Friday, June 14College Admissions News

Earnest Student Loan Review: Industry-Best Repayment Flexibility

Earnest is an online company that has refinanced $16.4 billion in student loans since its founding in 2013. It also makes in-school loans for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, as well as their parents.

While it’s been acquired by industry veteran Navient in 2017, Earnest has still maintained its innovative practices. Refinancing borrowers with excellent credit can expect access to as many as 180 repayment term options. Borrowers of private student loans, meanwhile, are promised an extremely flexible repayment, including the ability to skip one payment per year.

Earnest student loan refinance review

Earnest student loan refinance allows borrowers — including parents — to refinance federal and private student loans. Earnest refinance is also known for its flexibility, allowing customers to choose their repayment term, cadence and due date.

Earnest student loan refinancing is a good fit for borrowers with stable financial history who won’t need to apply for refinancing with a cosigner’s help — and prefer setting the terms of their repayment. It’s not an option for transferring federal parent PLUS Loans from the parent to the former student.

Earnest student loan refinance review: The basics

Earnest reviews applications to consolidate and refinance federal and private student loans held by primary borrowers (including parents) across the country (except in Kentucky and Nevada).

APRs Fixed: 2.47%–7.99%
Variable*: 1.74%–7.99%
*not available in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas
Basics ● Prequalify and check rates without affecting your credit
● Refinance $5,000 to $500,000
Eligibility ● 650 minimum credit score (700 if you didn’t graduate)
● Employment, consistent income
● Be at least 18 years old
● U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
Applying ● No option to apply with a cosigner
● No application, origination or other fees
● Invalid payment fee: Up to $8
Repayment ● No prepayment penalties
● Reduce your interest rate by 0.25 percentage points if you enroll in autopay
● Choose a monthly or biweekly repayment option
● Repayment term option: 5 to 20 years (Up to 180 possibilities, depending on your credit)
● Option to skip one payment a year, and change your payment due date
Support ● Unlike many competitors, Earnest services loans in-house
● Academic deferment: Pause your repayment without penalty for up to 36 months if you attend graduate school at least half time
● Military deferment also available for active duty and 180 days afterward
● Economic hardship forbearance for up to 12 months
● Forgiveness offered only the case of the primary borrower’s death or permanent disability

What to like about Earnest refinance for student loans

Perhaps the best part of Earnest’s refinancing product is that you can prequalify in minutes to check rates without harming your credit score or committing to borrow. Besides that, here’s what else you might like about Earnest refinancing.

No degree necessary to refinance with Earnest

If you’re within a semester of graduating from your degree program, you could already be eligible for refinancing with Earnest. You could also be eligible if you left school more than six years ago, even if you departed without a diploma. Just keep in mind that the minimum credit score for nongraduates (except those within a semester of graduating) is 700.

You’re more likely to gain approval for Earnest refinancing if you have…
● Savings to pay for two months’ worth of routine expenses
● Positive cash flow, with an increasing bank account balance
● Little debt in the form of credit cards and nonstudent or mortgage loans
● Track record of timely payments, avoiding late, overdraft or insufficient funds fees

Earnest will also honor the grace period of your original loans (up to nine months) if you refinance within a semester of graduation or before your grace period expires.

Low minimum, high maximum borrowing amounts

Whether you’re refinancing some or all of your current student loans, Earnest’s loan amount possibilities could be a fit for your situation. It allows you to borrow any amount from $5,000 to half of a million dollars, assuming you’re creditworthy enough for approval.

Up to 180 different repayment term options

Earnest loans also include flexible repayment terms that you can customize before locking in your loan. Instead of picking a repayment term and automatically receiving an interest rate and monthly payment, you’re in control.

You can choose your monthly payment from a broad range of options that Earnest provides — in fact, with excellent credit, you could choose from as many as 180 options spanning every month between five and 20 years.

Option to make biweekly or monthly payments

Instead of paying your loans in a larger sum once per month, you could make biweekly (or twice-monthly) payments that align with when you receive your paycheck. This unique lender feature could make it easier to budget or stay organized with your cash flow. Biweekly student loan payments could also end your debt faster.

Variety of deferment, forbearance programs

Earnest is among student loan refinance companies with job loss protection. It also provides deferment if you’re returning to school or serving active duty in the military. These options allow you to temporarily pause your payments, making it a little easier to manage your student loan debt.

