Here Are The Best Student Loans of 2021

The best student loans can help you earn a college degree that will lead to higher earnings later in life. They also come with low interest rates and reasonable fees (or no fees), which will make it easier to keep costs down while you’re in school and once you’re in repayment mode.

For most people, federal student loans are the best deal. With federal student loans, you can qualify for low fixed interest rates and federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans. To find out how much you can borrow with federal student loans, you should fill out a FAFSA form. Doing so can also help you determine if you qualify for any additional student aid, and if so, how much.

While federal student loans are usually the best deal for borrowers, many students need to turn to private student loans at some point during their college careers. This is often the case when federal student loan limits have been exhausted, or when federal student loans are no longer an option due to other circumstances. We’re providing the top 8 options, at least according to us, as well as a guide to help you get the best rate.

Most Important Factors When Applying for Student Loans

  • Start with a federal loan. Fill out a FAFSA form prior to applying for a private loan to make sure you’re getting all the benefits you can.
  • Compare loans across multiple lenders. Consider using a comparison company like Credible to do so.
  • Always read the fine print. Fees aren’t always boasted on the front of a lender’s website, so take time to learn about what you’re getting into.
  • Start paying as soon as you can to avoid getting crushed by compound interest.

Best Private Student Loans of 2021

Fortunately, there are many private student loan options that come with low interest rates and fair terms. The best student loans of 2021 come from the following private lenders and loan comparison companies:

  • Best for Flexibility
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  • Best Loan Comparison
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  • Best for Low Rates and Fees
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  • Best for No Fees
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  • Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
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  • Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
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  • Best for Fair Credit
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  • Best for Comprehensive Comparisons
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#1: College Ave — Best for Flexibility

College Ave offers private student loans for undergraduate and graduate students as well as parents who want to take out loans to help their kids get through college. Variable APRs as low as 3.70% are available for undergraduate students, but you can also opt for a fixed rate as low as 4.72% if you have excellent credit. College Ave offers some of the most flexible repayment options available today, letting you choose from interest-only payments, flat payments, and deferred payments depending on your needs. College Ave even lets you fill out your entire student loan application online, and they offer an array of helpful tools that can help you figure out how much you can afford to borrow, what your monthly payment will be, and more.

Qualify in Just 3 Minutes with College Ave

#2: Credible — Best Loan Comparison

Credible doesn’t offer its own student loans; instead, it serves as a loan aggregator and comparison site. This means that, when you check out student loans on Credible, you have the benefit of comparing multiple loan options in one place. Not only is this convenient, but comparing rates and terms is the best way to ensure you get a good deal. Credible even lets you get prequalified without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and you can see loan offers from up to nine student lenders at a time. Fixed interest rates start as low as 4.40% for borrowers with excellent credit, and variable rates start at 3.17% APR with autopay.

Compare Dozens of Rates at Once with Credible

#3: Sallie Mae — Best for Low Rates and Fees

Sallie Mae offers its own selection of private student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parents. Interest rates offered can be surprisingly low, starting at 2.87% APR for variable rate loans and 4.74% for fixed-rate loans. Sallie Mae student loans also come without an origination fee or prepayment fees, as well as rate reductions for students who set up autopay. You can choose to start repaying your student loans while you’re in school or wait until you graduate as well. Overall, Sallie Mae offers some of the best “deals” for private student loans, and you can even complete the entire loan process online.

Get Access to Chegg Study FREE with Sallie Mae

#4: Discover — Best for No Fees

While Discover is well known for their excellent rewards credit cards and personal loan offerings, they also offer high-quality student loans with low rates and fees. Not only do Discover student loans come with low variable rates that start at 3.75%, but you won’t pay an application fee, an origination fee, or late fees. Discover student loans are available for undergraduate students, graduate students, professional students, and other lifelong learners. You can even earn rewards for having a 3.0 GPA or better when you apply for your loan, and Discover offers access to U.S. based student loan specialists who can answer all your questions before you apply.

Apply for a Loan with Discover

#5: Citizens Bank — Best Student Loans from a Major Bank

Citizens Bank offers their own flexible student loans for undergraduate students, graduate students, and parent borrowers. Students can borrow with or without a cosigner and multi-year approval is available. With multi-year approval you can apply for student funding one time and secure several years of college funding at once. This saves you from additional paperwork and subsequent hard inquiries on your credit report. Citizens Bank student loans come with variable rates as low as 2.83% APR for students with excellent credit, and you can make full payments or interest-only payments while you’re in school or wait until you graduate to begin repaying your loan. Also keep in mind that, like others on this list, Citizens Bank lets you apply for their student loans online and from the comfort of your home.

