Going to business graduate school can be expensive – tuition at the top schools can run in the six figures – so it’s important to take steps early to determine how MBA loans can help you finance your education.
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Find the Best Student Loans for You
Sallie Mae is a publicly traded consumer bank that offers private student loans to pay for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, among other educational needs. Congress started Sallie Mae in 1972 as a government-sponsored entity that serviced student loans. The lender went private in 2004 and today provides a range of student loan products. Additionally, Sallie Mae Bank offers savings products and other tools to help families plan and pay for college, including a credit card that earns bonus cash back to help you pay off any student loan.
College Ave exclusively offers student loans. Founded in 2014 and based in Wilmington, Delaware, College Ave offers undergraduate, graduate and parent loans for students enrolled at schools affiliated with College Ave in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. College Ave’s advantage is speed, with applications that take a few minutes to complete and instant decisions.
Earnest is an online lender offering private student loans to college and graduate students, as well as student loan refinancing. The company was founded in 2013. Borrowers can choose their own loan terms to fund up to the full cost of their education.
SoFi is an online lender founded by Stanford business school students in 2011. Originally focused on student loan refinancing, the San Francisco-based company added private student loans in 2019. Choose from undergraduate, graduate, law or MBA, health profession, or parent loans with no fees.
Ascent Funding is an online lender offering undergraduate and graduate student loans for those with or without a co-signer at more than 2,200 eligible schools nationwide. Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents or those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status – aka “Dreamers” – may apply for an Ascent loan. Ascent Funding was founded in 2015 and is based in San Diego.
LendKey’s digital platform connects borrowers who need private student loans or refinancing loans with credit unions and community banks. Since 2009, LendKey has helped more than 135,000 people by funding $5 billion in loans. The company offers fixed- and variable-rate loans for undergraduate and graduate students.
Citizens Bank was founded in the late 1800s in Rhode Island. Today, it’s one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S. Branches are concentrated in the New England, mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.
PNC offers student loans in all 50 states for students at all stages of postsecondary education, including professional training loans and refinancing. The bank is also engaged in a number of community efforts, including financial literacy programs and PNC Grow Up Great, which supports early childhood education. For eligible undergraduate students, PNC offers opportunities to win $2,000 scholarships toward education expenses.
Founded in 2014, Purefy is a student loan refinance rate comparison site, and it also originates refinanced student and parent loans via a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union. As a rate comparison tool, Purefy shares interest rates and terms from lending partners, including Earnest, ISL Education Lending and College Ave. This lender review will focus on the loan refinancing options Purefy and PenFed offer together.
Education Loan Finance, also known as ELFI, is a student loan program offered by Tennessee-based SouthEast Bank since 2015. The company provides private student loans and refinancing options for private and federal student loans.
An MBA loan is a student loan designed to help students pay for a Master of Business Administration degree.
These loans typically have higher interest rates than what you’re paying on your undergraduate loans, but they may also provide you with more financing so you can afford the higher costs of graduate school.
There are a few different types of MBA loans you can get. While some are marketed as such, others may simply be general student loans:
- Private MBA loans. Some lenders advertise loans specifically to help MBA students pay for their degree. Terms can vary depending on the lender, but you can typically borrow up to the total cost of attendance at your school.
- Private graduate loans. Most private student loan companies offer general graduate student loans that you can use for any type of graduate degree. Interest rates, repayment terms and other features will differ from lender to lender, but you can usually borrow whatever you need to pay your tuition bill and other eligible costs.
- Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These federal loans limit how much you can borrow each year, as well as in total. However, they also offer certain benefits that private lenders don’t provide, such as loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans.
- Federal Graduate Direct PLUS Loans: With Grad PLUS loans, the borrowing limit is higher – up to the school’s cost of attendance minus other financial aid – but the interest rate and loan fee are higher than what you’d get with a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. You’ll also get access to the same federal loan benefits.
Find the Student Loan That’s Right for You
Ultimately, the decision whether or not to borrow money to complete your MBA depends on your goals and future prospects. Take a look at what you expect to borrow to get through the program and compare it with the average starting salary for someone with an MBA in your field.
