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College Students and Recent Grads

Applying for Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness: A Step-By-Step Guide

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.

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Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a program designed to attract workers to jobs in the public sector by wiping clean remaining federal student loan debt after 120 qualifying payments.

Those payments represent 10 years’ worth of work with a qualifying public service employer, so because PSLF began in October 2007, the first applicants are just beginning to submit their forgiveness forms.

Qualifying for PSLF means meeting specific requirements for the employer, the loan type and the repayment plan — and the details can be overwhelming.

With that in mind, here’s a step-by-step guide to applying for PSLF.

Step 1: Figure out if you qualify.

First, it helps to understand why PSLF exists.

“It’s meant to be a light at the end of the tunnel for public service jobs, when people know they could make much more money going private,” says Betsy Mayotte, director of consumer outreach and compliance at the nonprofit American Student Assistance. “A lot of the careers — social workers, teachers, public defenders — require advanced degrees. The problem there is that people would accrue all this debt, then find they couldn’t stay in these public sector careers because they didn’t pay well.”

But the definition of public service is strictly defined, and “it’s not your job that matters, but your employer,” Mayotte adds. “It matters who signs your paycheck. You can be a groundskeeper at a state school and qualify. Conversely, you can feel as if your job is public service, but if your employer doesn’t meet the specific definitions, you don’t meet PSLF requirements.”

Employers that qualify for PSLF, per the U.S. Department of Education

  • A government organization (including a federal, state, local, or tribal organization, agency or entity; a public child or family service agency; or a tribal college or university)
  • A nonprofit, tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
  • A private, nonprofit organization (though not a labor union or a partisan political organization) that provides one or more of the following public services:
    • Emergency management
    • Military service
    • Public safety
    • Law enforcement
    • Public interest law services
    • Early childhood education (including licensed or regulated health care, Head Start and state-funded pre-kindergarten)
    • Public service for individuals with disabilities and the elderly
    • Public health (including nurses, nurse practitioners, nurses in a clinical setting and full-time professionals engaged in health care practitioner and support occupations)
    • Public education
    • Public library services
    • School library or other school-based services

Employers that DO NOT qualify for PSLF

  • For-profit organizations (this includes for-profit government contractors)
  • Nonprofits that are not tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or that do not provide a qualifying public service as their primary function
  • Labor unions
  • Partisan political organizations

You must work full time (whatever your employer characterizes that to be — though it must be an average of at least 30 hours per week by the PSLF definition) for one of these qualifying employers, or part time for two or more as long as it adds up to 30 hours per week, while you make your 120 on-time payments. You’ll also need to be in qualifying employment when you apply for your loan forgiveness.

Because you won’t be able to apply for PSLF until you have completed qualifying payments, it helps to build up a paper trail over the years. You should fill out and send an employment certification form (ECF) to FedLoan Servicing, which handles PSLF, each year and whenever you change employers. You’ll fill out personal information and have your employer sign the form before sending it in. The form isn’t required, but you’ll receive a response detailing your progress toward your 120 payments and confirming your eligibility — great for peace of mind as well as record-keeping.

“While you’re not required to submit the ECF at any point, it’s always a great idea to keep records,” says Adam Minsky, a Boston attorney who specializes in student loan and consumer issues. “An employer could go out of business, or lose the records of your employment. Mistakes can be made with paperwork. So if you find yourself having to make a case for yourself later, it helps to have all of this on record.”

FedLoan Servicing says my employer isn’t eligible. Can I appeal?

If the response to your ECF comes back and someone says your employer does not qualify you for PSLF, that’s generally the final decision, says Mayotte. “You can theoretically appeal, but these employer types are all pretty straightforward,” she adds. “The overarching rule is that there’s no wiggle room: You work for the government, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit or another qualifying nonprofit. The exception might be if you work for one of these other qualifying nonprofits, but you’ll need to make a case.”

To appeal, you can resend your ECF to FedLoan Servicing and ask for another review, or contact the Department of Education’s ombudsman unit. In both cases you should include evidence to show why you think your employer should qualify, Mayotte says.

But barring a clerical mistake by FedLoan Servicing, a change in decision is exceedingly rare.

Ensure your loan type and repayment plan qualify

PSLF provides forgiveness only for federal Direct Loans: Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Direct PLUS Loans and Direct Consolidation Loans. Private loans, including bank loans that are “federally guaranteed,” do not qualify.

