LendKey Review: Student Loan Refinancing
With over 300 credit unions in their network and $3 billion in loan originations, LendKey is an excellent choice if you want to find the best student loan refinance option involving a credit union or a local bank. It’s a lending platform that originally started out as a peer-to-peer student loan platform. While it’s currently working with credit unions and small banks to help you succeed, it’s still keeping its origins in mind. That’s why you’ll certainly enjoy features such as: (1) one-stop shopping; (2) unemployment protection; (3) location-based special deals, and (4) flexible terms.
One-stop shopping. While LendKey doesn’t refinance your loans directly, they give you the option of accessing their network of over 300 small banks and credit unions. You can get deals from financial institutions that you haven’t even thought of. Then, you can simply compare different options and choose the student loan refi that’s the best fit for your current situation.
Unemployment protection. If you’re worried about what would happen if you lose your job, you no longer have to. LendKey has a generous 18 months paused payment period that could help you get back on your feet should the worse come to worst. They can do so by carefully selecting their partners that want you to succeed (so they could succeed, too).
Location-based special deals. Depending on your financial profile and LendKey lenders in your area, you could get plenty of special deals you wouldn’t get if you refinanced with a big company or a big bank. Additionally, all loans contracted through LendKey come with no origination fees.
Flexible terms. LendKey and its partners are big on giving you the flexibility you need to make the best choices for your future. Plenty of people who’ve refinanced their student loans through LendKey were surprised to have received an offer they couldn’t get it anywhere else. It’s also particularly good at servicing $20,000 to $100,000 student loans. You can choose from 5 to 20 year loans, and their fixed and variable interest rates are competitive as well. You can refinance private, federal, as well as graduate loans – all within the same loan. While LendKey doesn’t work with huge financial institutions, it works with reliable credit unions and local banks who are invested in your success. It’s a good option for reducing headaches and paying off that student debt sooner so you can focus on investments.
- Compare multiple lender offers at the same time.
- No hard credit check.
- Most lenders on the platform offer a 0.25% autopay discount.
- Because LendKey works with so many lenders, you're more likely to find a loan product or loan type that works for you.
- No prepayment penalty or application fees
- If you refinance using our links, you’ll get a $300 cashback bonus from LendKey, thanks to the deal we’ve been able to negotiate with them for readers of the Biglaw Investor.
- Still need to apply directly with the lenders.
- Doesn’t have every lender on its platform, so you may be able to find better rates elsewhere.
How LendKey student loan refinancing works
LendKey lets you compare student loan refinancing offers from multiple lenders at the same time. It doesn’t originate the loans or offer different interest rates than what you would get by applying directly with the lender, along with the terms proposed by the lender (e.g. fixed-rate loans or variable APR). Instead, think of LendKey like Kayak or Expedia when you are booking a flight, except you'll be presented with loan options rather than flight choices. LendKey aggregates all of the student loan offers and shows you your options, even though you’ll ultimately go through an application process with one of the actual lenders which will require a hard credit inquiry. You need to be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident to refinance your loans. As with most nine lenders, LendKey is looking for low credit card debt (or a low debt-to-income ratio generally), consistent income, full-time employment and a general good standing in order to provide you competitive rates.
Here’s the LendKey student loan refinancing steps you’ll go through:
- Get Personalized Rate Estimates
- Compare Lenders and Rates
- Pick a Lender and Apply
Fill out a short form on LendKey's website and answer personal information questions related to your education history, financial situation and the total loan amount that you want to refinance. LendKey will refinance both private student loans and federal student loans. If you're applying with a co-signer, you'll need them to complete the form as well. After that, you’ll create a LendKey account. Nothing in this process results in a hard credit check, so you don’t have to worry about negatively affecting your credit score.
Next, you’ll be shown a dashboard with the lenders and the loan terms (such as variable rate loans and fixed rate loans) you can expect to receive when you refinance with the individual lender. LendKey will give you multiple quotes from the same lender because the rates will vary depending on term length and whether you select a fixed or variable interest rate. You can adjust the filters on the dashboard to see your options based on your circumstances. Keep in mind that the lender you select will also likely act as the servicer over the life of the loan.
After you’ve researched your options, you can select a lender and complete a loan application directly with the partner lender to obtain a new loan (think of LendKey as your pre-qualification step). You’ll still need to meet the lender’s qualifications to get the student loan refinancing interest rate presented by LendKey. For example, if you don't have a great credit history, you'll probably need to apply with a co-signer to get the loan rates quoted to you on the LendKey platform.
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, after your disbursement and before your due date, 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 LendKey's competitors?
LendKey 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.
- Earnest. Flexible repayment plans allows you to pick your own term. Financially backed by Navient, giving them some of the lowest interest rates available in the current market.
- 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.
- 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.
LendKey is an established player in the student loan refinancing market and is a legitimate way for student loan borrowers to save thousands of dollars in interest payments. LendKey has established itself as a solid choice for student loan borrowers looking to refinance into lower rates, particularly for those that want to work with local community banks and credit unions.
No. LendKey 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.
LendKey was founded by Vince Passione, Michael Stallmeyer and Anoop Thyagarajan in 2007. He is a veteran technologist for financial services companies
Yes. LendKey student loans have no prepayment fees, so you can refinance your existing LendKey student loans with LendKey or with another student loan lender.
LendKey provides a private student loan refinancing product that is still considered a student loan for tax purposes.
LendKey requires you to have a degree from a Title-IV accredited eligible school.
Yes, if you fail to have on-time payments depending on the fine print for each lender the late fees range from $5 to $15 after the payment is more than 15 days late.
Yes, the LendKey credit score requirement is 660 or higher. You must also have an annual income of at least $24,000 with a maximum debt-to-income ratio of 43% of less. That means you monthly debt payments from all sources can't be more than 43% of your before-tax income.
Yes, LendKey refinances Parent Plus Loans. Also, if your child wants to assume your debt and meets the lending requirements, you can refinance a Parent Plus loan into the name of the child.
- Fixed APR From: 2.49%
- Bonus Cashback: $300
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- Rating: 8/10
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