Citizens Bank Private Student Loan Review

Written by: Kimberly Burton
Updated: 7/02/24

 

Deciding on a college is a big step for many students. After choosing a location and filling out the application form, the next challenge is how to pay for tuition, books, room & board, and other expenses at your chosen school.  Some students are awarded scholarships, and savings can address some expenses, but often students and parents need to contemplate student loans. 

After looking at government programs through FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), your next step might be to look at private student loans.

Comparing student loans is often like comparing apples to oranges, so we are here to help you take the guesswork out of the multitude of private student loan options available.

Citizens Bank is one of these options.

About Citizens Bank

Citizen’s Bank offers private student loans designed to help students cover expenses not met by federal loans or other financial aid.  They are a well-known American financial institution offering a wide range of banking products and services, including private student loans. 

Established in 1828, Citizens Bank serves customers through online banking and a network of branch locations. They have a reputation for customer service and innovation through banking.

Ranking 10/10 because Citizens Bank is well-known and has been around for almost 200 years.

Our Process

As with all loans, there are several things to consider.  These are going to be based on where you are attending school, how much you need to borrow, your (and if you have cosigners) credit scores, interest rates of the loan, and repayment terms.

We’re going to outline the features of Citizens and how they compare to other lenders on a scale of 1 to 10 (A few factors we gave more weight to and those will be pointed out below.) 

Overall Ranking

After looking at more than 15 factors and comparing the most popular private student loans on the market, we’ve given Citizens Bank 4.2 out of a possible 5 ranking.

Keep reading to explore the details of applying for and obtaining a loan with Citizens Bank and to understand how we arrived at this ranking.

Who Can Apply?

Citizens will consider lending money to students attending a four-year, Title IV public or private institution.  If you want to attend a community college, for-profit school, or two-year school, you cannot get a loan through Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank focuses on four-year institutions based on graduation rates, employment prospects after college, and regulatory factors. These colleges and universities are often seen as more stable a reliable with less chance of students defaulting on their loans. 

While this did not factor into our rankings, your choice of school is a big deciding factor on whether you can apply for this loan.

What is the maximum loan amount?

The maximum loan amount is $150,000, or the total cost of education, whichever is lower.  They also have a lifetime debt limit which not only includes the loans from Citizens, but other federal and private loans as well.

While the overall cap is $150,000, there might be specific limits on how much you can borrow each academic year.  It’s their way of ensuring that students do not borrow too much in any single year and promotes responsible borrowing and financial planning.

Note: The limit did not factor into our rankings, but may be important to you depending on your financial needs.  If tuition at your chosen school is higher, you may need to look at multiple loans or a lender with higher loan amounts.  

Are there any fees to apply? 

When securing a student loan, the costs associated with obtaining the loan itself can sometimes add up. Citizens Bank eliminates certain fees that are commonly associated with loan applications and processing. This makes it easier for borrowers to budget the cost of their student loans.

There are no origin, application, or disbursement fees. By eliminating these common fees, Citizens Bank ensures that more of the loan amount is available for the actual costs of education.

This is a definite pro.  The lower the fees, the more affordable the loan is over time.

Ranking 10/10 because less fees are always a plus!

Can I pay the loan off early?

Yes, and there is no penalty for paying the loan off early. 

Citizens Bank offers various repayment options, including interest-only payments while in school and deferred payment options, allowing students to focus on their studies without immediate financial burden.

On the other hand, graduates who want to begin their working life debt-free can focus on repayments as soon as possible.  Plus, if students make full or even interest payments while still attending school, they could build their own credit.

Borrowers can choose from various repayment terms, typically ranging from 5 to 15 years, allowing for more personalized repayment plans.

This is a pro, offering flexibility depending on your financial situation.

Ranking 10/10 because of multiple repayment options.

This brings us to a big difference between federal and private student loans.  For some students who end up with lower incomes after graduation, Citizens Bank does not offer income-driven repayment plans.

Ranking 10/15 based on other borrower benefits including the ability to pay the loan off without a required auto-debit from your account. Note that we gave more weight to this category because it’s an important factor for borrowers when managing repayments.

Citizens Bank allows a 6-month grace period before loan repayments are required. This can allow borrowers to get more established in their jobs before needing to factor in student loan payments.

Ranking is 8/10, as some lenders on our list allow longer periods.

Are there payment deferment options?

Private loans typically offer fewer deferment options compared to federal loans, making them less flexible if financial difficulties arise.

Private loans also lack federal protections, such as forgiveness programs and extensive deferment options, which can be crucial for some borrowers.

Plus, interest accrues during in-school deferment periods for unsubsidized loans, increasing the overall loan balance.

These features are a con with any private loan and not a disadvantage for Citizens Bank alone. 

Ranking 9 out of 10 due to some deferment options, but not as much as other lenders.

Do I need a parent to cosign the loan?

A student can apply by themselves, but since most students don’t have good enough (or any) credit to apply for loans, they are more likely to get a larger loan and lower interest rate if they have a co-signer like a parent or close relative.

There is an option to release the cosigner after a set number of on-time payments (usually 36), which can be beneficial for the borrower and the cosigner.

We consider this a pro as it offers the cosigner an opportunity to release themselves from the loan if they choose.

Ranking 9 out of 15 due to the number of months before the release can occur. Note that we gave more weight to this factor with the highest lenders allowing release after 12 months of payments.

On the other hand, borrowers or their cosigners need good to excellent credit to qualify for the best rates, which can be a barrier for some students. Establishing a strong credit history or finding a qualified cosigner with excellent credit is essential to accessing competitive loan terms.

