Little is free when it comes to student loans. But some private lenders offer complimentary benefits like career coaching and academic help.
While federal student loans don’t have those features, they do offer programs like income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness. Private student loans lack these benefits, and you’ll lose access to them if you refinance federal loans with a private lender.
Max out federal loans first — and shop for private loans based on price, not perks. If you find private student loans or refinanced student loans with similar rates, consider these five freebies to help break the tie.
1. Career coaching
Who offers it: SoFi.
SoFi began offering career coaching as part of its unemployment protection program in 2013. Now, all SoFi members have free access to coaching and career-building tools via a partnership with the global consulting firm Korn Ferry.
SoFi members have received over 15,000 coaching sessions to date. One borrower who took advantage of those sessions is Viannca Velez of Jersey City, New Jersey, who refinanced her student loans with SoFi two years ago.
Velez initially contacted a career coach for guidance about transitioning her role at work. But after being accepted into SoFi’s more intensive — but still free — four-week career boot camp, Velez was spurred to launch her passion project, a Latin American culture and identity company named Cultura Lovers.
“[The project] was floating in my head for so long and is all of the sudden this very real thing,” Velez says. “And it’s because I had access to this type of coaching.”
2. Loyalty discounts
Who offers it: Multiple private student loan and refinance lenders.
Multiple lenders offer interest rate discounts for their current customers who want to borrow or refinance student loans. For example, if you have a qualifying Citizens Bank account — such as a savings account or mortgage — you receive an additional 0.25 percentage point off your new student loan’s interest rate when you apply.
Loyalty discounts are on top of the 0.25% interest rate discount that many lenders offer to borrowers who sign up for automatic payments.
3. Academic assistance
Who offers it: Sallie Mae.
Borrowers with Sallie Mae private student loans receive access to the lender’s Study Starter program. The program, which began in 2017, includes four months of free study tools from the student-focused website Chegg, and premium services from the writing platform EasyBib. You also get 30 free minutes of Chegg’s 24/7 one-on-one tutoring service.
“Let’s say you wake up in a cold sweat at three o’clock in the morning because you have an exam the next day, and you’re just stuck,” says Mitch Spolan, Chegg’s executive vice president of marketing services. “You can go online and ... find a tutor available right then and there.”
Sallie Mae provides borrowers with a unique Study Starter redemption code when it initially disburses their loans. Redemption codes are valid for up to a year after they’re issued.
4. Referral bonuses
Who offers it: Multiple refinance lenders.
Many student loan refinance lenders offer cash for getting other borrowers to refinance their loans. Typically, you earn these referral bonuses by providing people with a referral link to your lender for their loan application.
Bonus amounts vary by lender, and both the referrer and applicant may benefit. For example:
Education Loan Finance offers $400 for each successful referral, as well as $100 for the loan applicant.
Laurel Road lets you split its $400 bonus however you and your referral see fit.
Splash Financial provides $250 apiece for both parties.
Pay attention to the bonus’s terms and conditions. Individuals you refer may need to apply and be approved within a certain time frame, or the lender may limit the number of bonuses you can receive. For example, SoFi’s cap is 20 successful referrals every 12 months.
5. Charitable work
Who offers it: CommonBond.
If you prefer freebies that help others, CommonBond has a one-for-one social impact mission. For each loan the lender issues, it donates an amount based on a formula that funds a child's education in a developing country through the nonprofit Pencils of Promise. Those donations have totaled over $1 million to date.
Some CommonBond members get to see the impact of its social promise firsthand. The lender regularly takes a handful of borrowers to help with the nonprofit’s work in Ghana. Alex Kubo of Stamford, Connecticut, who helped finance his MBA with CommonBond loans, made the trip in 2016.
“Seeing the appreciation on the faces of the local communities ... especially on the faces of the children, made CommonBond’s promise real for me,” Kubo said via email. “I was really impressed with the organization of the whole operation, and physically contributing was really rewarding.”
A previous version of this article misstated the availability of Sallie Mae's Study Starter services. This article has been corrected.