Student Loan Debt

Earnest Student Loan Review: Online Lending Made Easy

Last Updated on July 12, 2019 Last Updated on July 12, 2019
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Highlights:

  • Quick application process.
  • Customized repayment options down to the month.
  • 9-month grace period.
  • Low, competitive rates with no fees.
  • No co-signer option for student loan refinancing.
  • Refinancing unavailable in select states.

Earnest is an online lender offering customized, affordable, private student loans and student loan refinancing. They're leveraging technology, streamlined data, and a unique Precision Pricing Model, letting customers create flexible repayment terms down to the month. Earnest has helped refinance over $4 billion in student loans and is now the second-largest student loan refinancing company in the United States.

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Student loans. Meh. Who wants to go through the hassle of applying for a loan, or dealing with any financial institution for that matter? The process is long, arduous, and complicated due to lack of transparency.

I’m sure you’d agree that the entire loan application process isn’t user-friendly. Borrowers are in the dark regarding how much they’re paying over the life of the loan.

It’s sad enough that students have to finish college saddled with debt. Education costs are higher than ever, and it’s the regular working class who suffer. Many have difficulty covering tuition costs without a little financial assistance.

Enter Earnest: a fintech lender that’s streamlined the entire process for borrowers.

I’m going to show you the types of services Earnest offers, explain why or why not to apply for student loan refinancing, and when you should consider a private student loan.

Let’s begin!

Bird’s Eye View

Student Loan Refinancing (includes 0.25% autopay discount)

Interest rates

  • 2.41% – 6.99% variable rate 
  • 3.36% – 7.82% fixed rate

Loan terms

  • 5-20 years with 1-3 month intervals and 180 different options

Loan amounts

  • $5,000 – $500,000

Private Student Loans (includes 0.25% autopay discount)

Interest rates

  • Starting at 3.99% variable rate
  • Starting at 5.09% fixed rate

Loan terms

  • Cosigned loans at 5, 7, 10, 12, and 15 years
  • Solo borrowers at 10, 12, and 15 years

Loan amounts

  • $1,000 up to the full cost of attendance each academic year

What Is Earnest?

Earnest is a fintech lender offering student loan refinancing, private student loans, and personal loans with customized repayment options. After the financial crisis in 2008, the distrust of big banks increased. Fueled by greed, these large institutions drove our economy into near ruin.

Earnest sought to be the answer to the lack of trust in a broken system. Their entire refinancing process can is online.

“We created a company that combines data science, streamlined design, and exceptional service to bring people a fast, low-cost, and hyper-personalized financial experience. Our mission is to make credit more accessible by reducing the costs and barriers faced by millions of financially responsible people.”

Founded in 2013 and headquartered in San Francisco, Earnest has gone on to help refinance over $4 billion in student loans. After leading educational loan management firm Navient acquired them in 2017, Earnest is now the second largest student loan refinancing company in the United States.

Earnest has appeared in:

  • The New York Times
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Fast Company
  • Yahoo!
  • Refinery 29
  • Bloomberg

They’re also trusted partners of:

Pay less interest and pick a payment that fits your budget from the folks at Earnest.

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Earnest Private Student Loans

If straightforward, no-fee, private student loans sound like music to your ears (and wallet), then Earnest’s private student loan option might make sense. You can check your eligibility in two minutes. Their application process is quick, with users reporting completion times of as low as seven minutes.

Fees

You won’t find fees of any kind. This includes:

  • Origination fees
  • Disbursement fees
  • Prepayment or late payment fees

Because the process is 100 percent online, Earnest can cut costs and pass the savings onto borrowers.

Earnest has the highest grace period in the industry at nine months. This exceeds the industry standard by three (a 6-month grace period is the norm).

Checklist When Applying

Before starting the application, Earnest wants to make sure you’ve considered other options, including:

  • 529 plans or additional funds reserved for your education
  • Grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities or other sources of money that don’t require  repayment
  • Completion of the FAFSA

Skip a Payment Forbearance

If you find yourself in financial hardship, Earnest affords its customers with student loans or student loan refinancing the option to skip one monthly payment every 12 months.

As long as:

  • You’ve made six months of consecutive on-time, in-full payments
  • Your full principal, interest payments, and loan are in good standing

Requests must be received at least five days before the month you want to skip. However, skipping a payment counts towards the forbearance limits outlined in your loan agreement. For example, if your forbearance is 12 months and you skip one month’s payment, your forbearance is reduced from 12 down to 11 months.

Refinancing resets your payment clock, so it’s essential to be strategic with your Skip A Payment option. For example, when you refinance, you must make six consecutive monthly payments and keep your account in good standing to be eligible to skip another payment.