#6: Ascent — Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required

Ascent is another popular lender that offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students. Variable interest rates start at 3.31% whether you have a cosigner or not, and there are no application fees required to apply for a student loan either way. Terms are available for 5 to 15 years, and Ascent even offers cash rewards for student borrowers who graduate and meet certain terms. Also note that Ascent lets you earn money for each friend you refer who takes out a new student loan or refinances an existing loan.

Get a Loan in Minutes with Ascent

#7: Earnest — Best for Fair Credit

Earnest is another online lender that offers reasonable student loans for undergraduate and graduate students who need to borrow money for school. They also offer a free application process, a 9-month grace period after graduation, no origination fees or prepayment fees, and a .25% rate discount when you set up autopay. Earnest even lets you skip a payment once per year without a penalty, and there are no late payment fees. Variable rates start as low as 3.35%, and you may be able to qualify for a loan from Earnest with only “fair” credit. For their student loan refinancing products, for example, you need a minimum credit score of 650 to apply.

Learn Your Rate in Minutes with Earnest

#8: LendKey — Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

LendKey is an online lending marketplace that lets you compare student loan options across a broad range of loan providers, including credit unions. LendKey loans come with no application fees and variable APRs as low as 4.05%. They also have excellent reviews on Trustpilot and an easy application process that makes applying for a student loan online a breeze. You can apply for a loan from LendKey as an individual, but it’s possible you’ll get better rates with a cosigner on board. Either way, LendKey lets you see and compare a wide range of loan offers in one place and with only one application submitted.

Pay Zero Application Fees with LendKey!

How to Get the Best Student Loans

The lenders above offer some of the best student loans available today, but there’s more to getting a good loan than just choosing the right student loan company. The following tips can ensure you save money on your education and escape college with the smallest student loan burden possible.

Consider Federal Student Loans First

Like we mentioned already, federal student loans are almost always the best deal for borrowers who can qualify. Not only do federal loans come with low fixed interest rates, but they come with borrower protections like deferment and forbearance. Federal student loans also let you qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income Based Repayment (IBR) as well as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF).

Compare Multiple Lenders

If you have exhausted federal student loans and need to take out a private student loan, the best step you can take is comparing loans across multiple lenders. Some may be able to offer you a lower interest rate based on your credit score or available cosigner, and some lenders may offer payment plans that meet your needs better. If you only want to fill out a loan application once, it can make sense to compare multiple loan offers with a service like Credible.

Improve Your Credit Score

Private student loans are notoriously difficult to qualify for when your credit score is less than stellar or you don’t have a cosigner. With that in mind, you may want to spend some time improving your credit score before you apply. Since your payment history and the amounts you owe in relation to your credit limits are the two most important factors that make up your FICO score, make sure you’re paying all your bills early or on time and try to pay down debt to improve your credit utilization. Most experts say a utilization rate of 30% or less will help you achieve the highest credit score possible with other factors considered.

Check Your Credit Score for Free with Experian

Get a Quality Cosigner

If your credit score isn’t at least “very good,” or 740 or higher, you may want to see about getting a cosigner for your private student loan. A parent, family member, or close family friend who has excellent credit can help you qualify for a student loan with the best rates and terms available today. Just remember that your cosigner will be liable for your loan just as you are, meaning they will have to repay your loan if you default. With that in mind, you should only lean on a cosigner’s help if you plan to repay your loan amount in full.

Consider Variable and Fixed Interest Rates

While private student loans offer insanely low rates for borrowers with good credit, their variable rates tend to be lower. This is why you should always take the time to compare variable and fixed rates across multiple lenders to find the best deal. If you believe you can pay your student loans off in a few short years, a variable interest rate may help you save money. If you need a decade or longer to pay your student loans off, on the other hand, a low fixed interest rate may provide you with more peace of mind.

Check for Discounts

As you compare student loan providers, make sure to check for discounts that might apply to your situation. Many private student loan companies offer discounts if you set your loan up on automatic payments, for example. Some also offer discounts or rewards for good grades or for referring friends. It’s possible you could qualify for other discounts as well depending on the provider, but you’ll never know unless you check.

