your budget.
      LendingTree Student Loans
      Good to excellent credit
      Varies by lender
      3% (As low as) (fixed)
      Compare multiple student loans and student loan refinancing options in one place.

      Compare up to 4 providers

      What to look for in a graduate student loan

      Not sure where to start when comparing graduate student loans? Consider these features in your search for financing.

      • Eligibility requirements. Before you apply for any loan, make sure you qualify. Most US citizens and permanent residents are eligible for federal loans. But you might need a cosigner if your credit isn’t up to snuff and you’re applying for a private loan.
      • Loan amounts. Many private student loan providers can cover up to 100% of your school-certified costs, but some have limits. Others also have minimum amounts you can borrow, typically around $1,000.
      • Costs. What are the interest rates? Are there any fees? The best way to compare costs is to look at your loan’s APR, which includes both.
      • Terms. How long will you have to pay it back? Your loan term affects two things: The total cost of your loan and your monthly repayments. If you want to get out of debt faster, go for a shorter term. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to afford your repayments, a longer term could help.
      • Repayment plans. Federal loans have by far the most comprehensive repayment options. But if you’re looking for a private loan, try to find one that’s flexible enough to fit your needs while you’re in and out of school.
      • Deferment and forbearance. Are you planning on getting another degree after you finish this one? You might want to look for a lender that offers in-school deferment.

      Bottom line

      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, check out our comprehensive guide to student loans.

      Frequently asked questions

      Image: Shutterstock

      Anna Serio

      Anna Serio is a staff writer untangling everything you need to know about personal loans, including student, car and business loans. She spent five years living in Beirut, where she was a news editor for The Daily Star and hung out with a lot of cats. She loves to eat, travel and save money.

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