5 Things You Need to Know About Credit (Scores) and Student Loan Refinancing

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Now, more than ever, various private lenders are helping student loan borrowers refinance at lower rates and save thousands of dollars in interest — that is, borrowers with good credit.

Whether you are thinking about refinancing or in the process of doing so, you may wonder how your credit impacts your options. How important is credit, really? And how will refinancing affect your credit?

Read on to learn five things you need to know about credit and refinancing your student loans.

1. You probably need good credit to qualify.

Refinancing companies vet their borrowers to ensure they can take on the financial commitment of paying back a new loan.

In general, refinancing companies tend to have more stringent requirements than that of federal loans. One of the major ways lenders determine if you are an eligible candidate for refinancing is your credit score.

Your credit score is a numeric representations of how responsible of a borrower you are. Your FICO credit score, which is commonly the credit score lenders examine, is determined by a variety of factors:

  • Payment history (35 percent)
  • Amounts owed (30 percent)
  • Length of credit history (15 percent)
  • New credit (10 percent)
  • Credit mix (10 percent)

FICO scores range from 300 to 850 — the higher score you have, the better. Each lender will have a different credit score requirement, but typically you’ll want to have a credit score of 700 or above.

Before refinancing, check the lender’s eligibility requirements, as some may be higher or lower than this standard. Generally, however, bad credit will make it difficult to get approved for refinancing.

2. A credit check-up can help.

Before you refinance, it’s important to do a credit check-up: audit your credit reports to make sure everything is accurate and take steps to improve your credit.

Start by getting your free credit scores on a site like Credit Karma. In addition, get your free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com and look for any errors. If there are any mistakes, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to remove those incorrect entries from your credit profile.

In addition, take a look at your credit behavior:

  • Do you always make your payments on time?
  • Do you carry high balances?

Being a responsible credit users means making on-time payments each and every time. Even just one late payment can seriously ding your credit score.

To make the process easier, sign up for auto payments, which deduct your monthly payments from your bank account. If you don’t think that will work for you, at least sign up for online reminders.

While payment history is very important, so is credit utilization (amount of credit available vs. used). It’s important to keep your balances low and pay them down each month to keep your credit utilization ratio low.

So if you have a $10,000 credit limit and are maxing out $10,000 each month, you will look like a risk to lenders. Typically, you should spend less than 30 percent of your credit limit. In this case, that would be $3,000. Avoid maxing out cards and strive to pay off your balance in full.

3. Your credit score is just one factor for getting approved for refinancing.

Okay, okay, you get it. Your credit score is important. But it’s not the only factor that lenders consider when approving borrowers for refinancing. Many lenders look at income, employment history, and savings as well.

So while it’s important to have a good credit score in order to refinance, it’s also just as important to maintain positive cash flow and employment status as well. For better or worse, your credit score is just one facet of your eligibility.

4. Find out your estimated interest rate without affecting your credit score.

You could save thousands of dollars through refinancing, but how do you know how much you will really save until you know your potential rate? Good news: Some lenders, like SoFi and Earnest allow you to check your potential rate, without it affecting your credit score.

This is typically referred to as a “soft” credit pull, which will not harm your credit. So once you check out your interest rate, you can make an informed decision to move forward (or not) while your credit score remains intact.

5. Refinancing could affect your credit score.

Once you do decide to apply for refinancing, you will have a hard pull on your credit. Hard pulls temporarily knock your credit score down by a few points.

In addition, refinancing means that your old loans will be paid off — resulting in a closed account and potentially higher utilization ratio if you have other debts. However, it’s unlikely your score will drop dramatically and the benefits of significant savings could far outweigh the costs.

Your credit score plays an important part in the refinancing process. Stay on top of your payments, keep your balances low, and periodically check out your credit scores and reports. Doing so can help you get approved for financial opportunities like refinancing, which can ultimately help you save money.

Photo credit: GotCredit

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