How It Works: How SoFi Makes Money
How It Works is an ongoing series here on our blog, exploring and demystifying topics about which we hear often from our members and the public. Today, we’re taking a look at how SoFi makes money.
[UPDATED 4/12/21 to include additional information on how SoFi Invest makes money.]
SoFi is able to offer products and services at competitive rates to members because we pride ourselves on our efficiency. As with any time a company implements a new or different way of doing things, people may wonder, “Is there a catch?”
We’re here today to explain how we make money—it’s something we think every consumer should know about the companies they do business with, in finance or any other sector. Since we offer a variety of products, we’ll break this down by product area.
Our Lending Products
First, our lending products (that’s Student Loan Refinancing, Personal Loans, Private Student Loans, and Home Loans). There are many different ways companies make money in lending—some make their money on origination fees and get paid when a borrower takes a loan, others by holding the loans and making money from the interest the borrower pays, and others by selling loans after they’re made to investors while maintaining some ownership for themselves.
We employ a blend of the last two approaches at SoFi, but primarily make money the third way, through securitizations and whole loan sales. The buyers in these securitizations are institutions like pension and insurance funds, as well as other asset managers, who pay a premium upfront for the future potential cash flows from the loans. We’re able to make money through securitizations because investors trust the quality of our loans.
This enables us to have access to funds at a very competitive rate—often, on par with large commercial banks with big balance sheets—without “selling” our relationship with our members.
We then pass those savings on to our consumers by offering them loan products at an interest rate below their current rate, but above our cost of financing. This represents a win-win: the member saves money on their loan payments and SoFi makes enough money to keep doing what it’s doing.
Who Buys SoFi’s Loans?
Who buys SoFi’s loans? Investors like pension and insurance funds, as well as other asset managers. They are willing to pay a premium above the principal value of the loan upfront for the future potential cash-flows.
We sell these loans in two ways: (1) “whole loan sales” where we sell a group (called a “pool”) of loans in their entirety to investors, and (2) “securitizations” where we group the loans together and their combined cash flows pay specific groups of investors (called “tranches”) in a specific sequence. Having multiple ways to sell our loans ensures we have cost-effective financing and reduces the risk that the market disrupts our business.
To break the process down more simply, here’s an example: let’s say SoFi extends a student loan that pays 5% annual percentage rate (APR) for five years with the principal due at the end of those five years. If our borrowers were paying 7% APR originally, for example, they now save a whopping 2% APR each year. Nice!
The value of the total loan is 125% of the original loan amount (5% APR x 5 years in interest; 100% in principal). We sell the loan to investors for 105%. For taking on the risk of loan repayment, investors will get 20% (125% – 120%) over five years; SoFi will get 5% upfront to cover its cost of borrowing funds, its operations, and the memberships perks it offers to its clients. Double nice!
Our Investment Products
SoFi Invest® charges no commissions for the buying or selling of stocks, ETFs or fractional shares in our Active Investing brokerage accounts. Our Automated Investing service also doesn’t charge a SoFi management fee. This is our robo-advisor product, which builds and rebalances portfolios automatically for Members.
We instead earn revenue in a variety of ways–all of which are common and help Members avoid SoFi fees:
• We earn interest from uninvested cash held in accounts. This is done through an FDIC program that also helps keep Members’ cash safe.
• SoFi lends out shares. The borrowers are typically short sellers, or investors who bet that prices of certain stocks will decline. They compensate SoFi and our partners with a loan fee for the shares that are borrowed.
• We also earn money from sending customer orders to third-party market makers–a practice known as payment for order flow. The market makers carry out the customer orders, and regulatory rules require they do so by delivering “best execution.” Recommended: What Is Payment For Order Flow?
• With SoFi Crypto, we charge a markup of 1.25% for each transaction. For instance, let’s say a cryptocurrency is valued at $100. If a Member pays $100 to buy that cryptocurrency, they would be charged $1.25. Therefore, the Member would own a little bit less than the full value of one cryptocurrency in this case.
SoFi also makes money through its suite of ETFs that charge management fees annually. Below is a table of their expense ratios, or the percentage subtracted from assets each year. So if the expense ratio is 0.19%, that means $1.90 is charged each year for every $1,000 invested.
|ETF Name||ETF Ticker||Gross Expense Ratio|
|SoFi Select 500||SFY||0.19%|
|SoFi Next 500||SFYX||0.19%|
|SoFi Social 50||SFYF||0.29%|
|SoFi Gig Economy||GIGE||0.59%|
|SoFi Weekly Income||TGIF||0.59%|
Our Deposit Account
With SoFi Checking and Savings®, like with other debit and credit cards, we earn a small amount of interest on the money in the accounts and from the merchant with each swipe of the debit card.
But unlike most banks, SoFi has lower costs from doing business online, so we pass those savings on to our members in the form of higher interest paid on deposits—and we don’t charge extra account fees on top.
We also offer term life insurance through our partnership with Ladder. For life insurance, we earn a set marketing fee every time a member submits an application for life insurance.
Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.
Student Loan Refinancing
*Investors buy and sell ETF shares through a brokerage account or an investment adviser like ordinary stocks, brokerage commissions and/or transaction costs or service fees may apply. Please consult your broker or financial advisor for their fee schedule. The Fund’s investment adviser has agreed to waive its Management Fees for SoFi Select 500 ETF and SoFi Next 500 ETF until at least June 30, 2021.
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Also, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals, and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC registered investment advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or prequalification for any loan product offered by SoFi Bank, N.A.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected]. Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing. Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.
SoFi Checking and Savings
SoFi Money is a cash management account, which is a brokerage product, offered by SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA / SIPC .
SoFi Bank Debit Card issued by The Bancorp Bank.
SoFi has partnered with Allpoint to provide consumers with ATM access at any of the 55,000+ ATMs within the Allpoint network. Consumers will not be charged a fee when using an in-network ATM, however, third party fees incurred when using out-of-network ATMs are not subject to reimbursement. SoFi’s ATM policies are subject to change at our discretion at any time.
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Please note that once you refinance federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.
Terms and conditions apply. Not all products are offered in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information.
Student Loan Refinancing