Does Refinancing Student Loans Hurt Your Credit?

Aaditya Shah
Aaditya Shah

Aaditya is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. With a passion for simplifying complex financial concepts, Aaditya provides practical tips and insights to help readers make smarter money decisions. Through his concise and informative articles, he empowers individuals to take control of their finances and build a secure financial future. His articles combine a conversational tone with actionable strategies, making them accessible and relatable to readers from all walks of life.

See author page
February 17, 2023

Refinancing your student loan can be an excellent way to save money and improve your finances. By refinancing, you can take advantage of your improved credit score, higher income, and other positive financial changes to secure a better interest rate or more favorable terms.

However, it’s important to note that refinancing your student loans can also have a temporary negative impact on your credit score. We’ll explore why this happens, whether the benefits of refinancing outweigh the costs, and what you can do to minimize the impact on your credit score.

How Student Loan Refinancing Works

Student loan refinancing is the process of swapping your current student loan(s) for one with a lower interest rate or better terms, like a shorter repayment term or better monthly payments. Refinancing can occur with both federal and private student loans whereas the federal loan consolidation program only considers federal loans. 

Does Refinancing Hurt Your Credit?

When you apply for a student loan refinance, you will have to go through a process which involves a hard credit inquiry. Generally, credit inquiries occur when there is a legally permitted request to see your credit report from either a company or person. This check could adversely affect your overall credit score, as the more checks that happen, the higher probability a credit bureau would think that you may be “over-extending.” 

The key difference with credit inquiries are the version of check they are. A credit inquiry can either be a hard or soft credit check. Soft inquiries don’t impact your credit score, are done by creditors to provide “pre-approved” offers, and can be done without your consent. Contrary to that, hard inquiries do impact your score, are done by creditors and lenders when you apply for a credit or loan, and require written consent.

Although the impact varies drastically for everyone, rarely is it significant.

To further understand how refinancing your student loans will impact your credit, it’s important to understand how your credit score is determined in the first place. Here are the factors that contribute to your credit rating:

  • Payment history
  • Amounts owed
  • Credit history length
  • Credit mix
  • New credit

Let’s examine the 3 most influential factors in regards to a FICO credit score.

Payment History

According to FICO, your credit score consists of 35% payment history, ranking this as the most important factor in the score. This means that even while refinancing, you should ensure that your income can support any payments that need to be made so you don’t end up with an inconsistent payment history which would affect your credit score. 

If, for any reason, there is an outstanding unpaid balance for more than 30 days, it will get dinged in your credit report and will stay on the report for several years. Fundamentally however, paying your loans or credit cards on time is a strict practice that should be adhered to whenever possible. This will improve your credit score and will allow you to better manage your financial situation.

Amount Owed

This element refers to the total amount of money owed and is the second largest component of a credit score, exactly 30%. One thing many borrowers get confused about is that when refinancing, your total amount of money owed does not change.

Credit History

Your credit history is about 15% of your FICO score, and it speaks to how long you have been using credit as well as the average age of all your credit accounts. This is why it is important to start using credit early, to build a solid foundation. Also, some key things to remember are that whenever you open a new line of credit, that counts as a “0” age, which reduces your overall average age for existing credit. 

How to Minimize the Credit Impact of Refinancing

Despite the fact that student loan refinancing will impact your credit score, there are ways to minimize the impact.

First, pay close attention to the application quantity and timing. When you are looking around for loan options, many lenders will allow you to see what you qualify for without incurring a hard credit check, which would impact your credit rating. This means that you should only send off formal applications to lenders where you believe there is a great chance that you will end up using their product. At the end of the day, the more formal applications you submit, the more hard credit checks occur, and the more your credit can degrade

Additionally, you should be aware of the different timing rules with FICO and Vantage credit scores. While applying to loans, if done in a certain time period, multiple applications may not harm your score. For FICO, this period is 30 days, and for Vantage, it is 2 weeks. 

The next two tips are quite straightforward. Continue making payments on your existing student loans before the refinance, and make payments for your refinance loan on time. Many students often forget to pay their student loan payments on time as they are in the process of having it refinanced. Even during this process, it is vital you stick with your schedule and pay off the loan, otherwise you will have an impact on your credit history. The same applies for the refinanced loan. Be sure you know the exact terms of the loan and adhere to the schedule for the payments, ensuring never to miss a payment. 

Using Sparrow

Finally, you could use Sparrow! When using Sparrow to compare student loan refinancing offers, your credit score won’t be impacted. Sparrow aggregates all the available options in one centralized location where you will be able to see the details of each loan. Then, you can decide which one to submit a formal application with. This reduces the number of applications necessary and thus protects your credit score!

Is Refinancing a Student Loan Worth It?

Knowing when to refinance is tricky. Additionally, many borrowers can’t, or shouldn’t, refinance their student loans. Passing the credit check and showing stable income are generally known criteria that are used to determine eligibility. Without them, you may need a cosigner to qualify. If you are already halfway through repaying your loans, refinancing may only prolong the duration of the term, albeit with lower monthly payments.

A checklist that you could use to figure out if refinancing is worth it can be found here. Essentially, you should refinance your student loans if you are in a better financial position now than when you originally got the student loans or if you have a private student loan. Also, if the current economic conditions are favorable — this happens when the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates — then it may be beneficial to refinance to obtain a student loan with a lower interest rate.

Final Thoughts from the Nest

After understanding the complexities of student loan refinancing and if it is worth the potential impact on your credit rating, it’s important to know that everyone will be in a different situation. Contextualize and understand if your personal landscape will benefit from a refinance. And lastly, be sure to know the best rates that are out there and compare from several lenders. Using tools like Sparrow will speed up this process and make it much easier to navigate.

Dive deeper in student loans