Updated April 8, 2019

Earnest Student Loan Review: Pros and Cons

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Earnest offers low student loan refinance rates and customizes payments based on your budget. But approval may be harder. Read on for the pros and cons.

5-point scale (the higher, the better)

Pros and Cons

  • Looks beyond your credit score
  • Custom term based on budget
  • Option to skip one payment every 12 months
  • Tougher requirements
  • No co-signer option

Bottom Line

Merit-based lender with custom terms

Earnest student loan refinance is best for borrowers who have demonstrated financial responsibility. Earnest is unique in that it offers a precise, customized term based on what you can afford to pay each month.

Read on to see what makes Earnest different.

Earnest at-a-Glance:

  • Loans from $5,000 to $500,000
  • Custom terms of 60 months to 240 months
  • Fixed or variable rates
  • No origination fee or prepayment penalty
  • Refinance federal, private, consolidated, and Parent PLUS loans
  • Minimum credit score of 680


When approving you for a loan, Earnest takes a more personalized approach. Unlike lenders who only consider your credit score, Earnest will look at your bigger financial picture.

Most young college grads still haven't had time to establish a strong credit history, so your score could be low. Earnest knows this and will still consider you for a loan.

It wants to see that you're capable of saving money and handling your finances responsibly. It'll consider factors like:

  • Your savings pattern
  • Payment history
  • Career potential
  • Living expenses

This kind of personalized approach is great if you've been financially responsible. But it does mean the qualification requirements are tougher. It could also exclude you if you don't have much savings or had a couple of late bill payments.

2 min: Get My Rate


Earnest offers a special kind of term option called "Precision Pricing". Earnest is the only student loan refinance lender that offers this.

Here's how it works:

Usually, when you apply for a loan, you're boxed into standard terms, such as 5, 10, 15, or 20-year terms. The longer the term, the higher the interest rate, which means the more you'll end up paying.

But Earnest will use your budget to customize your rate and term - down to the month. You say what you can afford to pay each month. And Earnest will give you a custom term anywhere between 5 to 20 years (60 to 240 months, for a total of 180 term options).

This way, you get a term tailored exactly to your budget. And interest will be minimized.

How does Precision Pricing help?
For example, let's say you can afford to pay $500 each month towards student loans. You can't quite afford the monthly payments for a traditional bank's 10-year loan, so you're pushed to the 15-year loan instead (since there are no in-between options). This lengthens the term of your loan and the total interest.

But with Earnest, a custom term means that you can get a precise term that matches your budget (for example: an 11.2-year loan). You get to pay what you can afford, while saving a lot in interest.

Earnest offers competitive rates, though it may be slightly higher than some competitor student loan refinance lenders. But Earnest will consider you for a loan even if you have lower or limited credit, so it's a give and take.

Earnest's rates are currently:

  • Fixed: 4.99% - 9.74% APR (includes 0.25% autopay discount)
  • Variable: 5.89% - 9.74% APR (includes 0.25% autopay discount)

Compare with other lenders. Shop around with different lenders to see which gives you the best rate. You can get multiple rate quotes with no obligation. Check out some of those top student loan refinance lenders.

Get My Rate >>


  1. No fees
    No application fee, origination fee, or prepayment penalty. There's even no late fee if you accidentally miss a payment.

  2. Option to skip a payment
    Earnest knows that life life happens. After you've made 6 months of on-time payments, you can be eligible to skip a payment. You can do this once every 12 months.

    Just keep in mind that the principal and interest from the skipped payment would be spread out over the rest of the loan term.

  3. Payment flexibility
    You can increase your payments to pay off the loan faster. Schedule extra payments whenever you like and change your payment amount, all at no charge.

  4. Change your rate
    You can switch from a fixed rate to a variable rate (or vice versa) every 6 months without paying a fee. The APR will be based on prevailing interest rates and your financial profile at the time of your request.

    One caution about variable rate loans: A variable rate may be lower to start, but it can go up or down based on the market. If rates rise substantially, you could end up paying more in interest than you would if you had chosen a fixed rate. If you go with variable rate, you need to be sure your budget can handle potential rate increases.