Loans made under other federal student loan programs, like Perkins Loans, aren’t eligible for PSLF on their own. They may become eligible, if they’re consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan — but it’s important to know that only payments toward that consolidated loan will count toward the 120-payment requirement.

Speaking of consolidation, here’s another thing you should know: If you consolidate qualifying loans, the clock resets to zero payments. A consolidation is considered a new loan, and again, only payments toward the consolidated loan will be counted toward your 120.

Don’t know which types of federal student loans you have? Check the Education Department site My Federal Student Aid. A pro tip from the Education Department: “Generally, if you see a loan type with ‘Direct’ in the name on My Federal Student Aid, then it is a Direct Loan; otherwise, it is a loan made under another federal student loan program.”

Additionally, you must be enrolled in the right type of repayment plan. Qualifying repayment plans include all four of the income-driven repayment plans, which base your monthly payment on your income and family size: Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), income-based repayment (IBR); and income-contingent repayment (ICR).

Payments under the 10-year standard repayment plan qualify, but you’ll want to switch to an income-driven plan as soon as possible. If you stick with that 10-year repayment you’ll have paid off the loan, with nothing left to be forgiven under PSLF when you become eligible for it.

Make 120 qualifying payments

You’ll need to make all of those 120 payments during qualifying employment to apply for PSLF, but you don’t need to provide proof of those payments. Again, Minsky advises that it’s wise to keep your own records just in case there’s a clerical issue later — but generally, FedLoan Servicing will confirm the payments itself.

Note that the 120 payments do not have to be consecutive (nor, then, must be your employment with a qualifying public service employer). If you had periods of deferment or forbearance and stopped paying your loans, the count will pick up where you left off once you begin paying anew. Even defaulting on your loan payments doesn’t disqualify you, but you’ll need to rehabilitate the defaulted loan with your servicer before the payments can count toward your 120 again.

The payments do need to be on time, defined as “those received by your federal loan servicer no later than 15 days after the scheduled payment due date.” If your payment isn’t on time, or you pay less than what you’re required to that month, it won’t count toward your 120. You may make multiple smaller payments, but they must add up to at least the minimum payment amount for that month.

Step 2: Apply for loan forgiveness

After you’ve completed your 120 payments — phew, you did it! — go to the PSLF application here. The form is six pages long, but the actual application is only two. And you, the employee, must fill out only the first page: basic personal information like your date of birth, Social Security number and contact details. You’ll also need to certify under penalty of law that the information you’re submitting is truthful.

The second page is for detailing the employer’s information, and either you or your employer can fill out the top part. Here’s what it requires:

  • Employer’s name
  • Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN, which can be found on your W-2 — or ask your HR department)
  • Your dates of employment
  • Whether you were a full- or part-time worker
  • Which category of public service your employer falls under

At the bottom of the page, there’s a section for your employer to sign, certifying that the information above is accurate.

You’ll need to repeat that process for every qualifying employer. (That’s why it’s smart to keep track of it all by submitting ECF forms annually and whenever you change employers.)

The remaining four pages of the application form reiterate the details of what it takes to qualify for PSLF. They also explain where to send the completed application form:

  • You can mail to

    U.S. Department of Education, FedLoan Servicing
    P.O. Box 69184
    Harrisburg, PA 17106-9184

  • Fax to 717-720-1628; or
  • More information here

In rare cases, you may not be able to obtain employers’ certification. There’s a checkbox on page 1: “Check this box if you cannot obtain certification from your employer because the organization is closed or because the organization has refused to certify your employment. The Department will follow up to assist you in getting documentation of your employment.”

“That’s another reason it’s prudent to send the ECF forms every year, because you’ll already have a signature on record,” Mayotte says. “I’ve heard of a few cases where employers were not comfortable filling out the form for privacy reasons, but usually if you show them the form and explain a bit, you can change their mind.”

Mayotte says borrowers should contact FedLoan Servicing for alternatives if they find themselves in this situation.

FAQ and other things to know

The process is estimated to take up to 60 days, a Department of Education spokesman confirmed to MagnifyMoney.

Yes. If you’ve made your 120 payments and are looking to switch to an employer who isn’t eligible, be sure to file your PSLF application first. You must also be employed full time at a qualifying employer or employers at the time the forgiveness is granted, according to the Department of Education.

