Getting an MBA is an expensive undertaking. The cost for a two-year residential program — whether it begins or ends in-person or virtually — can be in the range of $250K or more for an elite program. Which means, for most students, taking out loans that will require at least a few years to pay off, no matter how much money you make after graduation.
But there is good news for MBA borrowers in the U.S., and for most U.S. students planning to study at an international MBA program: Beginning June 15, Juno, the MBA-launched company that uses collective bargaining to get banks and other lending institutions to lower interest rates for MBA borrowers, will offer exclusive rate maps with its new partner, Earnest, a fintech lender based in San Francisco. Even more intriguingly, Juno will guarantee the lowest-cost private student loans.
“If someone gets a lower rate elsewhere, Juno will match and beat it,” co-founder Chris Abkarians, an MBA from the Harvard Business School Class of 2020, tells Poets&Quants.
JUNO MEMBERS CAN EXPECT LOAN RATES ABOUT 1.6% LOWER THAN STANDARD RATES
The offer to match any deal is the culmination of Juno’s founders’ dreams.
“We’re super excited,” Abkarians says. “This is literally what we’ve wanted to do for the last three years.”
Juno began life as Leveredge in summer 2018 when Abkarians and fellow Harvard admit Nitin Agarwal became concerned about the interest rates they faced on the loans they were certain to need to get their HBS MBA. They responded by getting organized, creating a business model that harnessed the power of collective bargaining to help students like themselves who had long been at the mercy of the education financing system.
In their model, B-school admits and students join a negotiation group, and Juno keeps banks informed about the growing size of the group. Ultimately it asks the banks to compete for an exclusive recommendation. In 2018, for amounts greater than $20,500, many students were considering a federal Grad PLUS option that charged 7.6% interest and a 4%+ origination fee; working with a Connecticut-based bank, Abkarians and Agarwal secured for their clients rates between 5% and 6% without any origination fee.
The same approach worked in 2019 and, with some hiccups, the pandemic year of 2020, with thousands of MBAs getting better loan rates and therefore each saving thousands of dollars. In 2021, working exclusively with Earnest, Juno has negotiated an exclusive rate map “that is always cheaper than Grad PLUS,” Abkarians says, with 10-year deferred fixed rate loans at between 4.25% and 5.85% APR, compared to a federal APR of 6.93% (which is expected to increase this year).
But Juno wants to beat private loan rates, too. Abkarians says the average Juno member will receive rates that are about 1.6% lower than the standard rates — and if anyone finds a lower-cost loan somewhere else, Juno will match and beat it.
“It’s very exciting news,” Abkarians tells P&Q. “It’s what we set out to do on day one. I have a high degree of confidence that there’s going to be nobody with lower rates anywhere.”
HOW THE GUARANTEE WORKS
U.S. citizens or permanent residents, as well as international students who have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident co-signer, are eligible. Rate options include five-, seven-, 10-, 12-, and 15-year terms along with four repayment options and a nine-month grace period. Abkarians says compared to Grad PLUS, the rates Juno has negotiated are always lower; compared to Stafford loans, “our rates are still lower most of the time.”
He adds that it’s hard to compare student loan options. “To date, we have not found a single public calculator that will let you compare fixed and variable loan rate offers with assumptions about how variable rates might change in the future,” he says. “So, we built one and you can access it here. We encourage you to enter any rate quotes you are interested in from any lender, whether they are a Juno partner or not.”
Federal student loan rates are 0.98% higher than they were last year, Abkarians points out. For the first $20,500 borrowed from the government, students pay a 5.28% interest rate and an origination fee — an amount paid on day one — that is about 1%. Beyond $20,500, government loans will cost borrowers 6.28% interest and an origination fee of about 4.2%.
Juno’s deals, he adds, have $0 in fees.
“Our mission,” Abkarians tells P&Q, “is for MBA students to access the most affordable student loan possible and to have peace of mind. So, if someone finds a lower private student loan rate anywhere else, we will match the cost and beat it.
“There’s no catch, as long as the quotes you are comparing are comparable (for example, you are comparing a 10 year loan, with a fixed rate, and deferred payments until you graduate, to the same structure loan from our partner)”
‘GUARANTEED, YOU CAN’T GET A BETTER DEAL SOMEWHERE ELSE’
Abkarians says Juno chose to work with Earnest this year after receiving bids from a dozen lenders.
“Our goal for the last few years has been, ‘How can we get our model to guarantee everyone the lowest rate?’ Previously, we’ve been able to get the lowest rate for about 95% of people in the group with a high degree of confidence, but there could always be a lender would come in later and get more aggressive in trying to lower their rates. Now, first of all, I think we’ve already got the lowest rates that are on the market. But if by any chance somebody later gets a lower rate, then we have a really simple process for them to let us know that they have one and then we’ll match that.
“We wanted to make this as simple as possible. I want to be able to communicate to like everybody at Booth that, ‘Hey, guaranteed, you can’t get a better deal somewhere else.'”
The process is similar to what Juno has done in the past, he says, only much larger.
“I’d say three years ago, we started off with just a couple of hundred students when we were first trying to give a discount announce,” Abkarians says. “And this year, that got up to 65,000. So the simple formula to get better rates has worked. We were able to get more than a dozen lenders interested in giving us insight into what rates they would offer and what discounts they’d be able to offer — and we closed the deal with Earnest.”
Students who go through Juno to Earnest get lower rates than if they went to Earnest directly, Abkarians says, because of the exclusive Juno rate map. Additionally, there’s a relaxed underwriting criteria for Juno members, meaning if borrowers don’t have a job and don’t have income while in school — which describes most MBA students — they can still get a loan without a co-signer through the Juno map. “That’s a big deal for a lot of people,” Abkarians says, “because about two-thirds of our audience wants a co-signer.”