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College Students and Recent Grads, Reviews, Student Loan ReFi

Earnest Student Loan Refinance Review

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Earnest Student Loan Refinance Review

Earnest is fast on the heels of SoFi as one of the leading lenders in student loan refinancing. Its motto is “refinance student loans the new-fashioned way,” and it lives up to it.

How? Earnest looks at other factors besides credit score when it comes to determining whether or not to lend to borrowers. It has low merit-based rates as it wants to give borrowers the best terms they deserve, and it offers a lot of flexibility not seen from other lenders.

Refinance Terms Offered

When refinancing with Earnest, you can refinance both private and federal student loans.

The minimum amount to refinance is $5,000 – there’s no specific cap on the maximum you can refinance.

Earnest offers 5, 10, 15, and 20-year loan terms, but you can create your own based on the minimum monthly payment you’re comfortable making. Yes, you can actually choose your monthly payment, which means the loan can be customized to your needs.

You can also switch between variable and fixed rates freely – there’s no charge. (Note that variable rates are not offered in IL, MI, MN, OR, and TN. Earnest isn’t in all 50 states yet, either.)

Fixed APRs range from 3.50% to 7.89%, and variable APRs range from 2.49% to 7.27% (this is with a .25% autopay discount). The caps on variable loans are 8.95%, 9.95%, or 11.95%, depending on your loan term.

If you refinance $25,000 on a 10 year term with an APR of 5.75%, your monthly payment will be $274.42.

The Pros and Cons of Earnest’s Student Loan Refinance Program

Similar to SoFi, Earnest offers unemployment protection should you lose your job. That means you can defer payments for three months at a time, up to a total of twelve months over the life of your loan. Interest still accrues, though.

The flexibility offered from being able to switch between fixed and variable rates is a great benefit to have should you experience a change in your financial situation.

As you can see from above, variable rates are much lower than fixed rates. Of course, the only problem is those rates change over time, and they can grow to become unmanageable if you take a while to pay off your loan.

Having the option to switch makes your student loan payments easier to manage. If you can afford to pay off your loans quickly, you’ll benefit from the low variable rate. If you have to take it slow and need stability because you lost a source of income, you can switch to a fixed rate. Note that switching can only take place once every 6 months.

Earnest also lets borrowers skip one payment every 12 months (after making on-time payments for 6 months). Just note this does raise your monthly payment to adjust for the skipped payment.

Beyond that, Earnest encourages borrowers to contact a representative if they’re experiencing financial hardship. Earnest is committed to working with borrowers to make their loans as manageable as possible, even if that means temporary forbearance or restructuring the loan.

Lastly, if you need to lower your monthly payment, you can apply to refinance again. This entails Earnest taking another look at your terms and seeing if it can give you a better quote.

Who Qualifies to Refinance Student Loans With Earnest?

Earnest doesn’t have a laundry list of eligibility requirements. Simply put, it’s looking to lend to financially responsible people that have a reasonable ability to pay their loans back.

Earnest describes its ideal candidate as someone who:

  • Is employed, or at least has a job offer
  • Is at least 18 years old
  • Has a positive bank balance consistently
  • Has enough in savings to cover a month or more of regular expenses
  • Lives in AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, MA, MD, MI, MN, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, Washington D.C., and WI
  • Has a history of making timely payments on loans
  • Has an income that can support their debt and routine living expenses
  • Has graduated from a Title IV accredited school

If you think you need a little help to qualify, Earnest does accept co-signers – you just have to contact a representative via email first.

Application Process and Documents Needed to Refinance

Earnest has a straightforward application process. You can start by receiving the rates you’re eligible for in just 2 minutes. This won’t affect your credit, either. However, this initial soft pull is used to estimate your rates – if you choose to move forward with the terms offered to you, you’ll be subject to a hard credit inquiry, and your rates may change.

Filling out the entire application takes about 15 minutes. You’ll be asked to provide personal information, education history, employment history, and financial history. Earnest takes all of this into account when making the decision to lend to you.

Who Benefits the Most From Refinancing With Earnest?

Because Earnest only uses a soft pull initially, there’s no harm in applying to get your estimated rates. If you’re already responsible with your money and could benefit from a lower interest rate, it’s worth checking out.