  • Academic deferment: Pause your repayment without penalty for up to 36 months if you attend graduate school at least half time
  • Military deferment Postpone payments while on active duty and 180 days afterward
  • Economic hardship forbearance: Press pause for up to 12 months if your income decreases, your expenses experience an unforeseen increase or during unpaid parental leave from work

Be aware, however, that interest will continue to accrue onto your balance while you’re away from repayment.

Earnest services loans in-house

Many student loan refinance companies outsource the servicing of loans to a third party that actually manages borrower repayment — for its part, Earnest handles this entirely in-house. You might feel more comfortable knowing that your loan will be serviced by the same company you’re applying with, even, as Earnest says, if the loan is sold to another financial institution down the road.

What to keep in mind about Earnest refinance for student loans

While Earnest loans feature certain advantages, there are some things to consider before you move forward with your application; for example, the company doesn’t offer financing in Kentucky and Nevada.

Other factors to keep in mind include:

650 minimum credit score (700 for nongraduates)

Even though Earnest uses factors beyond your credit history to determine your eligibility, you’ll still need to meet its minimum credit score requirement. In fact, to get Earnest’s benefits, you’ll need a score of 650 or above (or 700 and up if you didn’t graduate).

However, most lenders also have minimum requirements, so if you do have poor credit, you’ll likely need to raise your credit score anyway before applying elsewhere.

Only citizens, permanent residents are eligible — no cosigner option

If you’re not a U.S. citizen or hold a 10-year Permanent Resident Card, you won’t be eligible for Earnest refinancing. Nonpermanent residents can often circumvent this typical requirement by applying with a cosigner — however, Earnest doesn’t allow cosigners either.

Can’t transfer parent PLUS loans to another borrower

While Earnest offers parents the ability to refinance parent PLUS loans borrowed from the federal government, it doesn’t enable them to refinance loans into their child’s name. If your family desires that option, check out lenders that allow you to transfer debt to your child.

Fine print of Earnest student loan refinance eligibility
● Your existing education debt must have been borrowed to attend a U.S.-based, Title IV-accredited college or university.
● If you didn’t graduate (or won’t within a semester), you could be eligible if you attended school more than six years ago; have a 700 or higher credit score; and attended a not-for-profit college or university.
● You must be current (not delinquent) on your existing student loans, rent or mortgage payments, and not have a bankruptcy or collections notice on your credit report.

Spousal consolidation loans not available

Earnest allow doesn’t allow couples to consolidate debt together, in cases where two romantic partners with combined finances both have outstanding student loans. Fortunately, other lenders do offer spousal consolidation loans.

Credit card payments aren’t accepted

For all of its flexibility elsewhere, Earnest doesn’t allow customers to make their student loan payments with a credit card. You could still pay digitally from your checking or savings account. Keep in mind that the vast majority of lenders don’t offer a credit card payment option.

How Earnest student loan refinance compares

Student Loan Hero recommends that you shop around with multiple lenders before selecting new, refinanced debt. When comparing Earnest student loans to competitors, focus on key factors beyond the simple interest rate.

Given the unique perks offered by online-only lenders, you could be right to focus on Earnest vs. CommonBond and Laurel Road. (Note: CommonBond will not be accepting new In-school loans for the remainder of 2022.)

Earnest CommonBond Laurel Road
SLH rating 4.5/5 4.1/5 4.6/5
Products ● Student loan refinancing
● Parent PLUS loan refinancing
● Student loan refinancing ● Student loan refinancing
● parent PLUS Loan refinancing
● Medical resident refinancing
Eligibility requirements ● 650 minimum credit score (700 if you didn’t graduate)
● Employment, consistent income
● Be at least 18 years old
● U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
● 660 credit score
● No income requirement
● Must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
● 660 credit score
● No minimum income requirement
● Citizenship or permanent residency
● Bachelor’s or advanced degree (or associate degree-holders in certain health care fields)
APRs Variable starting at 1.74% and fixed starting at 2.47% Variable starting at 2.50% and fixed starting at 2.83% Variable starting at 1.89% and fixed starting at 2.50%
Minimum loan amount $5,000 $5,000 $5,000
Repayment terms available Up to 20 years Up to 20 years Up to 20 years
Apply with a cosigner No Yes Yes

Is refinancing student loans with Earnest right for you?

Earnest’s credit score and permanent residency requirements could make some applicants ineligible. Plus, it doesn’t offer the chance to transfer parent PLUS Loans or consolidate spousal debt.

If you can qualify, however, Earnest student loan refinancing offers flexibility and options that can work well for some borrowers. You could make biweekly payments, skip one payment annually and even choose your payment due date. You might also rest assured that the company promises to service the loan in-house for the life of your repayment.

