Custom Choice Powered by Cognition Financial Review: Private Student Loans

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

Cecilia ClarkOctober 1, 2020

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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
Check Rate

on Cognition's website

Fixed APR

4.26 - 10.74%

Variable APR

1.22 - 9.70%

Min. Credit Score


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.


  • Loans aren't available in Arizona, Iowa or Wisconsin.

  • Loans not available to borrowers with student visas.

Compare to Other Lenders

Custom Choice Loan, Powered by Cognition
College Ave Private Student Loan
Sallie Mae Private Student Loan
Check RateCheck RateCheck Rate
Fixed APR

4.26 - 10.74%

Fixed APR

3.49 - 12.99%

Fixed APR

4.25 - 12.35%

Variable APR

1.22 - 9.70%

Before applying for a private student loan, Citizens and Cognition Financial recommend comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. The Custom Choice Loan® is made by Citizens (“Lender”). All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to Lender’s underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions and other terms and conditions apply. LENDER AND COGNITION FINANCIAL CORPORATION EACH RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. TERMS, CONDITIONS AND RATES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. Interest rates and APRs (Annual Percentage Rates) depend upon (1) the student’s and cosigner’s (if applicable) credit histories, (2) the repayment option and repayment term selected, (3) the expected number of years in deferment, (4) the requested loan amount and (5) other information provided on the online loan application. If approved, applicants will be notified of the rate applicable to your loan. Rates and terms are effective for applications received on or after 10/01/20. The variable interest rate for each calendar month is calculated by adding the One-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”), or a replacement index if the Lender, in their sole discretion, deems LIBOR to be substantially altered or if LIBOR is no longer based on newly reported rates from its reporting banks, plus a fixed margin assigned to each loan. The LIBOR is published in the "Money Rates" section of The Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). The LIBOR index is captured on the 25th day of the immediately preceding calendar month (or if the 25th is not a business day. The current LIBOR index is 0.14% on 10/01/20. The variable interest rate will increase or decrease if the LIBOR index changes or if a new index is chosen. The applicable index or margin for variable rate loans may change over time and result in a different APR than shown. The fixed rate assigned to a loan will never change except as required by law or if you request and qualify for the auto pay discount. APRs assume a $10,000 loan with two disbursements and the fall savings rate discount of 0.50% (applicable to applications submitted for a credit decision between 12:00:00am EST on October 1, 2020 and 11:59:59pm EST on December 31, 2020). The high variable rate APR assumes a 7-year term with the Full Deferment option, a 19 month deferment period, and a six-month grace period before entering repayment. The high fixed rate APR assumes a 15-year term with the Full Deferment option, a 31 month deferment period, and a six-month grace period before entering repayment. The low APRs assume a 7-year term, and the Immediate Repayment option with payments beginning 30-60 days after the last disbursement via auto pay. Auto pay yields a 0.25% interest rate reduction which is applied after the Servicer validates your bank account information and will continue until (1) three automatic deductions are returned for insufficient funds during the life of the loan (after which the discount cannot be reinstated) or (2) automatic deduction of payments is canceled. The auto pay discount is not available when reduced payments are being made or when the loan is in a deferment or forbearance, even if payments are being made.Custom Choice Loan® is a service mark used under license. Citizens is a brand name of Citizens Bank, N.A. (NMLS ID# 433960). Member FDIC.

Variable APR

1.24 - 11.98%

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Flat Repayment Option with an 8-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 7.78% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 54 monthly payments of $25 while in school, followed by 96 monthly payments of $176.21 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $18,266.38. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 9/24/2020. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Lowest advertised rates require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

Variable APR

1.25 - 11.15%

Lowest rates shown include the auto debit discount: Fixed 4.25% - 12.35% APR and Variable 1.25% - 11.15% APR. Interest rates for Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options are higher than interest rates for the Interest Repayment Option. You're charged interest starting at disbursement, while in school, during your separation/grace period, and until the loan is paid in full. The repayment option that is selected will apply during the in-school and separation/grace periods. When you enter principal and interest repayment, Unpaid Interest will be added to your loan's Current Principal. Variable rates may increase over the life of the loan. Advertised variable rates reflect the starting range of rates and may vary outside of that range over the life of the loan. Advertised APRs are valid as of 06/25/2020. and assume a $10,000 loan to a freshman with no other Sallie Mae loans. Additional information regarding the auto debit discount: Borrower or cosigner must enroll in auto debit through Sallie Mae to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction benefit. This benefit applies only during active repayment for as long as the Current Amount Due or Designated Amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month and may be suspended during periods of forbearance or deferment, if available for the loan. Loan amounts: $1000 up to 100% of the school certified expenses: Loan amount cannot exceed the cost of attendance less financial aid received as certified by the school. Sallie Mae reserves the right to approve a lower loan amount than the school-certified amount. Repayment term of 5 to 15 years: This repayment example is based on a typical Smart Option Student Loan made to a freshman borrower who chooses a fixed rate and the Fixed Repayment Option for a $10,000 loan, with two disbursements, and a 8.51% fixed APR. It works out to 51 payments of $25.00, 179 payments of $124.69 and one payment of $66.91, for a Total Loan Cost of $23,661.42.

Min. Credit Score


Min. Credit Score


Min. Credit Score

Does not disclose

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 upperclassmen who are confident they can take advantage of the Grad Reward. Borrowers receive a 2% principal reduction with proof of graduation.

CUSTOM CHOICE private student loans AT A GLANCE

  • 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.


  • Allow biweekly payments via autopay.

  • Lend to students in all 50 U.S. states.

  • Provide loans to students enrolled less than half-time.

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.

  • 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: 625.

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

  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: 747.

  • 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.

  • Location: Not available to borrowers in Arizona, Iowa or Wisconsin.

  • Must be enrolled half-time or more: Yes.

  • 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: Typically over 50% apply with a co-signer.

Many lenders are offering relief related to COVID-19. Check this list of private loan relief options to see what this lender offers.

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 month-to-month extensions up to an additional 6 months.

  • 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.

  • Internship, residency or fellowship deferment: Borrowers can defer payments in 12-month increments for up to 60 months during residency.

  • 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: No.

  • Loan servicer: American Education Services.

  • In-house customer service team: Yes.

  • 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.

  • Interest rate discount of 0.50% for borrowers who apply by Dec. 31, 2020.

  • 2% principal reduction with proof of graduation.

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.

Student loans ratings methodology

NerdWallet believes the best student loan is one you can repay at the lowest interest rate you can get. That’s why NerdWallet’s student loan 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.