Undergraduate vs. Graduate Student Loans: 6 Ways They Differ

Heading off to graduate school? You’re probably not a newbie at the financial aid process after your years as an undergraduate. You might even have a few things to say about the increase in graduate student loan borrowing.

Out of the over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the United States, dollars borrowed by graduate school students are rising more quickly than undergraduate debt.

The reality is that, when looking at funds borrowed over the last academic year, the percentage taken out by graduate students is at 40% of the total, compared to 32% in 2002.

However, it’s a mistake to assume that graduate student loans are the same as undergraduate loans. There are actually significant differences between the two, and knowing those differences can be the key to saving money on your grad school debt in the long run. Here are some key factors to consider when taking out graduate school loans.

What Does Undergraduate Mean

In the context of student loans, undergraduate refers to someone who has not yet completed their bachelor’s degree.

What Is an Undergraduate Student

An undergraduate student is someone who is pursuing their Bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

What Is an Undergraduate Degree

Associates degrees are generally offered at two-year community colleges. A bachelor’s degree generally takes about four years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees are often completed at four-year colleges or universities. There is a wide variety of Bachelor degree programs ranging from history, English, to engineering, math, chemistry, and more. Three of the most common types of bachelor’s degrees include Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, and Bachelor of Science. Program requirements for undergraduate degrees will vary by institution.

What Does Graduate Mean

A graduate is someone who has successfully completed a specified course of work. In terms of student loans, graduate refers to any student who has completed their bachelor’s degree.

What Is a Graduate Degree?

Graduate degrees are specialized degrees that students can pursue after completing their bachelor’s or undergraduate course work. Graduate degrees include master’s, doctorates, and PhD’s, MBA’s, and JD’s. Depending on the program coursework for a graduate degree can take anywhere from one to six years to complete.

What Is a Graduate Student?

A graduate student is someone who is pursuing graduate studies. Law students, medical students, and PhD candidates are all examples of graduate students.

Recommended: Applying to Graduate School: Smart Tips & Strategies 

Differences Between Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

Beyond differences in coursework, there are few differences when it comes to student loans and financial aid options for undergraduate and graduate students.

1. Graduate Students Are Typically Considered Independent Students

As a graduate student, you’ll still need to (complete the FAFSA®) to qualify for federal student aid; you no longer need to include financial information about your parents on the form.

That’s because students who are pursuing either a master’s or doctorate degree are virtually always considered to be independent students.

There are a couple of key benefits associated with being an independent student. First, it helps streamline filling out the FAFSA. And, secondly, as an independent student, you’ll likely report much less income because your family’s earnings generally are no longer considered when financial aid eligibility is calculated, which could potentially give you access to additional aid options.

There are circumstances where undergraduate students can also be considered independent, but it’s usually more common with graduate students.

2. Graduate Student Loans Typically Have Higher Interest Rates

The 2022-2023 federal student loan interest rates for graduate and professional students are 6.54% for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for Graduate or Professional students and 7.54% for Direct PLUS loans — much higher than the 4.99% interest rate on federal undergraduate student loans.

(Note: Federal student loan interest rates are reevaluated annually, and updates are announced in early July.) Private student loans, another option for grad students, can come with even higher rates.

Graduate students can use federal student loans to pay for qualifying education expenses, including tuition, fees, college textbooks, and living expenses.

PLUS loans are funded by the U.S. Department of Education and require a credit check, although the credit requirements are not as stringent as they would be with a private lender. At 7.54%, they have the highest interest rates of all the federal student loans.

Federal loans also have fees that should be factored into the total cost of borrowing. For Direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, the loan fee for the 2022-2023 school year was 1.057%. For Direct PLUS Loans, the fee was 4.228%.

These fees are deducted proportionally from each loan at the time of disbursement. This means that the amount of money a borrower receives will be less than the total value of the loan. Borrowers are still responsible for repaying the total value of the loan.

3. There Are No Subsidized Graduate Student Loans

Grad school federal loans start accruing interest charges while you’re a full-time student, unlike subsidized loans for undergraduates.

Say for example, you borrowed $20,000 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans (for graduates) to cover the cost of tuition when you started the program. When you factor in the current disbursement fee of 1.057%, you would have received approximately $19,789.

Since this loan type is unsubsidized, it will accrue interest while you attend school. Note, that even though you received $19,789, interest will accrue based on the loan total of $20,000. If the program is two years long, and you made no payments during that time, the loan would have accrued approximately $2,616 (assuming the interest rate stays the same 6.54% for those two years). For undergrads with subsidized loans, the interest clock doesn’t start until after graduation.

4. Borrowing Limits Are Higher for Grad Students

Typically, graduate students can borrow $20,500 annually in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, although there is currently a lifetime cap of $138,500 when undergrad loans and graduate school Direct loans are combined. If you’re in a qualifying health field, you may have a higher lifetime limit, potentially up to $224,000.