Now that you know Earnest is legitimate and, possibly, a workable option for your repayment, you might be raring for the next step. Before you decide, compare lenders who refinance student loans.

How to apply for refinancing with Earnest

If you’re wondering how long Earnest takes to review your fit for refinancing, keep in mind that you could apply for and receive a quote in two minutes. The company will perform only a soft check on your credit report to deliver quotes. Meanwhile, the hard credit check that could temporarily ding your credit would only come during the formal application process, which would call for you to verify the information you initially provided.

How refinancing with Earnest works
Day 0: Sign your final documents
Day 1-3: Final chance to cancel your new loan
Day 4: Earnest pays off your old student loans
Day 10: Your old loans are repaid, and your new loan repayment begins

Earnest student loans review

Known for its refinancing product, Earnest launched private student loans for a variety of borrowers in 2019. Undergraduate students and parents, plus graduate and professional students could access Earnest loans nationally (excepting Nevada).

Earnest student loans are a good fit for full-time students who have already maxed out their federal loan borrowing and are seeking a private lender with flexible repayment options, not including cosigner release.

Earnest student loans reviews: The basics

Earnest loans are available to undergraduates, parents of undergraduates and students attending graduate, law or medical school, as well as pursuing an MBA. Below are the basics of these loans.

APRs ● Variable APRs: 0.94% – 11.44%
● Fixed APRs: 2.99% – 12.78%
Basics ● Check your eligibility without affecting your credit
● Borrow from $1,000 to 100% of your cost of attendance
Eligibility ● U.S. citizenship or permanent residency (international students with a physical U.S. address and Social Security number may be eligible with a permanent resident cosigner)
● Full-time enrollment (or half-time as a college senior) at a nonprofit, four-year institution
● Borrower or cosigner must have…
○ Minimum FICO credit score of 650
○ At least three years of credit history
○ Minimum annual income of $35,000
Applying ● Option to apply with a cosigner
● No application, origination or other fees
● Invalid payment fee: Up to $8
Repayment ● Grace period of six months (or nine months, if you defer full payments while enrolled)
● No prepayment penalties
● Reduce your interest rate by 0.25 percentage points if you enroll in autopay
● Four in-school repayment options, including full deferment (two options for parents)
● Repayment term option: 5, 7, 10, 12 or 15 years
● Option to skip one payment annually without penalty
● Cosigner release is not offered (except through refinancing)
Support ● Earnest services loans in-house for the duration of repayment
● Forbearance for “verifiable hardship”
● Deferment for returning to school, internship, fellowship or residency
● Military deferment also available for active duty and 180 days afterward
● Forgiveness offered only the case of the primary borrower’s death or permanent disability

What to like about Earnest student loans

As a student loan borrower, you have many private student loan options. Here are a few benefits that make Earnest a competitive option for funding your education.

International students are eligible in some cases

U.S. citizens and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival recipients are eligible for Earnest loans, but international students can be in some cases, too. To qualify, you’d need these three items:

  • Permanent resident cosigner
  • Physical U.S. address
  • Social Security number

Option to borrow small or large amounts

Some students need small private loans to make up a difference between their existing financial aid and their school’s cost of attendance. Other students might need to borrow thousands of dollars more in the absence of other assistance. Earnest is workable in both scenarios, allowing borrowers to take out anywhere from $1,000 to their full cost of attendance. With that said, it’s only wise to borrow what you can realistically afford to repay.

Four in-school repayment options, including deferment

The lender has various options for when you start repayment. You can choose among the following:

  • Defer payments. Take full advantage of your grace period while you’re in school and don’t start making payments until nine months after you graduate.
  • Pay $25 per month. Make small, fixed payments as a student in order to cut down on interest.
  • Pay the interest while you’re in school. Pay just the accrued interest so you won’t face a bigger balance once full repayment starts.
  • Make principal and interest payments. Begin repayment right away — if you can afford it — to get the lowest long-term costs of borrowing.

It’s worth clarifying, however, that Earnest’s parent borrowers are expected to begin repayment after the loan is funded. Those borrowing on behalf of their students only have two options: They can choose either interest-only payments while their child is enrolled and for nine months after, or full, principal-and-interest payments.

Nine-month grace period for most borrowers

Earnest student loans feature a longer student loan grace period than most other lenders, allowing you to defer payments while you’re in school and for nine months after you graduate. Most lenders will only let you defer payments for six months after you graduate, and this extra time could be invaluable if you need a while longer to search for a job and stabilize your income.

