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Earnest Student Loan Refinance Review

Earnest gets a 4/5 rating due to excellent interest rates and high borrower satisfaction. However, some borrowers will want to avoid Earnest.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

Last Updated:

Affiliate Disclosure and Integrity Pledge

Earnest usually has some of the lowest interest rates on the market.

Refinancing means giving up the perks that come with federal student loans, including student loan forgiveness.

Earnest offers new borrowers $150 for refinancing their loans.

Other lenders may offer better interest rates, and some borrowers may want to avoid Earnest, which is now owned by Navient.

Earnest Review Overview

In a marketplace where all lenders blur together, Earnest sticks out as a legitimately different lender. 

Earnest evaluates applications differently and approves some borrowers that might get rejected by other more traditional lenders.

The Earnest sales pitch is that you will get better results with them because they are better at making lending decisions. Where some lenders look only to FICO and year income, Earnest looks at the big picture.

This big picture approach makes looking into Earnest a wise decision for many refinance shoppers. As a result, Earnest currently gets the 6th spot in our student loan refinance company rankings.

Meet Earnest Basics

Earnest Overview
Loan Terms5 - 20 Years
Variable Rate Loans5.89% - 9.74%^
Fixed Rate Loans4.99% - 9.74%^
Minimum Credit Score680
Minimum Refinance Amount$5,000
New Borrower Bonus$150^

Like most lenders, Earnest offers both fixed-rate and variable-rate loans. One thing that makes Earnest a little different is that they provide more than the traditional 5, 10, 15, and 20-year loans. Borrowers can choose repayment lengths that fall anywhere on the 5 to 20-year spectrum, meaning if 18 years is ideal for you, you get 18 years to repay your loan.

Earnest calls this feature “precision pricing.” This sliding scale may not appeal to everyone, but it has two main advantages. For long-term planners with specific deadlines, such as retiring in 12 years or buying a home in seven, precision pricing could be ideal. It also works nicely for people who know exactly how much they have in their monthly budget. If you can spare exactly $327.42 per month, you can get a plan that fits your specific need.

Like other legitimate lenders out there, Earnest doesn’t charge any pre-payment penalties or loan origination fees. Paying back your loan is just paying back principal and interest.

Help for more Borrowers: Most refinance lenders only accept borrowers with completed bachelor’s degrees.

Earnest will refinance borrowers with associate’s degrees and borrowers who didn’t finish school.

Navient Purchase of Earnest

When this article was first published, Earnest was a student loan startup out to make a name with their flexible repayment options.

As time went by, Earnest grew and was ultimately purchased by Navient, a massive student loan company with a questionable reputation.

Unsurprisingly, the $155 million purchase of Earnest has led to some changes. Some Earnest customers now complain that things are less consumer-friendly and less transparent.

Those looking to refinance their student loans to get away from Sallie Mae/Navient should look to other lenders offering refinancing services.

Earnest Advantages

One thing that we love about Earnest is that they service all of their loans. Many lenders will refinance your debt but then sell the loan to another company. The quality of the new service you get can be a mystery. Earnest keeps repayment in-house. It doesn’t guarantee better service, but it is better than the alternative.

The most significant advantage with Earnest, and the reason many people may choose to work with them, is their “big picture” approach to lending decisions. They believe that they can make a smarter decision on application approvals by looking at more financial information. We reached out to Earnest to get an example of someone who could benefit from their method, and they provided the following response:

“We have a client who is a librarian with a Masters in English Literature. She makes a public librarian’s salary and is incredibly financially responsible — she pays her bills in full and on time and saves a substantial amount of money in both investment and non-investment accounts. But she also doesn’t have a great credit score — it’s not bad, but not great — because she simply doesn’t use traditional credit cards and credit products. That’s someone who could be instantly denied by a lot of traditional lenders (as well as Earnest competitors), but when we look at that profile, we see someone who is tremendously responsible with her money and deserves our best rates. We think our approach unlocks access to credit for a lot of people who truly deserve it.”

A couple of things stand out from this example: a less-than-perfect credit because of a limited history and building a retirement account. If you are very careful with your money, i.e., saving more than you spend and putting money aside for retirement, Earnest is worth exploring.

However, it is worth pointing out that getting approved for an Earnest loan will still require a credit score of at least 680.

Cause for Concern

Earnest advertises a 2 min application for credit approval, but practically speaking, we do have some concerns about this process. The major advantage of Earnest, the big picture approach, could also become a big issue during the application and loan refinance process. Because Earnest examines more financial information, it means that Earnest will need access to more financial information. It means more records to verify and paperwork to put into place.

Ultimately, if sending in a little bit of extra information lowers your interest rate, it is time well spent, but it does increase the odds of headaches along the way.

