Earnest Student Loans Review: Are They Worth Applying For?

Earnest Student Loans Review: Are They Worth Applying For?

Earnest is best for borrowers looking to refinance their student loans without a co-signer. It offers low fixed and variable rates while providing payment and loan term flexibility.

Good for

  • Low fixed and variable rates.
  • Flexibility to set your own monthly payment and loan term up to 20 years.
  • Borrowers with high earning potential and minimal debt.

Bad for

  • Borrowers who cannot apply without a co-signer.
  • Not available to borrowers in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada or Rhode Island.
  • Cannot refinance loans from Sallie Mae due to Earnest being acquired by Navient.

Editor's Rating

4.5/5.0

Earnest student loan refinancing stands out from other student lenders by offering lower-than-average interest rates and repayment flexibility, giving borrowers the ability to set their own monthly payments and loan terms up to 20 years. One potential downside, especially to borrowers with weak financial standings, is that Earnest doesn't allow co-signers. To make up for that, the lender looks at more than just your credit score, incorporating your savings, earning potential and spending habits to determine your eligibility for a refinance.

Earnest Student Loans Review

Earnest is a great refinancing option for students and parents with enough financial history and earning potential to qualify without a co-signer, as it has one of the lowest fixed and variable rate ranges we've seen. On the other hand, not allowing borrowers to use a co-signer can present problems, as many borrowers may not have enough financial history to qualify or they may be able to qualify for a lower rate using a co-signer. In which case, you should look at lenders, like SoFi, that allow borrowers to use co-signers to refinance their student loans.

A huge benefit to refinancing your loan with Earnest is that it gives you flexibility in setting your monthly payment and loan term between five and 20 years—most other student lenders have set terms, which don't allow you to choose the timing that works with your finances.

Potential borrowers should be aware that Earnest is owned by Navient, a student loan servicer that is being sued for its questionable servicing practices, including pushing struggling borrowers to apply for forbearance over income-driven repayment plans. However, Earnest is run as a separate unit within the company and services their own loans, rather than passing your loan off to a third party. It is unclear how much of a role Navient has in servicing loans taken out from Earnest, but we haven't found any negative effects to Earnest's service since the acquisition.

Earnest also refinances parent PLUS loans, but the lender isn't an option if you want to transfer your loan over to your child, as you can with CommonBond and SoFi. However, if you're just looking for competitive rates without using a co-signer, Earnest is a good option with the flexibility it can provide parents. Earnest allows borrowers to skip a payment every 12 months, just in case money gets tight, and it allows borrowers to choose a monthly payment that works with their finances.

Earnest Student Loans Rates, Terms and Fees

Earnest charges no fees, including late fees, which means that all payments will go toward paying off your loan. On top of this, the interest rates on Earnest's refinancing loans are very competitive with some of the lowest APRs among its competitors. You are able to choose any loan term between five and 20 years, which allows you to have greater flexibility when paying off your loan.

Refinance Loan Features

Loan typeRefinance
Loan amount range$5,000 - $500,000
APR range*
  • 3.89% - 6.97% Fixed rate
  • 2.47% - 6.30% Variable rate
Fees
  • Late fee: none
  • Prepayment penalty: none
  • Application fee: none
Loan terms
  • 5 - 20 years

*Rates include 0.25% rate discount with auto-pay

Loan Repayment

If you have a written job offer that starts within six months or have consistent income, you can apply for student loan refinancing with Earnest as early as six months before graduation. Earnest will continue any existing grace or in-school deferment period up to nine months from your previous lender. Most other lenders only cover grace periods up to six months. And once you start repaying the loan, you are able to tailor your minimum monthly payment to what works with your finances and increase payment at any time to pay off the loan faster. If you make at least six months of consecutive on-time payments, Earnest even allows you to skip a payment on your loan every 12 months, but your loan maturity date will be extended and there will be a slight increase in your minimum payment amount.

Deferment and Forbearance

As stated previously, Earnest will continue any existing grace or in-school deferment period from your previous lender up to nine months. Earnest allows borrowers that are pursuing a graduate degree, in the military or in the peace corps to defer their student loans for up to 36 months. Keep in mind that interest continues to accrue during the deferment period.