  5. 0.25% discount
    When you enroll in auto-pay, you'll receive a 0.25% discount off your rate.

  6. Refinance while still in school
    Earnest lets you refinance if you're in your final semester at school, as long as you have a written job offer. This is good for those who want to get a head start on paying back loans.

  7. Hardship assistance
    If you run into financial hardship, Earnest may grant you a forbearance. If you go back to school, you can defer your loans for up to 3 years. Note that interest will still accrue during forbearance and deferment.

    In the event of death or total and permanent disability, Earnest will discharge all student loans.

  8. Honor grace period
    If you just graduated and your loans are still in the grace period, Earnest can match it for up to 9 months. Be aware, however, that interest will still accrue on the loan during the grace period.

Consider refinancing federal loans carefully. Refinancing federal loans will mean losing perks such as loan forgiveness and income-based repayment plans. If you may want to take advantage of those government programs, you can just refinance your private loans.



  • Custom payment and term based on your budget
  • Looks at other factors other than your credit
  • Option to skip a payment once every 12 months
  • No prepayment penalty
  • No late fees
  • High refinance limit up to $500,000


  • No option to apply with a co-signer
  • May not be approved if you don't have enough savings
  • Rates not as low as some other lenders
  • Not available in every state


Ideally, you want to refinance your student loans when interest rates are low. If you wait too long, you may miss out.

Rates are relatively low right now, but that doesn't mean they'll stay that way. Whether you should refinance now or later depends on how good your credit is and where you are financially.


The entire application process is s done online. Here's how it works:

  1. Quick Rate Check. First, you'll get a rate check in minutes. You'll fill out some general information (like your estimated loan balance, degree, income, and housing payment). Earnest will conduct a soft pull on your credit and give you an estimated rate. This has no impact on your credit.

    If you like the rate, you can continue on to the full application.

    Get Quick Rate Check >>

  2. Officially apply. During the official application, you'll have to provide in-depth information. This includes:

    • Your educational and employment history
    • Connecting your LinkedIn profile
    • Linking your financial accounts
    • Tax documents
    • Personal info like government ID and SSN

    Earnest uses your financial accounts to get an idea of how you manage your money. They look at stuff like: if you pay your bills in full each month, if you never have late payments, if you save each month, how much you spend compared to income, etc.

    Is it safe to link financial info to Earnest? Earnest has read-only access to your financial accounts. It can only view the transaction and balance history, not make charges. Earnest does not store or have access to your usernames, passwords, or login credentials.

  3. Get the final offer. Based on the info you provided, Earnest will decide whether to approve you for the loan and your rate and term options. This is a hard pull and will impact your credit report.

    Once approved, Earnest will provide a range of rate and term options. You can choose your exact monthly payment based on your budget. You can pick your precise term.

  4. Approve the loan. You have 30 days to accept Earnest's loan offer. Once you accept, Earnest will pay off your student loans. After that, you will just make one payment to Earnest each month.

Am I Obligated Once I Apply?
Earnest provides rate quotes with no obligation, so you're not locked in if your rate isn't as low as you'd like. You're actually better off shopping around with different lenders to see what kind of loan terms you might be able to qualify for.


Not everyone will be able to get a refinance loan with Earnest. The requirements are:

  • At least 18 years old
  • U.S. citizen or have a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card.
  • Attended a Title IV accredited school
  • Be employed or have a written job offer
  • Credit score of at least 680
  • All student loan accounts in good standing
  • Current on your rent or mortgage payments
  • Reside in one of the states Earnest offers loans in

Earnest is not available in Kentucky and Nevada. Variable loans cannot be offered for those in Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

Besides these above must-have criteria, Earnest will also look at other factors. Other factors include:

  • How much savings you currently have (Earnest wants to see that you have enough for 2 months' of living expenses)
  • If you spend less than you earn
  • If you have increasing bank account balances
  • How much credit card debt you have
  • If you have a history of making on-time payments
  • If you regularly get charged late or overdraft fees
  • Your earning potential

Will I get approved? Applicants with good financial habits, savings, and solid employment history will make good candidates for a loan. Earnest will also look at the long term. For example, if you just started work or are not earning much, you can still be approved if you've got the potential to advance quickly or you're in a lucrative field.


