5 Best Student Loan Refinance Companies of 2021

·23 min read

Refinancing your student loans can help pay off debt quicker, saving you more money in the long run. Check out our best student loan refinancing companies of 2021, along with industry insights and the latest CARES Act information below.

Our Top Picks for Best Student Loan Refinance

  • PenFed – Best Credit Union

  • Laurel Road – Best Loan Consolidation for Medical Students

  • Earnest – Best for Customizing Loan Payment

  • Splash Financial – Most Affordable Loan Payment Options for Medical Students

  • Credible – Best Student Loan Marketplace

Best Student Loan Refinance Reviews

Pros

  • Married borrowers can refinance their student loans into a single loan

  • Refinance parent PLUS loans under your name

  • Deposit $5 to open a membership account

Cons

  • The estate is still responsible for the loan if the borrower dies

Prepayment penalty

None

Cosigner release

Yes, after 12 months of consecutive, on-time payments

Loan amount

Not disclosed online

Loan types

Variable and fixed

Pentagon Federal Credit Union is the second-largest credit union in the nation that offers student loan refinancing. They offer fixed- and variable-rate options for borrowers — students, parents, and couples — refinancing up to $300,000 in private or federal student loan debt, with loan payment terms ranging from five to 15 years.

With PenFed, married couples can file a loan application to refinance their student loans together.

  • The spouse with the highest degree should apply as the primary applicant to ensure the lowest interest rates.

  • Unlike traditional refinancing, only one person needs to have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher to refinance through PenFed’s Couple Loan.

  • The annual income requirement ranges from $42,000 to $50,000, depending on the loan amount and whether there is a cosigner or not.

As a member of PenFed, you will gain access to member discounts, an advice center, and financial offers.

Pros

  • Temporary reduced student loan refinancing rates for optometrists, nurses, dentists, physicians, or physician assistants

  • No application, origination, or disbursement fees

  • Can choose a term under 20 years

Cons

  • Shorter grace period (6 months) when compared to other lenders

  • Loans are designed for people in the healthcare field, so not all graduate programs will qualify

Prepayment penalty

None. $400 bonus for every referral.

Cosigner release

No, you must reapply for a loan to remove a cosigner

Loan amount

Min: $5,000 for bachelor's degree and higher. Max: $50,000 for all non-parent PLUS refinance loans.

Loan types

Variable and Fixed

Laurel Road’s medical school loan program is available for medical residents or fellows who want to consolidate their federal and private loans to have a single loan payment. Interest will not compound during your residency, and the company also allows you to reduce payments to as little as $100 per month for up to four years before you start your standard repayment.

Your eligibility requirements as a resident are based on your:

  • credit profile

  • monthly debt payments

  • income projections at the end of your training period

Laurel Road offers a refinancing option for up to $50,000 for medical residents with associate degrees in eligible healthcare fields. The $50,000 maximum will not apply to parents borrowing for children pursuing an associate degree.

Pros

  • Customizable payments and loan terms

  • Opt to skip one payment every 12 months

  • Autopay discounts are available

Cons

  • You can't apply through a co-signer

  • Not available for citizens of Kentucky and Nevada

Prepayment penalty

None, as well as no late payment charges

Cosigner release

No cosigner release

Loan amount

$5,000-$500,000

Loan types

Fixed and Varied

Backed by student loan giant Navient, Earnest offers multiple loan repayment options for student and parent refinance loans at competitive rates. The company also features a unique underwriting approach, which factors your earning potential to determine your interest rate and payments. Earning potential will be based on your degree, your on-time payments history, and your credit score.

Earnest also offers a “precision pricing” option, which

  • Allows you to choose a loan repayment term based on your ideal monthly payment amount

  • Offers term lengths at 1 to 3-month intervals between 5 to 20 years

  • Benefits recent graduates or borrowers that may not have sufficient credit history to qualify for refinancing elsewhere

To refinance your student loan through Earnest, you must have a minimum loan balance of $5,000, or $10,000 if you reside in California.

Pros

  • Dedicated account representative

  • Check if you qualify without a hard credit check

Cons

  • Loan features vary by lender

Prepayment penalty

No prepayment penalty. Does charge a late payment fee

Loan amount

Varies by lender

Loan types

Varies by lender

Splash Financial is an online marketplace that partners with loan servicers to provide medical students with the lowest student loan refinance rates and affordable repayment options. Loan terms for fixed-rate loans are a minimum of 5 to a maximum of 20 years and 25 years for variable interest loans. The minimum loan amount needed to refinance is $5,000, while there is no maximum amount.