According to Department of Education data analyzed by the Brookings Institution, the median first-year salary for MBA graduates is $73,868.
Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert who has written about student aid policy, suggests using the rule of thumb that your graduate student loan debt should be less than your annual starting salary.
“It’s a rule of thumb for undergraduate student loan debt and applies to graduate degrees,” he says, “except you include any outstanding undergraduate debt along with the new debt that you incurred during graduate school.”
The real key is whether you’ll get a job, Kantrowitz adds. If you’re already employed and have a secure place to land at your company after you complete your degree, business school may be a no-brainer. But if you’ve previously struggled to gain employment and think an MBA might do the trick, your prospects may not be as high.
- MBA student loans can provide the funds you need to finance your graduate degree.
- The cost of borrowing an MBA loan may be offset by higher earnings later in your career.
- You may be able to refinance your student loans to a lower interest rate once you’ve established a higher credit score and lower debt-to-income ratio.
- Interest rates and fees can be high, particularly for federal Grad PLUS loans.
- Private student loans can be expensive to borrow if you have poor or fair credit.
- For private MBA loans, you may need to enlist the help of a creditworthy co-signer, like a trusted friend or relative, to qualify.
Not all MBA loans are created equal, so it’s important to take your time to shop around and compare multiple options before you make a decision. Here are some features to keep in mind as you do your research:
- Qualifications. Private student loans typically require a credit check when you apply, and if your credit isn’t in great shape and you have no co-signer, it can be tough to qualify and get a favorable interest rate. Direct PLUS Loans also require a credit check, but it’s only to ensure you don’t have any significant negative items on your credit reports. If you want to avoid a credit check altogether, Direct Unsubsidized Loans are the only option.
- Interest rates. Federal student loan interest rates are standardized, so you know what you’re going to get before you apply. “The government offers some good rates for which you don’t need a co-signer,” says Steve Muszynski, founder and CEO of Splash Financial, an online student loan refinance marketplace. “However, you may be able to get a better rate via a private lender.” Just be sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Some private student loan companies offer both variable and fixed interest rates – unless you’re planning to pay off the debt quickly, a fixed rate is usually best because it won’t change with market rates.
- Fees. In addition to the interest rate, you’ll also want to compare fees. In most cases, private lenders don’t charge origination fees, though you may be assessed a charge if you pay late. In contrast, federal student loans include an upfront loan fee, which is deducted from your loan disbursement. Federal loan fees can change from year to year, so check the Federal Student Aid website to get the latest information.
- Repayment options. With federal student loans, you’ll get a variety of repayment options, including income-driven repayment plans. Private student loans also offer several different repayment schedules, but most of them don’t offer any kind of income-driven repayment plan.
- Other features. Some MBA loans come with other features that could be appealing for you. For example, if you think you might qualify for a loan forgiveness program or loan repayment assistance program, federal loans may be the way to go. If not, compare the different benefits private student lenders offer to determine which one makes the most sense.
Muszynski says the loan’s interest rate should be at the top of your priority list. After all, even a slightly lower rate could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. But plan to look at each option holistically, especially if the rates are comparable.
The steps to apply for an MBA loan will vary depending on whether you’re applying for a federal or private loan. With federal loans, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, in which you’ll share information about yourself and your financial situation.
- Review the financial aid award letter you receive from your school after it processes your FAFSA.
- Once approved, choose how much you wish to borrow, up to the amount listed in your award letter.
In contrast, if you have private student loans, here are the steps you may need to take:
- Get prequalified with multiple private lenders, so you can compare interest rates and other terms.
- Choose a lender and submit an application through its website, including information about yourself, your creditworthiness and your financial situation.
- Once the lender approves your application, you’ll be able to see the final offer, which you can accept or decline.
The amount of time it’ll take to pay off your MBA loans will depend on a variety of factors. For example, the standard repayment term for federal student loans is 10 years, but you can stretch that out for up to 30 years through consolidation, says Kantrowitz. Just keep in mind that consolidating your loans will result in a slightly higher interest rate.
