Earnest Student Loans Review

Earnest offers flexible loan terms with competitive rates

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Our Take

Earnest offers student loans and refinancing options with flexible repayment terms, a generous grace period, and several borrower protections. Earnest considers more than your credit score when applying, but there are stringent requirements that may make it difficult to qualify.https://www.investopedia.com/earnest-student-loans-review-4799946

  • Pros and Cons
  • Key Takeaways
  • Company Overview
Pros and Cons
  • Can qualify with credit score as low as 650

  • No origination, application, or late fees

  • Flexible loan and repayment terms

  • Can skip one payment per year

  • Personal finance review required

  • No co-signers on refinances

  • Loans not available in all states

Key Takeaways
  • Earnest offers over 100 loan term choices (repayment and term length).
  • The 9-month grace period is longer than most private lenders offer.
  • Loans are available for undergraduate, graduate, MBA, law, medical, and professional programs.
  • Student loans are available up to $250,00, and refinances are available up to $500,000.
Company Overview

Earnest (formerly MeetEarnest) is a student loan company that offers private student loans and refinancing for current and former students (and co-signers). Earnest was founded in 2013 as a student loan refinancing company, and started offering student loans to undergraduate and graduate students in 2019. It now offers MBA, law, medical, and professional loans as well.

  • Year Founded 2013
  • Official Website www.earnest.com
  • Loans Offered Undergraduate, Graduate, Professional, Refinance, Parent
  • Customer Service Email, Live Chat, Phone (1-888-601-2801)

Earnest Student Loans: Quick Look

Loan Type Variable APR Fixed APR 
Undergraduate 4.79%–11.69% 4.79%–13.03%
Graduate 4.79%–9.89%  4.79%–11.98% 
Refinance  4.59%–8.94%  4.47%-8.99%

Earnest may be a good choice, but there are many student loan lenders out there; see our picks for the best student loans to help fund your education.

Pros Explained

  • Can qualify with a credit score as low as 650: Earnest offers loans to borrowers with credit scores as low as 650.
  • No origination, application, or late fees: Earnest charges no fees on loans, and doesn’t even charge borrowers who pay late.
  • Flexible loan and repayment terms: There are four repayment options for student loans, and refinanced loans can set term lengths from five to 20 years (down to the month).
  • Can skip one payment per year: The Earnest “skip-a-payment” feature allows you to skip one monthly payment in a 12-month period (though interest will still accrue).

Cons Explained

  • Personal finance review required: Earnest is thorough in its application and requires you to link your personal financial accounts for loan qualification.
  • No co-signers on refinances: Refinances don’t allow co-signers, which may make it harder to qualify.
  • Loans not available in all states: While Earnest is available in 49 states and Washington, D.C., borrowers in Nevada cannot apply for a loan.

Student Loans Offered by Earnest

Undergraduate Student Loans

Earnest offers undergraduate student loans to half-time or full-time enrolled students. Borrowing terms are relatively favorable, including a nine-month grace period and rates as low as 4.79% APR variable or 4.99% APR fixed. Co-signers are available on undergraduate loans, but cannot be released from the loan without a loan refinance.

Terms for Undergraduate Loans
Variable APR 4.79%–11.69%
Fixed APR  4.79%–13.03% 
Loan Amounts  $1,000–$250,000 
Loan Terms  10-, 12-, and 15-year 

Graduate Student Loans

Earnest offers graduate student loans to half-time or full-time enrolled students (co-signers accepted), with a minimum borrowed amount of $1,000. These loans are available for graduate-level programs, including medical school, law school, and MBA programs. They come with flexible term lengths, from five to 15 years. As with other loans, Earnest offers a generous nine-month grace period and fairly low minimum starting rates. Deferment options are available to medical school grads in residency, qualifying military members, and those returning to school.

Terms for Graduate Loans
Variable APR 4.79%–9.89%
Fixed APR  4.79%–11.98%
Loan Amounts  $1,000–$250,000 
Loan Terms  5-, 7-, 10-, 12-, and 15-year

Parent Student Loans

Private parent student loans are available to parents of qualifying children who are enrolled full-time in an undergraduate-level program (at least half-time for seniors). There is no enrollment requirement for graduate students. Parent loans are different from co-signed loans, as the parent is the only one responsible for repayment of the loan. Standard terms apply, including access to a nine-month grace period (but not deferment), loan terms from five to 15 years (depending on program), and low interest rates. But there are fewer repayment options available to parents; interest-only and full payment plans are available, but deferment and fixed-payment plans are not available.

