CollegeFinance Score: ★★★★☆
For those who want flexibility in structuring and repaying their loans, Earnest is an excellent option. You can customize the terms of your loan and choose from a range of repayment approaches. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see your rates without undergoing a hard credit inquiry.
- Customize the length of your loan and your monthly payment
- Multiple in-school repayment options
- Exceptional nine-month grace period
- Option to skip a payment once every year
- No origination or late fees
- No option to see real rates without a hard credit inquiry
- Relies on an outside loan servicer
- Not available in all 50 states
Earnest: What You Need to Know
Earnest, founded in 2013, built a flourishing student loan refinancing business, helping borrowers refinance over $4 billion in its first six years. In 2019, the company diversified its offerings, adding private student loans to its lending services.
Like many of today’s best private student lenders, Earnest takes pride in its distinctly modern approach to attracting and serving qualified borrowers. In contrast to long-established financial institutions, the company emphasizes innovation and personalization to provide an exceptional customer experience.
Thankfully, Earnest’s mission to bring the student loan industry into the 21st century isn’t just good branding. The company delivers plenty of useful perks for today’s college students, from an easy application process to several forms of wiggle room on repayment.
No lender can eliminate all the administrative headaches, but Earnest aims to minimize them with a genuinely fresh approach tailored to millennial and Gen Z borrowers. If you want a lender whose policies and practices feel current, Earnest’s vibe may be right up your alley.
Earnest’s BBB Rating: A+
Sure, Earnest may claim to be superior to more established institutions that offer student loans. But does the company deliver for current customers, providing a positive borrowing experience overall?
One important indicator of a business’s customer service and general trustworthiness is its rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB, a private nonprofit founded in 1912, compiles and assesses customer complaints about businesses, judging whether the complaints are justified and how businesses attempt to address them.
Good news for borrowers interested in Earnest: The company earned an A+ rating, the highest grade offered by the BBB. This grade reflects the fact that Earnest has relatively few customers complaints compared to other lenders and responds appropriately when one of their borrowers voices a concern.
Earnest also boasts a strong rating on review site Trustpilot, earning an average score of 4.7 out of 5 based on hundreds of customer reviews. Many of the customers mention how easy it was to complete Earnest’s application process, while others shout out the company’s polite and helpful customer service team.
Earnest: Potential Benefits for Borrowers
Compared to other private student loan lenders, Earnest’s main advantages can be aptly expressed in a single word: flexibility. From setting the terms of your loan during the application process to skipping one payment per year, Earnest permits you to shape the repayment process to reflect your personal needs. Combine this approach with well-reviewed customer service and an easy application process, and Earnest certainly earns your serious consideration.
- Earnest allows you to customize your loan term and monthly payment. With this helpful feature, you can select a repayment time frame that corresponds to a monthly payment amount with which you’re comfortable. Just keep in mind that longer loan terms translate to greater interest paid overall.
- Earnest offers multiple in-school repayment options. No matter your financial circumstances while you’re a student, Earnest has an option that will suit your needs. You can delay payments until you graduate, make interest-only or $25 payments while in school, or make full monthly payments instead. That array of choices is rare among private student loan lenders.
- Earnest offers a nine-month grace period. Whereas other lenders typically offer just six months from the time you graduate to the date your first payment is due, Earnest tacks on three extra months should you need them.
- Earnest permits you to skip one payment per year. This unique perk could come in handy if you hit a financial rough patch in the years ahead. Hopefully, you won’t need to skip any payments, but it’s nice to know you can without being penalized. However, you’ll need to secure Earnest’s permission first, and your loan must be in good standing to take advantage of this benefit.
- Customers appreciate Earnest’s customer service and easy application process. In countless positive reviews, borrowers say dealing with Earnest was refreshingly simple or even pleasant. How’s that for a nice surprise?
Earnest: Potential Drawbacks for Borrowers
Even the best lenders have room for improvement, and Earnest is no exception. While the following points probably won’t be deal breakers for most borrowers, they are worth keeping in mind before choosing to apply.
- Currently, Earnest’s private loans are not available in Nevada. Residents of the Silver State are out of luck with this particular lender.
- Earnest’s student loans are serviced by an outside company, Navient. One of the nation’s largest loan servicers, Navient, handles a massive portfolio of federal and private student loans, managing transactional aspects of the repayment process. Unfortunately, the company does not have a reputation for pleasant or effective customer service. Reviews from current borrowers are, to put it mildly, mostly unkind. If you need to address some practical aspects of the repayment process, you may be dealing with Navient, not Earnest.
- Earnest requires a hard credit inquiry to provide personalized rates offers, meaning your credit score will take a hit, at least temporarily. Many private student lenders now offer an initial set of personalized rates with just a soft credit check. While a hard credit inquiry won’t drop your credit score dramatically, it’s certainly a negative in Earnest’s otherwise easy application process.
