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Earnest Student Loan Refinancing Review

Earnest is best for borrowers who want maximum ability to customize their repayment preferences.
Aug. 29, 2018
Loans, Student Loans
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.
5.0 NerdWallet rating

Earnest is ideal for borrowers who want to refinance college debt and pay it off quickly. Its customizable repayment options make it easy to increase monthly minimum payments, make multiple extra payments at once and make same-day payments.

Founded in 2013, Earnest also stands out for an underwriting approach based on a borrower’s earning potential and the financial accounts he or she connects. Typical Earnest borrowers save money regularly, have a drama-free payment history and have minimal credit card or personal loan debt.

Earnest was acquired by Navient, a major federal and private student loan servicer, in 2017 but still operates under the Earnest brand with its original management.

Earnest at a glance:

  • Customizable payments and loan terms.
  • No late fees.
  • Borrowers can’t apply with a co-signer.
Earnest
Reviewed loanStudent loan refinancing
Interest ratesFixed: 3.99% - 7.89%
Variable: 2.57% - 6.97%
Includes autopay discount of 0.25 points
Loan terms5 years to 20 years. Choose a precise loan term, down to the month.
Loan amounts$5,000 to $500,000
Co-signer release availableNo; there's no option to add a co-signer
Can transfer a parent loan to the childNo

How Earnest scores

NerdWallet student loan experts evaluated more than 50 data points across five categories to see whether Earnest ranks below average, average or above average compared with other student loan refinance lenders.

Enables faster repayment:
Above average
Lenders score highly if they offer a variety of term lengths and make extra payments easy.

Discloses requirements, limits costs:
Above average
Lenders score highly if they limit fees and interest rates, are transparent about their underwriting criteria and allow borrowers to get personalized rate estimates before applying.

Serves range of borrowers:
Below average
Lenders score highly if they cater to customers in varying locations, in different financial situations, and with varying citizenship statuses.

Offers payment flexibility:
Average
Lenders score highly if they offer longer than 12-month forbearance periods, in-school and military deferment, and any other flexible policies that help borrowers during tough times.

Supports customers:
Average
Lenders score highly if they assign borrowers an advisor, offer multiple ways to get in touch, and have in-house customer service. Websites should display full APR ranges, fees and forbearance policies.

How Earnest could improve

Earnest, like other five-star lenders, isn’t perfect. Earnest could improve by:

  • Letting borrowers apply with a co-signer.
  • Allowing borrowers to refinance their parents’ PLUS loans.
  • Refinancing loans for borrowers in all 50 states.

Earnest student loan refinancing details

  • Soft credit check to qualify and see what rate you’ll get: Yes.
  • Application or origination fee: No.
  • Prepayment penalty: No.
  • Late fees: No.

Compare Earnest’s range of interest rates with other student loan refinance lenders. Your actual rate will depend on factors including your — or your co-signer’s — credit history and financial situation. To see what rate Earnest will offer you, apply on its website.


Financial

Earnest has a unique underwriting approach that considers the earning potential for your career and data from the financial accounts you connect. At a minimum, you need to connect the checking account where your paycheck is deposited so Earnest can verify your income.

You can also choose to connect accounts for your savings, investments, credit cards and other loans to give Earnest more insight into your financial picture.

  • Minimum credit score: 650.
  • Minimum income: No minimum. Applicant must have a written job offer for employment starting within six months or have consistent income.
  • Typical credit score of approved borrowers or co-signers: Did not disclose.
  • Typical income of approved borrowers: Did not disclose.
  • Maximum debt-to-income ratio: Did not disclose.
  • Can qualify if you’ve filed for bankruptcy: Yes, if you don’t have accounts recently in collection and after the bankruptcy drops off your credit report. This happens after seven years for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and after 10 years for Chapter 7.

Other

  • Citizenship: Must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year, non-conditional green card.
  • Location: Not available to borrowers in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada and Rhode Island. Variable rates aren’t available to borrowers in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
  • Must have graduated: No, but must be within six months of graduation.
  • Must have attended a Title IV-accredited school: Yes.
  • Percentage of borrowers who have a co-signer: Borrowers cannot apply with a co-signer.

Additionally, Earnest cannot refinance Sallie Mae loans because of a non-compete agreement it entered when it was acquired by Navient.

  • Academic deferment: Yes.
  • Military deferment: Yes.
  • Forbearance: Yes, borrowers can postpone payments in three-month increments, for up to 12 months total, if they have:
    • An involuntary decrease in income, such as a reduction in hours, unpaid leave and change from full-time to part-time employment.
    • An involuntary loss of employment at no fault of their own.
    • A significant increase in essential costs such as medical expenses, emergency home repairs or child care.
  • Skip a payment: Borrowers can skip one month’s worth of payments every 12 months — one if they’re making monthly payments, or two if they’re paying biweekly. The skipped payment amount will be spread out across the remaining loan payments, slightly increasing them. Skipping a payment also counts toward your 12-month forbearance limit.
  • Extend a payment date by seven days: Borrowers can push back the due date on an individual payment or change their autopay date through your online Earnest account.
  • Are loans discharged in the event of death/disability of borrower?: Yes.
  • Allows greater-than-minimum payments via autopay: Yes.
  • Allows biweekly payments via autopay: Not after Oct. 18, 2018.

Starting Oct. 18, 2018, Earnest will allow borrowers to make same-day payments and schedule multiple extra payments at once.

  • Loan servicer: Earnest.
  • In-house customer service team: Yes.
  • Process for escalating concerns: No.
  • Borrowers get assigned a dedicated banker, advisor or representative: No.
  • Average time from approval to payoff of the refinanced loans: Did not disclose.
Earnest stands apart from other student loan refinance lenders with these features:

  • Customize your monthly payment: Earnest’s precision pricing feature lets borrowers save on interest by choosing an exact monthly payment amount. It adjusts your repayment term to match the amount you choose — even if that results in a seven-year-and-two-month loan, for example.
  • Easily adjust your payments: You can go online and increase your minimum monthly payment at any time to pay off the loan faster.

 

How to refinance with Earnest

Before deciding on a student loan refinance lender, compare multiple student loan refinance options to make sure you’re getting the best rate you qualify for. In addition to interest rates, compare lenders’ repayment options and the flexibility they offer for borrowers who are struggling to make payments.

If you’re ready to borrow, you can apply on Earnest’s website.

 

Student loans ratings methodology

NerdWallet believes the best student loan is one you can repay at the lowest interest rate you can get. That’s why NerdWallet’s student loan ratings reward lenders that offer a variety of loan terms, limit their fees and penalties, and extend borrowers multiple options to avoid default. Points are also awarded for soft credit checks, underwriting transparency and other consumer-friendly features. Use these ratings as a guide, but we encourage you to shop around for the lowest interest rate you can qualify for. NerdWallet does not receive compensation for its reviews. Read our editorial guidelines.

5 stars out of 5 — Among the very best for consumer-friendly features

4.5 stars out of 5 — Excellent; offers most consumer-friendly features

4 stars out of 5 — Very good; offers many consumer-friendly features

3.5 stars out of 5 — Good; may not offer something important to you

3 stars out of 5 — Fair; missing important consumer-friendly features

2.5 stars out of 5 — Poor; proceed with great caution

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