Terms for Parent Loans
Variable APR  4.79%–11.69%
Fixed APR  4.79%–13.03% 
Loan Amounts  $1,000–$250,000 
Loan Terms  5-, 7-, 10-, 12-, and 15-year

Loan Eligibility and Approval

To qualify for a student loan with Earnest, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Must live in the District of Columbia or a state that Earnest lends in (all but Nevada)
  • Must be the age of majority as defined by state of residence
  • Must be a U.S. Citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card
  • Must be enrolled at least half time (undergraduate loans only)
  • Must be pursuing a bachelor’s or graduate-level degree
  • Must be enrolled in a Title IV-qualified, not-for-profit, four-year institution
  • Loan minimum of at least $1,000
  • No past-due balances up to 365 days prior

There are also personal financial requirements considered as part of the application process:

  • Minimum FICO score of 650
  • At least three years of credit history
  • Income of at least $35,000 per year (in USD)
  • No bankruptcy on credit reports
  • Must have a history of on-time payments as the primary borrower on any revolving or installment account that is reported to a credit bureau (e.g. student loans, personal loans, car loans/leases, mortgages, credit cards, or charge cards)
  • Must have no accounts currently in collections

Earnest also reviews your bank statements and debt obligations, and requires the following:

  • You do not carry large amounts of non-student, non-mortgage debt (e.g. credit cards, personal loans)
  • You have a history of making payments on time
  • You are not regularly charged late, overdraft, or insufficient funds fees

The requirements list is a bit lengthier than other student loan competitors, but this process helps Earnest lend to borrowers with lower credit scores. You can also apply with a co-signer that meets these requirements to help you get approval for a loan, but both parties must have no debts in collections and no history of bankruptcy on their credit reports. 

DACA recipients are eligible for loans, but only with a qualifying co-signer.

Are Co-Signers Required?

Co-signers are only required for students who don’t meet the qualifying criteria for a student loan. This means that students earning less than $35,000 or with a credit score under 650 will need a co-signer to qualify.

Is Loan Pre-Qualification Available?

Earnest offers a loan eligibility check and the ability to check your rate before you submit a complete application. For the loan eligibility check, you will need to provide personal information, including full name, address, school details, and credit score.

To check your estimated loan rates, you’ll submit some financial information and Earnest will run a soft pull of your credit profile from Experian (this will not affect your score). This will give you the possible loan rates for both variable and fixed loans, and then you can complete your application.

Length of Time for Loan Approval and Disbursement

After the application is submitted online, it typically takes three to five days to receive a decision. If approved, you will then select your loan details, and Earnest will reach out to your school to verify your enrollment. 

School certification varies by school, and it can take a few weeks before funds are disbursed. Some schools don’t certify until within a few weeks of classes starting, but others complete the process within a fixed time frame. It is always best to apply as early as possible to ensure funds are available when needed.

Loan Fees and Repayment Options

Loan Fees

Earnest does not charge many loan fees—there are no origination, prepayment, early payment, or extra payment fees. Earnest also does not charge any late fees. However, if there is a returned payment, Earnest reserves the right to charge up to $8 to pay for return processing fees.

While interest is still charged during deferment or forbearance, there are no additional fees for using these services.

Loan Discounts

Earnest offers a 0.25% discount for setting up autopay on any account. This discount is reflected in the advertised rates. There are no other discounts available.

Repayment Options

Earnest has some of the best repayment options for a student loan provider, with four different options for student loans, and flexible repayment terms for student loan refinancing.

Here are the repayment options available:

  • Deferment: Students can defer payments until nine months after graduation. Interest will accrue during deferments, but no payments will be due while in school and during the grace period. This is the most expensive option.
  • Fixed: Earnest offers a simple $25/month fixed payment option while in school and during the grace period. This helps lower the amount of interest that accrues while in school.
  • Interest-only: Students can opt to pay the interest on the loan while enrolled in school and for nine months after graduation, lowering the amount that is paid over the life of the loan.
  • Full payment: Students can opt to pay the full payment amount on the loan, reducing the interest paid, and paying down the principal while in school and during the grace period. This option saves the most money.

Earnest also offers a nine-month grace period for graduates to begin making full payments, though interest is still charged during the grace period.


Earnest offers a referral program, rewarding both you and the referred person with $200 if someone signs up for an Earnest loan with your link. Earnest also hosts a scholarship program, awarding $5,000 to 10 individuals throughout the year.