Earnest: The Details
Loan Amounts and Term Lengths
Minimum loan amount: $1,000
Loan term options: Option to customize your preferred loan term up to 15 years
Multi-year approval available: Not disclosed
Interest Rate Ranges
Fixed and variable rates available: Yes
Fixed low APR: 3.55%
Fixed high APR: 12.78%
Variable low APR: 1.24%
Variable high APR: 11.44%
In-school payment options: Choose from four in-school repayment options, including
- Full monthly payments (interest and principal)
- Interest-only monthly payments
- Fixed monthly payments of $25
- No payments while in school
Grace period: 9 months
Cosigner release available: No, although you may be able to refinance your loan with Earnest to remove your cosigner.
Loan servicer: Navient
Other Perks and Options
Interest rate discounts: 0.25% autopay discount
Other rewards or services: Earnest’s “Skip a Payment” option allows you to do exactly that once every 12 months. However, you’ll have to request the company’s permission, and your loans must be in good standing at the time.
Earnest: Eligibility and Application Requirements
Income requirements: You or your cosigner must have an income of at least $35,000 per year.
Credit score requirements: You or your cosigner must have a credit score of at least 650, established credit history for at least three years, and no history of bankruptcy.
Eligibility for international borrowers: International borrowers require a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Application or origination fees: None
Soft pull rate check availability: While you can check eligibility without hurting your credit score, Earnest does not currently offer real private student loan rates without a hard credit inquiry. This may confuse some prospective borrowers because Earnest does offer a “Rate Check” tool that involves a soft inquiry that won’t hurt your score. Unfortunately, this option is only available to those interested in Earnest’s student loan refinancing, rather than new private student loans.
Private Student Loans: Understanding Your Options
Given Earnest’s considerable advantages, you may be seriously considering becoming a customer. But before you borrow from Earnest — or any other private lender — you should first exhaust another funding option: federal student loans.
As their name suggests, federal student loans are funded by the U.S. government. They are overseen by the Department of Education and administered in conjunction with colleges and universities as part of the nation’s broader federal financial aid system. Once borrowers leave school, their federal loans are “serviced” by outside companies that manage the repayment process.
Why should you go with federal loans before considering private options such as Earnest? First and foremost, federal student loans are far easier to access because they’re designed to help aspiring students afford school.
You won’t need a strong credit history or income, and there’s no cosigner required: The government isn’t looking for these indications of your ability to repay. Rather, you’ll need to get into the school of your choice and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), sending it to your school. Generally, federal loan money is offered based on a student’s financial need rather than academic merit or economic stability.
However, no matter your financial circumstances, there are other great reasons first to explore your federal financial aid options. As a federal institution, the Department of Education can offer options and protections that private lenders can’t. Here are some of the distinct advantages of federal student loans:
- Multiple income-based repayment options, meaning your monthly payments are tied to what you’re currently earning. With these options, your monthly payment won’t leave you struggling to make ends meet.
- Extended repayment plans, allowing you to spread your repayment over 20 or 25 years. This means lower monthly payments, although you’ll pay more in interest overall.
- Loan forgiveness programs for those entering public service professions and remain in the field for at least 10 years.
With unique benefits such as these, federal loans should be the primary option for virtually every student loan borrower. But if federal loans don’t cover all of your school-related expenses, a private student loan can be an excellent supplement to the federal money you receive.
That’s where lenders like Earnest can truly deliver, empowering students to focus on their studies by funding their educational pursuits. Like tens of thousands of students every semester, if you find that your federal financial aid isn’t sufficient, a private student loan could be the perfect solution.
Is Earnest Right for You?
As we’ve explained, Earnest stands out for the unique array of options that it offers borrowers. Whereas many other lenders offer a limited selection of loans and rigid repayment terms, Earnest empowers its customers to personalize the borrowing process.
Maybe you love the idea of customizing your loan, setting the term and payment to match your financial goals. Perhaps you value Earnest’s accommodations in the event of financial challenges, such as the chance to skip a payment or a longer grace period should you struggle to find a job after school. Whatever you find attractive about Earnest, you’ll probably enjoy greater control than you would with your typical lender.
Earnest Could Be a Good Option for You If:
- You want the power to set the length of your loan and monthly payment.
- You need an in-school repayment approach that suits your current budget.
- Finding the right job could take a while after you graduate.
- You appreciate the flexibility with future payments, in case you ever need it.
Even if Earnest sounds like a great fit, you deserve to evaluate other private student loan options. By comparing Earnest to other potential lenders, you’ll assess their relative advantages concerning your borrowing needs.
That’s where CollegeFinance.com can come to your aid, with comprehensive and unbiased reviews of private student loans. Whether you’re looking for expert opinions on a specific lender or researching the best private loan options overall, we’re here to help you make a sound decision about funding your education.
We can also help with other aspects of planning your studies and financial future, from smart tips for finding scholarships to guidance on repaying or refinancing your loans. For all topics related to affording your education and moving forward financially, you can count on CollegeFinance.com to deliver helpful advice.