For medical and dental residents:

  • Medical school loan refinance may only pay $100 a month for the duration of the residency term, plus an additional six months after the end of the residency or fellowship, before beginning regular loan repayments

  • Students with associate degrees in specific medical fields are also allowed to refinance up to a maximum of $50,000 with Splash

The company features a quick and easy loan application and pre-qualification process and works with private, federal, and Parent PLUS loans. Spouses can benefit from student loan consolidation and refinance their loans together as the company offers the option to “take over” your spouse’s loans. Parent loans can also be transferred to their child.

Pros

  • Compare multiple lenders in one place

  • You can check if you qualify without a hard credit check

Cons

  • Not a lender

  • You must research each lender individually before applying

Loan amount

Varies by lender

Loan types

Varies by lender

Credible is an online marketplace that provides personalized quotes from banks, fintech companies, and state loan authorities such as Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) and Rhode Island Student Loan Authority (RISLA).

Student loan refinancing opportunities are available for undergraduate, graduate, and Parent PLUS loans. While these state loan authorities don’t always offer low-interest rates as some lenders such as SoFi, they do offer other perks such as:

  • Income-driven repayment (particular to RISLA)

  • High approval rates

Credible’s Partner Lenders are Advantage Education Loan, Brazos, Citizens Bank, College Ave, EdvestinU, ELFI, MEFA, PenFed, RISLA, and SoFi.

Other Student Loan Refinance Companies We Considered

Navy Federal Credit Union Review

Minimum income requirements

Individual: 21 months or more of credit history and a monthly income of at least $2,000.
Cosigner: borrower must have a minimum monthly income of $100, and the cosigner must have a minimum monthly income of $2,000.

Fees

No application or origination fees

Prepayment penalty

No prepayment penalties

Cosigner release

May be requested after 12 consecutive, on-time principal and interest payments.

Fixed interest rate

Start at 2.99%

Variable interest rate

Start at 1.61%

Loan amount

$7,500-$125,000 for undergraduate debt, $7,500-$175,000 for graduate or combined student loan debt

Loan types

Fixed and varied

Navy Federal is the largest credit union in the world and specializes in banking and financial services to members of the military. Students who have any type of student loan with Navy Federal are eligible to use the Career Assistance Program, an online job training tool that provides tips on interviewing, resume building, and more. Parents who have loans for multiple children can refinance and benefit from student loan consolidation.

Why It Didn’t Make the Cut

  • Limited membership: The credit union only services members of the military or those who have family or household members in the armed forces.

Common Bond Review

Minimum income requirements

650

Fees

No application, origination or disbursement fee

Prepayment penalty

No prepayment penalties or late penalty charges

Cosigner release

May be requested after three years of consecutive, on-time principal payments

Fixed interest rate

From 2.59% to 6.74%

Variable interest rate

From 2.59% to 6.74%

Loan amount

$5,000-$500,000

Loan types

Fixed and varied

Common Bond has no origination or prepayment fees, and the application process is easy and seamless. Other highlights include Up 24 months of forbearance due to a national disaster, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and a referral program that pays $200 if someone you refer to the loan servicer takes out or refinances a loan.

Why It Didn’t Make the Cut

  • While CommonBond is a popular choice for many, it didn’t make the list of our top picks because it doesn’t offer refinancing options for federal Parent PLUS student loans, one of our main criteria for establishing our top picks.

Citizens Bank Review

Minimum income requirements

650

Fees

No application, origination or disbursement fee

Prepayment penalty

None

Cosigner release

May be requested after 36 consecutive on-time principal payments on principal and interest

Fixed interest rate

From 2.69% to 9.15%

Variable interest rate

From 2.24% to 8.90%

Loan amount

$10,000-$50,000

Loan types

Fixed and varied

Citizens Bank combines the stability of a traditional bank with the flexibility of online lending and offers refinancing options for both students and parents.

Loan refinancing is available to permanent resident aliens and non-U.S. citizens (with a qualified co-signer), something that most other loan servicers don’t do.

Why It Didn’t Make The Cut

  • Citizens Bank has a history of complaints, eventually resulting in regulatory action by the CFPB in 2015. This issue seems to have improved within the last few years, as there are currently only 43 complaints regarding student loan refinancing lodged against the company at this time. Continued improvement in customer service can push Citizens Bank into contention as one of our best student loan refinance providers.

SoFi Review

Minimum income requirements

Does not disclose

Fees

No application, origination or disbursement fee

Prepayment penalty

None, as well as no late payment charges

Cosigner release

May be requested after the student has graduated and completed 12 on-time payments, among other requirements

Fixed interest rate

From 2.74% to 6.94%

Variable interest rate

From 2.25% to 6.59%

Loan amount

$5,000 up to your total outstanding loan balance

Loan types

Fixed and varied

SoFi is a leading online loan servicer that offers student loan consolidations and refinancing loan options for both students and parents. Refinancing is available for undergraduate, graduate, and medical resident student loans.

