Sallie Mae Review: Private Student Loans for Every Level of Higher Education



  • Accessible for noncitizen, part-time students
  • Fastest route to cosigner release in the industry
  • Online tutoring, credit score tracking among perks


  • A hard credit check is required to check eligibility
  • Most applicants will need a cosigner to qualify
  • Your repayment term will be assigned

Private student loan rating 4.4


4.2 out of 5
Rates & Terms

4.2 out of 5
Repayment Experience

4.8 out of 5

Sallie Mae is synonymous with student loans, having been created by the federal government in 1972 before it turned private in 2004. It’s now one of the largest lenders of private education debt, offering up to cost-of-attendance funding for career training programs, undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as professional schooling and residency. It originated $2.1 billion in loans in the third quarter of 2021 alone.

As our Sallie Mae review shows, the company’s staying power goes beyond name recognition: Its loans are accessible to nontraditional applicants with good credit (or a cosigner), though prequalification still isn’t possible.

Sallie Mae review: Private student loans

After exhausting your search for other financial aid, including federal student loans and their larger safety net, private loans could help cover your remaining costs for higher education. Sallie Mae allows students of various levels to borrow up to 100% of their cost of attendance, which goes beyond tuition and fees to cover room, board and beyond.

Sallie Mae student loans are a good fit for well-qualified borrowers who value unique benefits like one year of interest-only repayment after leaving school or a 12-month route to cosigner release. The longstanding lender could also be a good choice for nontraditional students, such as noncitizens or part-time enrollees.

Sallie Mae student loans review: The basics

APRs ● Undergraduates: 3.50%–12.60% (fixed), 1.13%–11.23% (variable)
● Career training: 6.62%-13.83% (fixed), 4.12%-11.52% (variable)
● Rates for the following loan types vary:
○     Dental school, residency
○     Graduate students
○     Health professions
○     Law school, bar study
○     MBA
○     Medical school, residency
Basics ● Borrow as little as $1,000 and as much as your cost of attendance
● Reduce your interest rate by 0.25 percentage points if you enroll in autopay
Eligibility ● Must have U.S. citizenship or a citizen or permanent resident cosigner
● Part-, half- or full-time enrollment
● Must be pursuing a certificate or degree
● Sufficient, positive credit history
Applying ● Option to apply with a cosigner
● No application or origination fees
● “Multi-year advantage” allows likelier, faster approval for additional years of borrowing
Repayment ● Standard six-month grace period
● No prepayment penalties
● Late fee of 5% of payment amount, up to $25 maximum
● Two in-school repayment options, plus full deferment (depending on your loan)
● Repayment term option: 10 or 15 years (or 20 years for medical, dental school loans)
● Release your cosigner after 12 months of prompt payments (and meeting other criteria)
Support ● Deferment to temporarily lower or pause payments if you return to school or start an internship or fellowship
● Forbearance is available if you need to postpone repayment due to economic hardship
● Forgiveness is offered in the case of the primary borrower’s death, permanent and total disability
● Undergraduate borrowers get four months of free study assistance via Chegg
● Sallie Mae provides free access to quarterly FICO scores
● U.S.-based customer service

What to like about Sallie Mae student loans

Besides the fact that Sallie Mae has deep roots and isn’t likely to leave the industry anytime soon, here are some of its most attractive features.

Noncitizen and part-time students are among eligible applicants

Citizenship or permanent residency is often required of private loan companies. At Sallie Mae, however, you could qualify as a DACA student if you have a permanent resident cosigner who has a good credit score and other positive financial markers.

Also, Sallie Mae reviews applications from part-time students, who are typically excluded from borrowing federal and other private loans.

Other nontraditional scenarios that qualify for Sallie Mae student loans include:
● Online-only schools
● Winter or summer terms
● Study abroad programs
● Professional certification (or non-degree) programs

2 in-school repayment options, as well as deferment

Sallie Mae repayment options are more limited than what federal student loans offer. You can decide when to begin making full interest and principal payments, though you won’t have access to income-driven repayment plans, for instance. These are the three Sallie Mae repayment options from which you can choose:

  • Deferred repayment: You’ll make no payments while you’re in school and during your six-month grace period. As a result, you’ll receive a higher interest rate than if you were to choose the interest repayment plan, and you’ll likely pay more over time.
  • Fixed repayment: This option requires you to pay $25 a month in school and during the grace period, limiting the amount of interest that accrues. Like the deferred repayment plan, though, unpaid interest will still capitalize — or get tacked onto your balance — at the end of your grace period.
  • Interest repayment: You’ll pay off the loan’s interest monthly while in school and in your grace period. That will keep your principal balance from growing and qualify you for a lower interest rate.

Option to make interest-only payments for first year out of school

Alternatively, if you need to make smaller payments in the year after your grace period ends, you can request to receive a graduated repayment period, which will let you make interest-only payments for 12 months. That’s a rarity among competing lenders.

Industry’s fastest path to cosigner release (12 months)

As a borrower, you can apply to remove your cosigner from the loan using Sallie Mae cosigner release. You’re eligible once you’ve graduated or completed a certificate program and you’ve made 12 full on-time payments toward your Sallie Mae loan. Neither interest nor fixed payments during school or your grace period qualify. You also can’t have entered into forbearance or a graduated repayment period for 12 months before applying for cosigner release.

