For many Americans, the high cost of student loans can delay plans of buying a home, saving for emergencies or putting money toward retirement. Refinancing your student loans is one way to ease that burden, but borrowers with little financial history may find that route challenging.
Private lenders check your credit score when you apply for refinancing, and many require you to have a credit score of at least 650 to qualify. Here’s what to know if you think that your credit score could hold you back.
Lowest credit scores accepted by student loan refinance lenders
Since refinancing comes from private lenders, every loan servicer has different credit requirements. However, in general, lenders want to see credit scores in the mid-600s. For instance, Earnest requires at least a 650 credit score, and CommonBond ups that to 660.
Your credit score is one essential in determining your eligibility, but it’s not the only factor. Some lenders don’t advertise minimum credit score requirements because there are other considerations, like your income and how long you’ve been making payments on your current loans.
How to improve your credit score
The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to not only get approved, but also secure the lowest interest rate offered. Interest rates also vary by lender, so you’ll only better your chances if you improve your credit score before applying to refinance your student loans.
Check your credit reports
Before your lender sees your credit score, you can check your reports with the top three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — through AnnualCreditReport.com. This lets you see what potential lenders will see: your past credit usage, if you’re responsible with credit and if you have any bad marks.
If you have any errors, you can report them to your credit bureau. Errors could be keeping your score down. By removing them, you can give your score a quick boost. You should also use any resources from your bank or credit card issuer; most give you access to checking your credit score for free.
Stay on top of payments
Even if you’ve been struggling to make payments, you should be able to prove an on-time payment history with your current loans. Payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO score, so the more late payments you make — or miss — the more your score will drop. Keep your credit score as high as you can by making minimum payments when they’re due.
Lower your credit utilization rate
Your credit utilization is how much of your available revolving credit you’re using. For instance, if you have a $6,000 credit limit and you’re using $3,000 of it, your credit utilization is 50 percent. Keep in mind that this goes for total utilization, not just per card. So if you have two cards with a $12,000 total limit and you’re using $3,000, your credit utilization is 25 percent.
Credit utilization makes up 30 percent of your FICO score. As long as you’re paying off your cards in full every month and don’t carry a balance, your credit utilization will stay relatively low. But if you do carry a balance, try to keep your credit utilization to 30 percent or less.
Ask a friend or a relative for a helping hand
If you’re struggling to qualify for student loan refinancing, you might need to enlist the help of a co-signer. A co-signer is a trusted friend or relative with great credit who can sign onto your loan to vouch for you. Their name is also on the loan, which means that if you miss payments, your co-signer’s credit score will drop with yours.
If you can’t find a co-signer, see if someone you know will help you bring up your credit score in other ways. For instance, a trusted family member or friend could add you to a credit card account as an authorized user. You don’t have to use the card, but you can benefit from their great credit usage.
Take advantage of self-reporting
If your credit report is sparse, see if you can add some other accounts that are in your name. Experian Boost factors in accounts like your phone bill, utilities and even streaming services. Some services even let you self-report rent payments.
Limit new accounts
New credit is a necessary evil for your credit score. It makes up 10 percent of your credit score, which means that it’s a small but still important part of your credit history.
But too many accounts can hurt. Every time you apply for new credit, your score takes a temporary dip. Along with that, applying to many different lenders at once brings down your average account age, which is also a factor in your FICO Score.
Student loan refinancing alternatives
If you have stellar credit and can qualify for an interest rate that’s lower than what you’re currently paying, refinancing might be a great next step for you. But it’s not the right move for everyone. If you don’t qualify for student loan refinancing or you want to explore other options for managing your student loan repayment, consider these:
- Income-driven repayment plans: If you have federal student loans, you can explore IDR plans. These base your payments on your income and household size. After 20 or 25 years, the remaining balance on your loans is forgiven. Your credit score doesn’t determine your eligibility for these plans like it does for student loan refinancing.
- Consolidation: If you want to move all your federal loans into one manageable payment, you can apply for a Direct Consolidation Loan. Your interest rate is rounded up to the nearest one-eighth percent, so you won’t get a lower interest rate as you might through refinancing. But you also wouldn’t lose the federal protections — like deferment and forbearance — that come with having federal student loans.
- Forbearance: Forbearance is when you temporarily pause student loan payments without impacting your repayment or credit score (since late or missed payments cause your credit score to drop). The federal government and some private lenders offer this option. You can check with your lender to see if you’re eligible for forbearance before applying.