Access to member perks includes career coaching, free access to the Edmit Plus tool, which lets you compare the actual cost of different colleges, free access to personalized financial planning advice, and referral rewards program. Refer someone to SoFi who gets a student loan refinance, and you both get $300.

Why It Didn’t Make the Cut

  • While SoFi offers competitive rates and provides members with various cost-free benefits, the lender barely missed making our list of top student loan refinance servicers. It currently has 53 complaints against it with CFPB, mainly relating to the process of getting a loan.

Student Loan Refinance Guide

Is student loan refinancing right for you?

With interest rates near historic lows, refinancing your student loans — whether federal or private — can save you money by replacing existing education debt with a new loan under a private lender.

Refinancing a federal loan can mean losing valuable benefits and protections such as income-based loan repayment plans, public service loan forgiveness, interest subsidies, and student loan tax deductions.

Take a look at the following pros and cons to determine if refinancing your student loan is right for you.

Pros

  • Take advantage of market fluctuations and reduce your interest rate

  • Shorten or lengthen loan repayment term

  • Rise or lower your monthly payment

  • Student loan consolidation and a single monthly payment

  • Option to remove your cosigner

  • Multiple repayment terms are available, often 5 to 20-years

Cons

  • Exclusion from federal repayment protections and buffers

  • Exclusion from federal student loan forgiveness

  • Subject to the private lender's repayment terms

  • No flexibility of altering repayment plan without refinancing

  • No income-based repayment plan

  • Irreversible: private loans can't be changed back to federal

Difference between private loan refinance and direct loan consolidation

One of the benefits of refinancing through a private student loan lender is that borrowers can integrate multiple loans into one with a single monthly payment under a single servicer. Here are the key differences:

Private Loan Refinance

Direct Loan Consolidation

Replaces one or more existing loans — federal or private — with a new private loan.

Combines your existing federal student loans into one federal student loan.

Available for federal and private loans, depending on the lender.

Available for federal student loans only.

Interest rates are determined by your credit history and potential market trends. This may result in a lower interest rate.

Your new interest rate will be the result of the weighted average of the interest rates on the loans you’re consolidating, so this option does not reduce the amount of interest you’re paying each month.

Credit history will be verified.

No credit check necessary to be approved.

Fixed- or variable-interest-rate loans.

Can consolidate variable rate loans into a fixed-rate loan.

Multiple repayment terms are available, often 5 to 20-years.

Consolidation loans offer several repayment options besides the standard 10-year repayment plan and can extend the term of the loan to between 12 to 30 years.

Parent PLUS loans can be refinanced under the adult child, relieving parents of debt.

Parent Plus loans cannot be consolidated under the adult child’s name.

You lose all benefits associated with federal student loans.

Retains all benefits and protections available to federal student loans.

Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

1. Talk to a financial advisor

Meet with a certified financial advisor that has experience working with student loans, ideally before you start school or while you’re in school.

A certified financial advisor can:

  • Help you review your financial situation

  • Provide you with educational resources on how to manage your student debt better.

  • Determine which loan repayment plan or solution is best for you

2. Examine your credit

Examining your credit refers to both your credit score and your credit report. Most lenders will use FICO scores as a determining factor when evaluating your creditworthiness and ability to pay back loans. Lenders will see you as too risky to insure if you have a low credit score and might not approve you for refinancing.

For student loans, lenders look for scores in the high 600s, typically around 650 to 680. An excellent credit score ranges 800 and up, so scores in the 600s are “good.”The same is true about your credit report.

Lenders will be looking at your credit history to check on your creditworthiness. If you have a history of bad credit, you’ll be seen as too risky and won’t be able to refinance your loan. However, if you keep good track of your credit report, you’ll be able to track any incorrect items in your credit history. If you find errors, you can contest them and remove them to boost your score.

3. Consider the types of loans you have

Federal student loan types include:

  • Direct subsidized loans

  • Direct unsubsidized loans

  • Direct PLUS loans

  • Direct consolidation loan

If you’re refinancing a private loan with a newer one, you only risk a change in the rates and life of the loan. However, changing a federal loan to a private loan is another story. Here are some important takeaways.

  • Refinancing federal student loans means you lose exclusive benefits provided through the U.S. Department of Education. These include public service loan forgiveness (PSLF), income-driven repayment (IDR) plans, and forbearance and deferment options.

  • Once you refinance with a private lender, you cannot refinance back to a federal student loan in the future.