That said, taking advantage of the full grace period isn’t always wise. Private student loans start accruing interest as soon as the money you borrowed is disbursed, so you’ll face a bigger balance at the end of your grace period if you wait to begin repayment. If you can afford small in-school payments, you can cut down on interest and make it easier on yourself after you graduate and full repayment kicks in.

Array of repayment assistance options

As for the length of your repayment term, Earnest lets you choose terms of five, seven, 10, 12 or 15 years. Many borrowers experience at least one hiccup in repayment, however, meaning that you might be likely to take longer to zero your balance.

That’s where Earnest’s wide variety of repayment assistance options could be helpful:

  • Defer (or pause) monthly dues in various situations: You could put off repayment (at the cost of accruing interest) if you’re enrolled in college; return to school for a graduate degree; serve in the military; or take on an internship, residency or fellowship.
  • Postpone or reduce monthly payments via forbearance: If you face an economic struggle — such as losing your job or tending to medical bills — a forbearance could lessen the load of your student loan repayment on a temporary basis. Like with a deferment, however, you would resume repayment facing a larger balance, thanks to interest.
  • Temporarily reduced interest rate in cases of hardship: Earnest’s “Rate Reduction Program” lowers your APR for six months if you’re facing a repayment hardship but can afford a reduced monthly payment.
  • Extend your loan term to lower payments: Earnest also allows borrowers to lengthen their loan term to achieve affordability. You could end up with a term as long as 30 years, which would greatly decrease your dues in the short-term while significantly increasing the total cost of repayment.
  • Skip one payment every 12 months: To qualify, you’ll have to make the request at least five business days before your payment is due. You can only do this after you’ve made on-time consecutive payments of both principal and interest for at least six months. Although this feature isn’t a long-term solution to financial problems, it could help if you need a month without paying your student loan while you get back on your feet.

Like many reputable private lenders, Earnest also forgives outstanding balances in cases of the primary borrower’s death or permanent disability.

In-house loan servicing with positive reviews

Earnest student loan applicants might be skeptical of a lender that’s owned by Navient, a long-standing industry player that’s been a repeated target of borrower-led lawsuits. To be fair, however, Earnest appears to have maintained many aspects of its prior independence. Most notably, it services loans in-house, not transferring account management to Navient or a third party. You might like the idea of working with the same customer service team from the stages of application to repayment.

What to keep in mind about Earnest student loans

Although Earnest student loans have a lot of perks for students, they might not be right for everybody. Before you borrow an Earnest loan, review these potential downsides.

Eligibility criteria stiff for some applicants

Earnest student loans are only available to borrowers or cosigners with strong credit and a steady income. Fortunately, Earnest makes its underwriting requirements for you or your cosigner clear:

  • A minimum credit score of 650
  • An annual income of at least $35,000
  • At least three years of credit history
  • No bankruptcy on your credit report
  • A history of on-time payments
  • No accounts in collection

All private lenders have some sort of underwriting requirements to qualify for a loan, and if you can’t meet Earnest’s criteria, you might have to look elsewhere.

Not an option for part-time students

Another potentially restrictive eligibility rule: You must be enrolled full time if you’re in your first three years of college, or at least half time if you’re a senior. That fine print could exclude college students who are attending school on a part-time basis, perhaps at night, to seek their degree while working or taking care of family. If you’re a part-time student in need of funds, click down below for potential options.

Cosigner release program unavailable

Some lenders, like Sallie Mae and College Ave Student Loans, allow you to apply for cosigner release after a certain period of on-time payments. If approved, you could get your cosigner removed from the loan completely.

Earnest, however, doesn’t offer cosigner release at this time, so your cosigner will be on the hook for your debt for the entire life of your loan — that is, unless you refinance the debt down the road.

Doesn’t fund student loans in Nevada

While the company has made strides to expand nationally, Earnest student loans aren’t accessible in every state. If you or your cosigner live in Nevada, you won’t be able to access Earnest loans.

For what it’s worth, Florida borrowers will also be subject to a stamp tax of 0.35% on Earnest student loan applications — that would equate to a $21 application fee on a $6,000 loan, for example.

How Earnest student loans compare

Comparing multiple lenders as you shop around for student loans is highly recommended — it ensures you’ll get your best possible deal on college funding.

