Understanding Your Credit Report and What Student Loan Lenders Look For

Types of Student Loans | By Ron Hancock

Thinking about applying for a new private student loan, or refinancing your existing federal and private student loans? Expect the lender to check your credit history and credit score. They do this to ensure you are not a credit risk. You can proactively take steps to improve your credit health and raise your credit score. Start with understanding what’s in your credit report, and what student loan lenders are looking for.

What is Credit?

Have you ever taken out a student loan or credit card? If so, you entered into an agreement to receive funds that must be paid back later. Unlike credit cards, student loans are repaid in installments over a set number of payments. This term is usually 5 to 25 years.

When you take out a student loan, most lenders or servicers notify at least one of the three major credit reporting agencies. These are Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. They do this so they can include the new account on your credit report as a trade line. Each trade line contains detailed information. This information includes account name and number, loan type, date opened, original and current balance, payment status, and monthly payment.

The lender or servicer notifies the credit agencies of all loan activity. This activity includes payment date, amount of payment applied to principal and interest, and timeliness of payments. The credit agency records this information, which makes up part of your credit history.

Understanding Your Credit Report

While each credit reporting agency’s reporting format may be slightly different, they essentially include the same information:

  • Personal Information, such as your name, address (current and previous), Social Security number, date of birth, and other information that identifies who you are.
  • Credit History, including your open and closed accounts, original loan amounts, current balances, and payment history.
  • Public Records, such as delinquent accounts, liens, and bankruptcies. Public records can remain on your credit report for many years, which will affect your ability to obtain future credit.
  • Credit Inquiries, which are placed on your credit report when you request credit. Credit inquiries remain on your file for two years.

Tip: Federal law entitles you to a free copy of your credit report each year from all three credit reporting agencies. Take advantage of this and check your report from each credit bureau annually. This ensures your personal information is accurate and up to date. To get a free credit report, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 877-FACTACT. If something on your report looks inaccurate, be sure to contact the credit agency immediately to have it addressed. Unfortunately, the credit reports will not include your credit score.

What Student Loan Lenders Look For When Checking Your Credit

When making a credit decision, private student loan lenders check your credit report and credit score. They do this to determine whether you are an acceptable risk, and what interest rate they should charge you. If you have a cosigner, lender checks their credit report and credit score too.  Most lenders, like U-fi, will want to see an adequate credit history, a track record of making on-time payments, how much debt you have outstanding, and a good credit score. Lenders also ask how much income you have to determine whether you, or your cosigner, have enough monthly income to make monthly payments.

To increase your chances of being approved and receiving a low interest rate for a new student loan or a student refinance loan, you and/or your cosigner will want to have at least two open trade lines, be no more than 30 days past due on more than one account, and have no public records for the past five years. Most lenders will also want to see a good credit score. While each lender is different, if you have a credit score above 700, you will generally be considered a good credit risk.

Tip: When shopping for a private student loan or student refinance loan you should complete all your applications within a short window (e.g. 30 days), since multiple credit inquiries within a brief time period will have little impact on your credit score.

How Does Your Credit History Affect Your Credit Score?

Your credit score is a number that summarizes your credit risk at any moment in time. While there are several types of credit scores, 90% of lending decisions use a FICO score. Fair Isaac Corporation creates the FICO score. FICO scores range from a low of 300 to a high of 850, with higher being better. FICO scores are made up of the following:

  • 35%: Payment History – have you made your past payments on time?
  • 30%: Amount Owed – how much debt do you owe and how much of your available credit has been used?
  • 15%: Length of Credit History – how long have you been using credit?
  • 10%: New Credit – how much of your debt has been opened recently?
  • 10%: Types of Credit Used – do you have different types of credit such as credit cards, installment loans, and mortgages?

Tip: FICO scores can change from month to month due to several factors. Not having too much debt, and making full payments on time, over a long period gives lenders more confidence you will repay them. That increases the likelihood they will extend you credit at a lower interest rate.

Understanding what’s on your credit report and how it impacts your ability to get a good credit rate is extremely important. If you notice something incorrect on your credit report, call the credit agency immediately. Work with them to correct any problems. A better credit history and higher credit score means a better shot at approval and a low interest rate. Your credit could save you a lot of money on your student loans. It can also ensure additional credit is there for you when you need it most.

Ron Hancock

Written By:

Ron Hancock is the Regional Director for U‑fi Student Loans and is an expert in many aspects of financial aid, student loans, and debt management. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Ron has worked in a number of areas of higher education finance, including positions in a college financial aid office, training and development for a state agency, and most recently as National Manager for Nelnet’s Partner Solutions team. Ron has spoken at numerous financial aid conferences all across the United States.

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