What is a Credit Score?

When students are looking to take out loans and finance different purchases one universal figure matters the most. A person's credit score is a number that shows potential retailers and banks their overall credit rating broken down into a figure. The higher the credit score the better the likelihood of getting student loans, financing, or mortgages.

A credit score really is an important function in the world of personal finance. Almost every type of purchase a person makes can be determined by a credit score. Mortgages, small business loans, and car financing all will depend on a credit score. Even car insurance has credit score requirements. University students are no different. Looking to get an apartment near campus? Need a private student loan to be able to afford tuition? Want the deposit on your utilities waved instead of having to pay extra money? You will need to have a strong credit score!

The credit score of a student (or your cosigner) is a three digit number determined by three credit bureaus. Each of these credit bureaus determines a number based on your past payments, loans, and credit cards. This number shows the potential risk that you have in repaying a loan. The lower the credit score, the higher the risk.
If you have shown that you can regularly make these payments without being late your credit score will look good. In addition, having credit can definitely help, but having too much can hurt you. Say you have a $5,000 credit limit on a credit card. Ideally, to gain better credit you should make your monthly payment and keep you current credit below 50%, or $2,500. The closer you get to your credit limit the closer credit bureaus will look into your history.

What is a Good Score?

Credit scores can range from low to high. On most scales, a credit score ranges from 300 to 850, with 850 being the perfect credit score. What actually constitutes a good score is dependent on the company or bank you are looking to borrow from. If you have a credit score above 600 you are average. Scored in the 700s are considered good, and those above 770 can be considered very strong.

Why Does it Matter to a Student?

As mentioned earlier, credit scores are used for just about everything. Nearly 90% of companies are thought to use credit scores in some way. Ever see the commercials on television of companies who advertise no credit checks? This is a concept used by companies to bring in customers who may have poor credit and cannot find funding. Is it high risk? Absolutely! Even when it comes to students, credit scores matter. The biggest factor is trying to get a private loan for tuition. The bank or lender that a student goes to will certainly look at a credit score. Even if your credit score passes their mandatory limit, the exact score will matter. The higher your credit score, the more likely you will receive a better interest rate. Banks want to make sure that you are not going to default on a loan, so they use the credit score to determine your risk. Credit scores also matter when trying to rent an apartment or buy a house. Apartment complexes will always do a credit check on potential tenants to make sure they have a strong history of making payments on time. Of course an apartment complex does not want to lease to a person is not going to make their monthly payments on time. Some students buy houses as an investment in college. To get a mortgage a credit check is a vital determinant. The credit score will determine what type of loan a student can get, how much money they will need to put down on the house, and what type of interest rate is on the loan. Lastly, utility companies will do a credit check to make sure a person can afford to pay for their potential energy, water, sewer, or internet/cable. If a person has a low credit score, they will normally have to pay a deposit before service can start. Those with higher scores will usually have their deposit waived.

Even outside of living expenses, housing and tuition, credit scores play a role to all students. More and more in today's business world potential employers are starting to do background checks on candidates that include a credit check. Employers often check credit to see if a candidate if financially responsible. Positions in banks and financial institutions do deep credit checks to be sure that potential employees are at risk for stealing or committing fraud. Poor credit scores can certainly make your chances at receiving a job offer lower, and can make or break a potential offer.

How do you get a Good Score?

We have established that having a good credit score is important, but keep in mind that most international students who are non-US citizens will not have a credit score as they may have limited or no financial information to review in the US. As a result, students will have to find a US citizen or permanent resident who will act as their cosigner. In this case, the bank or other financial institution will evaluate this person's ability to pay in case the student becomes unable.

This doesn't mean, however, that international students can't start to build their credit history – and thus, credit score. If you are a student who is a US citizen, then it is also a good idea to start building your credit history as well.

The first step will be getting credit building accounts. Many students and young people do not have a lot of credit built up. Most do not own houses or have credit cards that they use. The first step is finding a bank and seeing whether you can get a credit card. Of course, it is important to be on an account that is regularly paid. One of the easiest ways to get higher credit is to continually make payments on time. This will certainly build credit, as it is what the entire credit score is built on. A missed payment can affect a score, but continual missed payments will definitely decrease your overall credit score. And a last sure way to increase you score is by paying down your credit cards or contacting creditors to try and get a higher credit limit on your cards.

Watch videos and learn more with our International Financial Aid Resources center

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