Earnest Sallie Mae Citizens Bank
SLH rating 4.6/5 4.4/5 4.3/5
Loans for… ● Undergraduate and graduate students
● Parents
● Law school
● Medical school
● Undergraduate and graduate students
● Career training
● Dental school, residency
● Health professions
● Law school, bar study
● Medical school, residency
● Undergraduate and graduate students
● Parents
APRs Variable starting at 0.94% and fixed starting at 2.99% Variable starting at 1.13% and fixed starting at 3.50% Variable starting at 3.22% and fixed starting at 3.23%
Ability to prequalify without affecting credit No — you can only check eligibility, not rates No No
In-school repayment options 4 1-2 2
Repayment terms 5, 10, 15, 20 years 5, 10, 15 years 5, 10, 10, 15 years
Cosigner release available No Yes — after 12 months of timely payments Yes — after 36 months of payments

You’ll very likely be better off if you shop around beyond a few lenders. Make sure you learn all about the best options for your specific needs.

Are Earnest student loans right for you?

If you’re looking to borrow for your degree program, Earnest student loans could be right for you. With expansive repayment options (from a longer grace period to a wide array of terms) and in-house loan servicing, Earnest makes managing your loan easier than it could be.

But Earnest loans aren’t perfect, requiring full-time enrollment and lacking a cosigner release program. The lender also isn’t the only option out there, and it’s important to shop around to find the best loan for your needs. So before choosing Earnest, make sure to compare offers from the best private student loan companies.

How to apply with Earnest

Though it doesn’t provide the ability to check your potential APRs without submitting to a hard credit check, Earnest does give prospective borrowers an opportunity to check eligibility before committing. You’d simply enter information about yourself, school and loan needs, plus your estimated credit score.

If you’re eligible for Earnest loans and choose to proceed, you could complete an application with your cosigner (if you have one), and receive a response in less than 72 hours. If you’re approved, you have 30 calendar days to accept your loan offer. If you decide to move forward, you’d then pick your repayment terms and wait for your school to certify your loan amount.

Earnest student loan application process, in 5 steps
1. Complete the online application with your cosigner (if applicable)
2. Upon request, upload documents to verify your information
3. Upon approval, select repayment terms and sign your loan agreement
4. Wait for your school to certify the loan amount
5. After a three-day waiting period (during which you could cancel the loan), your funds are disbursed to your school

How to contact Earnest

For Earnest support, you can use its website’s live chat function or type in a contact form. Here are additional ways to reach this online-only company:

Email [email protected]
Phone 888-601-2801 ● Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST
Mail P.O. Box 9250
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773-9250

Frequently asked questions about Earnest student loans

If you didn’t find your question answered in our Earnest reviews, see the following FAQs:

Is Earnest legit, safe and trustworthy?

Founded in 2013, Earnest is a legitimate lender with a long-running track record in education financing. To determine whether it’s the right lender for your needs, test out its customer service and compare it with other industry leaders.

Are Earnest-Navient loans federal loans?

Earnest is a private company that refinances private and federal student loans and, starting in 2019, also lends out private student loans. Earnest’s parent company, Navient, serviced federal loans lent directly by the Department of Education until 2021. Navient remains a private lender.

Therefore, Earnest student loans are private in nature and do not include federal loan protections like access to income-driven repayment.

Why is Earnest asking for my bank account?

Most lenders rely on factors like your credit report and debt-to-income ratio when determining whether to approve your application. While Earnest does the same, it takes extra steps to review your cash flow.

Earnest asks for your bank account information to include your banking history and habits in its unique underwriting process. Keep in mind it will request read-only access to your bank account to look specifically at your transaction and balance history — so you won’t have to worry about Earnest being able to make charges to your checking account.

Methodology for ratings

To come up with our star rating for student loan refinancing lenders and companies/private student loan lenders and companies, Student Loan Hero asks hard questions — 20 of them, in fact.

These questions span three categories: Accessibility, Rates & Terms and Repayment Experience. That’s because we want to judge financial institutions on their products and services from start to finish — when our users are shopping around, filing applications and paying down their debt. A top-rated lender, for instance, has inclusive eligibility criteria, allows you to prequalify and check rates without harming your credit score and is supportive as you face monthly payments.

The answers that we get to our 20 questions — either from the lenders themselves or by combing through their fine print — determine their overall rating. We score answers consistently, sometimes awarding partial points, to ensure that you can make equal comparisons between all lenders that we put under the microscope.

Student Loan Hero isn’t paid for conducting these reviews, and lenders don’t have a say in their content. The goal with our reviews and ratings, along with everything else we do, is to give our users the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available to make the best decisions according to their borrowing needs.

Student Loan Hero has independently collected the above information related to Earnest student loans, which is current as of March 7, 2022, unless otherwise noted. None of the financial institutions named has either provided or reviewed the information shared in this article.