There is some fine print to the policy, however. You must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to qualify, and you’ll have to share proof of graduation. Sallie Mae reviews income and credit, too.

Transparent deferment and forbearance programs

Sallie Mae offers in-school deferment for up to 48 months while enrolled in college or graduate school full time or half time. You won’t have to make payments, but interest will still accrue. You can also defer payments while you’re completing a qualifying residency, internship, clerkship or fellowship for 12 months at a time for a total of 60 months. Interest will accrue on your Sallie Mae student loan in those cases, too.

Another way to pause payments is to put your loan into forbearance. This option is available if you’re experiencing financial difficulties. You can apply for forbearance in three-month increments for a total of 12 months. Interest will accrue, and you might have to make a payment first, which will go toward your loan balance.

Online tutoring and credit score tracking are among free perks

Borrowers who receive Sallie Mae Smart Option undergraduate loans before April 30, 2022, can get free access to Chegg Study for four months, which includes expert help for textbook problems and 30 minutes of online tutoring. Maine students and residents don’t qualify. The offer expires one year after you receive a redemption code.

A couple more unique perks of borrowing from Sallie Mae:

  • Free access to quarterly FICO credit scores
  • Manage your debt via the Sallie Mae mobile app
  • Get 2% cash back for your loan repayment with a Sallie Mae credit card (separate product from its student loans)

Sallie Mae also offers savings accounts if you like the idea of keeping your finances under one roof.

How to make Sallie Mae student loan payments

The best way to make Sallie Mae student loan payments is through autopay from your bank account. Sallie Mae will deduct your required payment amount — or more, if you choose to pay extra each month — from your account automatically. That way, you won’t miss payments and you’ll get a 0.25 percentage-point reduction on your interest rate.

You can also pay Sallie Mae online, by phone, by mail or by using the Sallie Mae mobile app. Cosigners have the ability to make payments on behalf of borrowers.

What to keep in mind about Sallie Mae student loans

Even if you like what you’ve read in this Sallie Mae review, there could be some lender characteristics that are less appealing.

Prequalification is not possible

Before applying to Sallie Mae, be aware that pressing submit will trigger a hard credit inquiry, potentially and temporarily dinging your credit score. For this reason, it could be wise to first shop around with other lenders, particularly those that offer you the ability to view rates and terms with only a soft credit check.

A cosigner will likely be necessary for most borrowers

Most private student loans require a cosigner — that is, someone who agrees to repay your debt if you can’t. This special someone would need to meet the lender’s credit criteria to help the student borrower qualify for the loan.

In the case of Sallie Mae, it’s very possible that undergraduate students and many others will need a cosigner to gain lender approval. In fact, the average FICO score of Sallie Mae reviewed and approved borrowers in 2020 was 749.

No choice in repayment term

When you receive lender approval with some financial institutions, particularly digital companies, you’re quoted multiple rates and loan terms to choose from. You might be offered fixed and variable rates for a loan to be repaid over 5, 10 or 15 years, for example.

Unfortunately, Sallie Mae only offers up to two repayment terms – 10 and 15 years – and, depending on your creditworthiness, you’ll be assigned one term or another. If you value some say in the matter, you might look into competing lenders that let you pick your repayment term.

How to refinance your Sallie Mae student loans

After graduation — and if you meet the credit and income requirements — you may have the option to refinance your Sallie Mae student loans.

Student loan refinancing allows you to replace one or multiple student loans with a new one at a potentially lower interest rate. You’ll need to show solid income and good or excellent credit to qualify. Similar to an undergraduate student loan, you can apply with a cosigner to improve your approval odds or to potentially receive a lower interest rate. Refinancing lets you choose a new lender to work with if you’re unhappy with your loan’s original interest rate, term, customer service or other features.

First, you should seek out quotes from multiple lenders. Then, pick the lender and loan terms that work best for you. Next, complete an application, but make sure you’re continuing to make payments on your current loan until you receive approval to stop.

How Sallie Mae student loans compare

As mentioned, it’s always good to compare multiple lenders and loans before applying.

Sallie Mae Laurel Road Citizens Bank
SLH rating 4.4/5 4.3/5 4.3/5
Loans for… ● Undergraduate and graduate students
● Career training
● Dental school, residency
● Graduate students
● Health professions
● Law school, bar study
● Medical school, residency
● Undergraduate students
● Graduate students who are studying health care (including future nurses, physician assistants, doctors and dentists)
● Undergraduate and graduate students
● Parent loans
APRs Variable starting at 1.13% and fixed starting at 3.50% Variable starting at and fixed starting at Variable starting at 3.22% and fixed starting at 3.23%
Ability to prequalify without affecting credit No Yes No
Borrowing amount Up to cost of attendance Up to cost of attendance $1,000
In-school repayment options 1-2 4 2
Repayment terms 5, 15 years 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years 5, 10, 15 years
Cosigner release available Yes — after 12 months of timely payments Yes — after 36 months of timely payments Yes — after 36 months of payments

You’ll very likely be better off if you shop around beyond a few lenders. Make sure you learn all about the best options for your specific needs.

