If you’ve been making regular payments on your existing student loans, refinancing could be a good move. Refinancing may simplify your payments by consolidating your private and federal student loans into a single loan, give you a lower interest rate, reduce your monthly payment, help you pay off your loans faster, or let your cosigner off the hook. But where should you go to find the best terms? LendKey and SoFi both connect student loan borrowers to refinancing options. Here’s a look at the two companies and the type of student loan refinancing services each offers.
LendKey’s mission is to enable “the nation’s 13,000+ community financial institutions to enter and succeed in online lending.” Credit unions and community banks offer some of the most borrower-friendly student loans, but they rarely have the infrastructure to scale their marketing, operations and technical support to reach a broad range of borrowers. Borrowers want to shop around for the lowest interest rates, but getting information on loans and going through the application process at multiple banks is cumbersome and time-consuming. For efficiency’s sake, many borrowers wind up paying more than they should or get treated like a number by some of the nation’s largest private student loan lenders.
LendKey solves both problems by providing a platform to connect borrowers with community banks and credit unions.
SoFi also offers student loan refinancing, but instead of connecting borrowers to traditional lenders, SoFi provides a platform for crowd-sourcing or peer-to-peer lending. SoFi was founded by a group of Stanford business students who wanted to help other students. Several alumni invested in the program, and the funds were used to help recent graduates lower their student loan interest rates. Although the program started out at Stanford, it soon expanded to other schools and eventually went on to be a nationwide program.
SoFi was one of the first companies to consolidate federal loans with private loans.
One of the main appeals of refinancing student loans is to save money by reducing your interest rate. So what interest rates can you expect from LendKey and Sofi?
LendKey offers fixed interest rates as low as 3.25% and variable interest rates of 2.22% for borrowers who sign up for automatic debit payments. If the borrower does not enroll in autopay, starting interest rates will be 0.25% higher.
Many of the lenders on the LendKey platform offer borrowers with 15-year loan terms the option to make interest-only payments for the first four years if they cannot afford to pay down the loan principal.
SoFi offers fixed rates as low as 3.375% and variable rates starting at 2.355% with autopay. Like LendKey, SoFi rates will be 0.25% higher if borrowers do not take advantage of automatic payments from a bank account.
Loan Balances and Terms
LendKey’s minimum loan balance is $7,500. They offer refinancing for loans up to $175,000. They do not charge an origination fee or charge penalties for making early or extra payments.
SoFi has a lower minimum loan balance requirement, at just $5,000. There is no upper limit for the balances they will refinance.
Borrowers using either service can choose a five-, seven-, 10-, 15- or 20-year loan terms.
Because LendKey does not provides loans themselves but rather connects borrowers to community banks and credit unions, qualifications vary. Credit unions typical lend only to people living in certain areas, working in certain fields, or belonging to particular associations. Community banks serve only designated geographic regions. Borrowers need a minimum credit score of 660 and an annual income of at least $24,000.
SoFi is known for having strict qualification requirements. Borrowers need a minimum credit score of 650, but the typical borrower has excellent credit, with a score of 774. SoFi does not have minimum annual income requirements, but the average borrower has an annual income of $124,630. Borrowers must be college graduates, and Nevada residents are not eligible.
Because LendKey does not provide loans themselves but connects its borrowers to credit unions and community banks, forbearance options vary. Typically, a single forbearance is six months and may be extended for up to 18 months.
SoFi provides an unemployment protection program for borrowers who involuntarily lose their jobs and are unable to make loan payments. Borrowers can pause loan payments for three months, up to a total of 12 months. They also state they will work with borrowers experiencing other forms of financial hardship on a case-by-case basis.
Borrowers can apply directly to LendKey and SoFi via their websites. You’ll need to provide details about your education, employment, income, and student loan balances.
Both lenders allow applicants to do a rate check before applying to get an idea of their estimated rates. The rate check tools perform a soft credit inquiry that will not affect the borrower’s credit score.
The Bottom Line
Both LendKey and SoFi offer unique avenues for refinancing student loans. Most features of each of these platforms are pretty comparable, but where SoFi really stands out is their career services. SoFi has career coaches on staff who help customers with job-hunting and interviewing skills and salary negotiations. Coaching services are available one-on-one or via webinar. And because often getting a job is less about what you know than about who you know, SoFi hosts happy hours, dinners, and networking events around the country to help their borrowers and alumni make professional connections. They also provide an entrepreneur program for borrowers who want to start their own business.
If you have a stable career, excellent credit, and other desirable borrower traits, you may be able to get slightly lower rates through LendKey. If you like the idea of having career services, entrepreneur resources and networking available from your lender, SoFi could be more appealing. Since neither charge an application fee, it may be worth looking into both to find the right student loan refinancing option for you.