  • Accommodations like the 0% interest rate in response to the COVID-19 crisis won’t apply to private loans.

4. Compare lenders

A rushed decision without comparing lenders could make you choose to refinance terms that aren’t optimal for you. For example, you could score a lower monthly payment, but the new term could potentially add years and interest to your loan, meaning you’ll pay more in the long run.

If you want to make an informed decision, keep an eye on these factors:

  • Credit score and annual income requirements

  • The annual percentage rate (APR) offered

  • Debt-to-income ratio (DTI) standards

First, check to see if a company has any credit score and annual income requirement. Most lenders require a minimum credit score of 650 to approve refinancing your loan.

Next, look over how much interest a company will ask you to pay each month by checking their APR offers, which vary from lender to lender. Try to get the lowest rate possible since this reduces your monthly payments.

Finally, check the company’s debt-to-income ratio standards since this helps them measure how much debt you’ll be able to take. Typically, 43% is the highest ratio a borrower can have, but lenders look for a score of at least 36%. If your DTI score is not up to par, you’ll have to lower it before being approved.

Key takeaways:

  • Check a company’s credit score and annual income requisites

  • Evaluate all their APR offers. A low APR means a lower monthly payment

  • Check any DTI standards a company has. The lower your DTI, the more chances you have of being approved

5. Compare interest rates

Locking in a low interest rate is a good option if you want to save money. Every company will offer different interest rates based on your age, credit score, and place of residence.

For an informed decision, request interest rate offers from at least three different companies and try to pick the lowest one, considering your refinance goals.

Also, verify whether your lender provides fixed or variable APR. Refinancing into a fixed rate will help you lock down a set interest rate for the life of the loan. On the other hand, refinancing with a variable interest rate means that your interest rates may increase in the future due to external economic factors.

Define your repayment term

If you’re refinancing your student loan, you may just want to pay off your loan as soon as possible, but remember that refinancing is essentially a new loan agreement. You’ll obtain a revised payment schedule, a new interest rate, and new loan repayment terms. If you plan to pay off your loan sooner than expected, make sure the lender won’t penalize you for early repayment.

Consider whether they offer cosigner release

Having a qualified cosigner in your loan application can mean the difference between denial and approval. A cosigner can,

  • help you get the best rates and better year terms

  • serve as an additional repayment source

  • increase the amount you can receive as the principal borrower

Many borrowers try to refinance student loans to remove a cosigner from their existing loan, but candidates with an insufficient credit history or a low credit score will likely need to apply with a cosigner. This is where cosigner release terms are important.

Some private lenders may offer a cosigner release option if the primary borrower meets specific repayment requirements. With a cosigner release, the cosigner’s credit will be cleared of the debt, but the loan will remain on the cosigner’s credit history. However, the record will indicate that the loan is paid in full and closed.

It’s worth noting that while most companies may advertise cosigner releases, this doesn’t mean that they will grant it automatically.

6. Research each lender’s financial hardship relief options

Private lenders can be more restrictive when it comes to hardship relief. However, some online lenders do offer student loan unemployment deferment and forbearance.

Deferment and forbearance programs are a form of payment relief that allows you to temporarily pause student loan payments until you can get back on your feet. A typical forbearance or deferment period with a private lender is about two to three months, while the federal program allows more extended periods.

Verify whether your preferred loan servicer offers relief measures if you decide to continue your studies or for circumstances beyond your control, such as:

  • unemployment

  • disability

  • furlough

  • military leave

  • death

Student Loan Refinance Application Requirements

credit score wheel
credit score wheel

Good credit

Most lenders require credit scores above 650, though you’ll need a higher score to qualify for the lowest advertised rates. If your credit is too low or you have a short credit history, you’ll likely have to apply with a cosigner that has a strong credit report and a stable income.

dollar sign
dollar sign

Proof of income

Stable annual income is essential. Lenders will evaluate your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), meaning the percentage of your gross income toward paying your debt each month. Most companies require you to have a low DTI to qualify, but some may accept written job offers as sufficient evidence.

pencil on top of a sheet of paper
pencil on top of a sheet of paper

Cosigner

Applicants with insufficient credit history, low income or low credit score will benefit from a cosigner. A cosigner is a parent or relative that applies for the loan with you and takes on the responsibility of paying it back if you can’t. Cosigners must have sufficient income and strong credit.

diploma
diploma

College degree

A college degree isn’t always necessary to refinance your student loans, but having a degree gives you more options. Most lenders require a bachelor’s degree to qualify for refinancing, and a small portion accepts borrowers with associate degrees.

identification card
identification card

U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status

Most, if not all, lenders require you to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to be eligible to refinance your student loans. If your student loans are foreign, it’s recommended that you build sufficient credit in the United States to qualify for refinancing.

