SoFi Student Loan Refinancing Review
When you refinance your student loans, you take out a new loan to pay off your current ones. The idea is to make your loans less expensive or easier to manage, whether that’s through lower interest rates, lower monthly payments or a different loan term.
In response to a rising tide of student loan debt, many online lenders, credit unions and banks now offer student loan refinancing. If you’ve already reviewed the pros and cons of refinancing student loans, a helpful next step is to compare lenders and figure out which ones offer the terms and benefits that best suit your needs. Here, we’re going to review the offerings of the online lender SoFi.
Table of contents
When SoFi launched in 2011, it was one of the first online lenders to allow people with student loan debt to consolidate and refinance their private and federal student loans together. Over the years, its product line has expanded, and today SoFi offers several student loan refinancing programs:
- Student loan refinancing. You can refinance your private and federal student loans, and parent PLUS loans, into a fixed- or variable-rate loan.
- Parent PLUS refinancing. Parents who borrowed PLUS loans to pay for a child’s education can refinance with a fixed- or variable-rate loan.
- Medical resident and fellow refinancing. Medical residents and fellows can refinance private and federal student loans with a fixed- or variable-rate loan, with minimum monthly payments of $100 during your residency or fellowship (up to 54 months).
In addition to refinancing student loans, SoFi also offers student loans to parents, mortgages and mortgage refinancing, wealth management services and life insurance.
|SoFi student loan refi in a nutshell|
|Student loan refinancing||Parent Plus Refinancing||Medical Resident & Fellow Refinancing|
|Fixed APR range*||3.89-8.074%||3.90-7.50%||4.05-7.93%|
|Variable APR range*||2.5-7.115%||2.54-7.12%||2.62-7.12%|
|Loan terms offered||5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years||5, 7, 10 or 15 years||5, 7, 10, 15 or 20 years|
|Application, origination or prepayment fees||No||No||No|
|Minimum loan amount*||$5,000||$5,000||$10,001|
|Repayment plans||Your monthly payment will depend on your interest rate and loan term.||Your monthly payment will depend on your interest rate and loan term.||$100 monthly payment during your residency or fellowship, up to 54 months total.|
|Cosigner release||No||No||No cosigner allowed|
|Savings opportunities||0.25 percent autopay discount||0.25 percent autopay discount||0.25 percent autopay discount|
*Rates are current as of November 30, 2018 and include a 0.25 percent autopay discount
**Minimum loan amounts may be higher in some states
What it takes to qualify
|SoFi eligibility requirements|
|Student loan refinancing||Parent Plus Refinancing||Medical Resident & Fellow Refinancing|
|Minimum credit score||Varies||650||680|
|Loan types||Private and federal student loans, and Parent PLUS loans||Federal Parent PLUS loans||Private and federal student loans, and Parent PLUS loans|
|Employment||Must be employed, have an offer to start working within 90 days or have income from other sources.||Must be employed, have an offer to start working within 90 days or have income from other sources.||You must be a medical resident or fellow, be matched with your program and have up to four years remaining in your approved program.|
|School/state eligibility||You must graduate with at least an associate degree from an eligible Title IV accredited university or graduate program. Refinancing isn’t available for bar or residency loans. SoFi offers refinance loans in 50 states plus the District of Columbia.||SoFi offers refinance loans in 50 states plus the District of Columbia.||You must graduate with from an eligible Title IV accredited university or graduate program. Not available to residents of Mississippi or Montana.|
SoFi stands out from traditional banks with its simple online-only application process, low APR ranges and membership benefits. When LendingTree called the customer service department to ask questions, we were either able to connect to a friendly representative within a few minutes or given an option to be called back when it was our turn “in line.”
Although it doesn’t list minimum requirements, SoFi tends to focus on high-income and very creditworthy borrowers, according to an analysis from BuzzFeed News. If that describes your financial situation, you may be able to benefit from SoFi’s relatively low rates. If it doesn’t, you may have trouble getting approved for refinancing through SoFi, or the rate you qualify for may not be your best option.
