Student Loan Comparison Charts: Easily Understand Your Loan Options

Kat Tretina

If you’re preparing to go to college, get ready for some sticker shock.

According to The College Board, a four-year degree costs $37,640 to $129,640, depending on whether you attend a public or private school.

If you’re like most people, you’ll need to take out at least some student loans to pay for college.

But how do you choose the best loans for you?

We compiled useful information and outlined it in these handy student loan comparison charts.

By looking at your options, you can find loans that work for your unique situation.

Federal loans vs. private loans

When it comes to paying for college, you have two main sources of money: federal and private student loans.

Federal student loans are issued by the government. Most federal loans don’t require credit checks, and there is no minimum income required to qualify for a loan.

By contrast, private student loans are managed by private banks and online lenders. Typically, lenders decide whether to approve you for a loan based on your income and credit score.

Check out this student loan comparison chart to see the various features of each type of loan.

  Federal Student Loans Private Student Loans
Types of Interest Rates Available Fixed only Fixed or variable
Loan Maximum Up to $57,500 for undergraduate students Up to $138,500 for graduate or professional degree students Varies by lender
Cosigner Requirement No No, but often encouraged
Payments due while in school? No Yes, unless deferred
Repayment Options Standard 10-year repayment plan Income-driven repayment plans Extended payment plan Graduated repayment plan Fixed payment plan based on loan agreement
Financial Hardship Payment Options Postpone payments with federal deferment or forbearance Dependent on lender
Eligible for Loan Forgiveness Yes No
Discharged in cases of death or permanent disability Yes Dependent on lender

Federal loans

If you’re trying to decide which loan to take out, you should start with federal student loans.

That’s because they usually have lower interest rates than private student loans and have more repayment benefits.

There are three main kinds of federal loans: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans.

How to compare student loans and understand the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized? Use this federal loan chart.

Loan Type Direct Subsidized Loans Direct Unsubsidized Loans Parent PLUS Loans and Grad PLUS Loans
Annual maximum $5,500 for dependent first-year students $6,500 for dependent second-year students $7,500 for dependent third-year students $3,500 for dependent first-year students $4,500 for dependent second-year students $5,500 for dependent second-year students $20,500
Interest rate 5.05% for undergraduates 5.05% for undergraduates 6.6% for graduate students 7.08%
Repayment options Standard Graduated Repayment Extended Repayment REPAYE PAYE IBR ICR Standard Graduated Repayment Extended Repayment REPAYE PAYE IBR ICR Standard Graduated Repayment Extended Repayment REPAYE (students only) PAYE (students only) IBR (students only) ICR (students only, and parents if they consolidate with a Direct Consolidation Loan)
Disbursement Fee 1.062% 1.062% 4.236%

Some standout features to keep in mind include:

  • Income-driven repayment plans: Federal student loans are eligible for income-driven repayment (IDR) plans. Under an IDR plan, your repayment term is extended and your monthly payment reduced, making your payments more affordable. There are four different IDR plans:
  • Forbearance and deferment: If you lose your job, have a medical emergency, or have another hardship, you can temporarily postpone making payments on your federal loans without becoming delinquent or entering into default. In some cases, the government will even cover the interest that accrues during this postponement.
  • Loan forgiveness: Federal loans are eligible for some loan forgiveness programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Under PSLF, you are eligible for loan forgiveness if you make 10 years’ worth of qualifying payments while working for an eligible non-profit organization or government agency.

Private loans

Private loans are offered by individual banks and lenders, so the terms of your loans are dependent on what lender you work with. Plus, your rate and terms are typically based on creditworthiness factors including credit score, annual income, debt-to-income ratio, and more.

Unlike federal loans, which only have fixed interest rates, private loans can have variable rates.

With a variable rate, the interest rate can start off quite low. However, it can change over time, causing your monthly payment to change, too. Some people prefer variable-rate loans because they can take advantage of the lower initial rate to pay off their loans faster.

While you won’t need a cosigner for federal loans, a cosigner can be advantageous when you apply for private student loans. A cosigner is someone you trust, like a friend or relative, who has good to excellent credit and steady income. They sign the application along with you and share responsibility for the loan. If you miss payments, they’re liable for them in your place.

Having a cosigner makes you a more attractive loan candidate to lenders. By adding one to your application, you can boost your chances of qualifying for a loan and scoring a lower interest rate.

Looking for a private student loan lender? Compare your options from these three lenders:

  Ascent CollegeAve INvestEd
Minimum Income $24,000 $35,000 $40,000
Cosigner Required? No No No
Interest rates Compare Rates Compare Rates Compare Rates
Loan amounts $2,000 to $200,000 Up to total cost of attendance $1,001 to total cost of attendance
Cosigner release available? Yes Yes Yes

Use Purefy’s Compare Rates tool to get quotes from multiple lenders all in one place with just one quick form — with no credit check needed.

You’ll get an at-a-glance look at your loan rate and term options to easily pick which one is best for your financial needs.

Paying for college

Figuring out how to pay for college and what student loans are available can be overwhelming. But by using the student loan comparison charts above, you can see key features of each loan and make an informed decision.

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