Earnest Review: Personal and Student Loan Options All in One Place [2020]

Great interest rates await borrowers who have savings and a history of financial responsibility.
Last updated Jan 6, 2020 | By Robin Kavanagh
Couple speaking with a lender

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When you’re shopping around for a personal or student loan, it can be hard to find a lender that offers the right products for your situation. You want to make sure you do your research and evaluate lenders based on their history, trustworthiness, dependability, and the quality of the products they offer.

Earnest is one of many online lenders you may come across in your search, but it has certain features that make it a good fit for some borrowers but not others. With a focus on financially responsible customers and a unique big-picture approach to evaluating applicants, Earnest offers low-cost, low-interest student and personal loans that make it stand out from the competition.

If you are in the market for a new student loan, a refinance of existing student loans, or a personal loan for a big purchase, this guide will give you the information you need to decide if choosing Earnest is a smart financial move.

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An overview of Earnest lending

Earnest is an online lending company based in San Francisco, and its mission is to make borrowing easier and less expensive for those who have a history of responsible financial management. The company’s foundation is built upon making credit and lending more accessible to a wide range of people.

Earnest began in 2013 and initially focused on refinancing existing student loans held by borrowers with limited credit histories. Instead of applying more conventional methods of evaluating applications, it developed a methodology that combines design, data science, and technology to gain a broader view of a borrower’s financial picture.

Today, Earnest is owned by Navient, a large servicer of student loans and one of a few contracted by the U.S. Department of Education. Earnest continues to provide financing and refinancing for student loans and has also branched out into personal loan products. Because its unique fuller-picture criteria for approval and focus on financially responsible customers lowers the risk of lending, Earnest is able to offer lower interest rates and no fees for origination, late or early payment, prepayment, or extra payments.

Which loan products does Earnest offer?

Earnest offers three types of loans:

  • student loan refinancing
  • private student loans
  • personal loans

Earnest launched with a focus on education financing, so it’s no surprise that most of its current products remain in this area though they do also offer personal loans.

Student loan refinancing products are available for managing and consolidating federal and private loans. They’re designed to enable you to bring several loans together into one payment with a lower interest rate.

Earnest’s private student loans can help you pay for your college expenses, up to the full cost of attendance. Perks include a 9-month grace period, the ability to skip one payment per year, and both fixed and variable interest rates.

Here is a closer look at each of these loan options.

Personal loans from Earnest

Earnest personal loans are billed as being a low-cost option for consolidating debt and paying for large expenses, such as medical bills, home improvement, weddings/engagement rings, vacations, and moving. You can also use the money to pay for non accredited education programs.

These loans are cannot be used to fund tuition or expenses from accredited Title IV schools (which includes most colleges), a new or existing business, or any kind of real estate transaction. This doesn’t include security deposits for rentals.

Earnest likes to get a full picture of your financial health and earning potential, so it will look to many other criteria beyond your credit history. Your education, how much you have in savings, your past and present employment, history of payments, and other factors will be considered before a loan application is approved.

In order to qualify for this type of loan, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old, have proof of consistent income, status as a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a green card, and live in any state except Alabama, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, or Rhode Island. Residents of the District of Columbia are eligible for an Earnest personal loan.

You might be a good candidate for an Earnest personal loan if you have:

  • A credit score of at least 680
  • A strong history of making your payments on-time
  • No bankruptcies within the past 3 years
  • No open collection accounts
  • Enough in savings to cover at least 2 months of your living expenses
  • A low debt-to-income ratio and spend less than you earn
Loan amount $5,000 - $75,000
Loan terms 3, 4, or 5 years
APR Fixed-rate at 5.99% - 17.24% (as of December 2019)
Credit needed 680+

Private student loans from Earnest

All of Earnest’s student loans are considered private, meaning they are not federally funded and not subject to borrowing limits set by the U.S. Department of Education. You can use them to pay for undergraduate or graduate education at an accredited Title IV-eligible 4-year not-for-profit college.

You may be eligible to borrow with Earnest if you live in any state other than Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Texas, or Virginia. Minimum amounts for borrowing can vary from state to state, and the maximum can go up to the entire cost of attendance.

You have the option of applying as an independent borrower or with a cosigner. In either case, Earnest is looking for a minimum FICO score of 650, at least 3 years of credit history without bankruptcy and/or accounts in collections.

You or your cosigner must be a legal U.S. citizen or permanent resident and both must meet their state of residence’s definition of age of majority. Earnest wants to see a consistent record of on-time payments, enough money in savings to cover at least 2 months of your living expenses, a low debt-to-income ratio, and proof that you spend less than you earn.