Beware of Fees

While the interest rate on your student loan plays a huge role in your long-term loan costs, don’t forget to check for additional fees. Some student loan companies charge application fees or prepayment penalties if you pay your loan off early, for example. Others charge origination fees that tack on a few additional percentage points to your loan amount right off the bat. If you can find a student loan with a low interest rate and no additional fees, you’ll be much better off. Since loan fees may not be prominently advertised on student loan provider websites, however, keep in mind that you may need to dig into their fine print to find them.

Make Payments While You’re in School

Finally, no matter which loan you end up with, it makes a lot of sense to make payments while you’re still in school if you’re earning any kind of income. Even if you make interest-only payments while you attend college part-time or full-time, you can save yourself from paying thousands of dollars in additional interest payments later in life. Remember that compound interest can be a blessing or a curse. If you can keep interest at bay by making payments while you’re in school, you can squash compound interest and keep your loan balances from growing. If you let compound interest run its course, on the other hand, you may wind up owing more than you borrowed in the first place by the time you graduate school and start repayment.

What to Watch Out For

A private student loan may be exactly what you need in order to finish your degree and move up to the working world, but there are plenty of “gotchas” to be aware of. Consider all these factors as you apply for a new private student loan or refinance existing loans you have with a private lender.

  • Interest that accrues while you’re in school: Remember that subsidized loans may not accrue interest until you graduate from college and enter repayment mode, but that unsubsidized loans typically start accruing interest right away. Since private student loans are unsubsidized, you’ll need to be especially careful about ballooning interest and long-term loan costs.
  • Getting a cosigner: Make sure you only apply for a private student loan with a cosigner if you’re entirely sure you can repay your loan over the long haul. If you fail to keep up with your end of the bargain, you could destroy trust with that person and their credit score in one fell swoop.
  • You’ll lose out on some protections: Also remember that private student loans come with fewer protections than federal student loans. You won’t have the option for income-driven repayment plans with private loans, nor will you be able to qualify for federal deferment or forbearance. For this reason, private student loans are best for students who are confident in their ability to repay their loans on their chosen timeline.

In Summary: The Best Student Loans

Company Best Of…
College Ave Best for Flexibility
Credible Best for Loan Comparison
Sallie Mae Best for Low Rates and Fees
Discover Best for No Fees
Citizens Bank Best Student Loans from a Major Bank
Ascent Best Student Loans with No Cosigner Required
Earnest Best for Fair Credit
LendKey Best for Comprehensive Comparisons

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Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS)

What is the AAMS certification?New financial advisors need something to help them stand out. Consequently, the AAMS does just that. Designed for newcomers to the financial advice business, the AAMS trains advisors to identify investment opportunities as well as help clients with other financial goals. It also gives more experienced advisors a fast and simple way to learn more about asset management and improve their credentials. Here’s how it works.

AAMS Defined

An Accredited Asset Management Specialist (AAMS) can advise clients on college savings, taxes, and retirement savings. The course and tests for this certification are designed to ensure advisors can assist clients with their complete financial needs. It emphasizes evaluating the client’s assets and making appropriate recommendations.

The AAMS certification is granted by the College for Financial Planning, a unit of the Kaplan Company. The college oversees a large number of financial certification programs, including the Certified Financial Planner designation, one of the most valued certifications in the field.

AAMS Certification Requirements

What is the AAMS certification?

To receive an AAMS, students first have to complete a 10-module education program provided by the College for Financial Planning. Then they have to pass an examination. Finally, they must agree to abide by a code of ethics and promise to continue their education.

The courses are online and can be delivered in self-study or instructor-led formats. Courses are open-enrollment, therefore students can begin at any time without waiting for the next session.  The 10 modules cover the following material:

1.:The Asset Management Process

2. Risk, Return & Investment Performance

3. Asset Allocation & Selection

4. Investment Strategies

5. Taxation of Investments

6. Investing for Retirement

7. Deferred Compensation and Other Benefit Plans

8. Insurance Products for Investment Clients

9. Estate Planning for Investment Clients

10. Fiduciary, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues for Advisors

The College of Financial Planning provides everything necessary to study for and complete the modules and take the test. Students have access to the study materials and tests through an online portal.

Streaming video lectures, audio files, and interactive quizzes also can be found through the college’s site. Meanwhile, students can access live classes online and contact professors with questions and issues.