Compare that to annual limits for undergraduates, and they’re typically capped at $5,500 during year one; $6,500 for year two; and $7,500 for subsequent years, with a total availability of $31,000.

Having said that, although graduate students have more flexibility in how much can be borrowed, it can be challenging to pay back those higher amounts of debt.

5. Graduate Students May Qualify for Competitive Rates on Private Student Loans

Private student loans aren’t backed by the federal government; they’re issued by private lenders or banks.

If you’ve already established a solid credit history and/or have steady income coming in, those are important cornerstones that may help you qualify for more competitive rates on private student loans. This is in contrast to the typical undergrad, who may be new to credit and lending entirely, and don’t usually have well-paying, full-time jobs.

Though keep in mind that private student loans don’t necessarily offer the same borrower protections as federal student loans — things like income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness options. Because of this, federal loans are usually prioritized over private student loans.

Recommended: Private Student Loan Guide

6. Student Loan Refinancing Can Be a More Viable Option for Graduate Student Loans

While anyone with higher education debt can apply to refinance student loans, there are a couple reasons why this option tends to be more popular with grad students.

First, in order to qualify to refinance loans at a lower interest rate than what a borrower may currently have, a strong credit history that includes a positive track record of paying debts is important — and proof that you make enough money to pay back the loan (among other factors that will vary by lender). Depending on a graduate student’s background, there is a chance that they might be viewed as a more stable lending choice than an undergraduate.

Additionally, some graduate programs offer the potential for students to increase their earning potential after graduation, which also could be appealing to private lenders.

The other reason is that undergrads with federal student loans enjoy interest rates that are typically quite low already, and can be tough to beat when compared to private loan interest rates. Grad students, on the other hand, often carry student loan debt with higher interest rates and generally have higher debt burdens than undergraduate students.

With a strong credit history and steady employment (among other factors), it may be possible to get a better deal — and save money over the life of the loan — through refinancing.

Student loan refinancing won’t be the right option for everyone. Federal loans come with a variety of protections and benefits, like income-driven repayment plans and loan deferment. When you refinance a federal loan, it becomes a private loan, and will no longer qualify for any federal benefits.

7. Federal Grants are Few and Far Between for Graduate Students

Even if you were eligible for a Federal Pell Grant the last time around, you can’t count on that for graduate school. What are Pell Grants? They are a need-based grant that does not need to be repaid, and are typically awarded only to undergraduate students.

There are a variety of other opportunities available to grad students to help them finance their education, including some grad school scholarships, other grants, and fellowships. Grants are generally offered based on financial need while fellowships are awarded based on a student’s academic performance and research.

Scholarships, grants and fellowships are available through sources like federal and state government, schools, and even some corporations. Each opportunity might have very specific application criteria or might only be for students specializing in certain areas of study. You may be able to find even more scholarship money, by looking for any scholarships that go unclaimed each year. Contact your school’s financial aid office and check out SoFi’s guide to unclaimed scholarships for more information.

Thinking Outside the Box: Paying for Graduate School

When you think about paying for graduate school, it’s natural to consider student loans, but there are additional avenues likely worth pursuing. For example, your school of choice may offer scholarships, fellowships, and grants.

Typically, the college will use the information in the FAFSA® to decide what funding, if any, they can offer you.
Other times, though, there may be separate applications unique to your school; you can ask for specifics at the financial aid office. Sometimes, the award might be small; other times, it might be full tuition reimbursement.

Becoming a Teaching or Research Assistant

Some graduate students work on campus as teaching or research assistants. These opportunities could offer the opportunity for students to expand their skill set while earning some income.

Working Full-Time as a Grad Student

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree while working full time, you can check with your employer to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement plan.

If they do, the program will have its own parameters and processes.

Sometimes, if you accept funds from this program, you’ll need to stay at the company for a predetermined amount of time; other times, they might fund only certain degrees.

Still other times, they may not specifically have tuition reimbursement funding available, but there might be professional development dollars you can access. Or, your employer may be willing to allow you to work a more flexible schedule to accommodate your class schedule. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Finding Scholarships

You can also use databases like FastWeb or SoFi’s scholarship search tool to see if there are private scholarships available that you might qualify for.

Want access to more student loan resources? Explore our student loan help center to help guide you in your debt repayment!

The Takeaway

Graduate students are those who have completed some type of bachelor’s program and are pursuing an additional degree, such as an MBA, master’s, PhD, or doctorate. Graduate students may be eligible for different types of federal loans and financial aid than they were as an undergraduate. However, federal student loans for graduate students typically have a higher interest rate and fees than options for undergraduate students.

Student loans can get complicated — SoFi is here to help. In addition to the competitive refinancing options available to qualified borrowers, SoFi offers private graduate student loans that can help you to focus on your degree, not your debt.

With SoFi, there are no fees — meaning no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees — and no fuss. You can fill out our simple online application in just minutes and have access to live customer support seven days a week.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.


SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How Much Does Paying Off a Car Loan Help Credit

Does Paying Off a Car Loan Help Your Credit?

