Founded in 2013, Earnest is an online lender offering personal loans, student loan refinancing, and refinancing for parents who borrowed PLUS loans to help fund their child’s college. It was acquired by Navient, the nation’s largest student loan servicer, in 2017, but still operates under the Earnest brand with its original management.
Earnest stands out from other refinancing lenders with its underwriting approach that’s based on your earning potential and data from financial accounts you connect. Typical Earnest borrowers save money regularly, have a drama-free payment history and have minimal credit card or personal loan debt.
Unlike with most other refinance lenders, you can’t apply with a co-signer through Earnest.
Is Earnest refinancing right for you?
Student loan refinancing means replacing one or more student loans with a single lower-rate loan. Refinancing with Earnest may be right for you if you:
- Have good credit and enough income to afford your expenses, and you save money regularly
- Have private student loans that are not from Sallie Mae
- Have federal student loans and don’t plan to use federal benefits such as income-driven repayment and loan forgiveness; you’ll lose access to those programs if you refinance
|Type of loan||Student loan refinancing|
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
|Interest rates (APR)||Fixed: 3.89% - 6.32%
Variable: 2.57% - 5.87%
|Loan terms||5 years to 20 years. Choose a precise loan term, down to the month.|
|Loan amounts||$5,000 to $500,000|
|Sign-up bonus||Earn a $200 sign-up bonus when you apply using the NerdWallet button below|
|Rates updated July 27, 2018. Variable rates aren’t available to borrowers in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas.
APRs include 0.25% rate reduction for automatic payments.
Can you qualify?
Earnest has a unique underwriting approach that considers the earning potential for your career and data from the financial accounts you connect.
You’ll likely qualify if you:
- Have good credit. Earnest requires that borrowers have a minimum 650 credit score.
- Have enough income to comfortably afford expenses. You must be employed, have a job offer for a position that starts in six months, or have enough income from other sources.
- Attended an eligible school. You must have graduated or be in your final semester at a Title IV-accredited school.
- Are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You must have a 10-year non-conditional Permanent Resident Card.
Earnest cannot refinance Sallie Mae loans because of a non-compete agreement it entered when it was acquired by Navient. Earnest also doesn’t lend to borrowers in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada or Rhode Island. If you have Sallie Mae loans or live in one of those states, you may be able to refinance with other student loan refinance lenders.
How to refinance student loans with Earnest
Before deciding on a student loan refinance lender, compare multiple 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 refinance with Earnest, you can apply on Earnest’s website. Here’s how.
- Estimate your rate. Get an interest rate estimate in two minutes. This step won’t affect your credit score because Earnest does what’s known as a soft credit pull. For this step, you’ll need to enter your Social Security number, annual income, housing payment and an estimate of your total cash, savings and investments.
- Fill out the application. You’ll need to enter information about your education history and employment.
- Connect your financial accounts. 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.
- Agree to a hard credit pull. It will slightly ding your credit score, but it’s routine for lenders to do a hard credit check before approving borrowers for a loan.
- Choose a rate, term and payment. You’ll find out a range of rates you qualify for once you’re approved for the loan. You can choose a fixed or variable interest rate, as well as the amount you can afford to pay each month. Earnest will assign you a precise loan term and rate based on the payment amount you pick.
- Upload required documents. You’ll need to show proof of identity by uploading a driver’s license, passport, U.S. green card or U.S. ID card. Finally, you’ll sign the loan agreement. Earnest will pay off the student loans you refinanced in about 10 days, and then you’ll start making monthly payments to Earnest instead of your original loan servicer.
Earnest student loan refinance details
- Loan servicer: Earnest
- Application or origination fee: No
- Prepayment penalty: No
- Late fees: No
- Co-signer release option: No
Repayment options for struggling borrowers
Throughout your loan term, it’s natural that you may need some wiggle room on loan payments. Earnest offers the following options:
- Deferment: Postpone payments for up to 36 months if you return to graduate school at least half-time, or while you’re actively serving in the military or Peace Corps. Interest continues accruing during deferment periods.
- Forbearance: Postpone your payments in three-month increments, up to 12 months total, if you 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 your own
- A significant increase in essential costs such as medical expenses, emergency home repairs or child care
- Skip a payment: You’re eligible to skip one month’s worth of payments every 12 months — one if you’re making monthly payments, or two if you’re paying biweekly. The skipped payment amount will be spread out across your remaining loan payments, so it will slightly increase your monthly payment. Skipping a payment also counts toward your 12-month forbearance limit.
- Extend a payment date by seven days: You can push back the due date on an individual payment or change your autopay date through your online Earnest account.
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, or opt to make bi-weekly payments to save on interest.
- Can I apply with a co-signer? No.
- Is there a co-signer release option? No.
- Can I qualify if I’ve filed for bankruptcy in the past? 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.
- Can I qualify if I didn’t go to a Title IV-accredited school? No.
- Can I qualify if I didn’t graduate? Yes, if you’re age 18 or older and are within six months of graduation.
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 private student loans 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.
— Among the very best for consumer-friendly features
— Excellent; offers most consumer-friendly features
— Very good; offers many consumer-friendly features
— Good; may not offer something important to you
— Fair; missing important consumer-friendly features
— Poor; proceed with great caution