***Pro tip: Avoid skipping payments as it extends your final payoff date by the number of months you skipped. Your interest will increase, and you’ll have a higher minimum monthly payment. The result: you pay more money.

Earnest Private Student Loan Interest Rates

Earnest offers private student loans to cover college costs that exceed the amount of federal loans, and financial aid students receive. The length of your loan, credit history (and co-signers credit history), are all factors in getting a lower interest rate. Cosigners with a robust and lengthy credit history will help get your rate reduced.

Variable APRs start at 3.99% while fixed APRs start at 5.09% (includes 0.25% autopay discount).  These rates start at $1,000 loan amounts (minimum required) and cover up to 100% of the school’s cost of attendance.

***Variable rates aren’t available in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, TX

The 0.25% autopay discount is awarded to customers who sign up for automatic monthly payments via direct deposit.

How to Apply for A Private Student Loan

Checking your eligibility takes two minutes.

Next step:

  • Fill out the application (takes as little as seven minutes)
  • Once approved you choose your preferred repayment plan (results take about a week)

Your Four Repayment Options

Earnest lets you pick the in-school option that aligns with your budget.

  • Deferred payment: waiting until the end of your grace period to make payments means you pay the highest total amount (not available in AL, AZ, CA, FL, MA, MD, MI, ND, NY, PA, WA)
  • Fixed $25 payment: making small monthly payments while in school lowers your interest
  • Interest-only payments: paying the accrued interest each month is a safe bet
  • Principal & interest payments: starting full payments right away reduces your total cost; however, there’s no grace period with this option

Cosigner Requirements

You don’t need a cosigner, but it will help if your credit score is, ahem, lacking.

Having a cosigner will help you secure a lower interest rate. Cosigned loan requirements at a glance (for the finer details, visit Earnest’s website here):

  • The cosigner is U.S. citizen or permanent resident (student isn’t required to be a US citizen or permanent resident but is necessary to have a social security number)
  • The student is in school full-time
  • School is a Title IV Qualified, not-for-profit, four-year institution
  • Minimum loan amount of $1,000 unless specified by the state of residence
  • The cosigner has a minimum FICO score of 650, at least three years of credit history, and a minimum annual income of $35,000
  • Cosigner and student don’t have a bankruptcy on their credit reports or accounts in collection

Solo Borrowers

Independent student loan borrowers must fulfill the same requirements as a cosigner mentioned above.

Getting Approved

Landing a loan is grounds for celebration assuming you handle it responsibly. Advancing your education is a huge leap forward, awarding you with greater possibilities, skills, and higher earning potential. Ace these factors to improve your odds:

  • Have enough savings to include two months of ordinary expenses
  • Spend less than you earn while augmenting your bank account balances
  • Don’t carry large amounts of non-student, non-mortgage debt (credit cards, personal loans)
  • Have a history of on-time payments
  • Don’t have regularly charged late, overdraft, or insufficient funds fees

What is the Cost of Attendance?

Your cost of attendance includes the total amount you spend to attend school each year. In-state or out-of-state tuition has the most significant impact on your total cost of attendance. Your loan can cover the full cost of:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Housing and utilities
  • Transportation
  • Books and supplies
  • Dependent care
  • Meals

Student Loan Refinancing

Refinancing means consolidating multiple loans (both federal and private) into a single loan, typically with a lower interest rate. It’s easier to make a single payment versus multiple payments to different lenders. That’s the beauty of consolidation: it Marie Kondo’s your finances.

The loan doesn’t have an origination fee and usually has a lower interest rate. You’re given the option between a fixed or a variable rate.

***Earnest doesn’t let you refinance with a cosigner at this time

Reasons to Refinance

If you’re battling high-interest rates across multiple lenders, a refi might make sense for you. When you sign up for student loan refinancing with Earnest, it can:

  • Lower your interest rate
  • Customize your loan payment
  • Combine multiple loans to simplify your payments
  • Let you choose your loan term
  • Improve your customer service experience
  • Remove your cosigner

Fixed vs. Variable Rates

Fixed interest rates are ideal if you want to secure a static, monthly payment throughout your loan’s lifetime. It doesn’t change. They’re typically higher, but the rate is locked in for life. Variable rate loans start at a lower rate, but the rate can swing, affecting your monthly payment.

There’s no wrong answer. It depends entirely on your budget, your term, and your risk tolerance around rate swings.

Fixed rates are best when:

  • Your loan term is long
  • You cringe at the thought of increasing minimum monthly payments
  • You (like Warren Buffett) believe interest rates will rise and want to lock in a lesser rate lickety-split

***Even if interest rates rise your APR doesn’t

Variable rates are best when:

  • Your loan term is shorter (less chance of a rate change)
  • You can handle an increased monthly payment
  • You think interest rates will lower or remain flat in the immediate future (because Punxsutawney Phil spoke to you in a dream and told you it would be so)

Earnest determines your variable interest rate based on the 1-month LIBOR index. Changes to your monthly payments are based on this rate.