The answer is more complex than you might think. Paying off a car loan can help your credit profile by reducing your debt-to-income ratio. But closing out a loan can also have several negative effects on your credit history. And paying off a loan early isn’t the best decision when there are better ways you can use that money — or save it for an emergency.

We’ll discuss how much paying off a car loan helps your credit, and when paying it off early really does pay off.

Recommended: Should I Sell My House Now or Wait

How Credit Scores Are Calculated

The fact that you got a car loan means you know a little something about your credit score. But it’s always helpful to learn more about how those scores are calculated. According to FICO® Score, your credit rating is made up of five parts:

•   Payment history (timely payments): 35%

•   Amounts owed (credit utilization): 30%

•   Length of credit history: 15%

•   New credit requests: 10%

•   Credit mix (installment versus revolving): 10%

Whether you’re applying for a personal loan or a car loan, the same factors are used to determine your creditworthiness.

Recommended: What Credit Score is Needed to Buy a Car

Check your score with SoFi

Track your credit score for free. Sign up and get $10.*


Recommended: Pros and Cons of Refinancing a Car

Does Paying Off a Credit Card Help Your Credit?

For the sake of comparison, let’s say you buy a car with a credit card. (In real life, this is usually a bad idea because credit card interest rates are considerably higher than for auto loans.) How would paying off the credit card balance affect your credit score?

No matter what you’ve heard, maintaining a credit card balance doesn’t help your score. That’s because the amount you owe, also called credit utilization, accounts for 30% of your score. To calculate your credit utilization, add up the credit limits on your cards. Then divide that figure by your outstanding balance(s).

Let’s say your credit limit is $20,000. If you buy a used car for $10,000, you’re utilizing 50% of your available credit. So paying down your balance — or paying off the whole $20K — will boost your credit utilization factor.

But there’s a key difference between paying off a credit card and paying off a car loan. After you pay off the credit card balance, the account remains open (unless you take action to close it). This is called revolving credit: You can repeatedly use the funds up to your credit limit, as long as you continue to make payments.

Recommended: What is The Difference Between Transunion and Equifax

How Paying Off Your Car Loan Early May Affect Your Credit Score

A car loan is considered an installment loan, one with a starting balance that’s paid down each time you make a monthly payment. According to credit reporting agency Experian, paying off an installment loan can briefly cause your score to dip.

That’s because the loan is no longer “active,” so your timely payment history is no longer contributing to your overall credit score. Paying off an installment loan can also affect a person’s credit mix and the average age of their open accounts.

Recommended: What Credit Score Do You Need To Buy a Car?

How To Decide Whether To Pay Off Your Car Loan Early

There’s no one answer that fits every borrower. See which pros and cons below apply to your situation.

When It’s a Good Idea To Pay Off Your Car Loan Early

If any of these statements resonate with you, paying off your car loan early is likely the right decision.

•   You have trouble juggling your monthly bills and would be glad to have one fewer to deal with.

•   You hate the idea of continuing to pay interest on the loan.

•   The money you free up can be used to pay down another debt, add to your savings, or spend on pursuits you’re passionate about.

•   You’re considering taking out another loan, and paying off this one could help you qualify.

But wait! Check out the drawbacks to paying off a loan below before you decide.

When It’s Better To Keep the Loan

Even if you’re eager to pay down some debt, sometimes you’re better off financially keeping a loan. See if any of these disadvantages affects your cost-benefit analysis.

•   Instead of paying off the loan, investing the lump sum might net you more profits than you’ll save in loan interest.

•   If you’re using savings to pay off the loan, you may find yourself short in an emergency.

•   Some loans come with prepayment penalties. Make sure you won’t be charged for paying off your loan ahead of schedule.

•   As noted above, paying off an installment loan can have a negative impact on your credit mix, payment history, and length of credit history.

Recommended: Does Net Worth Include Home Equity

About To Make Your Last Scheduled Loan Payment?

Now is the perfect time to test how much paying off the loan will impact your credit score. You can find your credit score for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. Check your score before you make your final payment, and again a month or so later.

Or you can sign up for a service that monitors your credit score for you. What qualifies as credit score monitoring varies from service to service. Look for one that will alert you whenever your score changes.

You’ll also want to decide how you’re going to use those funds going forward. You may decide to pay off other debts (especially credit cards), build your savings, or invest the funds. A money tracker app can give you a helpful overview of your finances.

Paying off a car loan can sometimes lower your auto insurance premium. Check with your insurance carrier, and shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

The Takeaway

The reality is that paying off a car loan may cause your credit score to dip. But it can still be the right decision if you have plenty of savings to cover the balance due. After all, you’ll save money on interest, lower your debt-to-income ratio, and have one fewer monthly bill to juggle. It depends on your financial circumstances, and if you have other, higher-interest debt that should be paid off first.

With SoFi, you can manage your money while also benefiting from free credit monitoring. Connect all of your accounts on one mobile dashboard to see the big picture and receive financial insights based on your profile.

