Earnest Review: Student Loan Refinancing
Earnest is rightfully called one of the most flexible student loan refinancing companies, and for a good reason. Just some of the features you’ll love if you refinance your student loans with them are: (1) flexible payments; (2) online management; (3) payment preference customization; (4) deferment and forbearance options, and (5) variable rates.
Flexible payment. Earnest knows what it’s like to be an adult in the States. You’re struggling with debt, but once you find work, you want to get rid of those student loans quickly. Usually, you’d have to renegotiate payments and terms with your refinancing company. However, Earnest lets you to modify your payment amount in just a few clicks. Oh, and don’t worry: they don’t charge late fees.
Online management. You can keep an eye on your student loan refinancing with Earnest’s mobile app, set up automatic payments, adjust your payment date, or make early/extra payments without prepayment penalties. You can also set automatic payments for the instalments so you don’t have to mark anything on your calendar. You’ll get a 0.25% Autopay Discount for setting it up, subject to Earnest's terms and conditions.
Payment preference customization. Want to skip a payment and make up for it later? It’s absolutely possible with Earnest, subject to their terms and conditions. Additionally, they also offer flexible repayment terms. If you think a 7 year and 2 months loan is the best option for your budget, they’ll be happy to make it possible. So if you’re a lender with a history of financial responsibility, an Earnest loan may just be a great choice! Even if you have limited credit history, they can look at your earning potential, education and savings patterns.
Deferment and forbearance. We know: stuff happens. And when it does, you don’t want to worry about the future of your student loan refi. You just want to get back on track. Earnest has full understanding of that, which is why they offer academic and military forbearance, as well as forbearance in 3-month periods.
Fixed and variable rates. Earnest service their refinancing in-house, which means that they can look at your credit based on more factors than regular institutions. They take your savings, education and earning potential into account, which is a significant factor for lawyers.
- Soft credit check to get rates.
- No prepayment penalty if you want to pay off your loans at any time during the life of the loan.
- No origination fee or application fee.
- If you are interested, Earnest offers other products such as private student loans, which include a marketplace leading nine-month grace period.
- If you refinance using our links, you’ll get a $500 cashback bonus (subject to the terms described below) from Earnest, thanks to the deal we’ve been able to negotiate with them for readers of Biglaw Investor.
- Exists in a competitive marketplace, so may not always be able to offer the lowest rate.
- Variable interest rates can adjust up to 36% annually, much higher than other lenders in the industry, making Earnest a poor choice if you plan to take our a variable loan over a long repayment period.
How Earnest student loan refinancing works
Earnest is a student loan refinancing lender that is an affiliate of Navient. If you refinance your loans with Earnest, they'll be responsible for dictating the loan terms, monthly payments, etc. and you'll work with Earnest as your servicer to repay your student loans.
Here’s the steps you'll go through to refinance with Earnest:
- Get Your Personalized Rate Estimate
- Review Rate and Decide on Next Steps
- Complete Full Application
Fill out a short form on Earnest's website and answer personal information questions related to your education history, financial situation and the total loan amount that you want to refinance to start the application process. Earnest will refinance both private student loans and federal student loans. You need to be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card to refinance with Earnest. Nothing in this process results in a hard credit check, so you don’t have to worry about negatively affecting your credit score. Initially Earnest will verify your identity and credit history to determine the loan products they can offer you, as well as if they're able to offer you a lower interest rate. As with most nine lenders, Earnest is looking for low credit card debt, consistent income, full-time employment and a general good standing in order to provide you competitive rates.
Next, you’ll be shown a dashboard with the variable rates and fixed rates available to you based on the soft credit check, along with the loan terms. You'll see that the variable rate loans are generally a better deal than the fixed rate loans and that the longer loan terms (i.e. the repayment period), the higher the interest rate. You'll almost always get the best interest rate if you're willing to accept a five-year repayment term with a variable rate.
Now that Earnest has provided loan options, loan payments and any eligibility requirements, you can compare the proposal from Earnest to your existing student loans. Since Earnest does not charge an origination fee or a prepayment penalty, so long as the student loan refinance rate is lower than your current rate, it's likely going to save you money to refinance. After you’ve compared the loan rates to your existing student loans, if you decide to proceed with Earnest you'll need to fill out a complete application which will result in a hard credit check and a credit report to confirm your rate. As long as you've entered the information correctly when doing the rate check, you should expect to receive the same rate once the hard credit check is complete.
Bottom line: What we look for when evaluating a student loan refinancing company
Refinancing your student loan debt is a significant investment of time and energy. You have to spend time filling out forms, waiting for an offer, evaluating repayment terms and monthly payments and then ultimately picking a lender. A solid student loan refinancing company can make your life better, not more difficult. Here's what we look at to arrive at our decision.
