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Current Student Loan Interest Rates and How They Work

Loans, Student Loans

The federal student loan interest rate for undergraduates is 4.45% for the 2017-18 school year. Federal rates for unsubsidized graduate student loans and parent loans are higher — 6.00% and 7.00%, respectively. Private student loan interest rates can be lower than federal rates, but approval for the lowest rates requires excellent credit. If you have good credit, you may be able to refinance existing student loans to get a lower rate.

Current student loan interest rates

Refinance student loans
Fixed3.09% to 8.34%
Variable2.57% to 7.98%
Private student loans
Fixed4.25% to 15.14%
Variable3.40% to 13.09%
Federal student loans (fixed)

Source: NerdWallet rate survey, March 2018

To apply for federal student loans, as well as grants and work-study, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — this FAFSA guide can help. Any student, regardless of their financial need, typically qualifies for unsubsidized student loans, and students with a financial need may qualify for subsidized loans. Subsidized loans are a better deal because the government pays the interest that accrues while you’re in school.

Federal student loan fees are taken as a percentage of the total loan amount and deducted proportionally from each loan disbursement, meaning you’ll receive slightly less than the amount you borrow.

Academic yearUndergraduate
Parent PLUS, Grad PLUS
2017-184.45% interest
1.07% fee
6.00% interest
1.07% fee
7.00% interest
4.26% fee
2016-173.76% interest
1.07% fee
5.31% interest
1.07% fee
6.31% interest
4.28% fee
2015-164.29% interest
1.07% fee
5.84% interest
1.07% fee
6.84% interest
4.27% fee
2014-154.66% interest
1.07% fee
6.21% interest
1.07% fee
7.21% interest
4.29% fee
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid
Interest rates effective July 1 of each year. Loan fees effective October 1 of each year.
It’s generally best to max out your federal student loan options before taking out a private student loan. If you need one, shop around first to ensure you get the lowest rate you qualify for. If you don’t meet a lender’s credit requirements, you can apply with a co-signer who does.

Current private student loan interest rates, updated monthly:

LenderAPR ranges*Visit

Visit SunTrust


Undergraduate loans
Graduate loans
Ascent logo

Visit Ascent
5.76% to 15.14%8

3.84% to 13.09%8

*includes Ascent Independent non-cosigned rates

Undergraduate loans
Graduate loans
Independent (non-cosigned loans)
SoFi logo
Visit SoFi
4.25% APR to 8.00%

4.02% to 7.45%

Parent loans
Visit CommonBond
5.38% to 9.67%1

3.40% to 9.26%1

Undergraduate loans
Graduate loans

Discover logo
Visit Discover Student Loans
6.49% to 12.99%9

4.62% to 11.87%9

Undergraduate loans
Graduate loans
Sallie logo
Visit SallieMae
5.74% to 12.872

3.62% to 12.98%2

Undergraduate loans
Graduate loans

Consider student loan refinancing if your credit score is at least in the high 600s, you have enough income to afford your debts and other expenses, and you’re comfortable giving up federal benefits like income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Before refinancing, shop around to find the lowest rate you qualify for.

Current student loan refinancing rates, updated monthly:

LenderAPRGet started

Fixed: 3.09-6.69%
Variable: 2.69-6.01%

Fixed: 3.18-7.25%
Variable: 2.57-7.07%

Fixed: 3.25-6.32%
Variable: 2.57-5.87%

Fixed: 3.25-8.13%
Variable: 2.65-7.70%

Fixed: 3.20-8.34%
Variable: 2.63-7.98%

Fixed: 3.50-6.99%
Variable: 2.99-6.42%

Fixed: 3.50-7.28%
Variable: 3.23-7.01%

Fixed: 5.24-8.24%
Variable: 4.12-7.37%

How student loan interest rates work

Student loan interest rates work differently, depending on whether the loan is federal or private. For federal loans, every borrower taking out the same type of federal loan in a given year has the same interest rate. For private loans, borrowers with higher credit scores generally qualify for lower rates and borrowers with lower credit scores get higher rates.

Federal student loans:

  • Congress sets interest rates yearly based on the 10-year Treasury note
  • Most have fees charged as a percentage of the total loan amount
  • Rates are fixed for the life of the loan

Private student loans:

  • Interest rates are typically credit-based
  • Most private lenders don’t charge origination fees
  • Borrowers can choose either a fixed or variable interest rate
  • Variable rates are subject to change monthly or quarterly
Student loan interest accrues while you’re in school — unless you have subsidized federal loans — so you’ll owe more than you initially borrowed when you enter repayment. You can save on interest by:

  • Paying off interest before your grace period ends. When your student loans enter repayment, the unpaid interest will be capitalized, or added to your principal balance. Avoid costly interest capitalization by making monthly interest-only payments or paying a fixed amount — say, $25 — while you’re in school. Alternatively, pay off the interest during your grace period using graduation money or income from your first post-college job.
  • Avoiding income-driven repayment, if possible. Federal income-driven repayment plans can keep cash-strapped borrowers out of default, but they also cost borrowers more interest in the long run. If you can afford to make federal loan payments on the standard, 10-year repayment plan, do it.
  • Watching your overall financial health. Although you’ll save the most in student loan interest by paying off the loan as soon as possible, other financial goals are higher priority. Before paying extra on student debt, build an emergency fund, contribute to a 401(k) or IRA, and pay off high-interest debt such as credit cards.

Student loan interest rate calculator

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @teddynykiel.