The AAMS Test

To get the AAMS certification, students have to pass just one test. However, they have to make their first attempt at the test within six months of enrollment and pass it within a year.

The fee for the first attempt at taking the test is included in the course tuition. There are no prerequisites for signing up to take the AAMS course.

Time and Money Requirement

Tuition for the AAMS courses is $1,300. This includes the fee for the first attempt at passing the certification exam. It also includes all needed course materials. Each additional attempt costs $100.

Students employed with certain financial services firms may be able to get tuition discounts. The college may also provide scholarships.

The College for Financial Planning recommends students plan to spend 80 hours to 100 hours on the course. Since the course is self-study, this amount of time is flexible.

To maintain AAMS certification students have to commit to completing 16 continuing education credits every two years. Also, continuing education has to cover one or more of the topics covered in the AAMS coursework.

AAMS certificate holders also have to agree to follow a professional standard of conduct. As a result, they have to maintain integrity, objectivity, competency, confidentiality and professionalism in providing financial services.

AAMS Certificate Holder Jobs

AAMS certificates are generally earned by entry-level workers in the financial advice business. Consequently, AAMS holders are typically trainees. In some cases, they may provide support services to more experienced and highly credentialed advisors.

The AAMS designation does not confer any special powers or privileges. Instead, it’s an optional credential that students may obtain to advance their careers and enhance their knowledge of financial advice.

Comparable Certifications

What is the AAMS certification?

In addition to the AAMS, the College for Financial Planning offers an Accredited Wealth Manager Advisor (AWMA) certificate. This is a somewhat more advanced designation. As a result, it requires a course equivalent to three graduate level college credits and requires 90 hours to 135 hours to complete.

Chartered Mutual Fund Counselor (CMFC) is sponsored by the Investment Company Institute along with the College of Financial Planning. It is similar to the AAMS certificate except it focuses on mutual fund assets.

Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) is a general personal finance advice certificate from the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education. First, it requires 1,000 hours of financial counseling experience. Secondly, it demands three letters of reference. Finally, applicants must both complete coursework and pass an exam.

Bottom Line

The AAMS designation is usually for newly minted financial advisors, but even experienced pros can use it to bulk up their credentials. The courses and tests associated with the AAMS teach advisors how to evaluate assets and make recommendations.

While this certification doesn’t give an advisor any real powers, it’s a sign that they can identify investment opportunities specific to their clients. Above all else, it can be a great relief to a client who has a child going to college or a retirement house on their wish list. As a result of obtaining an AAMS, and advisor can point them toward the right investments for their goals.

Investing Tips

  • If you’re looking to identify investment opportunities, consider using an AAMS as your advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • An AAMS can help you with college savings, taxes, and retirement savings if you know what your goals are. However, if you are unsure how much you want to invest, what your risk tolerance is, or how inflation and capital gains tax will affect your investment, SmartAsset’s investing guide can help you take the first steps.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/SARINYAPINNGAM, ©iStock.com/fizkes, ©iStock.com/Suwanmanee99

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10 Things to Know About Living in Las Vegas

When we think of Las Vegas, it often has a connotation of big parties, gambling and expensive fun. Most people who go to the Entertainment Capital of the World are there for a good time and want to experience the food, shows and casinos. But what’s it like for the locals who are working and living in Las Vegas?

It’s a fairly big city, and residents have access to all of the fun and excitement as other out-of-town visitors. But every day isn’t a party when you’re living there — people have homes, families and careers to think about.

There are lots of surprising aspects of living in Sin City, and it just might be the kind of scene you’re looking for.

1. Get ready for discounts

In the Entertainment Capital of the World, many hotels, casinos and even restaurants give discounts to those who live locally. That means you’ll get discounts on Las Vegas attractions, spas and even shows, such as Cirque du Soleil, so you can enjoy the perks of the city without draining your bank account.

2. There are lots of pools — and you’ll be grateful for them

pool

Since it can get pretty hot and be fairly warm for eight or nine months out of the year, many residents in Las Vegas have pools. Most apartment complexes have pools, but if yours doesn’t have one, you’ll inevitably have friends with access to a pool. Or, you can head to one of the hotels with a luxury pool for a little weekend staycation.

Whatever pools you can access, you’ll be glad you have them. There are plenty of days when it’s too hot to do much else outdoors and slipping into the cool water might be the only thing that keeps you sane.

