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How Student Loans Affect Credit

How Do They Affect Your Credit?

Student loans can have a major effect on your credit score. Taking out loans and paying them back will vastly improve your credit score, but it is detrimental when you so much as miss a payment—in fact, it can drop your score by more than 100 points!

The credit score affected is the one of the person who took the loan out; sometimes by parents and others by co-sign with parent and child. For example, if your parent took out a loan to help you pay for school, it would only affect their credit, not yours.

When You Are Missing or Behind on Payments

Most student loans are installments, which means that you pay a certain amount for an allotted time period. The good news is that your score won’t start to decrease until after the missed payment has been reported by the lender:

  • Federal student loan servicers can wait up to 90 days to report
  • Private student loan servicers can wait up to 30 days
  • They still have the option of charging immediately, however

Another consequence of missing/late payments is that it can increase your debt-to-income ratio (DTI):

  • It represents the amount of your monthly income that goes towards paying off debts (higher is worse)
  • Since the amount of debt you owe accounts for a large portion of your credit score, the DTI is a good reflection of your debt repayment status, though it does not directly change your credit score
  • Too much installment debt (ie. student loan debt), can impact your ability to take out more loans in the future because it determines whether or not you can afford their payments

In the worst-case scenario, you could end up in default:

  • Federal student loans usually consider this to begin at 270 days behind, and private at 120 days
  • This stays on your credit report for seven years
  • You will likely face collection and legal action in order to collect on the debt

If your student loan payments become unfeasible and you are becoming concerned about going into default, there are several options:

  • You may contact the lender to see if there is an alternative payment plan available. For example, extended deferment period or income-driven repayment.
    • This is based off of your current income
  • See if you are eligible for a student loan forgiveness program—this can get rid of your student loan debt
  • Look into refinancing your student loans (replacing existing debt with another lower-costing loan through a private lender)
  • This may decrease your monthly payments, but it can also extend your payment period by a number of years, which then adds to your interest costs

Student Loans and Improving Credit

Though there are many negative consequences to neglecting your student loans, there is also the potential for achieving greatness within your credit. Because most college students haven’t yet had many credit cards or loans taken out—if any—they could serve as the foundation for your credit history. Granted they are paid regularly and on time:

  • Student loans can be add to your credit mix (types of credit used) to increase eligibility for future loans—lenders like to see diversity in credit history
  • They can also add to positive payment history, which is the bulk of your credit score
    • Some lenders even allow for small payments during deferment, which is when you are not required to make payments yet
    • This is usually when you are enrolled in school and the subsequent grace period
    • However, if you choose to start paying these installments during deferment, they still show up as payments in your credit history, thus raising your score


As long as you make sure to pay your student loans off on time and in full, they can be an extremely beneficial asset when building a line of credit. If you neglect them, however, it will take years to recover from the damage. Making a solid plan for your future payments or reallocating your finances are the best ways to assure that your student loans work in your favor rather than against you.