“No concrete proposal seems imminent, but whenever something happens, there’s a general view among experts that a change to PSLF won’t be retroactive to existing borrowers,” Minsky says.

The payment count restarts, back at zero. The consolidated loan is considered a new loan, and only payments toward it will count.

No. If you have private student loans that you are struggling to repay, be sure to reach out and talk with your lender. While most private lenders do not offer forgiveness they still may be able to help you out. Additionally, consider looking into student loan refinancing as a way to lower your monthly payments and make them a bit more manageable.

Here are the employer certification form and the PSLF application.

While studentaid.ed.gov has all of the official information, it’s spread across different pages and can be unwieldy. American Student Assistance offers an excellent guide that breaks down the basics and also links to official webpages and forms.

Alternative loan forgiveness programs

Beyond PSLF, there are other federal programs to forgive or discharge federal student debt. These include:

Industry-specific forgiveness programs

  • Perkins Loan Cancellation and Discharge: This applies to people who perform certain types of public service or are employed in certain occupations. According to the Department of Education, for each complete year of service a percentage of the loan may be forgiven. That percentage varies by job/employer type, and the following workers qualify:
    • Volunteer in the Peace Corps or ACTION program (including VISTA)
    • Teacher
    • Member of the Armed Forces (serving in area of hostilities)
    • Nurse or medical technician
    • Law enforcement or corrections officer
    • Head Start worker
    • Child or family services worker
    • Professional provider of early intervention services
  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness: Teachers who work full time for five complete and consecutive academic years (in certain elementary and secondary schools and educational service agencies that serve low-income families, and meet other qualifications) may be eligible for forgiveness of up to a combined total of $17,500 on Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans and Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans. (Those who have only PLUS loans are not eligible.) Read more about loan forgiveness programs available to teachers, including TEACH Grants and state forgiveness programs.
  • Programs for lawyers: Lawyers with at least $10,000 in federal student loans may qualify for the Department of Justice Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (ASLRP). Additionally, the John R. Justice Student Loan repayment program provides assistance for state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors for at least three years and is renewable after 3 years. Benefits cannot exceed $10,000 in a calendar year and cannot exceed $60,000 per attorney total. .) Read more about programs for lawyers, including forgiveness programs through specific law schools and certain states.
  • Programs for doctors and health professions: Several programs are available, including multiple military doctor loan forgiveness options through the Army, Navy and Air Force. Other options include state-specific forgiveness and the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which can provide up to a $50,000 to repay a health profession student loan in exchange for a two-year commitment to a NHSC site in a high-need area.

Income-based repayment plans

  • This isn’t a traditional cancellation program like what’s above. These four federal income-driven repayment plans base your monthly payment on your income: Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), income-based repayment (IBR) and income-contingent repayment (ICR).The payment terms vary, and your outstanding balance is forgiven after your repayment term of 20 to 25 years is complete. Because the monthly amount you owe will fluctuate based on your income, you could end up repaying your loans before your term is up, or you could have a balance that will be forgiven. However, if you receive student loan forgiveness this way, the canceled debt is taxable. (Only borrowers whose loan forgiveness stems from their employment are exempt from paying taxes on canceled student loan debt.)

Loan discharges for special circumstances

There are a few other times you may be able to get your student loans forgiven, but they’re relatively rare, and they’re generally because of bad circumstances. You can find out more about these discharges on the Department of Education’s website:

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.

Julianne Pepitone
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Julianne Pepitone is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julianne here

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College Ave Private Student Loans Review: Accessible Eligibility Criteria, Flexible Repayment

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.

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If you’re concerned about eligibility for a private student loan, consider that College Ave Student Loans stands out for its accessibility.

You could be an international student without a GED seeking an associate degree on a part-time basis, for example, and still qualify for College Ave private student loans.

Founded by former Sallie Mae executives in 2014, the online-only company offers competitive interest rates to students in college as well as career or graduate schools, as well as their creditworthy parents.

To ensure it’s the right lender for you, consider our review.

College Ave Student Loans review: The basics

While you could qualify for College Ave private student loans with several different educational backgrounds and ambitions, you still need to be creditworthy. Having a credit score of at least 660 is a good start.

