In a Nutshell: Student loan borrowers are faced with a wide range of options these days, but not every one has the borrower’s best interest at heart. Ascent offers private student loans that put the borrower first. The company offers a range of loans with flexible options that can help borrowers build credit along the way. Ascent borrowers can also take advantage of the lender’s rewards programs and earn cash back. Ascent is focused on outcomes, and to achieve success for the company and its borrowers, it emphasizes financial wellness by providing a wealth of educational resources to student borrowers. We are recognizing Ascent with our Editor’s Choice™ Award as Top Private Student Loan Provider thanks to the company’s student-focused efforts and innovative loan options.
The student loan debt crisis has garnered national attention in recent years. And with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the wallets of millions of borrowers, these loans have been under even more scrutiny.
Student loan debt stands at around $1.7 trillion in the U.S. That exceeds the total amount of credit card debt and is only surpassed by mortgage debt.
Experts have explored the reasons that may have led to this issue while others are working on solutions. Some factors that have led to the crisis include the way student loans are approved, increasing tuition costs, and financial literacy.
Ascent Funding is a platform that provides a new take on student loans — it was created with borrowers in mind.
We recently spoke with Ascent CEO and Chairman Ken Ruggiero to learn more about this innovative platform, including the company’s origins, its student-centric focus, and its commitment to promoting financial wellness.
“Private student loans should expand your possibilities, not limit them,” according to Ascent. “That’s why we set out to do things differently and created benefits that put students first.”
Ascent provides more opportunities for students to qualify for a loan with or without a cosigner. It also provides borrowers with access to important financial literacy resources — not only to better understand the loan process but to give them the tools they need to gain financial wellness.
For its focus on putting borrowers first and its wide range of available loan options, we are recognizing Ascent with our Editor’s Choice™ Award as Top Private Student Loan Provider.
A Student Loan Platform That Expands Possibilities
Ruggiero said Ascent’s origins lie in the CEO’s earlier venture, Goal Solutions. Goal began originating private student loans in 2006 but the Great Recession would soon force the company to reevaluate its strategy.
“We got very deep into the data of how student loans performed during a recession, and in the last several years Ascent has been spun out of our parent company, Goal,” Ruggiero said. “Before we spun out, we did a lot of deep analytics and the foundational elements of Ascent were established based on the questions we asked in 2006.”
These questions included whether the company could effectively serve the underserved.
“In student loans, there’s a massive population of underserved people because the banks have traditionally owned and controlled the market share,” Ruggiero said. “Banks have to underwrite loans in accordance to their strict regulatory guidance and their risk-weighted capital policies. So, they do things banks normally do — they don’t lend to people with no credit score, and they don’t lend to people with bad credit and no job.”
Additionally, 90% of private student loans over the past 30 years have been issued with a credit-worthy cosigner on the loan, he said.
The company’s research revealed that Ascent was well-positioned to enter this space and become just another private student loan company. But, Ruggiero explained, market needs were well-served in this area and the conversation kept coming back to focusing on underserved audiences.
“The question was can we do a product for the overlooked and the underserved? And the answer was yes,” he said. “We put the student at the center of everything we do — not the parent or the cosigner. Our vision statement is to revolutionize the way students pay and succeed in school.”
Ascent Offers Appealing Benefits, Including Flexible Payment Options and Reward Programs
“In order to make loans available to as many students as possible, we studied the school quality and the student outcomes,” Ruggiero said. “And we’re now the leading outcomes-based lender in the country, offering the widest product set.”
Ascent’s wide range of loan options include loans other major lenders do not offer such as future income loans and income share agreements. The company also has a large presence in the coding bootcamp space, which is often aimed at adult learners, Ruggiero said.
The company’s non-cosigned loan options allow borrowers to build credit in their own name. Ascent also offers an option where a cosigner can be released after 24 consecutive on-time payments, again allowing the borrower to build his or her own credit.
Ascent also offers flexible payment options.
“Choose from affordable fixed or variable rates, customize your repayment terms, and pay off your loan early without any penalty,” according to the company.
The lender not only serves undergraduate students but it also provides loans for graduate students and postgraduate students, including those pursuing careers in medicine, law, business, and academia.
Another facet of Ascent that sets it apart from many other lenders is the reward opportunities borrowers receive.
“Ascent Rewards is an effortless cash back program designed to help students receive rewards by directing the cash they earn toward bills, savings, or charitable donations,” according to the company.
“Graduation is really important to a student’s success, obviously,” Ruggiero said. “That data is also very important to us to gather, so we give a 1% cash bonus which is doing two things. One, we’re getting the student to interact with us and share their information about their graduation date and major. And then we want to coach them about what their options are before they enter repayment.”
This approach simply provides another touchpoint to have those kinds of conversations with students to help them think about how they can achieve their goals.
Ruggiero said Ascent plans to offer other incentives around students’ ability to earn cash back in the future, as well.
A Commitment to Providing Financial Wellness Resources
While other student loan companies may passively offer some level of financial literacy, Ascent understands that financial wellness is the key to the success of the students and the company.
“In order to succeed, we have to lead with transparency about outcomes, we have to lead with financial wellness and education,” Ruggiero said. “And we have to lead with safe borrowing. And that’s in all of our products and services right now.”
The Ascent website hosts a rich collection of financial wellness resources designed with students in mind.
“Your financial wellness journey starts with a single step,” according to the company website. “Whether you’re just getting started or a financial planning guru, the sooner you apply financial wellness in your daily life, the longer you will reap the financial benefits.”
The company understands that there is a lot of terminology, abbreviations, and other jargon many students may not be familiar with, but its financial wellness approach aims to put borrowers at ease.
“We’re here to break it all down for you with exclusive content and tips that you can actually use and start applying today,” according to the Ascent website. “Ascent is invested in your academic achievements and financial wellness by offering benefits that go beyond a student loan with free resources available 24/7 and financial wellness courses as a part of our loan application. No matter which step of your financial wellness journey you’re in, Ascent is here to help you.”
Ascent also makes it a point to partner with companies that will help borrowers in their financial journey, including Avibra, ChangeEd, Chipper, and JobSpeaker.
If you find yourself overwhelmed when it comes to the options available for financing your higher education, Ascent, with its student-focused philosophy and wide range of flexible options, may be the right choice for you.