Refinancing can reduce your interest rate and your monthly payments. But it may not be right for everyone. It could be a smart idea to refinance with Earnest if:

  • Your credit has improved since college. With a better credit score, you'll be able to qualify for a better interest rate, which will save you a lot in the long run.

  • If you've managed your money well. If you have a lot of savings, good payment history, and spending habits, Earnest may give you a better rate.

  • If you've still got a lot of time left on your debt. If you're only a couple of years away from being debt-free, you've pretty much paid most of the interest by this point. It's probably better to just step up your payments to clear the debt faster.

  • If you don't plan to apply for forgiveness programs. Before refinancing federal loans, make sure you don't plan to take advantage of federal forgiveness programs. You'll lose the ability to take part in them.


Look at other options before committing. We've compared Earnest to three top student loan refinance companies.

SoFi is one of the largest refinance lenders. It's known for very competitive rates (offering both fixed and variable rate loans). However, SoFi only has terms of 5, 7, 10, 15, and 20 years, whereas Earnest offers a custom term down to the month.

SoFi requires a minimum credit score of 650 to be eligible. It also looks at other requirements too, like income, career, other debts, etc. SoFi allows you to get a loan with a co-signer, so that may help you if your own credentials aren't as good.

One nice perk SoFi offers is that it'll help with landing a new gig if you lose your job. This is a perk Earnest lacks.

Laurel Road:
Laurel Road (formally DRB) is a more traditional refinance lender that operates in all 50 states. They offer competitive rates, with loan terms of 5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years. You can refinance loans for an undergraduate degree, graduate program or professional degree, including an MBA or law degree.

Laurel Road doesn't cap the amount you can refinance. This is good if you went through medical school, for example, and you've got hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans.


Besides student loan refinance, Earnest also offers personal loans, which can be used for anything from debt consolidation to home improvement to weddings.

Just like for the refinance loan, Earnest will factor in your personal financial habits when considering you for the loan. Here are some details about Earnest's personal loans:

  • Credit score requirement of 680
  • Loan amounts of $5,000 to $75,000
  • Loan terms of 3 to 5 years
  • No origination fees
  • No prepayment penalty
  • No late fees
  • Decision within 5-10 business days


Earnest is a very solid student loan refinance lender. The Precision Pricing feature is something that no other lender does. You can fine-tune your term and payments according to your budget. This will help a lot of borrowers afford their payments and save on interest.

Just be aware that Earnest does have tougher requirements. Besides a 680 credit score, they want to see that you have good financial habits and a bright career. This can be good or bad depending on your situation.

The biggest potential drawback is the fact that Earnest doesn't offer loans in every state. Before you commit, it's smart to compare Earnest's rates to those offered by other lenders.

Auto Pay Discount Disclosure: You can take advantage of the Auto Pay interest rate reduction by setting up and maintaining active and automatic ACH withdrawal of your loan payment. The interest rate reduction for Auto Pay will be available only while your loan is enrolled in Auto Pay. Interest rate incentives for utilizing Auto Pay may not be combined with certain private student loan repayment programs that also offer an interest rate reduction. For multi-party loans, only one party may enroll in Auto Pay.

Lender Identification Disclosure: Earnest Loans are made by Earnest Operations LLC or One American Bank, Member FDIC. or FinWise Bank, Member FDIC. Earnest Operations LLC, NMLS #1204917. 535 Mission St., Suite 1663, San Francisco, CA 94105. California Financing Law License 6054788. Visit www.earnest.com/licenses for a full list of licensed states. For California residents: Loans will be arranged or made pursuant to a California Financing Law License. One American Bank, 515 S. Minnesota Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57104. FinWise Bank, 756 East Winchester, Suite 100, Murray, UT 84107.

Earnest loans are serviced by Earnest Operations LLC with support from Navient Solutions LLC (NMLS #212430). One American Bank, FinWise Bank, and Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by agencies of the United States of America.

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a student loan comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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