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Sallie Mae Student Loans Review: Private Loans

March 16, 2018
Loans, Student Loans
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

Sallie Mae offers multiple private student loans for undergraduates, graduate students and parents. It also offers medical school loans, law school loansbar loans, and medical and dental residency loans.

The company was originally founded in 1973 as a federally guaranteed student loan program, but in 2014 it split into two powerhouse student loan entities: Sallie Mae Bank, a consumer banking business, and Navient, the largest federal student loans servicer.

We look at Sallie Mae’s primary student loan in this review: the Smart Option Student Loan for Undergraduates.

Type of loanPrivate student loan
NerdWallet rating4.5 stars out of 5
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Loan terms5 to 15 years
Loan amounts$1,000 to up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance
Check Rates at Sallie Mae Student Loans

Is Sallie Mae’s private student loan right for you?

Sallie Mae lends to borrowers enrolled less than half-time; most lenders won’t. Sallie Mae also offers a unique 12-month interest-only repayment option for postgrad borrowers.

A Sallie Mae private student loan may be right for you if:

  • You have good credit or a creditworthy co-signer
  • You need to fill a gap in the financial aid package you received after filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA

» MORE: NerdWallet’s 2018-19 FAFSA Guide

Can you qualify?

  • Minimum credit score: Sallie Mae did not disclose
  • Minimum income: Sallie Mae did not disclose
  • Education requirements: Must attend a degree-granting institution
  • Citizenship requirements: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or a non-U.S. citizen with a creditworthy co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

In addition to the above qualifications, 89% of Sallie Mae’s private student loan borrowers have a co-signer. A typical approved borrower (or co-signer) has a 748 credit score. Sallie Mae did not indicate the typical income or debt-to-income ratio of its borrowers. Sallie Mae says it assesses factors that demonstrate a borrower’s “stability, ability and willingness” to repay a loan.

» COMPARE: Private student loans

How to apply for a Sallie Mae student loan

Before you take out a private student loan, compare your options to make sure you’re getting the best rate you qualify for. In addition to interest rates, compare lenders’ repayment options and the flexibility they offer to borrowers who struggle to make payments.

If you’re ready to borrow with Sallie Mae, you can apply on Sallie Mae’s website. Here’s how.

  1. Complete an application. You’ll need to provide:
  • School information: enrollment status, degree program and course of study
  • Academic period of enrollment and year in school
  • Loan amount requested
  • Amount of anticipated financial aid
  • Financial information: bank account types and monthly mortgage or rent payments
  • Employment information: company name and gross income
  • Identity and citizenship documentation: Non-U.S. citizen students, including DACA students, must submit unexpired documentation to prove identity/citizenship

2. Add a co-signer. Your rate will likely be lower if you apply with a co-signer. If you do, have your co-signer available to provide information as well.

3. Agree to let Sallie Mae pull your credit. This may cause your credit score to dip slightly, but most lenders need to check credit history before approving borrowers for a loan. It takes 15 minutes to get a credit result from Sallie Mae.

4. Approval: You’ll see the rate you qualify for after you’re approved for the loan. Once you’re approved, you’ll choose a fixed or variable interest rate and repayment plan.

5. Sign required documents. You’ll need to sign a loan promissory note electronically.

6. Wait for the funds from your school. Sallie Mae will ask your school to certify your eligibility. Once it’s certified, Sallie Mae will disburse the loan to your school. Your school will apply the loan to your account and forward any remaining funds to you to cover education-related expenses or return to Sallie Mae. If you choose a repayment option that requires in-school payments, your monthly payment will begin as soon as your funds are disbursed.

Check Rates at Sallie Mae Student Loans

More details

  • Grace period: 6 months
  • Loan servicer: Sallie Mae
  • Application or origination fee: No
  • Late fees: Yes
  • Prepayment penalty: None
  • Co-signer release available? Yes, after 12 full, on-time payments

General repayment options

Borrowers can choose to start making interest-only or fixed payments while they’re in school, or defer payments until after they graduate or drop below half-time enrollment. Sallie Mae offers lower interest rates if you make payments while in school.

Immediate repayment. Borrowers may make payments as soon as the loan is disbursed.

Deferred repayment. Make no loan payments while enrolled in school and during the grace period.

Fixed repayment. Pay $25 every month while enrolled in school and during the grace period. Your interest rate will be 0.5% lower than with the deferred repayment option.

Interest-only repayment. Pay interest every month you’re in school and during the grace period. Your interest rate will be 1% lower than with the deferred repayment option.

Repayment options for struggling borrowers

Sallie Mae offers multiple deferment and forbearance options for borrowers struggling to make payments. In addition, Sallie Mae offers 12-month interest-only repayment after finishing college.

  • In-school deferment. Borrowers can request to defer payments when returning to school or going to graduate school for up to 48 months.
  • Military deferment. Yes, but a borrower must contact the military customer service representative team for more information. Your interest rate is capped at 6% during eligible periods of military service.
  • Internship, residency or fellowship deferment. Borrowers can defer payments in 12-month increments for up to 60 months.
  • Postgrad interest-only payments. Borrowers may request to make 12 monthly interest-only payments after finishing school with the Graduated Repayment Period option.
  • Forbearance. Borrowers are eligible for 12 months of forbearance, in three-month increments, over the life of the loan. Borrowers must pay $50 per loan, with a maximum of $150 per account, to get forbearance.

Sallie Mae extras

  • Online tutoring. Borrowers can access Study Starter, which offers up to 120 minutes of live, online tutoring or step-by-step textbook problem solutions from Chegg.
  • Credit score tracking. Free quarterly FICO credit scores.

Contact Sallie Mae

  • Call 877-279-7172

Sallie Mae student loan FAQs

  • Can I apply with a co-signer? Yes
  • Can I qualify if I’ve filed for bankruptcy in the past? Sallie Mae did not disclose.
  • Can I qualify if I don’t go to a Title IV-accredited school? Yes.


NerdWallet believes the best student loan is one you can repay at the lowest interest rate you can get. That’s why NerdWallet’s private student loans ratings reward lenders that offer a variety of loan terms, limit their fees and penalties, and extend borrowers multiple options to avoid default. Points are also awarded for soft credit checks, underwriting transparency and other consumer-friendly features. Use these ratings as a guide, but we encourage you to shop around for the lowest interest rate you can qualify for. NerdWallet does not receive compensation for its reviews. Read our editorial guidelines.

5 stars out of 5 — Among the very best for consumer-friendly features

4.5 stars out of 5 — Excellent; offers most consumer-friendly features

4 stars out of 5 — Very good; offers many consumer-friendly features

3.5 stars out of 5 — Good; may not offer something important to you

3 stars out of 5 — Fair; missing important consumer-friendly features

2.5 stars out of 5 — Poor; proceed with great caution