This can be a con based on your credit history, but personal circumstances do not affect our ranking.

Ranking 15/15 as the minimum FICO score required for the loan is 650.  Note that we gave this more weight in the rankings as the ability to obtain the loan at a lower interest rate is very important to most borrowers.

Another option is a Parent Student Loan where the person taking out the loan, often a parent, leaves the student out of the process altogether. This is an option for parents to support their child’s education by taking on the financial responsibility themselves. This can protect the student’s financial future while potentially securing better loan terms through the parent’s established credit history. 

What is the application process?

The application process is straightforward and can often be completed online. Borrowers typically receive a credit decision quickly, which is advantageous for those needing to secure funding quickly for educational expenses.

Citizens Bank will use a “soft pull” to get a snapshot of your credit history and evaluate whether you are creditworthy.  A soft pull does not affect your credit score, so you can shop around and apply for loans from multiple lenders.

Once approved, students can secure funding for multiple years of education without reapplying each year, simplifying the process.

Ranking 10/10 based on the Soft Pull of your credit report.

How competitive are the rates?

Citizens Bank offers a loyalty discount for existing customers and an automatic payment discount, potentially lowering the overall cost of the loan.

Some loans have variable interest rates, which can seem attractive when setting up the loan.  However, rates can fluctuate over time, potentially increasing the total cost of the loan.

At the time of this article, rates on the website show:

Fixed Rate Loans range from 4.24% – 15.61% APR

Variable Rate Loans range from 5.99% – 16.61% APR

If you can lock in a fixed-rate loan with an excellent credit score, your loan will be significantly lower than starting with a variable rate and seeing it rise to the upper percentage rates.

Ranking 10/10 based on the options of both fixed and variable rates; however, depending on credit score, these rates may not be advantageous when you are ready to sign your loan.  We encourage you to shop around for the best rates. 

Based on the competitiveness of variable and fixed rates at the time of this article, Citizens Bank was not the lowest among all the lenders we ranked. As a result, it brought their overall score down.

Are there other resources available?

The Citizens Bank website provides resources and tools to help students and their families make informed financial decisions. It features financial calculators to estimate loan payments and the total cost of attendance, as well as guidance on managing debt through budgeting tips and repayment strategies. 

The website also provides advice on debt consolidation and includes a blog with comprehensive articles on the student loan process, college life, financial literacy, and career guidance.  Essentially, it is a one-stop resource, answering nearly all questions about student loans and the college journey.

Ranking 10/10 due to Special Product Features in addition to just the loan.

What else should you consider?

We investigated the rating provided by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which gives consumers confidence in a business’s reliability and trustworthiness. The rating is based on factors like customer complaints, transparency, and adherence to BBB standards. A higher BBB rating indicates that a business resolves customer issues effectively and operates ethically. It serves as a measure of transparency and accountability, showing how well a business treats its customers and handles disputes.

An A+ rating ranked 10 out of 10 on our scale.

Ranking 6/10 based on feedback from borrowers and an overall ranking of “B”.  We encourage you to look up any lender we review on their website at www.bbb.org. (Citizens Bank is under Citizens Financial Group, Inc.)

We also looked at other reviews for our private student loans. If the loan was reviewed on major financial sites, we considered this a plus to the visibility of the loan. While this is a small factor in whether to consider a loan, we do recommend careful research when comparing this loan to others.

Ranking 5/10 based on the lack of review from major financial institutions like NerdWallet.

Does Citizens Bank offer other loans?

We focused on undergraduate private student loans in our analysis, but Citizens Bank also offers graduate student loans for medical, dental, law, or other advanced degree programs.

Later, if you find yourself burdened with several student loans (federal or private loans), you can bring the totals to Citizens Bank and consolidate them into one payment.

Summary

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of a private student loan with Citizens Bank:

Pros:

  • Competitive Interest Rates
  • No Fees
  • Flexible Repayment Terms
  • Cosigner Release Option
  • Multi-Year Approval
  • Positive Reviews for Customer Service
  • Rate Discounts for Existing Customers
  • Minimum 650 FICO score

Cons:

  • Variable Interest Rates
  • Limited Deferment Options
  • No Income-Driven Repayment Plans
  • Maximum Loan Limits
  • Interest Accrual During In-School Deferment Periods
  • Lack of Federal Protection
  • Lack of Review from Other Financial Websites
  • Low ranking from the BBB

Overall Ranking

Based on our set of criteria, we rank Citizens Bank at 4.2 out of 5.

Next Steps

Navigating private student loans can be complex, as we’ve explored in this review. We strongly recommend evaluating multiple options thoroughly before reaching a decision. Visit lender websites, talk with their representatives, and prioritize key features based on your needs.

Your choice of loan will be influenced by various factors, each carrying different levels of importance to your specific situation. Taking these steps ensures you’re well-informed and positioned to select the loan that best fits your financial and educational goals.

To learn more about additional private student loans, explore our other reviews and resources.

Click here to Apply to Citizens Bank Private Student Loans

About the Author

Kim Burton is a versatile content and technical writer residing in the scenic mountains of Colorado. A lifelong learner, Kim enjoys crafting insightful articles on finance, technology, marketing, nutrition, real estate, and self-care. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and is a certified nutrition coach. As a mother preparing her child for college, Kim has conducted thorough research into the student loan process, equipping herself with a wealth of knowledge to navigate this complex financial landscape. When she’s not writing, Kim enjoys hiking, creating, gardening, and hanging out with her family.