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International Student Loans: Compare Options for 2018

April 26, 2018
Personal Finance, Student Loans
International Student Loans: Compare Options for 2018
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International students have fewer U.S. student loan options than most borrowers. Unless you’re an eligible noncitizen who can qualify for federal student loans, you may need to borrow from a private lender.

  • U.S. nationals, including natives of American Samoa or Swains Island
  • U.S. permanent residents; that is, you have a “green card”
  • Those who have an Arrival-Departure Record from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services showing the following statuses: refugee; asylum granted; Cuban-Haitian Entrant; Conditional Entrant issued before April 1, 1980; or parolee
  • Those who hold a T-nonimmigrant status, or those whose parents do
  • Those who are “battered immigrant-qualified aliens,” or children of someone designated as such


Some banks, credit unions and online lenders offer student loans for international students, but they often require you to have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Your co-signer will need good credit for approval and to get the most favorable rates.

You may be able to find a private lender that doesn’t require a co-signer, but you’ll pay higher interest rates as a result.

>>MORE: A financial guide for immigrants in the U.S.

How to shop for an international student loan

  1. If you’re an eligible noncitizen, apply for federal student loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. This will also qualify you for free aid such as grants, scholarships and work-study. If you plan to borrow, federal loans offer lower interest rates than private loans, as well as income-driven repayment plan options and forgiveness programs.
  2. If you’re not eligible for federal student loans, find a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and has good credit. If you have a student visa, make sure your co-signer is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You’ll have the best shot at a private loan with competitive interest rates if your co-signer’s credit score is 690 or above.
  3. Get a loan for international students. If you can’t find a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, find a lender that has a product designed for international students. Some are listed below.
  4. Compare loan features. When shopping for a private loan without a co-signer, compare offers to get the lowest interest rate you qualify for. Note whether the lender will postpone payments should you have difficulty affording them, and for how long. That’s important. Find out if there are origination, prepayment or late fees, and how easily you can reach the lender by phone, email or live chat if you encounter a billing or customer service issue.
  5. Opt for a fixed interest rate. Given the choice, a fixed interest rate is a safer bet than a variable interest rate. It won’t increase over time.
  6. Keep an eye on the bottom line. Use a student loan calculator to see what kind of payment you’ll face after borrowing for multiple years.
  7. Consider refinancing in the future. It’s more challenging for visa holders to refinance student loans. If you remain in the United States and build a credit profile over time, you may be able to refinance private loans to a lower interest rate. You’ll generally need solid income, a credit score of 690 or higher and a history of on-time debt payments. Alternately, you may be able to refinance if you have a co-signer who fits those qualifications.

Top international student loans

LenderGet started
prodigy-finance-logo.png
4 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Prodigy review

4 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

MPOWER review

Top international student loans: details

Prodigy Finance Student Loan

        • Eligibility: Available to international students going to graduate school
        • Loan term: 7, 10, 15 or 20 years
        • Loan amount: Between 80% and 100% of the degree, depending on the program and school
        • Repayment options: Make payments 6 months from the end of the academic period they borrowed money for. Part-time students have 3 months from disbursement.
        • Grace period: 6 months from the class end date for full-time students; 3 months from final disbursement for part-time students

How it stands out: Prodigy is a niche product available only for international graduate students. You don’t need a co-signer or collateral to get a loan and your interest rate is determined by future earnings and credit history in your country. Prodigy also offers discounts, member perks, and career services.

MPOWER student loan

          • Eligibility: Available to juniors, seniors or graduate students, particularly international students or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status.
          • Loan term: 10 years
          • Loan amount: $2,001 to $50,000 total
          • Repayment options: Make interest-only payments while in school and during the grace period, then full payments for 10 years
          • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: While MPOWER’s interest rates are relatively high, the lender offers a hard-to-find option: non-co-signed student loans to international students. You’ll be evaluated based on earning potential and positive payment history on your credit report, though not on your score.

