Why Did My Credit Score Drop After Paying Off Student Loans?

Author
Grace Lemire
Grace Lemire
author

Grace Lemire is a freelance writer and editor with over five years of experience in the personal finance industry. She has been featured on a variety of publications, including NPR, CNN, FinanceBuzz, Dollar Geek, Pangea, and True Finance. Her work focuses on the intersection of personal finance and technology. In 2023, Grace was nominated for the Best Personal Finance Advice award in Debt.com’s FinTok Awards.

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Edited by
Emma Östlund
Emma Östlund
editor

Emma Östlund works as a business operations analyst at Sparrow. Emma studied Psychology, Computer Science, and Markets & Management at Duke University. With a well-rounded background in business and analytics, Emma strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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Reviewed by
Camden Ford
Camden Ford
reviewer

Camden leads Sparrow’s business operations – everything from product management to business analytics. After graduating Cum Laude from Duke University where he studied Civil Engineering, Camden worked as a Consultant for A.T. Kearney where he worked in their Strategic Operations practice. With a strong background in analytics, Camden strives to deliver data-driven conclusions and insights.

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Updated
December 28, 2023

Making that last debt payment can feel liberating. The balance finally hits zero, and a weight is lifted off your shoulders. While an incredible accomplishment, you may notice a drop in your credit score, leaving you to feel quite defeated. It’s normal to wonder, “Why has my credit score dropped after paying my student loan? Isn’t that a responsible thing to do?” It does sound a bit backwards, huh?

However, it makes more sense when you understand how your credit score is calculated. Here’s why your credit score might drop after paying off debt.

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How Your Credit Score is Determined

Your FICO credit score is calculated using five different factors: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and new credit. Each factor is weighed differently when calculating your score.

Payment History (35%)

To evaluate how risky lending to you might be, lenders will look at how you’ve handled credit in the past. If you have a spotless record, you’ll likely do well in this category. If your credit history is checkered with late or missed payments, however, you may lose some points here.

Amounts Owed (30%)

Having outstanding balances doesn’t necessarily make you a risky borrower to lend to. However, using a high percentage of your total credit limit is an indicator that you may be overextending yourself financially.

For example, if you have a total of $20,000 of available credit, and you’re using $19,000 of that, you may appear to be struggling financially. On the other hand, if your total available credit was $50,000, owing $19,000 wouldn’t be so bad.

In a lender’s eyes, having a high outstanding balance in comparison to your total credit limit puts you at a higher risk of defaulting on any one of your loans. Thus, a high credit utilization ratio will impact your credit score.

(Note: “Amounts Owed” is often referred to as credit utilization.)

Length of Credit History (15%)

Generally speaking, the longer your credit accounts have been open, the better your score may look in this category. Simply put, a long history of effectively managing your credit shows lenders you’re capable of handling credit responsibly.

Credit Mix (10%)

FICO scores also take into account your credit mix, or the variety of credit accounts you have (ie. credit cards, student loans, mortgage loans, retail accounts, etc.). While you don’t need to have an account open in each category, having a mix of credit accounts shows lenders you’re able to manage multiple lines of credit responsibly.

If you do have a mix of credit accounts and manage them effectively, it can give your score a boost.

New Credit (10%)

Opening several new lines of credit in a short period of time can be an indicator that you’re struggling financially. Thus, opening too many new lines of credit can hurt your score.

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Why Your Score Drops After Paying Off Debt

While paying off debt is certainly something to be proud of, it may not reflect positively when it comes to your credit score. Here’s why:

It Can Change Your Credit Utilization Ratio

Let’s say you have three credit cards, each with a $10,000 limit. They’re set up as follows:

Card A: $5,000 balance
Card B: $6,000 balance
Card C: $1,000 balance

As a result, you’d have a credit utilization ratio of 40% (12,000 total outstanding balance / 30,000 total credit limit).

Now, let’s say you decide to pay off and close Card C. Your new credit utilization ratio would be 55% (11,000 total outstanding balance / 20,000 total credit limit).

