Ascent Student Loans Review: Is It the Right Lender for You?
Ascent is a private student-loan lender based in Carol Stream, IL, that offers student loans that require a co-signer and student loans that don’t require a co-signer.
Over the past few years, private student loan lenders have become popular choices for students who exhaust their campus-based and federal student loans and need a way to get extra money to cover tuition and other school expenses.
In this review, we’re going to do three things:
- Explain the student loans that Ascent offers
- Compare Ascent’s loans to four private student loan lenders
- Provide our general thoughts about Ascent’s pros and cons
The Types of Private Student Loans Ascent Offers
As we mentioned in the introduction, Ascent splits up their loans into two categories: co-signer loans and independent loans.
Before we detail each of these loans, we want to point out that your loan has to be at least $2,000. Also, you can’t have more than $200,000 in federal and student loans combined. If you do, you won’t be eligible for an Ascent loan.
Co-Signer Private Student Loans
A co-signer is someone who signs for a loan along with you and, therefore, takes responsibility for paying back the loan should you fail to pay it back. The loan appears on their credit report and, if you’re more than 30 days late, then the derogatory mark on your credit report because of that late payment will show up on their credit report, too.
The advantage to having a cosigner is that you can use their credit history to help increase your chances of getting a lower interest rate. This is especially important for high school graduates because most of them don’t have a credit history at all.
Private student loan lenders and most lenders, in general, see this as a negative because, while you don’t have a bad credit history, you don’t have a good one, either, so there’s no way of knowing how responsible you are in paying back your loans.
Therefore, using a cosigner for an Ascent private student loan can be a huge boost if their credit history is a good one, which usually means having credit scores above 750.
Here are the rates and terms of the co-signer loans Ascent provides, which include a 0.25% discount given to all borrowers who make monthly payments via their bank account:
- Variable rate APR: 4.04% - 13.04%
- Fixed rate APR: 5.81% - 14.87%
- Repayment lengths: 5, 10, or 15 years
- Repayment relief: Interest-only, six-month deferment, $25 a month in-school
Later on in this review, we’ll compare Ascent’s interest rates to other lenders. For now, know that the lowest rates they offer are comparable to car loans and, in some cases, are lower than what you’d get through the federal student aid program.
The repayment lengths are reasonable, based on our research, and the repayment relief they offer is pretty standard among private student loan lenders.
Interest-only means you are only paying back interest charges while you're enrolled at least half-time. You have the choice of using a six-month deferment of payments once you graduate or drop below half-time, too. The last option is $25 fixed payments while you’re enrolled at least half-time, Ascent points out.
The benefit of these types of loans is that you get lower interest rates because you’ve got a co-signer but, of course, this is only a benefit if your co-signer has good credit scores.
Independent Student Loans
Independent loans are, according to Ascent, loans they offer that don’t require a co-signer. This isn’t unusual, as Discover, Sally Mae, Wells Fargo and Citizens Bank all provide loans you can get with or without a co-signer.
However, it’s important to analyze Ascent’s independent loans because it gives you an idea of how the rates and the terms of the loan differ from the co-signer loans they provide:
- Variable rate APR: 5.70% - 13.00%
- Fixed rate APR: 7.32% - 14.00%
- Repayment lengths: 10 or 15 years
- Repayment relief: Six-month deferment
The rates and terms for these loans aren’t nearly as good as they are for the co-signer loans. A lot of that has to do with the fact that your credit alone probably won’t be as good as your credit plus the credit of your co-signer.
So, Ascent does what most lenders do: They charge you higher interest rates as a sort of penalty for you not having a track record of reliable debt repayment. This way, they can earn more money in interest and offset any losses they might incur if you don’t pay your loans back and they have to sell your debt at a fraction of the cost to a debt collector.
Now, these higher charges come with a caveat. You have to meet a minimum FICO score requirement of 680, which is considered average and is on the cusp of being good. Our advice is to boost your FICO score as quickly as possible because interest rates are often tied to credit scores.
Also, you only have two repayment lengths (10 years, 15 years). Ascent’s fine print notes that you only get the 10-year option if you choose a fixed-rate loan instead of a variable-rate loan.
