SoFi Private Student Loan Review

Written by: Kimberly Burton
Updated: 7/11/24

You’ve visited colleges and explored majors and you made a decision on where to go.  The next step is figuring out how to pay for tuition, books, room and board, and other essential expenses. Scholarships and savings are helpful, but they rarely cover everything. That’s where student loans come in. About 70% of college students rely on loans to fill the financial gap.

The first step for many is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form opens the door to federal financial aid, which usually offers better terms, like lower interest rates and flexible repayment plans. But sometimes, federal aid just isn’t enough, and that’s when private student loans become an option worth exploring.

Private student loans can seem like navigating a maze with so many options, each with its terms and conditions. Trying to figure out which is best can feel like comparing apples to oranges. Interest rates, repayment terms, and loan limits can differ wildly from one lender to another. It can be overwhelming to understand these differences and find the right loan for you. In this article, we’ll dive into the details of one such lender to help you navigate this complex landscape.

SoFi is one of these options.

About SoFi

Short for Social Finance, Inc., SoFi is an online personal finance company that offers a variety of financial products and services, including student loans and student loan refinancing. It was founded in 2011 by four Stanford Graduate School of Business Students with the goal of providing more affordable options for student loans. 

 

The founder’s first student loan program was at their alma mater, Stanford University, using funding from alumni to fund students.  Within a few years, they expanded to other schools with financing backed by Morgan Stanley.

 

Over the past decade, SoFi has grown within the student loan industry and beyond with financial services such as credit cards, investmens, payment platforms, and more.  

 

SoFi went public in 2021 and in 2022, they achieved bank charter approval to be a lender as well as a loan administrator.  Loans approved by SoFi are financed under SoFi Bank, National Association. 

Ranking 10/10 as SoFi is well-respected in the student loan sector. 

Our Process

As with all loans, there are several things to consider.  These will 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 will outline the features of SoFi 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 SoFi a 4.5 out of a possible 5 ranking. 

Keep reading to explore the details of applying for and obtaining a loan with SoFi and to understand how we arrived at this ranking. We’ll talk about special features that make them stand out and a general comparison to other private student loans on the market.

Note: While SoFi has several student loan programs, we specifically looked at the Undergraduate SoFi Private Student Loan for our analysis.

Who Can Apply?

To qualify for a private student loan with SoFi, students must be enrolled at least half-time in a degree-granting program at an eligible Title IV school.

You must be a US citizen, permanent resident, or non-permanent resident alien who has a valid social security number and resides in the US.  You must also be at the age of majority in your state (usually 18 years old). 

Those applying on their own must meet minimum credit scores, Income requirements, and debt-to-income ratios.  You are more likely to qualify for a loan if you have a cosigner, which could be a parent, relative, spouse, friend, or mentor.

To qualify for loans in subsequent years of school, students must maintain satisfactory academic progress as defined by their school.

While this did not factor into our rankings, your choice of school is a big deciding factor on whether you can apply for any loan.  If you do not follow the traditional school path, you can apply for a loan with SoFi.

What is the maximum loan amount?

SoFi’s minimum loan is $5,000. There is officially no maximum limit for a SoFi Private Student Loan so you can, in theory, borrow up to 100% of the cost of attendance.

Qualifying expenses include tuition and fees, food, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses.  Your school’s financial aid office may have a list of items they include in the cost of attendance.

You are encouraged to apply for federal aid before applying for a private student loan. Use private student loans to make up the balance. 

To ensure you take out enough loans to pay for college, but not too much to have you drowning in debt, you’ll need to do some calculations.  One rule of thumb is to not borrow more than what you anticipate you will earn in your first year in the working world.  

Are there any fees to apply? 

In addition to the cost of the student loan, lenders often add other fees for setting up and maintaining the loan. These costs can accumulate, so it’s wise to find a lender that waives them. 

SoFi does not charge application, origination, late payment, processing, forbearance, insufficient fund fees, or prepayment penalty.  SoFi boasts no fees ever.

This helps borrowers budget their student loan costs more effectively, ensuring that more of the loan amount goes towards actual educational expenses.

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?

There is no penalty for paying off your loan early, and there are several repayment options. 

First, you can start paying on your loan immediately. This gives you a head start on becoming debt-free and results in the lowest-cost loan.  Even if you choose to defer payments, you have the option to make payments when you can. 

Second, while you are still in school, you can make low, flat payments (as low as $25 per month) or interest-only payments.  Again, this gives you a head start and helps build credit.  

If you choose to make interest-only or partial interest payments while still in school but have trouble, the In-School Default Protection automatically switches you to a deferred payment plan. 

Third, you can wait until you graduate to start making payments. Keep in mind that your interest is accumulating while you are not making payments or even when making partial payments, so the cost of your loan will rise during this period.

Once you leave school, there is a 6 months grace period before you start making loan payments. 

Beginning payments as soon as possible will save money and build credit. On the other hand, not having to worry about payments until after graduation allows students to focus on their studies without immediate financial burden.

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

Ranking 9/10 because some lenders offer more repayment options.

SoFI strongly encourages borrowers to enroll in AutoPay. There are interest rate incentives.

Ranking 8/15 as SoFi stresses auto-debit in their terms, while other lenders clearly offer multiple options. Note that we gave more weight to this category because it’s an important factor for borrowers when managing repayments.