But before you make an assumption, you can check your approximate offer and rates at SoFi with a soft inquiry preapproval — a soft inquiry means you won’t hurt your credit by checking.
When you refinance with SoFi, you get the perks of membership. These include:
- Invitations to community events. SoFi hosts a variety of activities, such as dinner parties, yoga classes and workshops around the country.
- Career coaching. Whether you’re looking for a job or trying to advance at your current employer, you can get free help from a career coach. The coach can work with you to craft a plan, improve your résumé and LinkedIn profile, discuss personal branding, share networking techniques and help with negotiation tactics.
- Unemployment protection. SoFi personal and student loans are covered by unemployment protection, which allows you to put your loan in forbearance and stop making payments for three-month periods and up to 12 months over the loan’s lifetime. Interest will continue to accrue on your loan balance and will be added to the principal. To qualify, you must have involuntarily lost your job. You also must be working with SoFi’s Career Advisory Group to find a new one.
- Waived wealth management fees. SoFi waives management fees for borrowers who invest using SoFi’s wealth management service. Otherwise, there’s a fee for investments over $10,000.
- Startup accelerator program. Startup founders or co-founders who have a tech-enabled business idea and a SoFi loan can apply for SoFi’s entrepreneur program. If you’re chosen, SoFi will offer a seed investment, mentorship opportunities and a chance to pitch your idea at a demo day.
- Discounts on other SoFi loans. If you have either at least $50,000 in SoFi’s wealth management service or a SoFi loan, you’ll receive a 0.125 percent rate discount on other loan products, including mortgages and personal loans. The discount continues to apply after you pay off your refinanced student loan.
There’s also a SoFi referral program, which you can use to earn up to $300 per person you refer who refinances student loans or parent PLUS loans or gets a personal loan. You don’t need to be a SoFi member to refer others, but Michigan state residents aren’t eligible.
All of SoFi’s refinancing programs also offer a 0.25 percent interest rate discount if you sign up for autopay from a checking or savings account. There are also no application, origination or prepayment fees. These are common features of refinanced student loans, but some lenders do charge fees or don’t offer a discount.
Drawbacks of refinancing with SoFi
There are several drawbacks to SoFi’s refinancing programs.
One is that you can’t release a cosigner (or in the case of the medical residency refi, use a cosigner at all). With other refinancing companies, you can sometimes add a cosigner to make you eligible for refinancing or lower your interest rate, and release the cosigner from his or her obligation after making a series of on-time payments and building your credit.
You also must graduate with at least an associate degree to be eligible for student loan refinancing or medical resident refinancing. Many other lenders have this requirement, but some let you refinance your student loans even if you leave school without a degree.
SoFi outsources its student loan servicing to MOHELA. While this may not be a drawback and MOHELA could provide outstanding service, you should be aware that the customer service you receive during the application process may differ from your experience after completing the refinance.
In addition to the general advantages and drawbacks, there are a few specifics to each program you should be aware of when you’re comparing lenders.
Student loan refinancing
Refinance private, federal and parent PLUS loans together. SoFi was one of the first student loan refinancing companies to let borrowers combine their private and federal student loans into a single, new loan. Some other lenders still don’t offer this option. If Mom or Dad took out a federal parent PLUS loan to pay for your schooling, you can apply to consolidate that with your loans, as well.
Choose from five loan terms and two interest-rate types. You can choose to take out a variable- or fixed-rate loan and a loan term between five and 20 years. Other lenders don’t offer as many loan terms, and some only offer one interest-rate type.
The primary drawbacks to SoFi’s student loan refinancing program are the ones listed above: There’s no cosigner release and you must have a degree.
SoFi parent PLUS refinancing
Save money. While refinancing any type of student loan may yield savings and lower monthly payments, this could be especially true of federal parent PLUS loans; they tend to have higher interest rates than federal student loans that are offered directly to students.
Low minimum loan amount. The minimum loan amount to refinance a parent PLUS loan is $5,000. Other lenders also offer parent PLUS refinancing, but sometimes they’ll only refinance if you have at least $10,000 in loans.