Finally, Earnest refinances federal student loans. Refinancing federal loans with a private lender is a risky trade. Borrowers can get better interest rates, but they give up federal perks like Income-Driven Repayment plans and student loan forgiveness. While this can work for some borrowers, for others, it is a huge mistake. Before you refinance, make sure you know whether or not student loan refinancing is for you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Earnest

Does Earnest do a hard pull or soft pull?

When you check rates with Earnest, there is a “soft pull” to your credit report. Soft pulls do not impact credit scores.

If a borrower chooses to move forward with Earnest, the company may perform a hard pull when the final application is submitted.

Is Earnest secure?

According to the Earnest Privacy Notice, all data entered into their site is protected on multiple levels including firewalls, private subnets, and multi-factor authentication.

Thus far, I have not heard any complaints about Earnest security issues.

What credit report does Earnest use?

When Earnest checks the credit profile of applicants they use their Experian credit report.

What is the minimum score to refinance with Earnest?

The minimum FICO score to refinance with Earnest is 650.

Earnest Refinance Review: Final Thoughts

Earnest is probably the ideal option for people who are responsible with their money but might not have a huge income or a perfect credit score. If you think your credit score or yearly income doesn’t tell the whole story, Earnest could be the best option.

Given that Earnest has loans with rates starting below 5% and a unique approach, they get a spot in the top five of our student loan refinance rankings.

To check out the rate you qualify for with Earnest, apply here.

^ The lowest listed rate for Earnest is a 5-year variable rate loan, and rates are listed as an APR. Please see the Earnest Disclosure for more details on rates and bonus terms.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

9 thoughts on “Earnest Student Loan Refinance Review”

  1. Bait and switch! Just went through the application process with Earnest. The quick rate I received was 4.21% for a ten year refi. After going through the entire application process and allowing a hard credit pull, the rate jumped to 5.24%. My credit score is over 800, credit usage is less than 8%. I called to inquire about the jump in rate, but the person I spoke to couldn’t explain it to me and couldn’t pass me on to anyone who could. He said I could request a rate review. How can I do that when they can’t tell me what cause the jump in rate?

  2. Just got off phone with Ernest. Was told that they do NOT ALLOW CO-SIGNERS. Seems strange for a lender who takes such extra effort to lower risk. I would think that is the point of having a strong co-signer.

  3. this loan company is corrupt. you should never have to give your checking account login info to a loan company to apply for a loan. what are they looking for? How many times you go to Star Bucks?

  4. I applied for a loan with very good credit and very healthy savings. They asked me for a picture ID and a copy of my taxes, then declined my request. They blamed it on income variability and income (I am self-employed) but I really dislike the intense scrutiny, as well as the request for access to your bank accounts and picture ID, and then a weak excuse for declining. I contacted them, and got more weak responses, but I feel that I was redlined. Also, i notice that most of the positive reviews are from Anonymous sources and all seem to follow certain clear story and reasoning patterns. I think they are probably fake. My stats are $60,000 loan, $60k in the bank, Income tax shows $50k/ year 730 credit. Denied

  5. You had to give them your bank account log on??? Why on earth would they need that? So that everyone in the company can log onto your bank account and do whatever they want with your money? Unbelievable. 🙁

  6. I had a great experience with Earnest. I saved more than $40K by refinancing my student loans with them. They were quick and very responsive throughout the process. It took a few weeks to finalize and sign. I highly recommend it.

  7. It seems there are a lot of negative reviews on this company around the internet. Most of them are people who are angry that they got denied. I get it, the application is extensive and invasive. However, most of these new loan companies require more than just a credit score to approve a loan. This allows for less defaults and in return they can give their customers a lower rate. I managed to get my crazy grad plus rate of almost 8% down to 4.5%!

    Here are my stats for comparison: Income $150,000/year, savings $18,000, $0 retirement(I know, but I am maxing out my 401k now!), $10,000 credit card debt at the time, Loan amount $81,000. I graduated in may and applied with just an offer letter in july(didnt even get a pay check yet), something that SOFI wouldnt even consider. Everything went smooth after approval!

    • Yes, you’re correct. However, the reason people are upset isn’t because a random lender denies them. It’s because Earnest pitches a great story about how the founder had high-rate loans he couldn’t afford, and refinancing was an impossible dream but OMG it’s totally possible now and Earnest can make it happen.

      If they came out and said “you need to be a highly, highly-qualified person [such as yourself], because we seriously don’t want any risk here”, I think we’d be fine with it. But to pretend that you’re a company out to help people when you’re really not, to require they sign over their banking credentials and the rest of your financial life, just to turn you down… that leaves a lot of people with a sour taste in their mouths.


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