Repayment terms are generally for 15 years, and there are several options for when you can start payments. Several allow you to start paying while still in school, which reduces the overall interest you pay. If these requirements and options sound like they fit your situation, you may want to consider looking into these loans further.

Loan amount Minimum of $1,000 (higher in some states) and up to the full cost of attendance at an accredited Title IV, not-for-profit 4-year school
Loan types Cosigned and independent student loans
Repayment term Several 15-year repayment options available beginning while in school and after graduation
APR Variable rates start at 2.99 - 11.69%

Fixed rates start at 4.64% - 13.03% (as of December 2019)

Credit needed 650+

Student loan refinancing with Earnest

Earnest offers student and parent PLUS loan refinancing options, enabling you to consolidate several loans into one payment, get a lower interest rate, drop a cosigner on an existing loan, or choose a different repayment plan. If this sounds like something that fits your situation, keep reading.

To qualify for a student loan refinance, you must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen or 10-year non-conditional permanent resident, and the primary borrower on the loan or loans you want to refinance. You also have to live in any state other than Delaware, Kentucky, or Nevada. You are eligible if you live in the District of Columbia.

The loan or loans you want to refinance have to be from your or your eligible dependent’s education. You have the option to refinance loans for degrees that have either already been completed or will be before the end of the semester in which you apply. The loan(s) have to be from a not-for-profit Title IV-accredited school within the U.S. and can’t be an existing Earnest loan that has less than 6 months of on-time payments.

Earnest looks for a minimum credit score of 650, proof of employment (past, current, or future), and consistent income. They also want to see that you’re current on your rent or mortgage, have a consistent record of on-time payments, enough money in savings to cover at least 2 months of your living expenses, a low debt-to-income ratio, and proof that you spend less than you earn.

Loan amount Minimum of $5,000
Loans eligible for refinancing Undergraduate and graduate student and/or parent PLUS loans from accredited Title IV schools.
APR Variable rates start at 1.99% (not available in AK, IL, MN, NH, OH, TN, TX)

Fixed rates start at 3.20% (as of Dec. 2019)

Credit needed 650+

What Earnest customers are saying

Earnest has fantastic ratings at TrustPilot.com. Out of the 1,802 customer reviews, 95% rate the lender as either “great” or “fantastic,” resulting in an overall earning of 4.5 stars out of 5. Positive comments focus mainly on the ease of application and customer service. These include:

  • “You guys are doing everything right from asking the right questions during the application process to customer service’s experience through and after the process.”
  • “The process to refinance my loans was so quick and easy. With a few uploaded documents, I had a decision and the rate I was seeking in the same day.”
  • “The service provided by Earnest made refinancing my student loans extremely easy and quick.”

Though the Better Business Bureau gives Earnest an A+ rating, the 27 customer reviews average out to just below 2 stars out of 5. The majority of the negative comments describe problems with application approvals, the timing of payments, and delays in receiving loan funds.

FAQs about Earnest

Is Earnest legit?

Yes, Earnest is a legitimate lender. Since its launch in 2013, it has refinanced $6.5 billion in student loans and has serviced more than 90,000 customers. It has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and earned BBB accreditation in 2018.

Can I refinance my Earnest loan?

There are circumstances when you can refinance an existing Earnest loan. Under the eligibility criteria for student loan and parent PLUS loan refinancing, you would have to have made at least 6 months of on-time payments to your existing loan to qualify for refinancing.

Does Earnest affect your credit?

When Earnest performs a rate check, it is running a soft inquiry on your credit report. This does not impact your credit score. Should you choose to move forward with your application, a hard inquiry will be performed, which will lower your score temporarily and stay on your report for up to 2 years.

The loan itself and your payment history on it will be added to your credit reports. How responsible you are with making payments over the course of the loan will impact your scores either negatively or positively.

Who owns Earnest loans?

Earnest was purchased by Navient in 2017. Navient is a financial services company that branched off of Sallie Mae in 2014 to service private and federal student loans. Its acquisition of Earnest was a part of next-level plans to start originating loans.

The final word on Earnest

Earnest offers a lot of different options for borrowers who are looking to deal with education-related debt or need a personal loan. The caveat is that you have to have a good financial history with on-time payments, no bankruptcies, money in savings, and proof of how you spend. This enables the company to offer very good interest rates for the right kind of borrower.

Earnest loans are definitely for a specific type of consumer. If you don’t fall within their extensive guidelines, then looking for what another lender offers might be a better route to explore. Either way, always spend some significant time shopping around for lenders before making a final decision.

All rates and fees are accurate as of December 24, 2019.