The lender doesn’t disclose its specific credit criteria, but you could gauge your (or your cosigner’s) eligibility using the lender’s pre-qualification tool. Passing that test would unlock these loan features:

  • Loans for part- or full-time undergraduates, graduate students, career school students and parents
  • Prequalify with a three-minute application (and without affecting your credit)
  • No fees to apply
  • Fixed and variable interest rates

  • Borrow between $1,000 and your school’s full cost of attendance
  • Choose from four in-school repayment options, including full deferment
  • Select one of four repayment term options: five, eight, 10 or 15 years
  • Receive your loan in as little as 10 days after applying
  • Cosigners are accepted — and encouraged (note that they are required for international students who have a Social Security number)
  • Release your cosigner after more than half your repayment term has elapsed
  • Enjoy a federal loan-like six-month grace period after leaving school
  • Net a 0.25% interest rate reduction for enrolling in autopay
  • No penalty for paying off your loan early
  • Forbearance — the ability to temporarily suspend payments — is awarded on a case-by-case basis
  • Student loan forgiveness in the case of the borrower’s permanent disability or death

While the majority of the loan characteristics above are true no matter your status in school, there are some notable differences for graduate students, career school students and parents.

Graduate students

Whether you’re seeking a postgraduate, master’s, doctoral or professional degree, you can count College Ave private student loans as an option. Note that the ceiling on College Ave’s interest rate ranges as of early June 2019 was significantly lower for graduate students compared to undergrads.

In summer 2019, College Ave also added unique perks for postgraduate students seeking an MBA or other professional degree. The loans include longer grace periods, for example, with 12 months for dental students and 36 months for medical students.

There are also deferments available for students who enter a residency program — or, in the case of law school students, a clerkship — after receiving their degree. Additionally, students seeking these advanced credentials might be able to select a longer loan term (20 years) than their peers.

Career school students

If you’re pursuing an associate, bachelor’s or graduate degree in a career-focused program, including at some community colleges, keep this bonus in mind: College Ave offers borrowers of this loan type a $150 statement credit for completing their program.

Parents

College Ave gives parents even more repayment term flexibility. The lender said on its website that it would assist creditworthy parents in choosing one of 11 possible repayment terms, spanning between five and 15 years.

Another plus of borrowing from College Ave: The lender allows Mom or Dad to directly receive up to $2,500 of the loan funds to cover smaller, secondary expenses including books and supplies. (The balance would be sent directly to the student’s school.)

On the downside, however, the floor on College Ave’s interest rate ranges as of early June 2019 was noticeably higher for parents than for undergraduate students. Plus, parent borrowers only have three in-school repayment choices, not including full deferment. Making interest-only payments is the cheapest option available.

What we like about College Ave Student Loans

It’s rare to find a lender that’s so accessible. In College Ave’s eyes, you don’t need a high school diploma or GED, don’t need to be pursuing a four-year degree, don’t need to be enrolled full time — you don’t even need to be an American student (as long as you have a Social Security number).

Aside from flexibility on qualifying, below are a few more features of College Ave private student loans that benefit from additional context.

A bevy of in-school repayment options

Many private lenders offer fewer repayment options than College Ave. But College Ave provides four payment methods, including:

  • Deferred: Postpone payments until six months after leaving school, allowing interest to pile up on your balance.
  • Flat: Submit monthly dues of $25 to eat into the accruing interest on your loan.
  • Interest-only: Pay only enough each month to cover accruing interest to ensure you face the same balance you borrowed upon leaving school.
  • Full: Enter repayment immediately by making interest-and-principal payments, so you’ll owe less than what you borrowed once you step off campus.

For cash-strapped students, making (significant) in-school payments isn’t always possible. For other students with income or parental support, entering repayment sooner could pave the way for a faster route out of debt. That’s why it’s so nice to have options.

According to the lender, about 6 in 10 College Ave borrowers elect to submit in-school payments to whittle down interest before the reality of repayment hits upon graduation.

Pick your repayment term

Some lenders, including Sallie Mae, assign you a loan repayment term based on your creditworthiness.

One benefit of borrowing College Ave private student loans, however, is that you (and your cosigner) could independently choose your term. You might select five, eight, 10 or 15 years, depending on your budget and future income. (Unlike with federal loans, however, private lenders like College Ave don’t allow you to change terms later, extending or shortening your repayment term as you wish.)
College Ave said on its website that 84% of borrowers choose a term of 10 years or less.

Receive strong customer service

Nearly 400 College Ave borrowers had awarded a 4.8-out-of-5 rating of their lender — at least according to the lender website.

