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How Do Student Loans Affect Your Credit Score?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Many college students, graduates and parents (or grandparents) of students have taken out student loans to help pay for educational expenses. These loans are generally reported to the three national consumer credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and could impact the borrower’s credit score.

Building credit can be important for your financial and personal life. A high score can make qualifying for new loans or credit cards easier, may save you money with lower interest rates or insurance premiums and could even help you rent an apartment or home.

Because so many people have student loans — and for many new college students, the loans may be the first time they use credit — understanding how student loans can affect your credit is important.

So, how exactly do student loans affect your credit score?

Student loans can hurt or help your credit score

As with other types of installment loans, such as a personal loan or auto loan, your student debt can help or hurt your credit score depending on how you manage your loans and your overall credit profile.

But student loans have a few features, such as deferment or forbearance, that may not be as common with other types of installment loans. Understanding these features, how they work and the impact they could have on your credit can help you manage your student loans with confidence.

If you want to see where you stand with your credit, you may be able to check your credit reports and scores for free through a variety of financial institutions and online tools. For example, LendingTree, the parent company of MagnifyMoney, gives you free access to your TransUnion VantageScore 3.0.

How student loans can hurt your credit

Opening new accounts can lower your score

Whether you take out a student loan or something else, a new credit account can lead to a dip in your credit score for several reasons.

For one thing, the new account could decrease the average age of accounts on your credit reports — a higher average age is generally better for your score. Additionally, if you applied for a private student loan, the application could lead to the lender reviewing your credit history. A record of this, known as a “hard inquiry” or “hard credit check,” remains on your report and may hurt your score a little.

Your student loans will also increase your current debt load. While the amount you owe on installment loans may not be as important as outstanding credit card debt, it could still negatively impact your score.

Credit scores aside, lenders may consider your debt-to-income ratio when you apply for a new credit account. Having a large amount of student loan debt could make it more difficult to qualify for a loan or credit line later, even if you have a good credit score.

You might wind up opening many student loan accounts

Often, students who take out student loans will have their new loan or part of the loan disbursed near the start of each term. Each disbursement could count as its own loan on your credit reports. So even if you only send one payment to your servicer every month, the servicer allocates the payments among each individual loan.

Each of these student loans could impact your age of accounts and overall debt balance. Also, if you’re repeatedly applying for private student loans, each application could lead to a hard inquiry.

You might fall behind on your payments

Your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining a credit score. Being 30 or more days past due could lead to a negative mark on your credit reports that can hurt your credit score.

And even before the 30-day point, your loan servicer may charge you a late fee if you don’t pay your bill by the due date, although some servicers give borrowers a grace period, often for 15 days.

If you’re repaying multiple student loans, missing a single payment to your loan servicer could lead to a late payment on each of your student loan accounts. Falling further behind could lead to a larger negative impact on your score, as your loan servicer reports your payments 60-, 90-, 120-, 150- and then 180-days past due.

Unless you bring your accounts current, they could be sent to collections, which could be indicated on your credit reports and hurt your score more.

Getting too far behind on student loan payments could also end up putting you in default, and you’ll immediately owe the entire outstanding balance rather than being able to use a repayment plan. The lender may also be able to sue you to take money directly from your paycheck or, in some cases, your tax return or bank account.

Federal Direct and Federal Family Education Loans go into default after 270 days of nonpayment. Other student loans may default sooner.

It can be more difficult to pay other bills

Even if you can stay on track with your student loans, having to make the monthly payment could cause trouble keeping up with other bills.

Missing a credit card, auto loan or mortgage payment could hurt your credit, as could rolling over a large amount of credit card debt, even if you’re consistently making minimum payments on time.

How student loans can help your credit

Student loans can establish credit

A student loan may be some borrowers’ first foray into the world of credit, and it could help them establish a credit history.

Credit-scoring models require a minimum amount of data to generate a score, and having a student loan on your credit reports could help make you scorable rather than “credit invisible.”

