NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Outstanding student loan debt in America stands at more than a whopping $1.2 trillion. That's divided up between 37 million Americans, with an average debt load of around $30,000. What's more, over the last eight years, student loan debt has grown by 300%. There's no question that student loan debt is seriously impacting people's quality of life. But how is it impacting their credit reports?
The Actual Loans Won't Hurt Your Credt...
Here's the good news: taking out student loans doesn't impact your credit in the same way as taking out other kinds of debt. "Just taking out student loans won't impact your credit," says Jessica Ferastoaru, a student loan counselor with Take Charge America, adding that "it might actually help them." That's because one of the factors in determining your credit score is how diverse your credit portfolio is.
There are different kinds of credit. Credit cards are what is known as a "revolving account." You borrow money, pay it off and borrow again. But student loans are in a different category called an installment loan. So when you take out a student loan, you're diversifying the types of credit that you have. If anything, that's going to have a positive impact on your credit report and your resulting credit score.
"Student and former students are considered differently than those who borrow money through credit cards," says Randy Padawer, a consumer education specialist with LexingtonLaw. "If you're seeking student loans it's because you're a goal-directed individual with a presumably bright future."
The Overall Amount Won't Hurt Your Credit...
Padawer also points out that the total amount of student debt that you have won't negative impact your overall credit. "Credit scores don't penalize student loan borrowers like they do people who are financing their lives with signature loans and credit cards," Padawer says. Put simply, that means that the overall amount of student loan debt you have can be very high and not impact your credit report. Issues can arise, though, when you don't have the money to make payments on your high student debt.
"The problem with too many student loans is that they all have to be repaid," says Padawer. "If your debt load is very high and your income isn't, you might find yourself in a whole lot of trouble." He notes that lots of consumers find themselves falling behind on payments, which then negatively impacts their credit score. "Even with student loans, it makes sense to only borrow what you need."
"Even just having a 30- or 60-day delinquency can lower your credit score," says Ferastoaru. In nine months, you'll have a default placed on your credit report. "That's going to have a much more significant impact than just a 30- or 60-day late notice," he adds. "You can lose your tax refund, have your wages garnished and run into all kinds of other negative consequences."
"Occasionally, you'll find students who attempt to use student loans as arbitrage," says Padawer. "They think they'll borrow that way, even though they don't need the money for college. They put it aside, they invest it, they live on it. They don't spend it on college and think they're going to come out ahead. In almost every single case that I've seen like that, the individual later regrets their brilliant idea."
The bottom line: Don't take out student loans for expenses other than education. And when you get out of school, if you can't make the payments, talk to your loan servicer about your options. There's a whole host of things you can do that won't negatively impact your credit and keep you on track.