It’s important to note that if you’re refinancing federal student loans, you’ll lose benefits exclusive to them. Options such as income based repayment, deferment, forgiveness, and forbearance are lost when refinancing. Some lenders, like Earnest, offer flexible payments, but private lenders aren’t guaranteed or required to offer these options.

The Fine Print

There aren’t any hidden fees – no origination, prepayment, or hidden fees exist. Earnest makes it clear its profits come from interest.

There are also no late fees, but if you get behind in payments, the status of your loan will be reported to the credit bureaus.

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Alternative Student Loan Refinancing

While Earnest offers very competitive rates and flexible terms, if you’re not eligible to refinance with it, you might want to look at the other choices you have.

SoFi is the leading student loan refinance lender, with rates just slightly lower than Earnest. Its fixed APR ranges from 3.89% to 8.07%, and the variable APR ranges from 2.49% to 6.65%. It also has a max term of 20 years, and there’s no cap on how much you can refinance.

As mentioned, SoFi offers unemployment protection as well, and it also uses a soft pull to estimate your rates. However, it only allows co-signers on a case-by-case basis, and there’s no co-signer release.

There are no hidden fees with SoFi either – the only catch is that certain schools and programs are eligible. You can call or attempt to fill out the application to find out if your school is on the list.

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Citizens Bank is another good option if your school or program is not eligible for SoFi’s refinance program. Its fixed APR ranges from 3.89% to 9.99%, and its variable APR ranges from 2.98% to 9.72%. While its rates are slightly higher, there are no special requirements when it comes to schools or programs.

You can refinance on terms of up to 20 years, and the amount you can refinance varies depending on your degree. Those with a bachelor’s degree can refinance up to $90,000; those with a graduate/doctoral/MBA degree can refinance up to $130,000; and those with a professional degree can refinance up to $170,000.

Citizens Bank allows co-signers on the loan and has a co-signer release after 36 months of consecutive payments. It also offers forbearance to those who can’t afford to make their payments. The only downside is they use a hard credit inquiry, so you can’t “preview” your rates like you can with Earnest or SoFi.

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Check Around For the Best Rates

You’re never obligated to go with a loan you’re not comfortable with. If you don’t receive favorable terms from one lender, check with another. Each use different criteria, especially when other factors (aside from your credit score) are being considered.

You don’t have to worry if a lender uses a hard credit inquiry – shopping around within a 30-day window won’t harm your credit score as much as shopping around sporadically over the course of a few months. Interest rates make a big difference in the overall cost of your loan, and it’s important to go with a lender that’s willing to work with you.

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Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at [email protected]

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College Students and Recent Grads

5 Private Student Loans That Offer a Grace Period

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

mortar board cash

Graduating college, trying to get a job and figuring out how to navigate adulthood feels overwhelming enough. Who wants to throw in making student loan payments? That’s where the grace period for student loans comes in.

Unfortunately, this financial breathing room isn’t always available. It’s common for federal student loans to come with a six-month grace period, but private lenders are not required to offer this buffer time. Still, even with private debt, some banks and credit unions are kind enough to extend the courtesy of a student loan grace period.

Which student loans have grace periods?

As mentioned, most federal student loans have a standard six-month grace period, with PLUS loans being the exception. (Federal Perkins loans used to come with a standard nine-month grace period, but the program expired in 2017.)

With private student loans, on the other hand, there is no standard grace period. Just as with other loan features, the grace period terms, if any, will vary by lender. You will need to read your specific loan documents to know whether your private loan has a grace period, or you can call your lender directly to ask.

Note that some private lenders might use another term instead of “grace period,” or they might not use a term at all and simply say that your first loan payment is due a certain number of months after graduation. Either way, though, it would amount to the same thing.

5 private lenders with grace periods for student loans

While your specific private loan agreement will determine whether you have a grace period, there are several lenders that state upfront on their websites that they do offer grace periods on student loans.

1. Discover

Discover’s website says: “All Discover Student Loans provide you with a grace period — a period of time when you are not required to make your full (principal + interest) monthly payments, which begin when you enter repayment. Depending on your loan type, full monthly payments are not due until 6 or 9 months after you graduate or your enrollment status drops below half-time.”