Student loans for visa holders with co-signer

LenderGet started

5.0 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Ascent Tuition loan review

4.0 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.0 / 5.0

Citizens One student loan review
Discover logo
5.0 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Discover student loan review
Sallie logo
4.5 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 4.5 / 5.0

Sallie Mae student loan review
Wells_Fargo_4c
5 stars out of 5
NerdWallet rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Wells Fargo student loan review

Student loans for visa holders with co-signer: details

Ascent Tuition

            • Eligibility: Available to undergraduate and graduate students with a student visa who have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
            • Loan term: Five, 12 or 15 years for variable-rate loans. Five or 12 for fixed-rate loans.
            • Loan amount: $1,000 minimum to $200,000 over the lifetime of a borrower. The amount for each loan period cannot exceed the total cost of attendance.
            • Repayment options: In-school interest-only (pay the interest that accrues while you’re in school), deferred (start making full payments six months after leaving school) and flat fee (pay $25 per month while in school)
            • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: There are no application fees, origination fees or prepayment penalties with Ascent. The lender also offers residency or internship deferment for up to 24 months.

You’ll receive up to 24 months of forbearance if you have trouble making payments, which is more generous than most lenders.

Citizens One

            • Eligibility: Available to undergraduate and graduate students. Student visa holders and undocumented students may apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
            • Loan term: 5, 10, 15 or 20 years.
            • Loan amount: $10,000 minimum. Maximum depends on highest degree earned: $90,000 (undergraduate), $225,000 (master’s and doctoral degrees), $300,000 (law), and $350,000 (professional degrees such as a doctor of dental surgery).
            • Repayment options: Immediate repayment, interest-only repayment while in school, or deferred repayment.
            • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: Citizens One is one of the only lenders to offer multiyear approval for student loans. That means that after your freshman year, you can request loans for each subsequent school year without undergoing a hard credit check, which affects your co-signer’s credit.

Discover

            • Eligibility: Available to undergraduate and graduate students. International students must have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
            • Loan term: 15 years
            • Loan amount: $1,000 minimum. Maximum: Your total cost of attendance, minus other financial aid.
            • Repayment options: In-school repayment ($25 payments) and deferred repayment.
            • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: There are no fees with Discover, even for late payments. Discover offers several options if you’re struggling to make payments: up to 12 months of forbearance; up to 12 months of temporary interest rate reduction; and up to six months of temporary payment reduction. Discover also offers a cash reward equal to 1% of each new student loan for borrowers who earn at least a 3.0 grade point average.

Sallie Mae

            • Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students. Non-U.S. citizens must have a creditworthy co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
            • Loan term: 5 to 15 years
            • Loan amount: $1,000 to up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
            • Repayment options: Immediate repayment, deferred repayment, fixed repayment ($25 per month), or interest-only repayment.
            • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: Sallie Mae borrowers can defer payments in 12-month increments for up to 60 months for internships, residencies or fellowships. Sallie Mae also offers a 12-month, interest-only repayment option for postgrad borrowers. Struggling borrowers are eligible for up to 12 months of forbearance. Borrowers can also get free quarterly FICO credit scores and online tutoring.

Wells Fargo

            • Eligibility: Undergraduate and graduate students. International students must have a temporary resident alien status and a current U.S. address.
            • Loan term: 15 years
            • Loan amount: $1,000 minimum to $120,000 maximum for undergraduate
            • Repayment options: Immediate repayment and deferred repayment
            • Grace period: 6 months

How it stands out: Wells Fargo borrowers work with a dedicated student loan specialist for the life of the loan. Wells Fargo offers many options for struggling borrowers, including:

        • Up to 36 months of internship, residency or fellowship forbearance
        • Up to three years of public service forbearance
        • Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster payment deferment
        • An additional six-month grace period extension
        • Up to two months of short-term payment relief (lowered interest rate, lower monthly payment or extended repayment term)
        • Up to six months of payment relief due to financial hardship
        • Loan modification to temporarily or permanently lower your payment amount
        • Loan repayment options for past-due payments

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