- Low interest rates. Nobody wants to waste their time completing an application only to find that you can refinance your loans for 0.05% savings on your interest rate. The number one priority of a student loan refinancing company should be offering you the lowest rate possible, thus saving you thousands of dollars. If a student loan refinancing company can't offer you a low rate, the rest doesn't matter. In particular, we look at how they handle graduate students (primarily law students, mba students and medical students) and whether they can offer you a better deal for your graduate student loans, since most of the readers of this site have a bachelor's degree and some type of graduate education and are primarily looking to find a lower interest rate on their graduate student loans after paying large sums to their graduate school (both in terms of tuition and cost of attendance numbers).
- Ease of use. For many people, refinancing student loans is a necessary evil. You know you're paying too much interest. You know you'll save thousands once you get it done. But you'd rather be outside playing than stuck inside entering your home addresses for the 10th time. If you're going to put in the effort to refinance your student loans, a pleasant and easy-to-use interface can make the chore more enjoyable.
- Borrower protections. You're giving up the federal loan protections by refinancing your loans, so you want to be sure that the lender you're using has similar protections in place (e.g. economic hardship, deferment, cosigner release, grace periods, etc.). Thankfully most lenders offer decent protections for things like unemployment or financial hardship, but it's important criteria that we review.
- Flexible repayment options. Depending on where you are in your career, you may want to double down and pay everything off with a five-year variable rate or you might prefer to apply with a co-signer and get the lowest payment possible over a 25-year term while you figure out your next career move. Regardless, flexibility in repayment options (whether it's term length or the ability to switch between variable and fixed interest rates) is an important factor to consider when evaluating a student loan refinancing company.
Who are Earnest's competitors?
Earnest is a solid student loan refinancing company with a legitimate chance of giving you a great deal but to get a full sense of the interest rates available to you it's a good idea to check out the competition. The list below includes the other student loan refinancing companies that you may want to consider when searching for the lowest interest rate.
- First Republic Bank. This is a traditional bank looking to build a long-term customer relationship with you and is willing to refinance your student loans at below-market rates to build the relationship. You'll be required to open up a checking account, initiate direct deposit of your paycheck, and jump through other hoops, but if you're willing to do so they offer the lowest rates available.
- CommonBond. With their Pencils for Promise program, CommonBond offers a social mission to student loan refinancing. They have a dedicated law firm group located in NYC, which means a team is available to specifically help you through the refinancing process.
- SoFi. SoFi is by far the largest lender in the student loan refinancing market. They may not be able to offer you the best rate as they can rely on their brand name to bring in borrowers but there are lots of other perks when you refinance with SoFi and they are actively expanding their products if you're interested in keeping your financial life with one company.
- Credible. Known as the "Kayak of student loan refinancing", Credible offers you access to a marketplace of lenders. Fill out a form once and Credible will pre-qualify you with a bunch of lenders to get rates (soft credit check). To confirm the actual rates, you'll have to continue the application with the individual lender.
- LendKey. If you're looking to borrow from a local credit union, LendKey is the lender for you. They partner with local banks and credit unions to offer you student loan refinancing in your neighborhood.
- ELFI. A relatively new player, ELFI is backed by SouthEast Bank, a retail bank that recognized the value of getting into the student loan refinancing market. More competition is always better and if you end up with multiple offers, you can use them to play off the various student loan refinancing companies to get the best deal for you.
- Splash Financial. Splash Financial is based in Cleveland and one of the newest players in the refinancing space. Originally they only offered loans to medical residents and fellows but have recently been expanding thanks to a partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed).
- Laurel Road. Primarily a good option for medical professionals (which seem to be their target audience), Laurel Road is an option for parents that want to refinance Parent PLUS loans in their child's name.
Earnest is one of the original student loan lenders and is a legitimate way for student loan borrowers to save thousands of dollars in interest payments. Earnest has established itself as a solid choice for student loan borrowers looking to refinance into lower rates.
No. Earnest will perform a soft credit check using just your name, address and date of birth. Soft credit checks do not negatively affect your credit score, no matter how often they take place. If you proceed with a full application after getting pre-qualified, all lenders will perform a hard credit check which will have a minimum impact on your credit score.
Earnest is owned by Navient, a student loan servicing company. Navient acquired Earnest in October 2017 for approximately $155 million. Prior to its acquisition, Earnest had been valued at $375 million by venture-capital firms.
Yes. Earnest student loans have no prepayment penalty, so you can refinance your existing Earnest student loans with Earnest or with another student loan lender.
Earnest provides a private student loan refinancing product that is still considered a student loan for tax purposes.
Earnest requires a minimum credit score of 650 to refinance student loans.
Earnest will accept a written job offer for a position that starts within six months. If you are starting a position within the next six months and looking to start saving money on student loan interest payments, Earnest is a solid choice.
Earnest lends in the District Columbia and 48 states (all states except Kentucky and Nevada - Delaware used to be excluded but recently Earnest became eligible to act as an online lender in Delaware).Earnest is unable to offer its variable interest rate student loans in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
Each lender will only pay you a cash back bonus one time, no matter how many times you refinance with them. However, if you refinance your student loans with another lender, you can collect a second, third, fourth, etc. cash back bonus so long as each lender is new to you.
Your student loan debt must be from a Title-IV accredited not-for-profit school.