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Earnest Reviews: Student Loan Refinancing and Private Student Loans

Earnest is best for borrowers who want maximum ability to customize their repayment preferences.
Aug. 20, 2019
Loans, Student Loans
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Earnest is an online lender that offers student loan refinancing, private student loans and personal loans. This review focuses on Earnest’s student loan products.

Earnest was acquired by Navient, a major federal and private student loan servicer, in 2017.

Review of Earnest’s private student loan

Earnest student loan refinancing

5.0 NerdWallet rating

Bottom line: Best for borrowers who want to customize their repayment schedule to pay off debt fast.

Earnest
Reviewed loanStudent loan refinancing
Interest ratesFixed: 3.47% - 7.59%.
Variable: 2.27% - 6.89%.
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 availableThere's no option to add a co-signer, but refinancing removes the original co-signer.
Can transfer a parent loan to the childNo

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Customizable payments and loan terms.
  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months.
  • You can see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.

Cons

  • You can’t apply with a co-signer.
  • Loans aren’t available in Delaware, Kentucky and Nevada.

Full Review

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 at a glance

  • Customizable payments and loan terms.
  • No late fees.
  • Borrowers can’t apply with a co-signer.

» MORE: Earnest personal loan review

How Earnest student loan refinancing 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.
  • Offer borrowers the option to make biweekly payments via autopay.

Earnest student loan refinancing details

  • Soft credit check to qualify and see what rate you’ll get: Yes.
  • Loan terms: 5 years to 20 years. Choose a precise loan term, down to the month.
  • Loan amounts: $5,000 to $500,000.
  • Can transfer a parent loan to the child : No.
  • 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 Delaware, Kentucky and Nevada. 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 school authorized to receive federal aid: Yes.
  • Percentage of borrowers who have a co-signer: Borrowers cannot apply with a co-signer.

  • 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 their online Earnest account.
  • Co-signer release available: There’s no option to add a co-signer, but refinancing removes the original co-signer.
  • Death or disability discharge: Yes.

repayment preferences

  • Allows greater-than-minimum payments via autopay: Yes.
  • Allows biweekly payments via autopay: No.

Earnest also allows 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: Did not disclose. Approval takes 20 minutes.
    Longtime customers of Earnest may miss features that have been unavailable since Navient purchased the company in 2017, such as Earnest’s mobile app, the ability to adjust payment amounts and due dates online, and access to full payment history online.

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 call Earnest increase your minimum monthly payment at any time to pay off the loan faster.
  • Referral bonus: You can receive $200 for each person you refer who successfully refinances their student loans with Earnest.

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 borrowers who are struggling to make payments.

» MORE: How to refinance student loans in 6 steps

Earnest private student loan

4.5 NerdWallet rating

Bottom line: An option for borrowers who want flexible repayment.

Earnest
Reviewed loanPrivate student loan
Loan termsFor cosigned loans: 5, 7, 10, 12 or 15 years. For solo borrowers: 5 or 7 years.
Loan amounts$1,000 up to the school's cost of attendance
Grace period9 months
Co-signer release availableNo, but borrowers may be able to refinance through Earnest after graduation.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months.
  • No late fees.
  • 9-month grace period is longer than most lenders offer.

Cons

  • You can’t see if you’ll qualify and what rate you’ll get without a hard credit check.
  • Loans aren’t available in Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Texas or Virginia.

Full Review

Earnest began offering private student loans in April 2019. It’s an alternative for borrowers who have exhausted their federal student loan options and need additional money to cover college costs.

Earnest stands out for its unique repayment options, including the ability to skip one payment per year. Its private student loan application is fully available on mobile.

Earnest private student loans at a glance

  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months.
  • 9-month grace period is longer than most lenders offer.
  • Loans aren’t available inAlaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Texas or Virginia.

How Earnest could improve

Earnest could improve its private student loan product by:

  • Offering personalized rate estimates without affecting credit.
  • Offering more than 12 months of forbearance.
  • Lending to borrowers in all 50 U.S. states.
  • Offer borrowers the option to make biweekly payments via autopay.

Earnest private student loan details

  • Soft credit check to qualify and see what rate you’ll get: No.
  • Loan terms: For cosigned loans: 5, 7, 10, 12 or 15 years. For solo borrowers: 5 or 7 years.
  • Loan amounts: $1,000 up to the school’s cost of attendance.
  • Application or origination fee: No.
  • Prepayment penalty: No.
  • Late fees: No.

Compare Earnest’s range of interest rates with private student loan 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

  • Minimum credit score: 650.
  • Minimum income: $35,000.
  • 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: 65%.
  • Can qualify if you’ve filed for bankruptcy: No.

Other

  • Citizenship: International students can qualify if they have a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The primary borrower must have a Social Security number.
  • Location: Not available to borrowers in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
  • Must be enrolled half-time or more: Yes.
  • Types of schools served: Any school authorized to receive federal aid.
  • Percentage of borrowers who have a co-signer: No information is available, but Earnest is targeting 90%.

In-school repayment options

  • Immediate repayment: Make full payments as soon as the loan is disbursed, while you’re still in school.
  • Deferred repayment: Don’t make any payments while you’re in school.
  • Fixed repayment: Pay $25 every month while enrolled in school.
  • Interest-only repayment: Pay interest every month you’re in school.

Post-school repayment options

  • Grace period: 9 months.
  • In-school deferment: Yes, borrowers can ask to defer payments when returning to school.
  • Military deferment: Yes.
  • Internship, residency or fellowship deferment: Borrowers can defer payments for up to 48 months during a medical residency, internship or fellowship program.
  • Forbearance: Borrowers can pause payments for up to 12 months.
  • Co-signer release available: No. Borrowers may refinance with Earnest and release their co-signer.
  • Death or disbility discharge available: Yes.

Repayment preferences

  • Allows greater-than-minimum payments via autopay: Yes.
  • Allows biweekly payments via autopay: No.

  • Loan servicer: Earnest.
  • In-house customer service team: Yes.
  • Process for escalating concerns: Yes.
  • Borrowers get assigned a dedicated banker, advisor or representative: No.
  • Average time for approval: Less than three days.
    Longtime customers of Earnest may miss features that have been unavailable since Navient purchased the company in 2017, such as Earnest’s mobile app, the ability to adjust payment amounts and due dates online, and access to full payment history online.

Earnest offers these unique perks:

  • Skip one payment every 12 months.

How to apply for a Earnest student loan

Before taking out an Earnest student loan or any other private student loan, exhaust your federal student loan options first. Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to apply.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s FAFSA Guide

Compare your private student loan options to make sure you’re getting the best rate you qualify for. In addition to interest rates, look at lenders’ repayment alternatives and the flexibility they offer to borrowers who struggle to make payments.

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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