Student Loan Refinance And COVID-19

CARES Act

On August 6, 2021, the Biden administration extended the current pause on federal student loan payments, interest, and collections to January 31, 2022. That relief applies to federal student loans that haven’t defaulted, as collections and garnishments have been suspended until that same date.

Student Loan Servicers COVID-19 Response

PenFed

• Forbearance or adjusted loan repayment plan for up to 6 months for those who qualify.
• The option to file a COVID-19 Hardship Application for additional support

Consumers can find more information here.

Laurel Road

• Forbearance of 3 monthly payments
• Option to request an additional 3-month forbearance if you are still unable to meet your payments. To qualify for these additional 3 months your account must have been current before the first COVID-19 forbearance.

For more information, please refer to their Coronavirus Response page. This resource consists of a financial guide centered on the current pandemic and discusses how to better navigate hardship.

Splash Financial

• Lower rates in response to the economic crisis.

Splash Financial encourages clients to reach out so they can negotiate on accommodations like forbearance or waiving fees on an individual basis.

Earnest

• Short-term forbearance, which will make eligible loans current and postpone payments for at least a month.
• Coronavirus national emergency forbearance, which allows qualified customers up to three months of delayed payments.
• Short-term interest-only program that allows clients to make lower (interest only) payments for up to 90 days.

Customers are encouraged to access their Coronavirus Response Center, a web page that addresses common questions about hardship, disaster forbearance, and their other payment postponement options.

Navy Federal Credit Union

Eligible members have access to:
• loan extensions
• deferred payments
• credit card line increases
• student loan forbearance through LendKey
• overdraft protection, fee-free transfers
• penalty-free certificate withdrawals.

For further questions, the company encourages borrowers to contact their Student Loan Center at 1-877-304-9302.

Common Bond

• Natural disaster forbearance for the duration of the national emergency declaration. Interest will still accrue, but there are no additional fees.
• All late fees are waived.

You can apply for this forbearance at commonbond.co/forbearance.

Citizens Bank

• Three-month emergency loan forbearance. Interest will still accrue.
• Option to request two additional three-month forbearance periods, for a total of nine months.
• All late fees are waived

SoFi

• Payment deferral.
• Option to request a forbearance period for two to three months (interest will still accrue, and the life of the loan will extend).

Credible is excluded from this section because it’s a marketplace and not a loan provider. It does not have its own COVID-19 policy in place, so we recommend you refer to the loan servicers platforms for further information.

Best Student Loan Refinance FAQ

Can you refinance federal student loans?

Yes, you can refinance federal student loans, even when these types of loans offer a consolidating option. However, note that you will lose federal student loan benefits, including repayment options.

How to refinance a student loan?

First, decide if refinancing is the right option for you, as opting to refinance your federal loan will eliminate various federal loan benefits, including low interest rates, repayment grace periods, and forbearance/deferment options. Once you've made up your mind, you can shop around online for rates and pick the one that works best for you.

Should you refinance your student loans?

Refinancing your federal student loan isn't the best option for everyone. Since federal loans usually have agreeable terms and benefits, switching to a private lender will eliminate all federal benefits. Therefore, it's important to check if refinancing benefits you more than consolidating your federal student loan. If refinancing lowers your interest rate more and saves you money, it can be worth it.

How many times can you refinance a student loan?

You can refinance your student loan as many times as you want. Student loans typically don't carry any origination fees or costs, and they don't come with prepayment fees. If you've already refinanced your student loan but have improved your credit score or found a better rate, you can refinance again.

Does refinancing student loans hurt your credit?

Refinancing your student loans won't put a significant dent in your credit score, but it will knock off a few points. However, lenders often conduct a soft credit pull to estimate the interest rates available to you. Soft credit pulls won't impact your score. However, after your lender does a soft credit pull, they will conduct a hard credit inquiry if you decide to move forward with a full application. Hard credit pulls can deduct as much as five points from your credit score.

How We Chose the Best Student Loan Refinance

Money compared over 16 of the nation’s largest lenders by market share and narrowed down that list with insight from industry experts, selecting the 5 best student loan refinance companies of 2021. To qualify for our Top Picks, all companies had to:

Summary of Money’s Best Student Loan Refinance Companies

  • PenFed – Best Credit Union

  • Laurel Road – Best Loan Consolidation for Medical Students

  • Earnest – Best for Customizing Loan Payment

  • Splash Financial – Most Affordable Loan Payment Options for Medical Students

  • Credible – Best Student Loan Marketplace

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