Track all of your money in one place — at no cost.

FAQ

How much will my credit score go up if I pay off my car?

Your credit score may actually dip, but it depends on your specific financial situation. That’s because paying off an installment loan can have a negative impact on your credit mix, payment history, and length of credit history.

Will paying off a car loan early improve credit?

Each situation is unique. Paying off a loan will improve your debt-to-income ratio, which lenders look at to determine your creditworthiness. However, it can also have a negative impact on your credit mix, payment history, and length of credit history.

Why did my credit score drop when I paid off my car early?

Credit score algorithms are complex, and every borrower’s situation is different. If your car loan was your only installment loan, closing it reduced your credit mix, which accounts for 10% of your score. Paying off a loan can also reduce the overall length of your open credit accounts, another factor used to calculate your score.


Photo credit: iStock/Pofuduk Images

SoFi Relay offers users the ability to connect both SoFi accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc.’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. Based on your consent SoFi will also automatically provide some financial data received from the credit bureau for your visibility, without the need of you connecting additional accounts. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score is a VantageScore® based on TransUnion® (the “Processing Agent”) data.

*Terms and conditions apply. This offer is only available to new SoFi users without existing SoFi accounts. It is non-transferable. One offer per person. To receive the rewards points offer, you must successfully complete setting up Credit Score Monitoring. Rewards points may only be redeemed towards active SoFi accounts, such as your SoFi Checking or Savings account, subject to program terms that may be found here: SoFi Member Rewards Terms and Conditions. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How Much Does Your Credit Score Increase After Paying Off a Debt

Does Paying Off a Debt Increase Your Credit Score?

Whether you’re thinking about paying off a debt or mulling over how to increase your credit score — or both — it’s reasonable to ask if paying off debt helps your credit rating. The answer, though, is more complex than a simple yes or no.

We’ll delve into it all here, showing how paying off a debt can either raise or reduce your credit score, depending on the circumstances. We’ll also explain a bit about how credit scores are calculated, and especially how managing your credit utilization can give you some control over your credit score.

How Paying Off a Debt Is Connected to Your Credit Score

What affects your credit score is on a lot of people’s mind. Your credit score is determined by five factors, some of which are weighted more than others. Paying off a debt can affect each of these factors in different ways, causing your score to rise or dip. Sometimes changes in two factors can even cancel each other out, leaving your score unchanged. This is why it’s hard to predict how paying off a debt will affect your credit.

Before we continue, you may want to take a moment to find out your credit score for free.

Recommended: What is The Difference Between Transunion and Equifax

Check your score with SoFi

Track your credit score for free. Sign up and get $10.*


Recommended: Does Net Worth Include Home Equity

Credit Score Calculation Factors

According to FICO® Score, a credit rating company, these are the five factors commonly used to calculate your score:

•   Payment history (timely payments): 35%

•   Amounts owed (credit utilization): 30%

•   Length of credit history: 15%

•   New credit requests: 10%

•   Credit mix (installment versus revolving): 10%

Once FICO’s algorithm calculates your score, a credit score rating scale assigns it a category ranging from Poor to Exceptional. A higher number indicates to lenders that a person is a lower risk for default:

•   Exceptional: 800 to 850

•   Very Good: 740 to 799

•   Good: 670 to 739

•   Fair: 580 to 669

•   Poor: 300 to 579

As you can see, a Fair credit score falls between 580 and 669. A Poor or bad credit score falls between 300 and 579. The minimum credit score required to qualify for a loan is around 610 to 640, depending on the lender — meaning not everyone with a Fair score would qualify.

Recommended: Do Personal Loans Build Credit?

Why a Credit Score Can Go Down After Paying Off a Debt

Because paying off debt feels good and improves your financial situation, people can be surprised when their credit score actually drops. This negative impact can be due to changes in one or more factors:

•   credit utilization

•   credit mix

•   overall credit age

When you pay off a credit card and then close the account, you reduce your available credit and increase your credit utilization. Similarly, if you pay off your only car loan and close that account, you have one fewer type of account in your credit mix. Finally, paying off and closing an older account may reduce the average age of your overall credit history. (We’ll explore these scenarios in more detail below.)

While none of these things is “bad” in financial terms, it temporarily counts against you in the world of credit scores.

What Is Credit Utilization?

Now for a little more background on credit utilization. Credit utilization is a factor with revolving forms of credit, such as credit cards and lines of credit, where you can reuse the account up to your limit.

Your credit utilization rate, or ratio, is determined by dividing the sum of your credit limits by the sum of your current balances. So if someone has a $5,000 limit and is using $2,500, that’s a 50% credit utilization rate. Your rate should be kept below 30% to avoid a negative affect on your credit score.

What Is a Credit Mix?

Lenders like to see that an applicant can successfully handle different kinds of credit. This includes installment loans like mortgages, car loans, and personal loans, as well as revolving credit such as credit cards and lines of credit. If a person can manage both types of credit well, a lender will likely consider them less of a risk.

