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What Is the Average Credit Score of a College Student?

College students tend to have below-average credit scores. Here’s how you can build credit.

Chris Scott

Contributing Writer at Tally

May 25, 2021

A recent study found that in 2019, college students reported having an average of five credit cards. The average monthly balance was $1,423. 

If you're a college student interested in taking out a credit card, it's important that you not only understand how the cards work but also the impact they can have on your credit score. Credit scores affect your ability to open new cards in the future, take out a student loan or rent an apartment. 

In this article, we take a deep dive into credit scores and the impact they have on college students. We answer all of the questions you've had about credit scores, including "What is a credit score?" and "What is the average credit score of a college student?" By the end, you should have a much clearer understanding of what a credit score is and how to build credit

What Is a Credit Score? 

A credit score is a three-digit number that relays your creditworthiness to lenders. Essentially, it quantifies your credit report and credit history. The number typically ranges between 300 and 850. The higher the number, the more likely a lender is to extend you a line of credit with a low interest rate. 

What Is the Average Credit Score of a College Student? 

There is no statistic that outright measures the credit scores for college students exclusively. So, we'll use the average score of those 18 to 24, which is the age many people attend college. The average credit score of this age group, according to Credit Karma, is 630. 

This is a bit lower than the average credit score in America, which is 703. For reference, a good credit score is between 670 and 739. 

How Are Credit Scores Calculated? 

There are three main credit bureaus: 

  1. ​Experian.

  2. Equifax.

  3. Transunion.

When you open a credit line, your lenders report your repayment information to these three bureaus. Types of credit lines include: 

  • Credit card accounts.

  • Auto loans.

  • Student loans.

  • Personal loans.

So, for instance, let's say that you open a credit card. Your credit card issuer will report your spending and repayment history to the bureaus. This information includes things like whether you have missed payments and carry a balance. 

Your personal finance information is then entered into two different scoring models, producing a FICO score and VantageScore. The two scoring models use different criteria to come up with your credit score. 

The five factors that go into a FICO credit score are: 

  1. Payment history = 35%. 

  2. Amounts owed = 30%. 

  3. Length of credit history = 15%. 

  4. New credit = 10%.

  5. Credit mix = 10%. 

The VantageScore doesn't quite offer weighted percentages, but it does define what it values most

  • Credit utilization, balance and available credit = Extremely influential. 

  • Credit mix and experience = Highly influential. 

  • Payment history = Moderately influential. 

  • Age of credit history = Less influential. 

  • New accounts opened = Less influential. 

When information is sent to the credit bureaus, it takes at least 30 days to reflect on your credit score. 

What Can a College Student Do to Build Credit? 

Having a good credit score is important for college students for a few reasons. One, it impacts your ability to open student credit cards and student loans. If you have bad interest, you may not be able to open these credit accounts. And even if you are able to open a credit account, you may have high interest rates, which could make balances more difficult to pay off in the long run. 

Second, you want to put yourself in a good financial position coming out of college. It can take years for information to leave your credit report. The decisions you make with your personal finances now can impact your life for years to come, which could impact your ability to get a car loan or mortgage after graduation. 

If you have poor credit, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your financial situation. Below are a few things that college students can do to build credit. 

1. Open a student credit card 

Student credit cards are an excellent way to start building credit, so long as you use them responsibly. Try to only use the card for expenses that you can pay off in full each month. If you only make minimum monthly payments, you will avoid penalty fees, but you will still be charged compounding interest on the outstanding balance. 

If you have bad credit, a credit card company may not approve you as a borrower. In these cases, look toward opening a secured credit card. To open a secured credit card, you'll need to put a deposit down upfront. This deposit then becomes your credit limit. 

2. Avoid applying for too many cards 

Every time you apply for a line of credit, lenders need to run a hard inquiry on your credit report. This subsequently shows up on your credit report, impacting your credit score. 

Before applying for a line of credit, do a bit of homework. Many lenders offer "pre-approvals" so that you can determine whether you'll be approved. These only require soft inquiries, which won't impact your credit report. 

If you continually apply for cards and are rejected, you'll end up making it even harder on yourself to get approved. Only apply for a line of credit if you have a chance of being approved. 

3. Be added as an authorized user

If you know someone, perhaps a parent, who has good credit history, you can ask them to add you as an authorized user on their credit card. You are then linked to their line of credit. For instance, if they have a $10,000 limit, you both can use the money — the limit is the combined amount that you can use together, not individually. 

You will benefit from the credit card owner’s strong repayment habits. These habits will then show on your credit file, increasing your score. 

4. Make payments on time 

Whether you have a credit card or a private student loan, it's important to make payments on time. Credit repair becomes significantly more challenging if you make late payments. 

Your credit report and score reflect your ability to repay debt. If you have a history of late payments, it calls into question whether you're a reliable borrower. At the very least, try to make the minimum payment by the due date. 

What Are Good Credit Card Options for College Students? 

The best credit cards for college students are those that allow them to build credit. If you have a decent credit card, you may even find that lenders will offer lower interest rates, cash back and minimum annual fees. 

There are multiple options available for students, including ones from Discover and Capital One. 

What Can College Students Do If They are in Credit Card Debt? 

If you are a college student in credit card debt, there are a few things that you can do to reverse course. For one, make sure that you start making minimum payments. This will at least prevent you from accumulating more debt, which tends to happen with credit cards due to compounding interest

The easiest way to do this is with a credit card payoff app like Tally. Tally automatically pays down your credit card balances in the most efficient way possible. The app also makes sure that you never miss another due date, which can help improve your credit score factors. Tally, therefore, not only helps you get out of debt but also helps you improve your credit score factors. 

Understanding Credit Scores in College Will Shape Your Financial Future 

If you're in college, you may be tempted to borrow money. Between credit cards and student loans, access to "free" money is relatively easy and can be tempting. However, it's important that you understand what a credit score is and how it will impact your financial health. 

Now that you know the answer to, "What is the average credit score of a college student?" you can measure how you stack up compared to others in your age group. From there, you can implement sound financial practices and get to work building your credit. 

If you do have outstanding credit card balances, look into a credit card payoff app like Tally. Tally quickly pays off your credit card balances, freeing up cash that you can use to get started once you graduate college.

Learn more about how Tally can help you manage credit card debt.