SoFi has a standard 6-month grace period before loan repayments are required.

Ranking is 8/10 for the standard grace period; some lenders offer longer terms.

Are there payment deferment options?

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

Borrowers can defer full principal and interest payments as long as the student is enrolled at an eligible school at least part-time.  Students have 60 months to complete their degree. Then they will have 6 months before starting regular payments.

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

Ranking 10 out of 10 due to several payment options and several situations where a deferment may be granted.  As always, read the fine print and ask lots of questions before deciding on a loan.

Do I need a parent to cosign the loan?

While some students can qualify for student loans themselves, they likely will need a cosigner to qualify for a larger loan.  This person is generally a parent, relative, or a responsible adult with established good credit.  

The cosigner must meet the same eligibility requirements as an independent borrower.

SoFi strongly encourages a cosigner when applying for a loan. They offer a consigner release option after 12 months of on-time principal and interest payments.  The student would then be solely responsible for the payments.

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

Ranking 15 out of 15 due to the consigner release option after 12 months. Note that we gave more weight to this factor and 12 months is the lowest period of time among all the lenders we looked at.

The better the credit rating of the borrowers or their cosigners will determine interest rates and loan amounts.  Good to excellent credit will qualify for the best rates. Establishing a strong credit history or finding a qualified cosigner with excellent credit is essential to accessing competitive loan terms.

If a parent has more than one student in college at the same time and cosigns loans with each of them, SoFi will give them a 0.25% rate discount on the second, third, etc. loans.

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

Ranking 10/15 as the minimum FICO score required for the loan is 650; although the higher the score, the better the chances of approval and the better the rate available.  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.

Parents can also take out a loan on their own to pay for a child’s education.  

What is the application process?

Start a loan application with SoFi with a pre-qualification, which includes providing basic information for you and your cosigner.  Once you gather your personal and school information, the initial application should only take you 3 minutes. A credit decision will be available immediately. 

After you receive approval, you’ll review your loan details and select the loan terms that work for you. There may be a series of tasks you’ll need to complete through the online portal before the funds are finally sent to your school. 

The time it takes for a loan approval is not listed on the website. To see if a SoFi loan is right for you, start the loan application to see rates without impacting your credit score. 

Like most lenders, a Soft Pull of your credit report will be required in the pre-qualification stage. These types of inquiries will not negatively affect your credit. If you decide to continue with the process, more details will be required.

Ranking 10/10 based on a “soft pull” of the credit report, which is not reported to the credit-reporting agencies.

How competitive are the rates?

SoFi rates are determined by the type of loan. 

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

Fixed Rate Loans range from 4.19% –  14.83% APR
Variable Rate Loans ranging from 5.74%-15.86% 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. However; variable rates can be advantageous at times. 

The term of your loan can also impact the cost and monthly payment amount. SoFi offers 5, 10, and 15-year loans.  The choice of term depends on the loan amount and repayment options.

Ranking 10/10 based on options between variable and fixed rate loans. While SoFi rates are on par with other lenders, we recommend that you shop around to find the rate and payment plan that is right for you. The rate you receive depends on a variety of factors.

Are there other resources available?

SoFi has a long list of guides and calculators to help you learn about the student loan process and what you can afford. Since SoFi is a full financial company, the website also has information related to credit cards, mortgages, and investing. 

Be sure to explore the Frequently Asked Questions for more details on all services offered.

As an incentive for good grades, SoFi will award your 3.0 or higher GPA with an annual cash bonus – $250 for a full-year loan or $100 for a single-semester loan.  

SoFi also has a Member Rewards Program where a borrower can earn points toward payments on their loan by completing simple tasks. Every little bit counts.

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

What else should you consider?

We also 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.

SoFi has an A- rating, which ranked 8 out of 10 on our scale.

Ranking 8/10 based on feedback from borrowers and an overall ranking of A-.  We encourage you to look up any lender we review on their website at www.bbb.org

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 10/10 because there is a comprehensive review from NerdWallet and they gave SoFi a 5 out of 5 rating. 

Does SoFi offer other loans?

We focused on undergraduate private student loans in our analysis, but SoFi also offers graduate student loans, MBA, law school, and health professions loans.

Less-Than-Half-Time loans are available for existing borrowers in their final semester and not taking just one or two classes.

SoFi also offers refinancing services for student loans, including medical resident, parent PLUS, medical professional, and law and MBA refinancing.

Plus, SoFi offers personal and mortgage loans.

Summary

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

Pros:

  • Competitive Interest Rates
  • No Fees
  • Flexible Repayment Terms
  • A- Rating by the BBB
  • Numerous Deferment Options
  • 6-month Grace Period for Repayment
  • 12-month Cosigner Release Option
  • 3-minute Initial Application Time and Credit Decision

Cons:

  • Relatively High Variable Interest Rates
  • Hard to Get a Loan Without a Cosigner
  • No Income-Driven Repayment Plans
  • Interest Accrual During In-School Deferment Periods
  • Lack of Federal Protection
  • No Review by NerdWallet
  • Minimum FICO score of 750

Overall Ranking

Based on our set of criteria, we rank SoFi at 4.5 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 SoFi 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.