3. The heat is extreme

Most people haven’t experienced Vegas-style heat — we’re talking 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more on some days during the summer. That might sound bearable when you can hang out in the pool all day, but at temperatures climb that high, even a pool will feel like a hot tub.

When it gets unbearably hot, you can plan on hanging out inside with the air conditioner cranked up and eating popsicles all day long to stay cool.

4. Grocery stores are extra convenient

Being known as one of the cities that never sleeps, most Las Vegas grocery and convenience stores are open 24/7, so you can head out and get what you need without checking the time and worrying that stores will be closed. Plus, wine, beer and spirits are sold in the majority of grocery stores.

5. It’s surprisingly affordable

Most larger, well-known cities are quite expensive when you take housing, transportation and food into account. But living in Las Vegas is surprisingly affordable — it’s actually one of the most inexpensive places to live in Nevada. The cost of living in most categories is quite close to the national average, which is surprising for a larger city.

It has a thriving housing market, where there are plenty of homes available for fairly reasonable prices, and rent isn’t sky-high. The average rent in 2020 for a one-bedroom apartment is a little more than $1,200 a month — well below the national average of $1,600. And because there are plenty of quiet suburbs outside of the Strip and downtown areas, there are lots of supermarkets, restaurants and shopping malls readily available.

Most of the expensive places, whether they’re high-end stores or five-star restaurants, are located on the Strip or in downtown Vegas. Outside of that, most stores and restaurants in the valley are affordable and easily accessible to the locals.

You’ll rarely have to pay for parking, which is uncommon in a big city. Since hotels often have stores and attractions within them and casinos want people to come inside and play, they often will have free parking garages to attract potential customers.

6. There’s unique outdoor recreation

valley of fire

Las Vegas isn’t usually known for its camping and hiking scene, but there are some fun and different places to explore in the area. Some of the best spots are Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon. You can even go skiing during the winter months at Mt. Charleston, which is a reasonably short drive from the city.

And if that’s not enough for you, you’ll only be a few hours away from the state and national parks of Utah and California.

7. It’s best to have a car

In many bigger cities, there’s great public transportation, and it’s often preferred by the locals because of high parking costs and traffic congestion. But most Las Vegas residents don’t rely on public transportation to get around, and many people own cars.

Although there’s some public transportation, it’s mostly buses — the city is quite sprawling, making public transportation an extremely time-consuming option, especially if you’re going from one end to the other.

As far as driving goes, the most traffic-heavy places in the city are downtown and the Strip, and most other places aren’t too bad. Just beware of the Spaghetti Bowl, which is where multiple freeways merge together near downtown — traffic can get pretty congested there during rush hour.

8. No more state income tax

Unless you’re moving to Las Vegas from one of the other few states that doesn’t have an income tax, this will be a happy surprise. Nevada doesn’t have a personal income tax or corporate income tax.

9. Major league sports are coming in hot

In just the last few years, Sin City has become home to two major-league sports teams. The Raiders football team relocated there from Oakland earlier this year, giving residents something to be happy about, despite the other events of 2020.

But perhaps the most exciting thing was the creation of the Golden Knights, an NHL team that now plays in Vegas. When the team was first created, many people had low expectations — but the team ended up getting within only a few games of winning the Stanley Cup in its very first season. So, even if you’re not a hockey fan now, you’ll definitely become one when you move to Vegas.

10. Watch out for desert critters

scorpion

Most of us have had spiders or ants get in the house — that’s going to happen no matter where you live in the U.S. But have you dealt with cockroaches, lizards and scorpions?

While scorpions aren’t an everyday thing, you should still be aware of them and know that they could show up in your yard. And although most of the lizards are harmless, it can still be unsettling to see them basking in the sun all over the rocks around your home. But the cockroaches are something else. You’ll want to invest in good pest control because they’ll find a way to sneak into your bathroom and kitchen, even if you live on the fifth floor of a building.

If you have a pet, keep in mind that their food will attract more roaches, so keep their bowl in a high-traffic area of your house to ward off the pesky little critters. And make sure you seal the excess food in a container or bag so you don’t reach in and scoop up a handful of cockroaches when your pet is hungry.

Living in Las Vegas is full of surprises

In spite of its nickname being “Sin City,” living in Las Vegas can be a great experience. It’s a diverse place and contains all of the perks of a big city without the cost and without feeling like such a busy, overcrowded place all the time. The longer you live in Vegas, the more the city will surprise you.

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