Permitted DefermentsLimit
In school or entering graduate schoolUp to 36 months
Active military or peace corpsUp to 36 months

Earnest borrowers can apply for forbearance if they experience any qualifying economic hardships, including involuntary decrease in income, job loss or parental leave. Earnest typically requires that borrowers make at least three months of loan payments before being eligible for forbearance. Interest continues to accrue during forbearance and the period is reported to credit agencies, but it won't affect your credit score. It's important to note that voluntary resignation from employment does not qualify for forbearance.

ForbearanceLimit
Permitted PeriodUp to 12 months
Conditions
  • Must be experiencing financial hardship, unemployment, excessive debt burden or medical disability.

Who Can Qualify for Earnest Student Loans?

Earnest refinancing is available to borrowers with credit scores of 650 or higher with at least an associate's degree from a Title IV institution. It's worth noting again that Earnest doesn't allow co-signers to refinance student loans, so you must be able to qualify on your own. Additionally, to qualify, your enrollment status must be less than half-time, your degree will be completed by the end of the semester or you must have finished school. Earnest does not lend to borrowers in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada or Rhode Island, and variable rates are not available for borrowers in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas. And if you have a loan that is currently serviced by Sallie Mae, Earnest won't be able to refinance the loan as it was acquired by Navient and the two companies have an agreement that prohibits the refinancing of Sallie Mae loans until Dec. 31, 2018.

Credit score650 or higher
Co-signerNot permitted
Accepted citizenship status
  • U.S. citizen
  • Permanent resident (with 10-year residency card)
DegreeAssociate's or higher
EmployedYes or signed job offer
Eligible schoolsTitle IV public and private institutions

How Does Earnest Compare to Other Student Lenders?

Graduates or parent borrowers that need a co-signer won't be able to qualify for Earnest, making SoFi and CommonBond the better option in those cases. However, compared to SoFi and CommonBond, Earnest provides the best range of rates for refinancing borrowers while offering flexible loan repayment. If you can't qualify for Earnest lowest rates, you should consider SoFi as the lender offers unique member benefits including career coaches and networking opportunities.

EarnestSoFiCommonBond
Loan types offered
  • Student loan refinance
  • Parent PLUS refinance
  • Student loan refinance
  • Parent PLUS refinance
  • Medical resident refinance
  • Student loan refinance
  • Private Student Loan
  • Parent PLUS refinance
APR range*
  • 3.89% - 6.97% Fixed
  • 2.47% - 6.30% Variable
  • 3.90% - 8.23% Fixed
  • 2.47% - 7.24% Variable
  • 3.20% - 7.75% Fixed
  • 2.69% - 7.21% Variable
Loan amount$5,000 - $500,000$5,000 up to 100% school-certified expenses$5,000 - $500,000
SchoolHold a two-year or higher degree from any Title IV institutionHold a two-year or higher degree from any Title IV institutionHold a four-year or higher degree from any Title IV institution
EmployedYes or signed job offerYes or signed job offerYes or signed job offer
Co-signerNot permittedYes, release not permittedYes, release permitted after 36 on-time payments
Discounts$300 referral bonus$200 referral bonus

*Rates include 0.25% rate discount with auto-pay

Earnest vs. SoFi

SoFi is one of the best student loan refinancing options available thanks to allowing parent borrowers to transfer their federal PLUS loans to their children and its helpful career services, while still offering competitive rates. SoFi offers a job placement service with career coaches, panel sessions and networking opportunities to help employed borrowers further their careers and unemployed borrowers get back on their feet. In contrast, Earnest doesn't offer extra member benefits as well as many borrowers may not even qualify for Earnest as it doesn't allow co-signers and the lender is not available to borrowers in Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada or Rhode Island. On the other hand, if you already have a job and don't think you'll need the career help, Earnest has lower refinancing rates, on the high end. Also, Earnest allows you flexibility in setting your own monthly payment and loan term based on your financial history.

Earnest vs. CommonBond

CommonBond is a better option for borrowers that can qualify for its lowest rates as well as parent PLUS borrowers that want to transfer their federal loan over to their child through refinancing. CommonBond and Earnest offer similar refinancing rates, with CommonBond having a lower starting rate but a larger APR range. Earnest has an advantage over CommonBond for borrowers with an associate's degree as CommonBond requires potential borrowers to have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree. However, Earnest doesn't allow borrowers to have a co-signer, so borrowers with little financial history may have an easier time qualifying with CommonBond by using a co-signer. Both lenders don't cover all 50 states, CommonBond doesn't lend to borrowers in Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Vermont. So, Nevada borrowers won't be eligible to refinance with either of these lenders.

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