A student loan can diversify your credit mix

Showing that you can manage different types of accounts, such as installment loans and revolving accounts (credit cards, lines of credit, etc.), could help your credit score.

If the only debt you’ve had is a credit card, adding an installment loan in the form of a student loan can increase your mix of accounts and help your score. Likewise, if your only credit account is a student loan, opening a credit card might help your score.

Making on-time payments can help your score

Since your credit history is one of the most important credit-scoring factors, try to always make on-time payments as you repay your student loans. Doing so could help you build a solid credit history, which can lead to a higher score.

If you’re having trouble affording your student loan payments, consider your options (discussed below), and look for a way to lower or temporarily stop your payments before you miss one.

The loans can help build a lengthy credit history

Although it’s not one of the most important credit-scoring factors, the length of your credit history and the average age of your accounts can impact your credit score.

If you take out a student loan during your first term at school, you may wind up with years’ worth of credit history before graduating.

Continuing to take out new student loans each term could lower your average age of accounts. But your average age of accounts will still increase as you repay your loans.

One common point of confusion is whether closed accounts can still impact your credit history.

They can.

For example, if you take out a student loan as a freshman, then defer the payments for four years and repay the loan using the 10-year standard repayment plan, the account will be closed once it’s repaid.

But the account will still stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years from when it was closed, and it could impact your credit history and average age of accounts during that period.

Protecting your credit while repaying student loans

Once you take out student loans, you may be able to defer making full (or any) payments until after you leave school. But once you start repaying the loans, a misstep could lower your credit score. Here are a few ways you could keep your student loans from hurting your credit.

Don’t miss your first payment

Many student loans offer an in-school deferment period, which lets you put off loan payments until six months after you leave school. In-school deferment lets you focus on your schoolwork and makes student loans affordable, as many students might not have enough income to afford monthly payments.

But don’t forget about your loans and miss your first payment. Doing so could hurt your credit score.

To avoid missing the first — and subsequent — payments, you may want to enroll in an auto payment program with your student loan servicer. Many lenders and loan servicers will even offer you an interest rate discount as long as you’re enrolled in autopay.

Compare repayment plans

You may be able to choose from several federal student loan repayment options. The main options include the standard, extended, graduated and income-driven plans.

 

Federal student loan repayment plans
Federal student loan repayment plans

Choosing an extended, graduated or income-driven plan, rather than the standard plan, could lower your monthly payments.

If you choose an income-driven plan, be sure to renew your repayment plan every year and send your loan servicer updated documentation to remain eligible.

Although the nonstandard plans could wind up costing you more in interest overall, the lower payments could make managing all your bills easier, which can be important for maintaining and building credit.

Contact your lender if you’re struggling to afford your payments

If you do find yourself struggling to make payments, be sure to reach out to your loan servicer. With federal student loans, you may be able to switch repayment plans, or temporarily place your loans into deferment or forbearance to stop making payments.

Private student loans aren’t eligible for the federal repayment plans, but private student loan lenders may offer similar deferment or forbearance options. Some may also have other hardship options, such as temporarily reduced payment amounts or interest rates.

Your credit score won’t be affected by placing your loans into deferment, forbearance or using a hardship option, as long as you make at least the required monthly payment on time. But interest may still accrue on your loans if you’re not making payments, and the accumulated interest could be added to your loan principal once you resume your full monthly payments.

Learn about federal student loan default rehabilitation

If one or more of your federal student loans has gone into default, there are two ways that you could potentially “rehabilitate” the loan and get back on a repayment plan:

  • You could consolidation the loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan. The Department of Education will issue you a new loan and use the money to pay off your existing loans. If you include your defaulted loan, that loan will be paid off, and your new consolidation loan will be current. To be eligible, you must agree to either repay the consolidation loan with an income-driven repayment plan or to make three monthly payments on your defaulted loan before applying for consolidation.
  • Alternatively, you could contact your loan servicer and agree to make nine monthly payments within 10 consecutive months. The servicer will determine your monthly payment amount, which should be “reasonable and affordable” based on your discretionary income. Once you complete the payments, your loan will be taken out of default.