Recommended: Should I Sell My House Now or Wait

How Credit Age Factors In

The length of your credit history demonstrates your experience in using credit. To lenders, the longer the better. When payments are on time, this combo reassures lenders that you will likely continue to make on-time payments going forward.

New credit accounts can also lower your credit age. More important, opening or even applying for many new accounts is a red flag to lenders that you may be in financial trouble. The application process also involves a hard credit inquiry, which can lower your credit score.

Sample Scenarios

Here are two examples of someone paying off a credit card. In one case, the credit score goes up. In another, it goes down.

Credit Utilization Goes Down / Credit Score Goes Up

Let’s say that someone has a credit utilization rate of 40%, which is negatively impacting their credit score. (Remember, below 30% is best.) When they make enough payments to bring their utilization rate down to 25%, this can boost their credit score.

Recommended: What Credit Score is Needed to Buy a Car

Credit Mix & Age Go Down / Credit Score Goes Down

Now, let’s imagine that someone pays off the balance of their first and only credit card. This should help their utilization score! But wait: Then they close the account, and their average credit age drops. And since this is their only form of revolving credit, their credit mix has lost out too.

Counterintuitively, paying off the card may make their credit score go down — at least in the short term.

Paying Off a Loan Early vs Paying It on Schedule

People often wonder if it’s better to pay off a loan early, if you can. In the case of a personal loan, early payoff can lower the average age of someone’s credit history, possibly lowering their credit score.

In reality, the effect will depend upon their overall credit situation. Paying the loan off according to the schedule will keep it open longer, which can help with their credit age. On the other hand, they’ll pay more in interest because the loan is still open.

If you’re in this situation, weigh the pros and cons before making the decision that’s best for you.

How Long Can It Take To See Your Credit Score Change?

According to the credit report agency TransUnion, credit reports are updated when lenders send them new information. In general, this happens every 30-45 days, though some lenders update more frequently.

If you’re concerned about your credit score, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. What qualifies as credit monitoring varies from company to company. Look for a one that sends alerts whenever your score changes for better or worse.

Recommended: What Is a Tri-Merge Credit Report?

The Takeaway

How paying off a debt affects someone’s credit score depends on the person’s overall credit profile. Paying off a credit card typically helps your credit score because the account remains open, lowering your credit utilization. Paying off a loan can hurt your score because the loan is then closed, potentially reducing your credit mix and age. Generally, though, borrowers shouldn’t let credit score concerns prevent them from taking actions that are in their financial interest.

To benefit from free credit monitoring and gain a bird’s eye view of your financial picture, try the SoFi app. You can connect all of your accounts into one convenient mobile dashboard, set multiple financial goals, track your spending, and more — all in one place.

Track your money like a champion with SoFi.

FAQ

How fast does your credit score increase after paying off a debt?

In fact, your credit score may dip for a short period after a debt is paid off. Lenders report new information to credit reporting agencies every 30-45 days, though some lenders update more frequently. Generally, you shouldn’t let concerns about your credit score prevent you from taking action that is in your best financial interest.

Is it best to pay off all debt before buying a house?

Credit report agency Experian says it generally makes sense to pay off credit card debt before buying a home. Just know that in some circumstances, paying off a debt may temporarily reduce your credit score — which can affect the loan terms you qualify for. If you do pay off a credit card, keep the account open until after you qualify for a loan.

How do you get an 800 credit score?

Pay bills on time, maintain a credit utilization rate under 30%, and effectively manage your credit history length, new credit requests, and credit mix. Although this won’t guarantee a score of 800, it will help you maximize yours.


Photo credit: iStock/Patcharapong Sriwichai

SoFi Relay offers users the ability to connect both SoFi accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc.’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. Based on your consent SoFi will also automatically provide some financial data received from the credit bureau for your visibility, without the need of you connecting additional accounts. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score is a VantageScore® based on TransUnion® (the “Processing Agent”) data.

*Terms and conditions apply. This offer is only available to new SoFi users without existing SoFi accounts. It is non-transferable. One offer per person. To receive the rewards points offer, you must successfully complete setting up Credit Score Monitoring. Rewards points may only be redeemed towards active SoFi accounts, such as your SoFi Checking or Savings account, subject to program terms that may be found here: SoFi Member Rewards Terms and Conditions. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Does a Background Check Include a Credit Check from a Potential Employer

Does a Background Check for Employment Include a Credit Check?

Sometimes employers approach background checks in different ways. In some cases, credit reports are included. A job background check may include a credit check in certain industries, such as banking and security. The size of the company can be a factor, too: Large corporations are more likely to conduct a credit check than a small family business.

We’ll walk through the specifics of when an employment background check may include a credit check, why potential employers want this information, and what financial data they have access to.

What Are Credit Checks?

A credit check is a request to see your financial data as collected by one of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Credit reports contain information about past and existing credit accounts, payment patterns, and how much debt you’re carrying.