With Discover, if you have an undergraduate private loan, your grace period is six months long. For private student loans to pay for a professional degree, such as a law degree, medical degree or MBA, your grace period is nine months long.

For borrowers with more than one loan type, Discover may align your repayment start dates and periods so that they are on the same schedule.

2. Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo offers grace periods for some of its student loans. Specifically, the bank’s website says:
“With most Wells Fargo private student education loans, you start making payments six months after you graduate or leave school, although for some loans like the Wells Fargo Student Loan for Parents and the Wells Fargo Private Consolidation loan, payments begin once the loan funds have been sent.”

Make sure to read your loan documents to determine if your private student loan from Wells Fargo does include the six-month grace period. And if you do have any questions or uncertainty about the grace period, ask the lender — ideally, before signing.

3. Citizens Bank

The Citizens Bank website states the following:
“With our Citizens Bank Student Loan … no principal or interest is due while you are still enrolled at least half-time. Payment begins 6 months after graduation.”

Citizens Bank (like Wells Fargo) does not call this period between graduation and repayment a “grace period,” but the website does say that payment begins after a six-month period. Still, as with the other lenders on this list, speak with the bank to make absolutely sure when you’re expected to start sending in payments.

4. Sallie Mae

Sallie Mae’s website says that for the Sallie Mae Undergraduate Smart Option Student Loan, “you have six months after you leave school (your grace period) before you begin to make principal and interest payments.”

With this particular loan from Sallie Mae, you should have a six-month grace period before your loans enter repayment. Note that the lender also offers the option of interest-only payments or fixed $25 monthly payments while in school if you want to avoid interest from piling up during that time.

5. PNC

The PNC Solution Loan for undergraduates also has an optional grace period, according to the PNC website.

Specifically, the lenders says, “If you choose to defer payments, repayment begins six months after you graduate.”

Will my loan accrue interest during the grace period?

Bear in mind that you will probably end up adding to the amount you owe during that grace period, due to interest accumulating.

Some federal loans also rack up interest during grace periods (such as unsubsidized direct loans), though a few do not (like subsidized direct loans). But with private student loans, your debt will very likely accrue interest during the grace period.

How can I minimize the impact of interest?

If you want to stop your interest from capitalizing (in which unpaid interest is added to the principal of the loan), you can make interest payments during your grace period.

As mentioned, the private loans from the lenders listed above will likely accrue interest during the grace period. If you’re hoping to save as much as you can on your student debt, however, you can speak with your lender to see what options are available. Usually, small payments during school or while the grace period is in effect can cut down on those interest costs.

Again, speak with your lender to know how interest on your loan will work before signing on the dotted line.

When grace periods are over

It’s important to remember that should you choose to consolidate your student loans, you’d lose any of your remaining grace period. And once you use it up, it’s gone for good. That’s when it’s time to start paying back your loans.

If you aren’t able to get a private loan with a grace period, don’t panic: Repayment may start a little sooner for you than it will for others, but you have a lot of time to prepare for that inevitability. Plus, the faster you start paying back what you borrowed, the faster you’ll pay it off.

Grace periods: overview

  • The grace period is the time after leaving school when you don’t need to make payments toward your student loan.
  • Grace periods for federal loans tend to last six months. The timing for when you’ll have to start repaying private student loans, however, will depend on your loan terms — there is no standard.
  • The terminology that lenders use to describe this buffer before repayment starts might not include the phrase “grace period,” so be sure to read your loan documents carefully to know what’s expected.
  • Paying off any accruing interest during your student loan’s grace period will save you money in the long term.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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College Students and Recent Grads, Pay Down My Debt

How To Know If Your Student Loans Are Private or Federal

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

How To Tell If Your Student Loans Are Private or Federal

When you borrowed money to pay for college, you may not have paid much attention to the difference between federal and private student loans. You might not know who your student loan servicer is, or if you do, you may wonder for example whether that loan listed under Nelnet is federal or private.

In fact, it’s completely reasonable to ask why the difference between private and federal student loans matters in the first place.

There are a few ways to see if your student loans are private or federal — here’s how, along with what makes each different, and why knowing which type of loan you have is important.

What makes federal and private student loans different?

Federal student loans are offered through the Department of Education. Typically, these loans are easy to qualify for. For many federal student loans, your credit isn’t even checked.

