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How Do Student Loans Affect Your Credit Score?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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

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In 2008, I moved to the U.S. with my wife, Margarita, after living in Moscow. Although Margarita had an impressive career in Russia, she was not a U.S. citizen and had no credit history or credit score. If you don’t have a credit score in the U.S. this basically means you don’t exist, at least in the eyes of lenders. In fact, one in 10 Americans is considered “credit invisible,” meaning they don’t have enough credit history to produce a credit score.

This was a problem we knew we had to fix fast, especially if Margarita wanted be able to take out credit cards or an auto loan, or even apply for an apartment lease in the future.

By following a few basic steps, within 12 months, she had a very good credit score. Within 18 months, she had an excellent credit score and qualified for a rewards credit card with a $25,000 credit limit.

How to open a secured credit card

Opening a secured credit card is relatively easy. You have to provide the bank with a deposit, which is typically $200 or more. The bank will keep the deposit as collateral and will provide you with a credit limit equal to your deposit — some cards may even give you a higher limit without requiring a larger deposit. In Margarita’s example, she gave the bank a $500 deposit and received a $500 credit limit.

Once open, the credit card works like any other. Your credit limit, balance and payment information are reported to the three major credit bureaus. The only difference: If you fail to pay your credit card on time, the bank can take your deposit and apply it toward the debt.

So the bank has a guarantee that they won’t lose money. And you have the opportunity to prove that you will use your credit wisely.

How to use a secured credit card

Given that I was a bank credit risk manager at the time, I knew a bit about credit scoring. So I made sure Margarita followed this strategy:

  • She used the card every month, but for a very small amount. Her typical monthly bill would be around $10.
  • She made sure that she paid the balance in full and on time every month by signing up for automatic payments.
  • She subscribed to a credit scoring service to watch her score improve over time.

It took about six months for Margarita’s score to cross the 600 threshold. About 18 months after starting, she had a score well above 700. At that point, she applied for a rewards credit card. It had a great sign-on bonus and a  $25,000 credit limit.

So it only took a year and a half for someone to go from being a credit nobody to one of the most sought-after customers in the country. What was the trick? It is actually very simple.

3 key rules to follow

Use your card every month

In order to have a FICO® Score, you must have activity on your credit report over the past six months. If there is no activity on your report during this time, you cannot get a score.

Activity does not mean you need to go into debt. You can make a single purchase every month (even for just $1) and that is considered activity.

Keep your utilization low

One of the most important components of your credit score is utilization, making up 30% of your FICO® Score. Your utilization is calculated by dividing your statement balance by your total available credit. People with the best credit scores have utilization levels of 10% or less, but at most, you want to stay below 30%. That means if you have a credit limit of $1,000, you should not spend more than $300 a month.

The best strategy with a secured credit card is to select one small, recurring transaction and automate it. For example, use your secured credit card for your monthly Netflix or Spotify® bill.

Pay your bill in full and on time every month

The most important part of your credit score is a history of on-time payments. This factor alone comprises 35% of your FICO® Score. Even a single missed payment can have a very negative impact on your score. The best way to ensure that you don’t miss a payment is to set up autopay.

Additionally, make sure you pay your balance in full, so you will not have to pay interest. There is nothing more ridiculous than paying interest on a secured credit card. Remember: Your credit limit is equal to your deposit. You are literally borrowing your own money. But if you pay interest (at a high rate), you will be paying a bank to borrow from yourself.

This is just a long way of saying that Margarita’s approach worked. If you want to use a secured credit card to build your credit score, just use it every month for a $10 charge. And pay that balance in full and on time. As a result, your score should improve.

How to select the best secured credit card

When selecting a secured credit card, we recommend you focus on the annual fee — you shouldn’t have to pay one. You can find our roundup of the best secured cards here.

Our top choice is the Discover it® Secured.

Discover it® Secured

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Rates & Fees

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Discover it® Secured

Regular APR
25.24% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Credit required
bad-credit
Poor/New

How the Discover it® Secured works

There is a typical $200 security deposit, but you can receive it back if: 1. You pay your balance in full and close your credit card account, 2. You qualify to be refunded your deposit during one of Discover’s monthly automatic account reviews (starting at eight months from account opening) and 3. You upgrade to an unsecured card.

Cashback rewards: In this cashback program, you earn 2% cash back at restaurants or gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

The cashback match. The Discover it® Secured has a new cardmember bonus where Discover automatically matches all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year. The cashback rate is great in general, as few secured cards have rewards, and it’s primarily beneficial for people who typically spend on gas and dining. The cashback match you receive is unique because there is no minimum spending requirement for you to earn the additional cash back. Most cards set a three-month time period and minimum spend for you to earn a new cardmember bonus, but not Discover.

An alternative

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

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Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)
Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Credit required
bad-credit
Limited/Bad

Upgrading from a secured card to a traditional, unsecured card

Typically, for secured cards from the major issuers such as Discover, Capital One® and Citi®, the upgrade from a secured card to unsecured card involves:

  1. An automatic review process. This checks your eligibility for an unsecured card. The review process varies by issuer, with some cards starting it eight months from account opening and others waiting until 18 months.
  2. Receive your security deposit back. If you qualify for an upgrade and your balance is paid in full, you will receive your security deposit back.
  3. Receive an unsecured card. In addition to receiving your security deposit back, you will be transitioned to a traditional, unsecured card.

If your card doesn’t have an automatic upgrade process, we recommend the following:

  1. Check your credit score often to track your progress toward building credit.
  2. Search for a new card that fits your credit score. There are plenty of options for fair, good or excellent credit — and the better your score, the more options available.
  3. Check for pre-qualification. Before you apply for a new card, check to see if there’s a pre-qualification feature. This allows you to check your approval odds and shop around for the best offer without hurting your credit score. But keep in mind that pre-qualification isn’t a guarantee of approval.