If you use the second method — and this if the first time you rehabilitated the student loan — the default associated with the loan will also be removed from your credit reports. Although the late payments associated with the loan will remain for up to seven years from the date of your first late payment, having the default removed could help your score.

With the first method, the default won’t be removed.

Private student loan companies may also offer you a way to rehabilitate a private student loan that’s in default. If you use the program, you may be able to request the removal of the default from your credit reports by contacting the lender, but the late payments on the account could remain.

Can shopping for student loans impact your credit?

Comparing student loan lenders and loan types won’t impact your credit score unless you submit an application for a private student loan. When you submit a private student loan application, the resulting hard inquiry could have a minor negative impact on your score.

Shopping for a private student loan, comparing the pros and cons of different lenders, and submitting multiple applications so you can accept the loan with the best terms is generally a good idea. Hard inquiries usually only have a small impact on credit scores, and scores often return to their pre-inquiry level within a few months, as long as no new negative information winds up on your credit reports.

While multiple hard inquiries can increase score drops, particularly for those who are new to credit, credit-scoring agencies recognize the importance of rate shopping. As a result, multiple inquiries for student loans that occur with a 14- to 45-day window (depending on the type of credit score) only count as a single inquiry when your score is being calculated.

Can refinancing student loans help or hurt your credit?

If you already have a good-to-excellent credit score and a low debt-to-income ratio, you may want to consider refinancing your student loans. When you refinance your loans, you take out a new credit-based private student loan and use the money to pay off some or all of your current loans. (The lender will generally send the money directly to your loan servicers.)

Refinancing can save you money if you qualify for a lower interest rate than your loans currently have, and combining multiple loans into one could make managing your debt easier.

When it comes to credit scores, refinancing student loans is a bit like taking out a new loan. You’ll need to apply for the loan, which could lead to a hard inquiry. Shopping around and submitting applications during a short period could help you get the best rate while limiting the negative impact of the inquiries.

After getting approved for refinancing, the new loan may be reported to the credit bureaus, which could lower your average age of accounts. Your other loans will be paid off, but they could stay on your credit reports for up to 10 more years. Your overall installment-loan debt will stay the same, and as long as you continue to make on-time payments, your score may improve over time.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Louis DeNicola
Louis DeNicola |

Louis DeNicola is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Louis at [email protected]

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What Do Mortgage Loan Officers Worry About Most? Not Your Credit Score

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

As a nation, we obsess over credit scores. Once hidden in the computer terminals of banks, they’re now available for free to you via many providers on the internet. But in reality, getting a loan takes into account much more than just your credit score. And nowhere is that more clear than when you try to get a mortgage or refinance an existing one.

The process is usually murky, but a 2014 survey of loan officers by FICO sheds some light on what really matters.

The survey asked what factor would make a loan officer most hesitant to approve a mortgage, and the No. 1 answer took the lead by a wide margin:

  • High debt-to-income ratio 59%
  • Multiple recent applications 13%
  • Low FICO score 10%
  • Frequent job changes 9%
  • Lack of savings 8%

Clearly, your debt-to-income ratio is key.

Why is debt to income a bigger factor than your score?

It is crucial that a borrower be able to afford a loan. What you pay every month toward your house and other obligations compared to what you earn is the most important factor. A FICO score only tells whether you are a reliable payer, not whether you can afford a house.

The loan officer can look past a less-than-perfect FICO score if you’re buying a house you can truly afford. Being able to afford a house means keeping your debt-to-income ratio below 36% when counting all of your monthly debt obligations, including credit cards, car loans, student loans and housing expenses.

Officially, conforming loans can be secured with debt-to-income ratios as high as 45% or so, but that’s cutting it close, unless you have substantial savings or bonuses that don’t get counted in the income calculation. Ideally, you shouldn’t be going any higher than approximately 35%.

Think about it this way: If you’re pulling in $5,000 a month before taxes, a 45% debt-to-income ratio means you’re paying $2,250 a month servicing your mortgage and other debt. With a 35% tax rate, you’re left with just $1,000 in cash each month for other expenses.

