Student loans are the one corner of consumer finance where your credit score doesn’t always dictate your ability to borrow, especially if you take out federal student loans. Except for Direct PLUS loans for graduate and professional students and the parents of undergraduate students, a credit check is not even part of the application process for federal student loans.

However, private student loan lenders, which typically include banks and credit unions, often require a credit score of at least 670. The qualifications process may vary slightly from lender to lender for private student loans. However, the higher your credit score, the more likely you are to qualify and obtain a competitive interest rate.

What credit score do you need for federal student loans?

Federal student loans do not have any credit score requirements. That makes sense, given that many people entering college have yet to establish credit histories.

The only type of federal loan that will check your credit history is federal PLUS loans — with these, the government will check for adverse credit history, although there are still no minimum credit score requirements. Those who have a less-than-ideal credit history, however, may need to meet additional requirements to get approved.

The plus side of this approach to federal loans is that it allows most students to receive funding if needed. Federal loans set one interest rate for all borrowers, so having a poor credit score will not affect your loan rate or terms.

What credit score do you need for private student loans?

While federal loans are usually a better deal, many people turn to private lenders for additional funding. Private student loans, including refinance loans, usually require a credit score of at least 670. However, knowing the precise requirements is tricky because private lenders consider their credit score guidelines a trade secret; the only way to find out if you qualify is to apply.

Some lenders offer prequalification, which allows you to see if you are eligible for a student loan without the lender pulling a hard check on your credit, which can hurt your score. Take advantage of these offers as much as possible when shopping with private lenders.

Credit Good
What credit score do you need for a student loan?

Federal: There are no minimum credit score requirements for federal student loans. Though there is a credit history check for federal PLUS loans.

Private: A credit score of at least 670 is typically required, though specific requirements may vary from lender to lender.

What is a good credit score?

FICO, one of the leading credit-scoring models in the U.S., defines “good credit” as a FICO Score between 670 and 739. Anything above that is considered very good or exceptional.

The full range of FICO credit scores includes the following:

  • Under 580—Poor
  • 580-669—Fair
  • 670-739—Good
  • 740-799—Very good
  • 800 and above—Exceptional

A credit score measures how responsible you are with borrowed money. It is based on various factors such as how much debt you have relative to your income, how many accounts you manage and how often you make payments on time.

FICO, for instance, uses five key factors to calculate your score. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your score, while amounts owed make up 30 percent. The length of your credit history is 15 percent of your score, and new credit and credit mix account for 10 percent each.

Lenders will evaluate these factors and more along with your raw credit score, so having a good credit score alone may not be enough to qualify you for a loan. However, you’ll have your best chance of qualifying if you have a score above 670.

Can you get a student loan with bad credit?

Most federal loans (except for PLUS loans) are made without credit checks, so a spotty credit history poses no obstacle. However, if you’re applying for private loans, your credit score will come into play.

If you have bad credit, recruit a parent as a co-signer. In this scenario, the lender will evaluate your co-signer’s credit history and your own, potentially reducing your interest rate. The downside is that the co-signer takes on partial responsibility for the loan, meaning their credit may take a hit if they fail to make payments.

If you have a credit score in the mid-600s or below, a co-signer will be all but necessary. However, you can consider your options with bad-credit private student loan lenders. Just be ready to pay a much higher price.

Bottom line

While your credit score will not be a factor when applying for most federal student loans, private lenders consider credit history as part of the application process. If you hope to obtain a private student loan and have less-than-ideal credit, consider finding a cosigner with a better credit profile. If you don’t need the private loan right away, work on improving your score first and then apply so that you qualify for the most competitive interest rate possible.

Frequently asked questions

  • Knowing your credit score is key to knowing which types of loans you might be eligible for. One of the simplest ways to check your credit score is to purchase it from Experian, Equifax or TransUnion, or from FICO itself.There are also free ways to see your score. Many banks and credit card issuers give you free monthly updates of your credit score, as do companies like Intuit — creator of TurboTax and Mint.
  • The easiest way to boost your score in the short term is to pay off your debts. That means lowering your credit card balances and paying off any other loans you might have.It’s also a good idea to limit new loan applications to a short window of time. Each new application you submit and account you open can drop your score by a few points.In the long run, the best way to boost your credit score is to build a good payment history. Consider signing up for automatic payments to ensure you never miss a payment or make a late payment on your credit cards and other bills.
  • Student loans can help build your credit in several ways. If you consistently make on-time payments, the loan can help build your payment history, which is a major factor in your overall credit score. In addition, taking out a student loan adds a new account to your credit profile, which can help diversify your credit mix—another important element of your credit score.