There are four different federal student loan programs currently available:

  • Direct subsidized loans: These loans are awarded based on your financial need. When you apply for federal financial aid, your eligibility for subsidized loans is also considered. “Subsidized” here means that interest isn’t charged until after you graduate or drop below half time.
  • Directed unsubsidized loans: Anyone can receive an unsubsidized loan — they aren’t based on need. However, unsubsidized loans will put you on the hook for interest charges that accrue while you’re in school.
  • Direct PLUS loans: These loans are specifically for graduate students or for parents of undergraduate students taking out loans on behalf of their child. These loans aren’t based on financial need, and a credit check is required.
  • Direct consolidation loans: This type of loan allows you to combine all your federal student loans into one, giving you one manageable payment each month rather than many. Your new interest rate is the weighted average of all your loans, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.

Private student loans, on the other hand, are offered by private lenders and have different repayment requirements compared with federal student loans. For example, private student loans can offer fixed or variable interest rates, while federal student loans only offer fixed rates.

Because the features of private loans vary from lender to lender, eligibility will depend on the bank, credit union or online financial institution that you borrow from.

Most borrowers usually favor federal student loans, given the flexible repayment options and debt-forgiveness programs they come with. But since federal loans also have borrowing limits, students may need to turn to private loans to help fund any remaining costs, and in a few cases, a private loan might have a better interest rate than their federal equivalent.

How to determine if your loans are federal

The first thing you should do to see if you have federal loans is log on to the National Student Loan Data System. The only loans listed here are federal.

If you’ve never used the NSLDS before, you’ll want to click the “Financial Aid Review” button on the homepage, hit “Accept,” and then enter your credentials.

If you have a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID, you can enter it here. If not, there’s an option to create one. In May 2015, the government redesigned its student loan system, and you can now use your FSA ID to log on to multiple government sites. But if you haven’t visited in a while, you might need to create one.

In the event you forgot your credentials, you can click the “Forgot my username/password” button and have the information emailed to you or answer a challenge question. You’ll just be required to enter your Social Security number, last name and date of birth.

Once you log on, you’ll see a list of all the student loans that were disbursed to you. This page will also show you what your original loan amount was, and how much you currently owe.

Click on the numbered box to the left of your loan to determine your loan servicer. This will display all the information about that particular loan. Your loan servicer will be listed under the “Servicer/Lender/Guaranty Agency/ED Servicer Information” section. The name, address, phone number and website should all be displayed.

Additionally, this page will also inform you of your loan terms. Along with your original loan balance and current outstanding balance, it will tell you what the interest rate is and the current status of the loan.

How to determine if your student loan is private

As discussed, private student loans are loans not made by the government — banking institutions, such as Sallie Mae, Wells Fargo, Citizens Bank and others offer them. As a result, there are more lenders to look out for when it comes to private loans.

Unfortunately, there’s no central reporting system for private loans like there is for federal loans, which makes them slightly more tricky to track down.

Your first stop should still be the NSLDS to at least see if you have any federal loans. In 2015, just 5% of undergraduate borrowers had private student loans, so your student loans are more likely to be federal than private.

But in order to make sure you have no outstanding private student debt, you’ll want to take a look at your credit report. You can view your reports from the three main credit bureaus for free by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.

Some lenders may not look familiar to you. Searching the lender’s name online may help you find out who the parent company is. Don’t hesitate to call the numbers available on your credit report if you’re still unsure.

If you graduated a while ago, some older loans may look unfamiliar. You might see “federal direct loan,” “federal Perkins,” or “Stafford” on your report — these are federal loans, so ensure they match up with what’s in your NSLDS file.

You might also be able to call your school’s financial aid office to see if they have records of your loans.

What should you do once you find out?

Knowing whether your student loans are private or federal can be important as you repay you college debt.

For example, knowing the difference is crucial if you ever decide to refinance or consolidate your student loans. You can only combine your debt under a direct consolidation loan if you have federal loans. Likewise, refinancing through a private lender will cause you to lose access to federal repayment and forgiveness programs, while private loans would be unaffected.

So, by knowing which type of student loans you have, you’ll get a better idea of what options you have to knock them off.

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Dori Zinn contributed to this report.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Millard
Erin Millard |

Erin Millard is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at [email protected]

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