By closing Card C, the credit limit associated with it is no longer factored into your credit utilization ratio. Thus, the new ratio of your outstanding balance to your total credit limit actually ends up being higher than it was before.

In some cases, closing an account can lead to a higher credit utilization ratio, as it changes the amounts owed in comparison to the total credit limit. This, in turn, will negatively impact your score.

It Shortens the Length of Credit History

When you close a line of credit, the credit history associated with it goes out the window. In the case of revolving credit, such as a credit card, this happens when you close a card. With student loans, this happens when you pay off the balance.

A few months after you make that final payment on your student loans, it will no longer be an active line of credit. The credit history associated with it, whether positive or negative, will be removed. Depending on how long you’ve had the account open in comparison to your other lines of credit, it could shorten your credit history.

For example, let’s say these are the three lines of credit you currently have:

Student Loan A: Borrowed 15 years ago
Student Loan B: Borrowed 11 years ago
Credit Card: Opened 10 years ago

In this scenario, the average age of your accounts is 12 years (15 + 11 + 10 / 3). If you paid off Student Loan A, the average age of your accounts would decrease to 10.5 years (11 + 10 / 2). 

The credit history you had from Student Loan A gets wiped from your record, and your credit history is calculated based on the other lines of credit you have active.

It Could Change Your Credit Mix

If you have both revolving credit (like credit cards) and an installment loan (like a student loan), paying off your student loans will shift your credit mix. This could negatively impact your FICO score.

Student Loan Options for Bad Credit

If your credit score has dropped, you may need to look into how and where to get private student loans for bad credit. Rather than searching for lenders one-by-one, we recommend starting the process with an automated student loan search tool. After you complete the free Sparrow form, we’ll show you the rates and terms you’d pre-qualify for with 17+ premier lenders.

Here is a list of the best student loan options for bad credit: 5 Best Private Student Loans for Bad Credit

Will Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness Impact Your Credit Score?

While President Biden’s student debt forgiveness will provide relief to millions of borrowers, it may wind up hurting your credit score temporarily for the reasons discussed above. And while the impact to your score pales in comparison to the relief provided, it’s important to understand why and how your score may drop so you know what to expect.

How Long It’ll Take for Your Score to Recover

If your credit score drops after paying off debt, don’t fret. While quite the bummer, it typically takes around 1-2 months for your score to bounce back (if everything else remains the same). 

In the meantime, consider other ways to increase your credit score. Continue to use other lines of credit responsibly, and check on your score periodically to see if it increases as expected.

Student loan rates from our partners
lender Ascent logo
Ascent
Minimum credit score
Varies
Fixed APR
Fixed APR

Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, or DR Bank, each Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 6/3/2024 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest rates require full
principal and interest payments, the shortest loan term, a cosigner, and are only available for our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores. Actual APR offered may be higher or lower than the repayment examples above, based on the amount of time you spend in school and any grace period you have before repayment begins.

4.29 - 15.96%
Variable APR
Variable APR

Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student loans are funded by Bank of Lake Mills, or DR Bank, each Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 6/3/2024 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest rates require full
principal and interest payments, the shortest loan term, a cosigner, and are only available for our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores. Actual APR offered may be higher or lower than the repayment examples above, based on the amount of time you spend in school and any grace period you have before repayment begins.

6.23 - 16.09%
lender LendKey logo
LendKey
Minimum credit score
660
Fixed APR
Fixed APR

1 – Terms and Conditions Apply

Loan products, terms, and benefits may be modified or discontinued by participating lenders at any time without notice. Rates displayed are reserved for the most creditworthy consumers who enroll to make automatic monthly payments. Your initial rate will be determined after a review of your application and credit profile. Variable rates may increase after consummation. You must be either a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident in an eligible state and from an eligible school, and meet the lender’s credit and income requirements to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account, a minimum share account deposit, and the payment of any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to apply with, and accept a loan offered from, a credit union lender. If you are not a member of the credit union lender, you may apply and become a member during the loan application process if you meet the lender’s eligibility criteria. Applying with a creditworthy cosigner may result in a better chance of loan approval and/or lower interest rate. Loans for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not available via LendKey.com.