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), only certain individuals and organizations have the right to check credit histories, such as lenders, insurance agents, and landlords. Potential employers can also conduct a credit check for employment purposes, with your permission.

Sometimes credit checks are conducted to confirm a consumer’s identity — and head off identity fraud — rather than to investigate your financial history. For instance, banks may run a limited credit check on customers looking to open a checking account.

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Credit Check vs Background Check

A background check contains identification verification information along with data from criminal records, educational and employment backgrounds, civil records, driving history, and more. In some instances, a background check may also contain a credit check.

The Importance of Good Credit

A good credit history primarily makes it easier to get approved for a loan, and to qualify for better interest rates and loan terms. The higher the score, the less someone will pay in interest over their lifetime, potentially saving them thousands of dollars.

Good credit can also help renters qualify for an apartment. In some cities, renters routinely provide a credit reference with their rental application. While there’s no minimum credit score needed to rent an apartment, a strong credit history shows landlords that you’re someone who pays their bills on time.

Employers may also check your credit if you’ve applied for a job. Having good credit without any red flags can make the hiring process go more smoothly. However, some cities and many states have banned this protocol or put limits on it.

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Why Employers Look at Your Credit Score

An employer may run a credit check on a job applicant whom they’re seriously considering hiring. Employer credit checks are more common in industries where employees handle money or have access to customers’ financial data.

By conducting credit checks, businesses hope to confirm that an applicant demonstrates financial responsibility and doesn’t pose a security risk to the company, other employees, or customers.

Responsibility

A credit report shows how responsibly an applicant has handled their own money. If there are any red flags, the employer may not want to hire that person to handle company funds or take on other important responsibilities.

Security

A credit report can be used to verify your identity along with other pieces of background information. If there are discrepancies that can’t be easily cleared up, that’s a red flag.

What a Credit Report May Tell an Employer

The information in a credit report can include employment history as well as red flags such as late payments, debts sent to collections, foreclosures, liens, lawsuits, and judgments.

Employment History

Your complete employment history is not included in a credit report. Past and current employers may appear on your credit report, but only if you listed them on a loan or credit card application. Typically, if a lender wants your employment history, they will ask you for it directly.

Late Payments

Credit reports contain information about current and historical credit accounts, including installment loans (mortgages, car loans, personal loans) and revolving credit (credit cards and lines of credit). The reports typically contain information from the past seven to ten years, including a person’s payment history and whether credit accounts are paid up to date or are past due.

Recommended: What Credit Score is Needed to Buy a Car

Debt Collection

Once someone is behind on payments — at least 120 days — the lender may send the account to a collections agency. These agencies attempt to collect on the bill. This can have a significant impact on your credit score, since making payments on time is the biggest factor in the algorithm that determines your credit score.

Debt Charge-Off

If a company you owe money decides they can’t collect the funds, they can “charge off” the amount as uncollectible. This may stay on your credit report for seven years, starting with the delinquency date that ultimately led to the charge-off. A debt charge-off typically lowers the person’s credit score even more than going to collections.

Foreclosures

When a homeowner misses multiple mortgage payments, the lender may take possession of the home, or “foreclose” upon it. This remains on a credit report for seven years, starting with the first missed payment that ultimately led to the foreclosure. This can significantly reduce someone’s credit score — although the impact may diminish over time — and can be a red flag for employers.

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Liens

A tax lien is a claim that you owe money for taxes, usually federal, state, or property tax. Tax liens no longer appear on credit reports by the three major credit bureaus, and they can’t affect your credit. They are, however, available on public records. If an employer conducts a full background check, they can still receive this information.

Lawsuits and Judgments

Just like tax liens, judgments from lawsuits are not included in credit reports or factored into a credit score. An employer that conducts a background check, though, will likely receive this information because it’s part of public records.

Recommended: What is The Difference Between Transunion and Equifax

How to Prepare for an Employer Credit Check

Every consumer should be aware of what information is available on their credit report. You can request your credit report and find out your credit score for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Review your report for errors. Even small typos — like misspelling your name — could present problems down the line. Report them to the relevant credit bureaus via their online dispute process to have them corrected or removed.

You may also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. What qualifies as credit monitoring varies from company to company. Look for a service that sends customers alerts whenever their credit score changes, accounts are opened or closed, and red flags appear on their credit history.

If you’ve had financial problems in the past but have turned things around, be prepared to explain to your potential employer how you’ve accomplished that.

Recommended: What Is a Tri-Merge Credit Report?

Credit Check Limitations

Credit reports contain a lot of private financial information. However, you can feel secure knowing that there are strict limits to what can be included. The following information cannot appear on your credit report:

•   Account balances for checking, savings, and investments

•   Records of purchases made

•   Income information

•   Judgments and tax liens

•   Medical information (physical and mental), although money owed to a doctor or hospital can appear

•   Marital status

•   Disabilities

•   Race and ethnicity

•   Religious affiliations

•   Political affiliations

Does an Employer Credit Check Hurt Your Credit Score?

