The credit score needed for a student loan will depend on the type of loan you want to take out — federal or private. So if you don’t have a credit score, or if your score is bad — a 629 or lower FICO score — you have options.
Here’s how your credit affects how you borrow student loan money or refinance student loans.
Do I need a credit score for a federal student loan?
You do not need to have a credit history or a co-signer to get a federal direct undergraduate loan. This type of loan is preferred over private student loans because it carries a lower interest rate and offers income-driven repayment loan forgiveness options.
To get a federal student loan, you'll have to meet basic eligibility criteria, such as citizenship requirements and enrollment in an eligible program.
Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to start the process for a federal student loan. This is the key to unlock all types of aid, including grants, scholarships and work-study.
Making payments on a federal student loan can help you build credit, but a score won't appear with one of the three credit reporting bureaus until about six months after you start paying on it.
» MORE: How to build credit at 18
What credit score is required for a private student loan?
If you’ve maxed out federal student loans and you need a private student loan, you'll need a credit history to qualify.
» MORE: What is a good credit score?
Most private lenders require you to have a credit score of at least 670 or higher on a 300-850 scale used by FICO, the most widely known credit score.
If you don’t have a credit history, you’ll need a co-signer with a good credit score and a steady income in order to qualify for the loan. A co-signer takes on the responsibility to repay the loan if you can’t.
There are a few lenders that don't require credit or a co-signer. Generally, they’ll consider earning potential instead of a credit history. But interest rates on these loans are higher than federal student loans and credit-based private student loans.
Compare offers from multiple lenders to get the best rates.
What credit score is needed to refinance student loans?
If you already have college debt, refinancing can save you money by reducing your rate. You need good or excellent credit to qualify for student loan refinancing. Lenders’ minimum credit score requirements range from 650 to 680.
The better your credit, the lower the rate you’ll likely get. The credit scores of borrowers approved for student loan refinancing is often in the high 700s. You may be able to refinance student loans with bad credit if you apply with a co-signer.
In addition to credit score, refinance lenders look at other factors including debt-to-income ratio. The required debt-to-income ratio for student loan refinancing is generally 50% or less. A DTI less than 20% is excellent.