Student lender Sallie Mae expects loan losses to peak in 2009, although charge-offs are likely to stay high, Chief Executive Albert Lord said at a conference on Wednesday.

Student loans are holding up very, very well, said Lord, despite rising unemployment and falling home prices that have led to heavy losses for consumer lenders.

The company, legally known as SLM Corp, is basing its outlook on current economic conditions and the expectation that U.S. unemployment reaches 10 percent, said Lord, speaking at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods' Diversified Financial Services conference in New York.

Even with charge-off levels where they are, we're able to see the edge of the forest, said Lord.

The company said losses reached 5.1 percent of its private loan portfolio in the first quarter.

Sallie Mae has struggled to finance loans amid the economic crisis, as secured and unsecured markets have at various times been closed to nonbank lenders.

(Reporting by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)