No. Employers conduct what is known as a “soft credit inquiry” or soft pull. Because the credit check isn’t the result of applying for a new loan or credit card, the request probably won’t appear on your credit report and it won’t affect your score.

What Are Your Legal Rights as a Job Applicant?

According to federal law, job applicants have the right to:

•   know what is in their file

•   ask for a credit score

•   dispute incorrect or incomplete information

•   be told if information in the file is used against them

An employer or potential employer must get written consent before they can request credit report information (the trucking industry is an exception). Some cities and many states have banned or put limits on an employer’s ability to check your credit report.

The Takeaway

Employers may run credit checks on applicants as part of the hiring process. By conducting credit checks, businesses hope to confirm that an applicant demonstrates financial responsibility and doesn’t pose a security risk to the company, other employees, and customers. Credit checks are more common at large corporations and in industries where employees handle money or have access to customers’ financial data. You can prepare for an employer credit check by requesting your report and correcting any errors.

SoFi is a mobile money tracker app that monitors all of your money, all in one place. Plus, you’ll receive free credit monitoring, spending breakdowns, and financial insights. Because SoFi credit monitoring involves only a soft pull, it won’t affect your credit score.

Track your money, and your credit, like a champion.

FAQ

Why do background checks include credit reports?

Information found in a credit report can give the employer a sense of the job applicant’s financial stability. This may be especially important if the job involves handling money, financial data, or pharmaceuticals. Some industries that routinely pull credit checks on applicants include banking, retail, insurance, public safety, and security.

Does a background check include a hard credit check?

No. A background check with credit check involves a soft inquiry, so it won’t affect your credit score.

What causes a red flag on a background check?

Criminal records, suspicious credit histories, inconsistencies in information provided, and gaps in employment history can be considered red flags.


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SoFi Relay offers users the ability to connect both SoFi accounts and external accounts using Plaid, Inc.’s service. When you use the service to connect an account, you authorize SoFi to obtain account information from any external accounts as set forth in SoFi’s Terms of Use. Based on your consent SoFi will also automatically provide some financial data received from the credit bureau for your visibility, without the need of you connecting additional accounts. SoFi assumes no responsibility for the timeliness, accuracy, deletion, non-delivery or failure to store any user data, loss of user data, communications, or personalization settings. You shall confirm the accuracy of Plaid data through sources independent of SoFi. The credit score is a VantageScore® based on TransUnion® (the “Processing Agent”) data.

*Terms and conditions apply. This offer is only available to new SoFi users without existing SoFi accounts. It is non-transferable. One offer per person. To receive the rewards points offer, you must successfully complete setting up Credit Score Monitoring. Rewards points may only be redeemed towards active SoFi accounts, such as your SoFi Checking or Savings account, subject to program terms that may be found here: SoFi Member Rewards Terms and Conditions. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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What Does Unlimited Cash Back Mean? Is It Worth It?

What Does Unlimited Cash Back Mean? Is It Worth It?

There are lots of different credit card types to choose from, especially if you have a high credit score. In an attempt to earn your business, many card issuers offer rewards every time you use their card, including unlimited cash back for qualifying purchases.

What unlimited cash-back means is you can earn uncapped rewards using the card — in other words, your earning potential isn’t limited to a certain amount. While this might sound too good to pass up, there are both pros and cons to consider to determine whether unlimited cash back is worth it for you.

What Is Cash Back?

Cash back is a type of reward that a credit card issuer may offer through its rewards credit cards. Depending on the terms, cardholders can earn a certain percentage back on qualifying purchases (cash advances typically don’t qualify). For instance, you may be able to earn 2% cash back on purchases at gas stations, or 3% back at grocery stores.

Some cards may put caps on how much cash back you can earn. As an example, a card may limit cardholders to 2% cash back for up to $5,000 in purchases in a calendar year. While cardholders may still be able to earn cash back after they’ve hit their certain earnings threshold, they may earn rewards at a lower rate thereafter.

What Is Unlimited Cash Back?

Unlimited cash back means that your credit card offers cash-back rewards with no caps or limits on how much you can earn. In most cases, you can earn cash back on all of your purchases, though some cards may only offer unlimited cash back on certain spending categories.

For most credit cards, your cash-back rewards don’t expire as long as you keep your card open. This means that if you continue racking up rewards, you may be able to redeem your accumulated cash-back rewards for a sizable statement credit or other perk.

How Unlimited Cash Back Credit Cards Work

How credit cards work that offer unlimited cash back is that they allow cardholders to earn cash back on their purchases with no earning cap. In other words, there is no limit as to how much you can earn on qualifying purchases with these types of credit cards.

As you earn these rewards, you can redeem them in several ways. This includes as a statement credit or actual cash via a check or bank transfer.