Yes, you may get a tax benefit at the end of the year for deducting interest, if you itemize, but the reality is you’re pretty house poor in this situation, even if you have a perfect credit score.

At a 35% debt-to-income ratio, you’ll have $1,500 a month in cash for your other expenses. That’s 50% more left to spend than with a 45% ratio.

Will a better score help at all?

Your credit score can definitely help when it comes to getting a better mortgage rate.

Here is a national sample of 30-year fixed mortgage rates on a $300,000 loan by FICO score as of May 29, 2019 (these numbers will change frequently, but this should give you a general idea of how your score might affect your rate):

  • 760- 850: 3.701% $1,381 / month
  • 700-759: 3.923% $1,419 / month
  • 680-699: 4.100% $1,450 / month
  • 660-679: 4.314% $1,487 / month
  • 640-659: 4.744% $1,564 / month
  • 620-639: 5.290% $1,664 / month

The difference between a marginally excellent credit score (700-759) and a truly excellent one (760+) is about $38 a month on a $400,000 mortgage. That’s around $494 a year, and $14,820 over the life of the mortgage.

Don’t take on new credit

One thing you should understand if you’re in the market for a mortgage is that you should be careful about applying for new credit.

Loan officers don’t want to see a lot of recent credit applications, and each one can temporarily ding your FICO score five or 10 points. So if you’re on the borderline of 760, 700 or 680, it’s best to avoid opening any new credit accounts for about six months before getting a mortgage. Otherwise a couple of cards could end up ultimately costing you in extra payments.

And if you have a borderline score, pay as much debt off as you can before applying.  This will help your debt-to-income ratio, and improve your score. Just make sure you do it at least one month before applying for the mortgage, as banks typically report data to the credit bureaus only once a month.

And don’t be afraid to shop around for the best mortgage rate; just make sure you do all your shopping in a short period of time for the smallest impact to your score. Multiple mortgage inquiries during one shopping period (typically 30 days or less) only count as one inquiry on your credit report.

Need help figuring out which lender to go with? LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company, has a handy mortgage shopping tool. You may be matched with lenders who want to lend to someone with your score and income. You can start the mortgage comparison process by visiting LendingTree’s website:

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Bottom line

you don’t need a perfect FICO score to qualify for a mortgage, or even to get a fair rate. But you do need to be looking for a home you can truly afford based on your income.

While you may qualify for a bigger, better house than you thought you would, it doesn’t mean you’ll be able to afford your current lifestyle with that bigger payment.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brian Karimzad
Brian Karimzad |

Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at [email protected]

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When It Can Make Sense to Open a Store Card

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

“And would you like to open a [insert store] card today to receive an extra 10% off your purchase?”

We’ve all heard this upsell strategy. Store credit cards seem to be available at just about any place you exchange currency for goods — except for maybe 7-11. But before you sign up, it’s important to know how opening a store card can help, or hurt, your finances.

What Are Store Credit Cards?

There are two types of store credit cards: store-only (closed loop) and co-branded (open-loop). The closed loop version limits your ability to use the card except with the retailer and its affiliates. The open-loop version carries a card network logo, such as Visa or Mastercard, which can be used anywhere Visa or Mastercard cards are accepted.

Some retailers offer both closed and open-loop versions of their cards, while others only offer a closed-loop card. Typically, the closed-loop cards are easier to be approved for: they often come with lower credit limits, and can be great for consumers looking to build or rebuild their credit scores.

The open-loop cards can require a higher credit score for approval, and some retailers will allow you to upgrade from a closed-loop card to an open-loop card after you’ve demonstrated good payment behavior with the closed-loop card. Or, they may require card applicants to apply first for the closed-loop card and, upon review of their credit file, approve them for the open-loop version, depending on their creditworthiness.

Pros and Cons of Store Cards

In addition to an initial discount on your first purchase, store cards can entice shoppers to return with ongoing discounts, special pricing and rewards programs. If you’re a regular shopper at that particular retailer, those discounts can help you save money, provided you pay off the balance in full when the bill is due. On the flip side, you may find yourself overspending on the card, as the temptation to just pull out the card when you don’t have the cash could be hard to resist.