For a more objective accounting, Trustpilot lists a four-star rating for College Ave, and the Better Business Bureau gives the lender an “A+” grade.

What to keep in mind about College Ave Student Loans

If you like what you’ve learned about College Ave private student loans, keep in mind that no lender is perfect for every borrower.

Decide for yourself whether the following facts should point you in the direction of a competitor.

A long trek to cosigner release

By College Ave’s math, 96% of undergraduates have a cosigner on their loan. After all, teens and 20-somethings can make up for their thin credit files by piggybacking on a creditworthy cosigner, usually Mom or Dad.

The majority of top-rated lenders allow you to release that cosigner (from their legal obligation to repay your debt, if you can’t) after 12 to 48 months of successful payment history.

With College Ave private student loans, however, it’s a long haul. To remove your cosigner from your loan agreement, you must:

  • Reach the halfway mark of your loan term
  • Make 24 consecutive on-time payments
  • Show twice as much income as your loan balance
  • Pass a credit check

If you want to reward your cosigner by sending them on their way, you might avoid a 15-year loan term. Under that scenario, you wouldn’t be able to release them until you’ve been in repayment for seven-and-a-half years.

To make matters worse for some borrowers, international students can’t achieve cosigner release at all.

If cosigner release essential to you and your guarantor, you might consider borrowing from Sallie Mae, which offers a 12-month route to release.

A limited form of forbearance

Forbearance is a vital component of any student loan, as it allows you to press pause on your repayment in the face of hardships such as unemployment.

Unfortunately, College Ave is cagey about its forbearance policy, leaving details off its otherwise resource-heavy website.

It turns out, the lender evaluates forbearance applications on a case-by-case basis. In other words, if you find yourself out of work or under another sort of financial duress during repayment, there’s no guarantee College Ave will grant you a reprieve.

If you think you might need a more clear-cut safeguard built into your loan, you might opt to borrow from Discover, as the bank offers a variety of protections, from payment extensions to as many as 12 months of forbearance.

Third-party loan servicing

If you’re attracted to College Ave, in part, because of its modern, easy-to-use platform and strong customer service record, you might be disappointed to learn that the company outsources the servicing of its loans.

Repayment of College Ave private student loans even takes place on a different website. University Accounting Service (UAS) handles statements and payments and fields customer concerns.

When deciding whether College Ave is right for you, factor UAS into the equation, too. You might be wise to contact the latter company to get a sneak peek of its effectiveness in answering your loan management questions.

If you’re left wanting more, you might be better off walking into your local bank or credit union, where your loan will be funded and managed under the same roof.

Are College Ave Student Loans right for you?

If you’re an atypical college student — maybe you’re attending part time or seeking an associate degree — College Ave private student loans are more accessible than education financing found elsewhere.

Even if you’re attending a traditional four-year school, you could be drawn to the online lender’s assortment of in-school and postgraduate repayment options. They give you the power to customize a loan that works best for your borrowing situation. Plus, if you (or your cosigner) are especially creditworthy, you could unlock some of the lowest interest rates offered by banks, credit unions and online competitors.

College Ave won’t be as appealing, however, if you’re counting on a fast pathway to cosigner release or federal loan-like safeguards such as mandatory forbearance. To pit College Ave against the competition, find out where the lender ranked among our top-rated student loan companies.

MagnifyMoney has independently collected the above information related to this review, which is current as of June 3, 2019, unless otherwise noted. College Ave. neither provided or reviewed the information shared in this article.

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.

Andrew Pentis
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Andrew Pentis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Andrew here

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Building Credit, College Students and Recent Grads, Credit Cards, Earning Cashback

How You Can Have a Good FICO Score Just One Year After Opening a Credit Card

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.

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When I moved to the U.S. from my hometown of Hangzhou, in China, to pursue my undergraduate degree, the thought of establishing a credit history wasn’t even on my radar. I was, after all, an international student from China, where day-to-day credit card use had only recently caught on.

It wasn’t until I returned to the U.S. a few years later to pursue my master’s degree in Chicago that I realized I’d need to establish credit if I planned to launch my career in the States.

Just one year after I opened the card, I already had a solid FICO score – 720, to be exact. This score landed me safely in the “good” credit range, meaning I probably would not have trouble getting approved for new credit. I still had work to do if I wanted to get into the “very good” credit category, which starts at 740. But as a credit card newbie, I was not disappointed in my progress. 