Only four term options. SoFi’s parent PLUS refinancing program only offers four loan terms, ranging from five to 15 years. Some other lenders let you choose from five loan terms, including a 20-year term. While a longer term may result in you paying more interest over the lifetime of your loan, it will also lower your payments, which can make managing your monthly budget easier.
SoFi medical resident refinancing
Low monthly payment. You can apply for the SoFi medical resident refinancing as soon as you’ve matched with a residency or fellowship program. If approved, your monthly payments will decrease to $100 a month while you’re in your residency or fellowship. You’ll need to start making full payments when you leave the program, or after 54 months, whichever comes first.
Interest doesn’t compound during the initial repayment period. The interest that accrues while you’re making $100 payments doesn’t get added to your loan principal, so you won’t have to pay interest on that interest.
Interest capitalizes when you start making full payments. While you’re making the $100 minimum monthly payments, your loan accrues interest, and any unpaid interest is capitalized (added to the loan principal) when you start making full payments. As a result, your total loan balance could grow during your residency or fellowship. You could avoid this by making more than the monthly payment to cover the interest as you accrue it.
No deferment option if you go back to school. Some student loan refinancing companies, including SoFi for its non-medical student loan refinancing program, let you defer payments if you return to school. But that’s not an option with this medical resident program. However, you may be able to refinance your student loan again, with SoFi or a different company, if you do decide to go back to school and want to defer payments.
No cosigner option. You can’t apply for medical resident refinancing with a cosigner, so you’ll need to be able to qualify on your own.
Although there is phone-based customer support if you need it, SoFi is an online-only lender. The application process isn’t difficult, but you’ll want to be comfortable submitting personal information and uploading required verification documents, such as pay stubs and tax returns.
SoFi may be best for high-income, creditworthy applicants, as that’s whom it targets. However, since it’s easy, free and doesn’t affect your credit, there’s no harm in checking to see if you get prequalified and what your loan offers will be. Don’t stop at SoFi, though. Compare offers from a variety of lenders to ensure you get the best terms and lowest interest rate possible.
Taking a closer look at the online platform
As one might expect from an online-only company, SoFi’s website is easy to navigate and use. The product pages are clearly linked to at the top left of most pages, as are the membership benefits you’ll receive once you refinance. The landing pages for each financing option are also straightforward and helpful, and the loan application process (discussed below) is quick and easy.
However, sometimes it’s hard to find specific information. For example, all the FAQs are on a single page, with dropdown menus for different products or programs. But there isn’t an easy way to search for a topic, and the parent PLUS refinancing program isn’t even listed. The same is true of the eligibility criteria page, which lists important criteria for different loan programs but is missing the parent PLUS refinancing criteria.
The fine print
Many of the fine-print items you’ll want to review are either on the FAQ or eligibility criteria pages. Additionally, about halfway down each refinance program’s page there’s an option to “learn more.” This brings you to a rates and terms page with example repayment option and interest-rate caps on variable-rate loans.
- Student loan refinancing rates and terms page
- Parent PLUS loan refinancing rates and terms page
- Medical residency loan refinancing rates and terms page
Some fine-print items are more difficult to uncover. For example, if you want to find the late payment fee (which is the lesser of $5 or 4 percent of the amount past due), you’ll have to look for that information in the rates, cost and fees dropdown menu near the bottom of the first page of your application. That’s also where you’ll find the disclosure that your refinanced student loan isn’t discharged if the borrower or student dies or becomes permanently disabled.
In other words, if you’re the primary borrower and you can’t make payments due to death or disability, your cosigner could still be liable for the debt. Even if you don’t have a cosigner, the debt could pass on to your estate if you die. (In contrast, federal student loans can be discharged due to the borrower’s death or total and permanent disability.)
To test out the online application process, LendingTree started student loan, parent PLUS and medical resident refinance applications. The process is similar for each application, although there may be a few questions that differ depending on the type loan you’re trying to refinance.