Here are some pros and cons of applying for a store credit card:

Pros

Initial and ongoing discounts. If you’re purchasing a large-ticket item, getting a 10% or 20% discount can be a smart decision. And if you regularly shop at a particular retailer, taking advantage of ongoing promotions and sales will also help you save money.

Store perks. In addition to regular discounts and promotions that may come with a store card, some also throw in more perks like free shipping, invitation-only events, coupons and rewards programs.

Building credit. If you’re new to credit, getting a low-limit store card can be a great way to get started, as these cards are typically easier to qualify for. The payment activity of the card will be reported to the credit bureaus. As long as you handle the card responsibly, your good payment history will be reflected on your credit reports.

Rebuilding credit. If you’ve made financial blunders that have negatively impacted your credit score, getting back on track with a store card is an option you can try before having to resort to a secured card, which will require a deposit of several hundred dollars.

Cons

High interest rates. The average APR for new store credit offers is 24.97%,  compared to 16.91% for credit cards in general. With such high APRs, you don’t want to roll over a balance month to month on these cards or you may fall into a debt spiral, finding it ever more difficult to dig your way out of debt as interest charges pile up. Plus, any interest you pay will effectively negate any discount you got for using the card in the first place.

Low credit limits. While a retailer may increase your credit limit over time with responsible use of a store card, your initial credit line on a new store may just be a couple hundred dollars. If the amount of your purchases regularly comes close to maxing out your credit limit, your credit score will be negatively affected, as credit utilization (your balance compared to your credit limit) accounts for 30% of your credit score.

Read 6 Simple Steps to Improve Your Credit Score

Increased temptation to spend. Knowing you’ve got access to retailer credit, even though you don’t have the cash to spend, can make it too easy to rack up purchases you otherwise you couldn’t afford. And if you don’t have the funds to pay off the balance at the end of the month, you’ll be socked with sky-high interest charges.

Limited rewards redemption. Store card rewards programs typically require cardholders to use their rewards, cash back or points at that particular retailer or its affiliates only.

Deferred financing traps. If you apply for a 0% deferred financing credit card offer where you are given a fixed period of time to pay off a purchase without incurring interest charges, know that you run the risk of being hit with back interest from the time of purchase if you don’t pay off the balance during the 0% promotion time frame.

Hard inquiry. Anytime you apply for a new credit card, the lender will review your credit file to evaluate your creditworthiness. This is called a hard inquiry and will knock a few points off your credit score. The good news is that the inquiry’s impact will only last a year.

Read Minimize Rejection: Check if You’re Pre-Qualified for a Credit Card

Tips for staying out of trouble with store cards

Have a payoff plan. If you apply for and use a store card specifically to take advantage of a discount or promotion, have a plan in place for paying off the balance before interest charges accrue.

Resist overspending. Leave your store card at home unless you have a specific purchase in mind — that way you won’t succumb to impulse spending if you happen to walk in the store and have the card on hand to make unplanned purchases.

Make multiple monthly payments on high balances. To maintain low credit utilization on a low-limit card, it can be smart to make multiple payments online throughout the month. Better yet: once you make a purchase with the card, pay it off the next day online.

Cancel the card if it leads to too much temptation. While canceling a card can hurt your credit score, being buried in debt you can’t easily pay off is worse. If having a store card makes it too easy to spend beyond your means, you’re better off without it.

Bottom line

Store cards are great if you’re looking for a way to build or rebuild your credit score as they’re generally much easier to qualify for, but they can be dangerous if they tempt you to spend more than you can afford to repay. If you’re not careful, the high APRs and low credit limits that are often associated with store cards can quickly lead to trouble. But if you shop regularly at a retailer, being able to access discounts on a regular basis can help you save money, as long as you’re diligent about paying off the balance in full by the due date.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Julie sherrier
Julie sherrier |

Julie sherrier is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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