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. However, private student loan lenders typically require you to have a credit score of at least 670. The higher your number, the lower your 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 an adverse credit history, although there are still no minimum credit score requirements.

The plus side of this approach to federal loans is that it allows most students to receive funding if they need it. 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 around with private lenders.

What is considered 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.

A credit score is a measure of how responsible you are with borrowed money — how much debt you have relative to your income, how many accounts you manage and how often you make payments on time. 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 (with the exception of 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 in addition to 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 you 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 also take a look at your options with bad-credit private student loan lenders. Just be ready to pay a much higher price.

How do I check my credit score?

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.

But 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.

How to improve your credit score

The easiest way to boost your score in the short term is to pay off your existing 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 that you never miss a payment or make a late payment on your credit cards and other bills.

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