Filling out the application
The application starts with you filling out basic information, such as:
- Date of birth
- Citizenship status (you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident)
- Whether you own a home, rent or live with your parents
Next, you’ll have to enter educational information about your undergraduate and graduate schooling (when applicable). If you’re applying for parent PLUS loan refinancing, be sure to enter information about yourself, not your child. And don’t worry, even if you didn’t graduate from college you still might be eligible for parent PLUS loan refinancing.
Medical residents or fellows will also indicate whether they are currently a resident or fellow, will finish the program within four years and have signed an offer to become an attending physician within 12 months. They will also have to provide their residency or fellowship completion date and their specialty.
In the employment section, you’ll indicate whether you’re currently employed or have a job offer, your employer’s name, your individual annual income and how many years of professional work experience you have (including medical residency, when applicable). Alternatively, you can put the residency or fellowship program.
The final section on the first page asks you to enter your estimated total loan amount. You can also review disclosures about your SoFi refinanced loan rates, costs and fees.
Choosing a loan offer
If you’re prequalified for a loan, you’ll be able to review and choose between your different loan options. There’s also a savings calculator, where you can enter your estimated current loan balance, APR and term to see your monthly payments and lifetime cost.
The SoFi loan terms show you the interest rate, monthly payments and estimated lifetime or monthly savings. However, the SoFi loan options don’t show the total lifetime cost of the loan, which can make it difficult to understand the impact of your decision. This is particularly an issue with the medical resident refi, as the $100 minimum monthly payment may not cover the interest you accrue during that period — this would lead to a larger loan balance when you enter full repayment.
Uploading verification documents
Once you’ve chosen a loan offer and moved on to the next page, you’ll be prompted to upload verification documents. These include your most recent pay stub, plus two years’ worth of end-of-year pay stubs if you receive a bonus or commissions.
To verify your identity, you’ll need either a driver’s license, signed U.S. passport, military ID or Green Card.
You’ll also have to upload a copy of your recent loan billing statements. If you have loans you don’t want to include in the refinancing, you can tell SoFi which ones to exclude at this point.
This is also the page where you enter your Social Security number and give SoFi permission to review your credit. Keep in mind the resulting hard inquiry could hurt your credit score. (As we were not actually applying for a loan, we stopped our application processes at this point.)
Making it official
If you do decide to move forward and refinance your student loans with SoFi, you’ll have to sign and accept the official loan package. This is the final chance to review the loan terms and make sure you agree to everything.
Once you submit a signed loan agreement and your loan is funded, the servicing gets turned over to MOHELA. It will contact you, request you set up an account and you’ll start making your monthly payments to MOHELA.
It’s important to continue paying your student loans as you usually do until you see that they’ve been paid off. Otherwise you could inadvertently miss a payment.
SoFi is one of the most well-known student loan refinancing companies. Because you can get prequalified with a soft credit check, you should at least see your offers if you’re considering refinancing your student loans.
Compare what you find to offers from other student lenders. To aid in the search, you can use LendingTree to quickly compare APR ranges, loan term options and whether or not the lender offers a cosigner release. MagnifyMoney, a LendingTree company, also has a list of top student loan refinance lenders with their APR ranges, repayment term options and a summary about each one.
Like SoFi, other refinancing companies may let you get prequalified for a loan offer, so you can see your estimated rates and terms before you apply. Just double-check that the pre-approval only requires a soft credit pull. Otherwise, you may be hurting your credit in the lead up to your actual application.
However, when you are ready to apply, don’t worry about submitting hard inquiry applications with multiple lenders. Although a hard inquiry can hurt your credit score, multiple hard inquiries for student loans within a short period of time may only count as a single hard inquiry for credit-scoring purposes. For example, “rate-shopping inquiries” for student loans made within 14 to 45 days of each other may count as a single inquiry in FICO scoring models.
So, you can lock in official offers without greatly damaging your credit. (Sometimes a single hard inquiry won’t have any negative impact.) If it’s not clear, you can then compare the refinanced loan terms to your current loan with this student loan refinancing calculator to determine which offer will save you the most money