Also, they limit you to a six-month deferment for repayment relief, which means you get six months of no payments after you graduate or fall below half-time. You don’t however, have access to interest-only payments or fixed $25 payments while you’re in school.
Pro tip: Ascent does not charge any fees to provide your loan.
Ascent’s 1% Cash Back Bonus
The big perk you get with Ascent (Discover offers it, too) is a cash bonus equal to 1% of what you borrowed from Ascent. The reward is given when you graduate, provided your graduation day happens more than 90 days and less than 5 years after you get your loan.
Also, you can’t be more than 30 days late on any payment and you can’t consolidate the loan.
So, if you get a $20,000 loan from Ascent, you could get a $200 cash bonus provided you meet the criteria.
A Quick Word to Graduate Students About Ascent Student Loans
We called Ascent to ask some questions about their loans and discovered that independent loans are available to graduate students as long as you’re attending full-time.
If you aren’t, then you’ll have to apply for a co-signer loan. This rule does not apply to undergrads.
How Ascent Compares to Other Private Student Loan Lenders
One of the key things to look at when it comes to private student loans is the interest rate you’re charged.
The following table shows you how Ascent’s fixed-rate co-signer loans with available discounts compare with loans from five other lenders:
|Ascent||Sallie Mae||Wells Fargo||Discover||Citizens Bank||Federal Aid|
|Undergrad Loans||5.81% - 14.87%||5.49% - 11.60%||5.44% - 11.01%||5.99% - 12.99%||6.45% - 12.05%||5.05%|
|Graduate Loans||5.81% - 14.87%||6.00% - 8.89%||6.59% - 11.42%||5.99% - 13.99%||6.39% - 11.44%||6.6%|
|Law/ MBA||5.81% - 14.87%||6.00% - 8.89%||6.59% - 11.42%||5.99% - 12.99%||6.05% - 10.95%||6.6%|
|Medical Doctorate||5.81% - 14.87%||5.99% - 8.61%||6.41% - 9.93%||5.99% - 11.24%||5.70% - 9.95%||6.6%|
Ascent’s strength is that they offer the lowest rates for graduate loans. However, only their lowest APR’s are competitive. Their high APR’s are significantly higher than loans from Sallie Mae, Wells, Fargo, Discover, Citizens Bank and the Department of Education.
Keep in mind that Ascent’s super-low graduate loan rates require a cosigner. If you were to apply for the loan without a co-signer, the rates are, on average, about 1.5% higher for the lowest APR and about 0.90% lower for the higher APR’s.
While the other five sites don’t include a co-signer in their rates, it’s possible that the best rates they offer are contingent on you have sparkling credit (750 and above) or having a co-signer who does.
Another major difference between Ascent and the other private lenders is that Ascent gives one set of rates for all degrees, rather than calibrating their interest rates to your degree type. This isn’t something reflected in the table but it is a reality.
The other five lenders provide loans with various terms and rates depending on your course of study. Medical degrees, law degrees, MBA’s, medical residencies and undergraduate degrees are all situations in which they’ll craft small variations in your rates and terms.
Finally, the other sites in the table offer parent loans, which are loans that your parents take out in their name to pay for your college.
In our opinion, Ascent is a decent option among the various private loan lenders for graduate loans because they keep their rates simple and the best APR’s are very low.
The drawbacks are that Ascent’s best rates require a co-signer and the high APR’s on those loans are significantly higher than other private student loan lenders.
In our opinion, Ascent’s greatest strengths are that you get a 1% cash back bonus and that their best APR’s are lower than the five private lenders we mentioned earlier and lower than federal loans for graduate school.
The drawbacks are that you can only get those best rates if you have a co-signer and the co-signer has a relatively clean credit history and excellent credit scores. Also, the high APR’s Ascent lists on their site are higher than what graduate students could get on the other sites.
Based on our research, we believe Ascent is a good fit for borrowers who have a co-signer with excellent credit scores and credit history. The lowest APR’s they offer could be within reach, and, if they are, they can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars over competing sites.