Here’s how I did it.

I selected the right card for my needs

I wish I could say I diligently researched credit cards to choose the best offer and best terms, but honestly, I just got lucky.

Shortly before graduate school started, I visited friends in Iowa. When we were about to split the bill after dinner at a Japanese restaurant, I noticed that all my friends had a Discover card with a shimmering pink or blue cover. The Discover it® Student Cash Back was known for its high approval rate for student applicants, and had been popular among international students.

I thought, “Oh, maybe I should get this one, too.”

One of the friends sent me a referral link that very night. I applied and got approved quickly. We both received a $50 cash-back bonus after I made my first purchase — an iPhone — using the card through Discover’s special rewards program. I even received 5% cash back from the purchase.

Besides imposing no annual fee, the card had other perks, such as rewarding me with a $20 statement credit when I reported a good GPA (up to five consecutive years), letting me earn 5% cash back on purchases in rotating categories and matching the cashback bonus I earned over the first 12 months with my account. For me, it was a great starter card, but there are plenty of other options out there.

Check out our guide on the best credit cards for students.

I also could have explored other options of establishing credit, like opening a secured card, for example, which would have been a smart option if I hadn’t been able to qualify for the Discover it student card.

I never missed a payment

Despite my very limited financial literacy at the time, I attribute my strong credit score to the old, deeply ingrained Chinese mentality about saving and not owing.

I never missed payments, and I always paid off my balance in full each month, instead of just making the minimum payment. I didn’t want to pay a penny of interest.

Credit cards carry high interest rates across the board, but student credit cards generally have some of the highest APRs. This is because lenders see students like me — consumers without much credit history — to be risky borrowers, and they charge a higher interest rate to offset that risk.

Best Student Credit Cards June 2019

It wasn’t until much later that I learned payment history is critical to good credit. In fact, it is the biggest factor there is, accounting for 35% of my FICO score.

A Guide to Getting Your Free Credit Score

I was careful not to use too much of my available credit

My friends with more experience advised me to use as little of my available credit as possible. They warned me that overuse had hurt their credit scores in the past. This didn’t much sense to me, but I followed their advice, for the most part diligently.

I later learned this is almost as important as paying bills on time each month. Your utilization rate is another major factor in your FICO score. Credit experts urge cardholders to keep their credit utilization ratio below 30%. The lower, the better.

That means if you have three credit cards with a total available limit of $10,000, you should try to never carry a total balance exceeding $3,000, and you really should aim for much lower than that.

A Guide to Build and Maintain Healthy Credit

I beefed up my score with on-time rent payments

Keeping in mind the importance of not maxing out my credit card, I never considered paying my rent with the card. In fact, some landlords charge credit card fees for tenants who try to pay with plastic.

But I did find a way to establish credit by paying rent using my checking account.

I paid rent to my Chicago landlord through RentPayment, an online service. RentPayment gave me the option of having my payments reported to TransUnion, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies (the other two are Experian and Equifax). Because I knew I’d always pay bills on time, I signed up for the program.

This likely helped me improve my credit mix, another key factor influencing a credit score. The more types of accounts you show on your report, the better your score can be — if you make all your payments on time.

Yes, I made mistakes. This was my biggest one

My first foray into the world of credit wasn’t completely blip-free.

The only thing that hurt my credit, besides my short credit history, was that I had tried signing up for a Chase credit card, along with other ways to finance my iPhone, just a few days before I applied for my Discover card.

None of the other banks approved my applications, and my score went down at the very beginning, due to the number of “hard inquiries” against my credit report. Hard inquiries occur when lenders check your credit report before they make decisions regarding your application. Having too many inquiries in a short period of time can result in a ding to your credit score.

I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I’ll be cautious in the future when it comes to applying for a lot of credit in a short time period. Overall, it should be noted that you should not be afraid to apply for new credit — even when hard inquiries do hurt your score in the short term, it typically isn’t disastrous, and your score should recover fairly quickly as long as you are a responsible user of credit. Having more available credit can also help your utilization rate — as long as you don’t increase your charges, of course.

You can also check to see if you have prequalifed for any credit cards without triggering a hard inquiry.

If you’re new to the world of credit cards, consider taking the steps I outlined above, and you, too, may have a healthy credit score before you know it.

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.

Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at [email protected]

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Get A Pre-Approved Personal Loan

$

Won’t impact your credit score