You can’t opt for a shorter repayment plan on federal loans, but you can make additional payments to eliminate the debt faster.
With private student loans, repayment terms can range from five to 20 years, depending on the lender and what you chose when you applied. If you want a shorter or longer repayment term after the fact, you’ll need to refinance the loans with a new private lender.
If you want to pay off the debt faster without refinancing, you can simply make extra payments until you’ve reached a zero balance.
However, your debt balance will depend on several things, including which school you attend, which nontuition expenses you need to finance and whether you’re working while in school.
“Consider how much debt you’re taking on and what your job prospects will be coming out of your MBA program,” says Muszynski. “If you borrow $200,000, will you be able to repay that amount of debt, and in what time frame? Running the numbers could be eye-opening.”
Also, keep in mind that there may be other ways to reduce how much you need to borrow, which can pay off in the long run. Check with your school and websites like Scholarships.com and Fastweb to see if you qualify for grants and scholarships, which you don’t have to repay.
Although it’s common to borrow money for graduate school, you may be able to bypass MBA student loans altogether by exhausting your alternative financing options. Here are a few ways to cut the cost of earning your MBA:
- Seek additional financial aid. It’s important to explore scholarship opportunities before you borrow money for grad school. Check with your university to see if they have fellowships or grants for the program you’re enrolled in, and also do your research through nonprofits and government organizations to fully consider your scholarship options.
- Find work-study or campus job opportunities. Many programs have full-time or part-time staff positions, like research associates or teacher assistants, that are open to grad students. This can be an effective way to build on your in-class experience while earning money to help pay for school. Reach out to your department’s leadership to see if there are any job openings.
- Choose an accelerated MBA program. Some schools offer shorter-term MBA programs – typically by mixing in-person and online education – to help you earn your graduate degree in as little as 18 months. This can significantly reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to pay for school. Others may offer a one-year MBA program, but do your research to ensure the credentials are as worthwhile as a traditional MBA.
Sparrow, founded in 2020, is an online marketplace where students and parents can fill out a single application to see whether they qualify for loan offers from a variety of lenders. Although Sparrow is not a lender, the free service allows you to compare rates across lending partners. Sparrow is also available to international students.
MPower Financing offers private student loans to undergraduate and graduate students within two years of earning a degree or starting a one- or two-year program at an eligible U.S. or Canadian school. The lender specializes in working with international students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients.
Credible is a loan comparison marketplace that allows would-be borrowers to shop around for loans that meet their needs – including mortgages, mortgage refinancing, student loans, student loan refinancing and personal loans. The company was founded in 2013 in San Francisco as a tool to empower borrowers to shop rates and products.
Best for fixed APR
The Rhode Island Student Loan Authority is a nonprofit quasi-state authority that provides college financing to students and parents. The lender specializes in providing loans to Rhode Island residents and students, though not all loans have residency requirements.
Best for no fees
Discover Bank has been operating for more than 100 years, and since 2010, it has offered private student loans to students attending more than 2,400 colleges and universities. Loans of up to 100% of education costs with fixed or variable rates are available.
Best for co-borrowers
The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority is a state-chartered nonprofit established in 1982 to offer low-cost financing options to college students and their families. You can live anywhere in the U.S. and access Boston-based MEFA’s private student loans, including undergraduate, graduate or refinancing options.
Best for small loan amounts
EDvestinU is the nonprofit student loan lending and refinancing organization of the New Hampshire Higher Education Loan Corp. Undergraduate and graduate loans and student loan consolidation are available to borrowers with both fixed and variable rates available in select states and Puerto Rico.
Best for online service
London-based Prodigy Finance offers postgraduate student loans for qualified borrowers from about 150 countries who plan to study as international students at one of more than 850 schools across 18 countries. Students from the United Kingdom can also get loans from Prodigy Finance to study domestically. Since its founding in 2007, Prodigy Finance has provided funding to more than 20,000 students.
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