2 – Cosigner Release

Some lenders participating on LendKey.com may offer the benefit of cosigner release. Cosigner release is subject to lender approval. In order to qualify, the borrower, alone, must meet the following requirements: (1) Make the required number of consecutive, on-time full principal and interest payments as indicated in the borrower’s credit agreement during the repayment period (excluding interest-only payments) immediately prior to the request. Any period of forbearance will reset the repayment clock; (2) The account cannot be in delinquent status; (3) The borrower must provide proof of income indicating that he/she meets the income requirements and pass a credit review demonstrating that he/she has a satisfactory credit history and the ability to assume full responsibility of loan repayment; (4) No bankruptcies or foreclosures in the last sixty months; and (5) No loan defaults.

3 – Autopay Rate Reduction

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments.

4 – AutoPay Discount & Lowest Interest Rate

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised APR is only available for loan terms of 10 years and is reserved for the highest qualified applicants, taking into consideration the applicant’s credit and other factors.

3.99 - 12.61%
Variable APR
Variable APR

1 – Terms and Conditions Apply

Loan products, terms, and benefits may be modified or discontinued by participating lenders at any time without notice. Rates displayed are reserved for the most creditworthy consumers who enroll to make automatic monthly payments. Your initial rate will be determined after a review of your application and credit profile. Variable rates may increase after consummation. You must be either a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident in an eligible state and from an eligible school, and meet the lender’s credit and income requirements to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account, a minimum share account deposit, and the payment of any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to apply with, and accept a loan offered from, a credit union lender. If you are not a member of the credit union lender, you may apply and become a member during the loan application process if you meet the lender’s eligibility criteria. Applying with a creditworthy cosigner may result in a better chance of loan approval and/or lower interest rate. Loans for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not available via LendKey.com.

2 – Cosigner Release

Some lenders participating on LendKey.com may offer the benefit of cosigner release. Cosigner release is subject to lender approval. In order to qualify, the borrower, alone, must meet the following requirements: (1) Make the required number of consecutive, on-time full principal and interest payments as indicated in the borrower’s credit agreement during the repayment period (excluding interest-only payments) immediately prior to the request. Any period of forbearance will reset the repayment clock; (2) The account cannot be in delinquent status; (3) The borrower must provide proof of income indicating that he/she meets the income requirements and pass a credit review demonstrating that he/she has a satisfactory credit history and the ability to assume full responsibility of loan repayment; (4) No bankruptcies or foreclosures in the last sixty months; and (5) No loan defaults.

3 – Autopay Rate Reduction

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments.

4 – AutoPay Discount & Lowest Interest Rate

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised APR is only available for loan terms of 10 years and is reserved for the highest qualified applicants, taking into consideration the applicant’s credit and other factors.

5.98 - 13.74%
lender Earnest logo
Earnest
Minimum credit score
650
Fixed APR
Fixed APR

Student Loan Origination (Private Student Loan) Interest Rate Disclosure:
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 4.54% APR to 16.74% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.87% APR to 17.10% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan origination loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

4.29 - 16.49%
Variable APR
Variable APR

Student Loan Origination (Private Student Loan) Interest Rate Disclosure:
Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 4.54% APR to 16.74% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 5.87% APR to 17.10% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan origination loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

5.62 - 16.85%
lender College Ave logo
College Ave
Minimum credit score
Mid-600s
Fixed APR
Fixed APR

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

*The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. $5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. Information advertised valid as of 08/25/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 6/14/2024. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

4.29 - 16.69%
Variable APR
Variable APR

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

*The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. $5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. Information advertised valid as of 08/25/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 6/14/2024. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

5.59 - 16.85%

Final Thoughts from the Nest

While frustrating to see your credit score drop after paying off your student loans, it’s normal. Continue to practice healthy financial habits, and your score should bounce back in no time.

If, after a few months, your score is still the same, consider examining your full credit report to check for errors that may be preventing your score from recovering.

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