Loan Forbearance and Discharge Options

Earnest offers several loan relief programs for borrowers in financial hardship:

  • Skip-a-payment: Earnest allows borrowers to skip one payment every 12 months, though it increases payments slightly for the following 12 months. Accounts must have at least six months of on-time payments to qualify. 
  • Forbearance: Borrowers can apply for student loan forbearance due to financial hardship, including but not limited to: Involuntary decrease in income, involuntary loss of employment, significant increase in costs that are essential to the home or family, or unpaid maternity/paternity leave. Forbearance can be elected for up to 12 months total during the loan term (including skip-a-payments). Interest will still accrue during forbearance. 
  • Graduate school deferment: If you are enrolled in graduate school at least half-time, you can elect to defer payments on your loans for a period of time. Interest will still accrue during deferment. 
  • Military deferment: Military and National Guard members are eligible for deferment during active duty and for up to 180 days after demobilization. Interest will still accrue during deferment.
  • Loan forgiveness and discharge: In the event of the borrower’s death or total and permanent disability, Earnest will discharge the remaining student loan balance.

Is Student Loan Refinancing Available?

Earnest offers flexible student loan refinancing, with the ability to choose your monthly payment and repayment terms from a range of five to 20 years (down to the exact month). Bi-weekly payments are also available to cut down on the interest paid over the life of the loan. 

Student loan refinancing is not available for students who have not completed their degree, or are not on track to complete by the end of the semester.

Interest rates start at 4.47% APR for variable rate loans and 4.47% APR for fixed-rate loans. The range of minimum and maximum amounts available for refinance is a bit wider than many other companies.

Refinancing allows co-signers to be released from their loan, and lets you consolidate multiple loans into one. Earnest also supports Parent PLUS loan refinancing with the same terms. 

Terms for Refinancing Loans
Variable APR 4.59%-8.94%
Fixed APR  4.47%–8.99% 
Loan Amounts  $5,000–$500,000 
Loan Terms  5–20 years 

It’s always best to explore your options. Check out our picks for the best student loan refinance companies to see which one is right for you.

Customer Service

Earnest offers robust help documentation on its website, as well as access to customer support via email, live chat, and phone (1-888-601-2801); support is available from Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. 

Out of 6,700,000 customers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received 1,162 complaints in 2022 about Navient, the parent company of Earnest, for a variety of different reasons.

Applying for an Earnest Student Loan

Applying for an Earnest student loan is a completely online process. You can quickly submit your personal and financial information and receive an immediate decision on your application. Outside of your credit score, Earnest considers your earning potential as well as your current financial situation (including debt obligations).

Some of the information you will need to provide includes:

  • Social Security number
  • Educational and employment background information
  • Most recent tax forms
  • Link to your financial accounts
  • A picture of your government-issued photo ID

Earnest has more requirements than some other lenders, but offers loans to borrowers with lower credit scores (as low as 650). The application process may take some time, as you will need to link your financial accounts and submit tax forms as well. Once your application is approved, Earnest will request certification from your school before disbursing the loan.

We recommend applying to FAFSA before applying for a private student loan, as you may qualify for grants or federal loans with more favorable terms.

Alternative Choices

  Earnest Sallie Mae  MEFA 
Loan Types Offered  Undergraduate Graduate Parent Medical Undergraduate Graduate Medical Technical Bootcamp Undergraduate Graduate Medical Bootcamp
Undergraduate Fixed APR  4.79%–13.03%  4.50%–14.83%  4.89%–6.99% 
Undergraduate Variable APR  4.79%–11.69%  5.49%–15.83%  N/A 
Origination/Administrative Fee  None  None  None 
Repayment Options  Deferment Fixed Interest-only Full payment  Deferment Fixed Interest-only Deferment Fixed Interest-only Full payment 
Refinancing Available  Yes  No Yes

Final Verdict

Earnest is a great private student loan company that offers low rates, flexible loan terms, multiple ways to repay, and the ability to customize the loan term length on student loan refinances. Earnest charges no fees up front, and won’t even hit you with a penalty for late payments. The application process can be a bit daunting, though, as you will need to link your personal financial accounts for approval, and if you have too much debt or too little earnings, you may not qualify.

There are many other lenders out there. Browse our selections for the best private student loans to see if one might be a better fit.


Investopedia is dedicated to providing consumers with unbiased, comprehensive reviews of student loan lenders. We collected thousands of data points across 30 lenders—including loan types, interest rates, fees, loan amounts, and repayment terms—to ensure that we help readers make the right borrowing decision for their education needs.

Article Sources
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