Are Sallie Mae student loans right for you?

If you’re a noncitizen or part-time student with limited student loan options, Sallie Mae might seem like a no-brainer to help you bridge your remaining gap in cost of attendance. Its repayment protections, including a gradual onramp into repayment as well as deferment and forbearance programs, could also be attractive.

However, keep in mind that Sallie Mae may, in all likelihood, require you to have a cosigner in order to qualify for funding. Plus, your repayment term (the amount of time you have to pay off the debt) will be assigned to you, limiting your say in crucial details of your loan.

Regardless of how you see Sallie Mae, it’s smart to compare other options in our private student loan marketplace.

How to apply with Sallie Mae

Start your application online by clicking “Apply for a loan” on Sallie Mae’s website. Have the following information ready to include in the application:

  • School where you’re enrolled or planning to enroll
  • Degree you’re pursuing
  • Major or course of study
  • Semester of enrollment
  • Year in school
  • Amount of loan you’re seeking
  • Financial aid, from school and other sources, you plan to receive
  • Company name and income before taxes (if employed)
  • Current address, plus previous address if you’ve lived in your current home less than a year
  • Social Security number
  • Bank account information
  • Monthly housing payment
  • Two personal references

Sallie Mae will conduct a credit check and may ask you for additional data to complete its review. If you’re approved, you’ll choose a repayment option and decide whether to go with a fixed interest rate or a variable one (which can change over time). Once you’ve accepted and signed your loan documents, Sallie Mae will then verify with your school the information you’ve provided.

How to apply for Sallie Mae student loans with a cosigner

If you’re applying with a cosigner, they will also enter personal, financial, school and employment information, either at the same time you apply or separately.

Sallie Mae will check your cosigner’s credit and follow up if it needs additional information to make a decision.

Applying with a cosigner could also make it easier to gain multiyear approval for additional student loans. Sallie Mae says that its applicants are four times likelier to be approved with a cosigner than they are as an independent borrower.

How to contact Sallie Mae

New applicants: Contact Sallie Mae customer service at 855-756-5626…

  • 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST Monday through Thursday
  • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on Friday
  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Saturday

Existing customers: Call 800-472-5543 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. No weekend service is available.

Frequently asked questions about Sallie Mae student loans

If you didn’t find your question answered in our Sallie Mae review, see the following FAQs:

Is Sallie Mae a federal loan?

No. The Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan for undergraduates is a private loan. You won’t receive federal loan protections, such as income-driven repayment or student loan forgiveness.

Are there added benefits for service members?

Service members eligible for the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act receive a maximum interest rate of 5% during military service and for one year thereafter.

Do I need an established credit history to apply?

Yes. Without sufficient credit history, your application is unlikely to be approved. Apply with a cosigner to increase your chances of approval and to gain eligibility for lower interest rates.

How long does it take to apply?

Sallie Mae says the online application takes about 15 minutes to fill out, and you could receive your loan in as few as 10 business days after approval.

Is student loan prequalification offered?

No. You must fill out a complete application to see the interest rate for which you qualify, which means Sallie Mae must perform a hard pull on your credit report. That can have a negative impact on your credit score.

What happens after a loan is approved?

Your college will certify the loan, and Sallie Mae will disburse the money to the school. You might receive a refund if you borrowed more money than your school needs to cover your expenses. You can return the refund to Sallie Mae or use it for education costs and pay it back with the rest of your student loan.

Can I see my credit score through Sallie Mae?

Yes. After your loan is disbursed, Sallie Mae borrowers and cosigners can receive a free FICO Score 8 once a quarter.

How are my payments applied?

Your monthly payment goes first to unpaid fees, then unpaid interest, then principal. If you pay extra, your overpayment will reduce your principal balance.

Will my balance be waived if I die?

Yes. Sallie Mae will also waive your balance if you become permanently and totally disabled.

Methodology for ratings

To come up with our shield rating for student loan refinancing lenders and companies/private student loan lenders and companies, Student Loan Hero asks hard questions — 20 of them, in fact. These questions span three categories: accessibility, rates & terms and repayment experience because we want to judge financial institutions on their products and services from start to finish: when our users are shopping around, filing applications and paying down their debt.

A top-rated lender, for instance, has inclusive eligibility criteria, allows you to prequalify and check rates without harming your credit score and is supportive as you face monthly payments.

The answers that we get to our 20 questions — either from the lenders themselves or by combing through their fine print — determine each lender’s overall rating. We score answers consistently, sometimes awarding partial points, to ensure that you can make equal comparisons between all lenders that we put under the microscope.

Student Loan Hero isn’t paid for conducting these reviews, and lenders don’t have a say in their content. The goal with our reviews and ratings, along with everything else we do, is to give our users the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available to make the best decisions according to their borrowing needs.

Student Loan Hero has independently collected the above information related to Sallie Mae student loans, which is current as of Jan. 24, 2022, unless otherwise noted. None of the financial institutions named has either provided or reviewed the information shared in this article.

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