Custom Choice Powered by Cognition Financial Review: Private Student Loans

Custom Choice offers multiple in-school repayment options and an extended grace period.
By Cecilia Clark 

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Our Take


NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line:

Custom Choice student loans are best for upperclassmen who are confident they can take advantage of the 2% Grad Reward.

Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition
Min. credit score
Fixed APR
Variable APR
Check rate

on Cognition's website

Pros & Cons


  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

  • No late fees.

  • Principal reduction of 2% if you graduate.

  • Stands out for features that enable faster loan repayment.


  • Doesn't apply extra payments to the principal balance by default.

  • Forbearance program is less generous than others.

Compare to Other Lenders

Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition
Earnest Private Student Loan
Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Min. credit score


Min. credit score


Min. credit score


Fixed APR


Fixed APR


Fixed APR


Variable APR


Variable APR


Variable APR


Full Review

Custom Choice Loans were previously offered through a partnership between SunTrust Bank and Cognition Financial. When SunTrust ended its student loan program, Cognition Financial partnered with Citizens Bank to offer new loans as of July 2020.

Custom Choice Loans are best for students at four-year universities who are confident they can take advantage of the Grad Reward. Borrowers receive a 2% principal reduction with proof of graduation.

Custom Choice Loans may also be a good fit for borrowers with for borrowers with strong credit, low income and low debt.


  • No late payment fees.

  • Borrowers have the option of making interest-only, fixed $25 or full payments during school or deferring payment until graduation.

  • Grace period can be extended up to six months.


  • Offer forbearance longer than 12 months.

  • Offer loans to students enrolled at community colleges.

Custom Choice private student loan details

  • Soft credit check to qualify and see what rate you’ll get: Yes.

  • Loan terms: 7, 10 or 15 years.

  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance minus other aid, not to exceed $99,000. Applicants who are permanent residents of Iowa are subject to a minimum loan amount of $1,001.

  • Application or origination fee: None.

  • Prepayment penalty: No.

  • Late fees: None.

Compare Custom Choice's range of interest rates with other private student lenders. Your actual rate will depend on factors including your — or your co-signer’s — credit history and financial situation. To see what rate Custom Choice will offer you, apply on its website.


  • Minimum credit score: 660 without a co-signer; if the co-signer's credit score is 625-699, borrowers must have a credit score of greater than or equal to 600, or have no score; if the co-signer's credit score is greater than or equal to 700, there is no credit score minimum for the borrower.

  • Minimum income: No minimum, but borrowers must demonstrate positive income.

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Did not disclose.

  • Typical income of approved borrowers: Did not disclose.

  • Maximum debt-to-income ratio: Less than or equal to 85%.

  • Can qualify if you’ve filed for bankruptcy: Yes, but not in the last 10 years.


  • Citizenship: Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

  • DACA borrowers: Eligible with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien.

  • Location: Available in all 50 states.

  • Must be enrolled half-time or more: No.

  • Loans can be used for past due tuition: Yes, for balances up to 12 months past due.

  • Types of schools served: Borrowers must attend Title IV-certified school that offers bachelor’s degrees or higher.

  • Percentage of borrowers who have a co-signer: About 80%.

In-school repayment options

  • Immediate repayment: Make full payments as soon as the loan is disbursed, while you’re still in school.

  • Deferred repayment: Don’t make any payments while you’re in school.

  • Fixed repayment: Pay $25 every month while enrolled in school and during the grace period. This option is only available on loans of $5,000 or more.

  • Interest-only repayment: Pay interest every month you’re in school and during the grace period.

Post-school repayment options

  • Grace period: 6 months initially with an option to extend an additional 6 months.

  • Income-based repayment option: No.

  • In-school deferment: Yes, borrowers can request to defer payments when returning to school or going to graduate school for up to 48 months. This option extends the repayment term.

  • Military deferment: Yes, up to 48 months if the student borrower and co-signer can’t repay the loan while on active-duty status. This option extends the repayment term.

  • Alternative repayment option: Borrowers may request to make reduced monthly payments for up to 12 months at a reduced interest rate.

  • 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 two-month increments. Borrowers must have made successful principal and interest payment and cannot be more than 59 days delinquent to qualify. The repayment term will be extended based on the forbearance length.

  • Co-signer release available: Yes, after 36 months of on-time principal and interest payments.

  • Death or disability discharge available: If the student dies or becomes permanently disabled, Custom Choice will forgive all remaining payments on the loan and the co-signer won’t be responsible for repayment.

  • Loan discharge if co-signer dies or becomes disabled: No.

Repayment preferences

  • Allows greater-than-minimum payments via autopay: Yes.

  • Allows biweekly payments via autopay: Yes.

  • Loan servicer: American Education Services.

  • In-house customer service team: In-house and outsourced call center.

  • Process for escalating concerns: Yes.

  • Borrowers get assigned a dedicated banker, advisor or representative: No.

  • Average time from application to approval: Preapproval is rendered in under a minute.

  • 2% principal reduction with proof of graduation.

  • Returning borrowers will have their new application pre-filled and income verification waived under certain circumstances.

Before applying for a Custom Choice student loan

Before taking out a Custom Choice Loan or any other private student loan, exhaust your federal loan options first. Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to apply.

Compare your private student loan options to make sure you’re getting the best rate you qualify for. In addition to interest rates, look at lenders’ repayment alternatives and the flexibility they offer to borrowers who struggle to make payments.

If you aren’t eligible for a Custom Choice student loan

If Custom Choice denies your student loan application, the lender will let you know why. Depending on the reason, you may want to consider other lenders or, if you haven’t already, try applying with a co-signer.

If you don’t have access to a co-signer or still aren’t eligible with one, consider lenders that don’t require co-signers or specialize in bad or no credit student loans.


Our survey of more than 29 banks, credit unions and online lenders offering student loans and student loan refinancing includes the top 10 lenders by market share and top 10 lenders by online search volume, as well as lenders that serve specialty or nontraditional markets.

We consider 40 features and data points for each financial institution. Depending on the category, these include the availability of biweekly payments through autopay, minimum credit score and income requirement disclosures, availability to borrowers in all states, extended grace periods and in-house customer service.

The stars represent ratings from poor (one star) to excellent (five stars). Ratings are rounded to the nearest half-star.

Check rate

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