In general, you’ll need good or excellent credit (meaning a score of 670 or above) to qualify for an unlimited cash back card. That being said, there are also cash back credit cards with less stringent credit card requirements, meaning you may be able to qualify even if you have a fair credit score or limited credit history. In general, however, the higher your score, the better the rewards tend to be.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Pros and Cons of Unlimited Cash Back

Before signing up for an unlimited cash back credit card, consider the advantages and disadvantages first.

Pros

Cons

Can earn money back on purchases, with no caps on earnable rewards Generally need at least good credit to qualify for top rewards programs
Don’t have to worry about hitting spending thresholds or other caps May need to pay an annual fee
Simple and straightforward to earn and redeem rewards Like other rewards credit cards, may have a higher APR than standard credit cards
Can help to build credit with responsible usage Not as lucrative of a rewards option for frequent travelers

Is Unlimited Cash Back Worth It?

Getting an unlimited cash back credit card might be worth it if you’re confident you can maximize its rewards. For instance, if you continually make purchases in higher rewards categories, you can save some serious cash due to the rewards earnings. Ideally, you’d be able to earn enough rewards to entirely offset the annual fee, if your card has one.

An unlimited cash back card may not be a great fit if you continually carry a balance on your credit card, given what a credit card is and how you’ll accrue interest. Your interest rate will likely be higher than the cash back rate you’ll earn, which means carrying a balance could cancel out rewards earnings.

Another reason to think twice about an unlimited cash back card is if you’re a frequent traveler. A travel rewards program may be a better choice since you can earn free flights, hotel rooms, and even cash back. Plus, you might earn more lucrative rewards on travel-related spending than a cash back card would offer.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Categories of Unlimited Cash Back Credit Cards You Can Choose From

There are several ways credit cards give you cash back, including flat rate and through different spending categories.

Flat Rate

Flat-rate rewards allow you to earn the same cash-back rate across all purchases made using a credit card. For instance, you might earn 3% cash back on all purchases made with the card. Some may issue you a certain percentage cash back when you make a purchase, and then another amount you pay off your credit card bill. Regardless, your specific spending category won’t matter for earning with a flat-rate rewards card.

Rotating Categories

Your credit card may offer several spending categories each quarter that you can select from to earn cash back. For instance, you might be able to choose to get 5% cash back on purchases at gas stations or office supply stores for the first quarter. After the quarter is over, you can choose a different spending category.

While rotating categories can allow you to maximize your rewards-earning potential, this setup does require some strategizing. You’ll need to stay on top of choosing a new category each quarter. Plus, you’ll then have to make sure you adequately take advantage of spending within that category.

Fixed Spending Categories

Instead of choosing different categories every quarter, some credit cards offer fixed cash-back earnings for various spending categories. For instance, a card may allow you to earn 3% cash back for purchases at grocery stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

While fixed spending categories require much less planning ahead for, you will want to ensure the card you sign up for rewards you in a category you regularly spend in. Otherwise, you could end up forgoing valuable rewards.

Maximizing Unlimited Cash Back Earnings

If you want to make the most of earning unlimited cash back, here are some general credit card rules to keep in mind:

Select the Right Card

It’s a good idea to do your research and find a card that matches your spending habits. For example, if you use your credit card a lot at gas stations, it might not be the best choice to sign up for a card that doesn’t offer cash back rewards for this category.

Time Your Spending

If you sign up for a credit card with a sign up bonus, consider timing your card opening with a major purchase you’d been planning. Doing so will help ensure that you meet the minimum spend requirements in order to earn the bonus.

Or, if your credit card is about to have extra earnings for a rotating category, you might think about waiting until that time to make a planned purchase.

Note Spending Categories

After signing up for a card, pay attention to how much cash back you’ll earn in different categories if it’s not a flat rate card. That way, you can be sure to use that card exclusively for certain spending categories, or make sure you sign up for rotating categories well within the deadline.

Review Credit Card Terms

Looking over your credit card terms can help to ensure that you know what does and doesn’t count toward earnings. You might also discover through your card’s terms that you can earn enhanced rewards by taking certain actions, such as holding a certain amount of money in an associated bank account.

The Takeaway

A cash-back credit card is a great way to earn rewards that doesn’t necessarily require a complicated redemption process. Even better is when the card doesn’t place limits on the amount of cash-back rewards you can earn, which is the meaning of unlimited cash back.

Still, you’ll need to make sure you avoid carrying a balance and take steps to maximize your rewards to ensure you don’t negate your cash-back rewards earnings.

Looking for an easy way to earn cash back? Check out the SoFi credit card.

FAQ

How does unlimited cash back work?

If you have a credit card with unlimited cash back, that means there are no limits on the amount of rewards you can earn through qualifying purchases.

Is unlimited cash back better than points?

Whether cash back or points is better really depends on your preferences. Cash back is straightforward to track and redeem. Meanwhile, points may translate to a greater range of redemption opportunities, including for travel-related purchases. However, the value of points can vary depending on the card and the way the points are redeemed.


Photo credit: iStock/AsiaVision






Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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