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.

Nick Clements
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Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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Build Your Credit Score: 6 Secured Cards With No Annual Fees – May 2019

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Secured cards are a great way to build or improve credit. When you open a secured card, you submit a security deposit that typically becomes your credit limit. This deposit acts as collateral if you default on your account, but you can get it back if you close your account after paying off your balance. As long as you use a secured card responsibly — for example, make on-time payments and use little of your available credit — you may see improvements in your credit score. Unfortunately, in addition to the upfront deposit, this credit-building tool can have extra costs, like an annual fee.

You can avoid that expense with one of these six no annual fee secured cards, which have a variety of uses:

Cards to consider

Rewards

Discover it® Secured

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Rates & Fees

Discover it® Secured

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular APR
25.24% Variable

The Discover it® Secured is a standout secured card that provides cardholders the opportunity to earn cash back while building credit. A cashback program is hard to find with secured cards, and the Discover it® Secured offers 2% cash back at restaurants & gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases. In addition, there is a new cardmember offer where Discover will match ALL the cash back earned at the end of your first year, automatically. This is a great way to get a lot of rewards without needing to do any extra work.In addition to a cashback program, this card provides valuable credit resources such as free access to your FICO® Score and a Credit Resource Center — just note these services are available whether you’re a cardholder or not. Discover also takes the guesswork out of wondering when you’re ready for an unsecured card (aka a regular credit card) by performing automatic monthly account reviews, starting at eight months of card membership.

What to look out for: There is a high 25.24% Variable APR for this card, so you could end up paying a lot more than purchase prices if you carry a balance. Try not to overspend and make it a goal to pay each statement in full so you avoid interest charges.

Low deposit

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

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Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$49, $99, or $200
Regular Purchase APR
26.99% (Variable)

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® offers qualifying cardholders a lower security deposit compared to other secured cards. You will get an initial $200 credit line after making a security deposit of $49, $99, or $200, determined based on your creditworthiness. Typical secured cards require you to deposit an amount equal to your credit limit, so this card has added perks for people who qualify for the lower deposits.You can also receive a credit limit increase without making an additional deposit after making your first five monthly payments on time. This is beneficial for people who need a higher credit limit and don’t want to (or can’t) tie up their money in a deposit. Also, you’ll have access to CreditWise® from Capital One® and Platinum Mastercard® benefits that include travel accident insurance and price protection.

What to look out for: The $49 and $99 security deposits are not guaranteed and depend on your creditworthiness — that means you may still have to deposit $200. Also, it’s not a good idea A carry a balance on this card because it has one of the highest APRs at 26.99% (Variable).

Average deposit

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

The information related to Citi® Secured MasterCard® has been collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Citi® Secured MasterCard®

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
24.74%* (Variable)

The Citi® Secured Mastercard® requires a $200 security deposit, which is typical of secured cards and a good amount to establish your credit line. You can deposit more money if you want to receive a higher credit line, but if you don’t have a lot of money available to deposit, coming up with $200 is manageable. This card doesn’t have any additional card benefits like rewards or insurances, but you can access Citi’s Credit Knowledge Center for financial management tips.

Low APR

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

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on MidSouth Community FCU’s secure website

Visa® Secured Card from MidSouth Community FCU

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$200
Regular Purchase APR
11.15% Variable

Because MidSouth Community is a federal credit union, you need to be a member to qualify for this card. Membership is limited to people who work, live, worship, or attend school in the following Middle Georgia counties: Bibb, Baldwin, Crawford, Hancock, Houston, Jones, Monroe, Peach, Pulaski, Putnam, Twiggs, Washington, and Wilkinson. If you qualify, you may be able to get a secured card with an APR as low as 11.15% Variable.

What to look out for: This card is very restricted, therefore few people will be able to qualify for this low APR secured card.

Unrestricted low APR

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

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on Affinity Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
12.85% Variable

The Affinity Secured Visa® Credit Card requires cardholders to join the Affinity FCU. You may qualify through participating organizations, but if you don’t, anyone can join the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education by making a $5 donation when you fill out your online application. This card has an 12.85% Variable APR, which is one of the lowest rates available for a no annual fee secured card and is nearly half the amount major issuers charge. This is a good rate if you may carry a balance — but try to pay each statement in full.

What to look out for: There may be a membership fee associated with this card if you don’t qualify through participating organizations. The fee you may have to pay is low at $5, but it may be an issue for people who don’t want to pay anything to open a secured card.

Unrestricted federal credit union

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

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on State Department Federal Credit Union’s secure website

Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal

Annual fee
$0
Minimum Deposit
$250
Regular Purchase APR
14.24% Variable

The Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal is open to anyone, regardless of residence. If you aren’t eligible through select methods including employees of the U.S. Department of State or members of select organizations, you can join the American Consumer Council during the application process. There is no fee associated with joining since State Department FCU pays the $5 on your behalf. There is a rewards program with this card where you earn Flexpoints, which can be redeemed for a variety of options like gift cards and travel. The APR can be as low as 14.24% Variable, which is reasonable considering many secured cards from major issuers are above 23%.

What to look out for: If you decide to take out this card and become a member of the SDFCU by joining the American Consumer Council, make sure you do not go to the ACC’s website and submit a $5 donation. That fee is waived by the SDFCU when you fill out your credit application. Simply select “I do not qualify to join through any of these other methods:” and select the ACC from the menu to avoid the $5 fee.

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.

Alexandria White
Alexandria White |

Alexandria White is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Alexandria at [email protected]

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