We often get emails from readers listing a few lenders and asking which one is best.
In our student loan rankings, we provide a template for sorting through the various companies, but it isn’t an exact science. The reality is that the best student loan refinance lender is usually the one offering the best interest rate.
SoFi, Laurel Road, LendKey, Earnest, Citizens, and CommonBond are the lenders that most frequently appear in these reader emails. This makes sense because these lenders spend the most on advertising and offer some of the best interest rates in the student loan consolidation business.
Advertised Rates vs. Actual Interest Rates
If there is one concept that anyone shopping student loan refinance companies should understand, it is the difference between advertised rates and actual interest rates.
Advertised interest rates vary from company to company and can fluctuate based upon the market and cost of borrowing. Most of the top lenders will all be within a fraction of a percent of each other. However, just because a company advertises the lowest interest rate, it does not mean that it will offer any particular borrower the best interest rate.
Actual interest rates depend upon a number of different factors. The potential borrower’s credit score, income, debt-to-income ratio, occupation, and school all can be considered.
However, each lender may treat these factors differently. For example, Earnest also considers your retirement account balances. From their perspective, if you are saving a ton of money for retirement at a young age, it is a sign you are probably a responsible borrower. Each company guards its exact formula closely.
Lenders make money by offering the best rates to the consumers who are the lowest risk. The better they do identifying these consumers, the more money they will make.
What this means for you the borrower is that each lender will apply your particular information to their credit evaluation formula. SoFi may decide you are too much of a credit risk and decline your application or offer you a higher interest. Meanwhile, LendKey might look at exactly the same information and conclude that you are a safe bet, and offer you their lowest interest rate. Because each borrower is different and each lender looks at borrowers differently, it is impossible to know what lender will have the best rate.
A final factor that should be considered is the term of the loan. Laurel Road might offer an excellent rate on a short-term variable-rate loan, but the long-term fixed-rate loan might come with a really high interest rate. Meanwhile, CommonBond could do the opposite. Their fixed-rate loans might be the best deal, but their variable-rate offers don’t hold up. The only way to know what a lender will offer and what deal you can get is to apply.
The extended discussion about advertised rates vs. actual rates is necessary to explain the importance of shopping around.
When it comes to student loan refinancing, that means applying with a number of companies to find the best deal.
The major credit bureaus encourage shopping around because multiple credit inquiries are treated the same as a single check, so long as they were within 14 days (some even give you longer). This means that the only downside to applying to multiple lenders is the time it takes to fill out the applications. It may be a bit of a headache, but the potential savings make it time well spent.
Those concerned about the time commitment required to shop around should estimate that it takes about 10 minutes per lender to check rates.
What is the point of Rankings?
The rankings should be useful for a couple of reasons.
First, it provides a starting point for your research. Having all the companies in one place provides a guide for where you should go when shopping around.
Second, it is helpful when comparing the offers two companies have made.
Suppose SoFi and Citizens both offer the same interest rate for your consolidation. Part of the reason SoFi is ranked number one is because of its favorable cosigner release terms and because of its career development opportunities for borrowers who lose jobs. This gives them the edge in our rankings, so if the interest rates are close, it is a good tie-breaker.
Finding the best student loan company is all about doing a little bit of extra legwork.
There are some differences between SoFi, Laurel Road, LendKey, Earnest, Citizens, and CommonBond, but at the end of the day they are all offering similar services and the best choice is typically the lender with the best rate.
The extra effort to find the best rate is minimal and it pays off.
Put together a list of lenders you are considering. Send out applications to each lender. Evaluate who has the best deal. Compare how the companies did from a customer service perspective. By the time you have offers and experience with the lenders, you should know what lender is best for you.
Shopping around in this manner will ensure that you save as much money as possible. At present, these lenders are advertising the lowest interest rates.