CuLearn with Thrivent
CuLearn matches borrowers with credit unions, but isn't the best option for most borrowers.
CU Learn, or cuLearn, bills themselves as a network of credit unions working together. CuLearn offers undergraduate student loans, graduate student loans and student loan refinancing.
Typically we separate a lender’s student loan refinancing review from their undergraduate student loan review. However, cuLearn is a very unique option and the pros and the cons of cuLearn apply to both student loans and student loan refinancing.
CuLearn is a company with potential, but there are some issues with the cuLearn process and system. The idea of a network of credit unions working together could help many borrowers, but the end result with CU learn is a bit confusing and has more steps than necessary.
Reviewing the CU Learn Process
Before we can jump into the substance of the cuLearn student loans and refinancing options, we must first discuss what cuLearn is — and more importantly — what it isn’t.
CuLearn is not a student loan lender, nor do they provide the loans for refinancing. Instead, cuLearn is a tool for borrowers to find credit unions that offer student loans and student loan refinancing. Borrowers select the type of loan they need, the school they attend(ed), and their current address. From the information provided, CU Learn lists the credit unions that might provide the desired loan. Each listed credit union has a link inviting the borrower to apply.
CuLearn isn’t the first company that connects borrowers with lenders. One of the better known companies currently offering this service is Credible. In our review of Credible, we noted that they only work with a small subset of lenders and borrowers need to shop around to find the best rates. CuLearn, like Credible, is very limited in the number of lenders on their network. Many borrowers will have only a couple choices of potential lenders.
Where Credible excels is that they offer a single application for borrowers to check rates with many lenders. The advantage with the single application is that it saves borrowers time when shopping around. CuLearn does not have a single application. Instead, it just lists available credit unions, and borrowers are expected to submit individual applications with each credit union.
Ideally, cuLearn might be able to evolve into something like LendKey. Like cuLearn, LendKey is a network of credit unions and regional banks. Unlike cuLearn, LendKey borrowers fill out a single application in order to apply with the local credit unions. LendKey and cuLearn seem to be distinct networks, so the LendKey credit unions won’t appear on CU Learn, and the CU Learn credit unions won’t appear on LendKey.
In defense of cuLearn, this appears to be a newer website and they still may be working out the system. In the future, cuLearn might be a helpful resource for student loans and student loan refinancing, but for now cuLearn is — at best — a useful tool for finding some lesser known credit unions (more on these credit unions later).
CuLearn Undergraduate Student Loans
It is difficult to make blanket statements about the cuLearn undergraduate student loans because the loans offered vary by state and school.
That being said, we picked a few random schools from across the country to see what loans were available. Overall, most of the loans fell into the good but not great category. Interest rates were neither amazing nor outrageous, and repayment options appeared to be fairly standard.
We do really like that cuLearn encourages borrowers to first maximize scholarships, grants, and federal student loans before opting for a private student loans. Federal student loans are a significantly better option for the vast majority of borrowers and it is always nice to see a lender be upfront about this fact.
CuLearn Student Loan Refinancing
Like the student loan, it is a challenge to make definitive statements about interest rates, repayment lengths and loan terms because there are many different CU lenders. Borrowers will be limited to the lenders available for their school and location.
After plugging in several different schools and home states, we can offer a few thoughts on the refinance options. The lowest advertised interest rates are decent, but normally about 1% higher than the top lenders on the market. For example, variable interest rates with the top lenders start at just over 2%, while most cuLearn lenders have a best available rate in the 3-4% range. The same holds true for fixed-rate loans. We also noticed that most CU Learn lenders have a maximum repayment length of 15 years. Many of the more traditional refinance companies offer repayment lengths of up to 20 years. The longer repayment plans will result in lower monthly payments, but also more spending on interest in total.
Thoughts on Thrivent
Of all the lenders on the cuLearn platform, Thrivent is perhaps the one that will appear for the most borrowers. (In our research it showed up for every school and address tested.) Thrivent offers undergraduate, graduate, and refinance loans.
Thrivent is a national credit union with a major social focus. According to their website, Thrivent has millions of dollars and hours to charities like Habitat for Humanity.
However, Thrivent membership is limited to Christians.
Typically, Credit Unions restrict membership based upon geographic location or employer, but in the case of Thrivent, only Christians are eligible for membership. Borrowers should probably understand this requirement before deciding to move forward with an application.
CuLearn Final Thoughts
As a new entry to student loan lending and student loan refinancing, cuLearn is unique and has potential. However, this potential won’t translate into a good deal for most borrowers. The listed rates are too high and the lender selection is too low. Shopping around to find the best actual rate offered is always a smart approach, so cuLearn merits a visit, but better options are likely to be found elsewhere.
Those that really want to work with a Credit Union will probably find a better deal with the far more sophisticated LendKey network.
Borrowers who are just looking for the best interest rates will likely have better luck with the established national lenders.