Rates are updated monthly according to figures published at The Wall Street Journal.

Borrowers are making bets that rates won’t rise soon, which is why variable rates are usually the better short-term option.

Caps on variable interest rates at Earnest are:

  • 10-year terms or less have a lifetime cap at 8.95%
  • Between 10-year and 15-year terms have a lifetime cap of 9.95%
  • 15-years and beyond capped at 11.95%

Student Loan Refinance Eligibility

Getting started with your student loan refi is relatively easy and can be done in four, pain-free steps:

  1. Get your rate estimate: their tool analyzes your info instantly. Receive your final rate when your loan is approved.
  2. Application: Requires more info to complete your profile, including your financial responsibility.
  3. Evaluation: Looks at additional info (that most lenders don’t) like your savings, education, and earning potential.
  4. Customization: If approved, you set up your preferred monthly payment based on your budget.

Eligibility Criteria

Getting approved does carry requirements. Here are the nuts and bolts of what you’ll need (for a detailed list, head to their website here):

  • Must be a U.S. citizen or have a 10-year Permanent Resident Card and currently reside in one of the 47 states they lend in (not available for Delaware, Kentucky, and Nevada residents)
  • Your enrollment status is less than half-time, and your student loans are in repayment, or you will graduate at the end of the semester
  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • The loan you’re refinancing is from a Title IV-accredited school
  • Your refinance request must be for at least $5,000 in loans
  • Minimum credit score 650, employed, or have a written job offer starting within six months
  • No bankruptcy or accounts in collection

***Pro tip: Be mindful when refinancing your federal student loans. Federal loans come with certain protections and repayment options you’ll be giving up.

For example, Earnest doesn’t offer income-based repayment plans or public service loan forgiveness. It’s possible to consolidate your federal loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan from the Department of Education, but securing a lower interest rate won’t be possible. Private student loans are ineligible.

Earnest vs. Traditional Banks: The Precision Pricing Model

Earnest works in a way that’s unlike traditional banks. A bank doles out rates using a tiered system. Any amount that falls between two tiers gets pushed to the longer term with a higher rate.

Earnest’s term lengths work differently. You can customize your repayment plan down to the month with 180 different options. Using an example from their website, let’s say you have a $100,000 loan and can only afford to pay $1,000 a month. You want to arrange a 10-year term.

At a big bank, the monthly payment for a 10-year loan is slightly more than $1,000 a month. What happens?

You’re bumped to the next tier: a 15-year loan. Longer terms carry higher rates. Boo.

With Earnest’s Precision Pricing Model, that same $1,000 monthly payment slides into a 10.5-year term. Yay! You’re saving money over the life of your loan.

Is Earnest Right for You?

Before making any decision, it pays to do your research. It may save you from making a costly mistake down the road. Earnest is a reputable company offering a quick, streamlined, and easy-to-use service to its customers.

But they’re not the only one. Other brands like SoFi, Lendkey, and Commonbond also offer competitive rates worth a look. You may find a better rate with more agreeable terms.

What’s to Like

  • Quick application process (completion time as low as seven minutes)
  • Speedy approval results (typically less than a week)
  • Greater customized repayment options and flexibility with Precision Pricing Model
  • 12-month and Skip a Payment forbearance, military deferment available
  • Low, competitive interest rates with no fees
  • 9-month grace period

What’s Not to Like

  • No cosigner option available for student loan refinancing
  • Refinancing unavailable in certain states (excludes Delaware, Kentucky, and Nevada)
  • Private student loan variable rates unavailable in Alaska, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas (for such a big company, I was expecting to see higher options in this category)

Final Thoughts

Securing a student loan is a burdensome task. I don’t believe anyone wakes up in the morning thinking, “Boy, I sure can’t wait to apply for student loan refinancing today.” No. But you might wake up wondering if your credit score is good enough, wishing your student loan had a lower monthly payment or hoping the application process doesn’t take too long.

Earnest realized the system was flawed and took pains to fix it. They paired technology with streamlined service and repayment terms befitting each applicant.

Features like their cosigner invite (makes asking for a cosigner simple), mobile app (apparently this is being rebuilt according to their website), and transparent checkout (borrowers know the total amount due each month before signing their loan) all add to Earnest’s appeal.

As a general rule, always consider your situation before signing any loan agreement and employ all other possibilities before getting private student assistance. Federal aid almost always carries better benefits.

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