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The 5 Ways a Personal Loan Can Affect Your Credit Score

Alex Huntsberger
Alex Huntsberger has covered loans, credit scores, and personal finance for OppLoans since 2015. He is a graduate of Oberlin College and a regular contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Updated on October 21, 2021
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Certain aspects of taking out a personal loan can help your score, while others can hurt it. In the end, just make sure you're borrowing responsibly.

Maintaining your credit score is a pretty non-negotiable part of modern day life. While it certainly is possible to live a rich and full life without any credit score whatsoever, it involves quite a bit of extra hassle, and it’s certainly not for everyone. If you want access to credit, you’re going to need to maintain your credit score. It’s as simple as that.

The most common form of credit that people use is credit cards. And that makes sense. Their revolving balances allow people to use them for everyday purchases, all the while accruing points or miles that they can use for future purchases or travel. Like all forms of consumer credit, credit cards can hurt or help your credit score. It all depends on how you use them.

The same holds true for unsecured personal loans. In this post, we’ll give you a detailed overview of how a personal loan can both harm and help your credit score. But what it all comes down to is this: Using credit responsibly is good for your score, while using it irresponsibly is bad.

How your credit score works.

Your credit score is created using information from your credit reports, which track your history of using credit over the past seven years. (Some information, like bankruptcies, will stay on your report for longer.) Your credit reports are compiled by the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

Your credit reports contain a whole range of information, including how much credit you’ve used, what type of credit you have, your total open credit lines, whether you pay your bills on time, the age of your credit accounts, whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy or had liens placed against you, any debt collection actions taken against you, and whether you’ve had any recent hard credit inquiries.

All that information is then fed through a (mostly) secret formula to create your credit score. The most common type of score is your FICO score, which is scored on a scale from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better. Any score above 720 is generally considered great, while any score below 630 is considered flat-out bad.

The two most important factors in your credit score are your payment history (35%) and your total amounts owed (30%). Together they make up well over half your score. The other major factors are the length of your credit history (15%), your credit mix (10%), and your recent credit inquiries (10%).

1. How a personal loan affects your payment history.

Assuming that you take out a personal installment loan, which is broken up into a series of small, regular payments, paying your loan on time should help your score while missed or late payment can hurt it.

Payment history is the single most important part of your credit score, and one late payment can dramatically lower your score. Meanwhile, it takes months and years of on-time payments to maintain a sterling payment history and to keep your score afloat.

2. How it affects your amounts owed.

When you take out a personal installment loan, you are adding money to your total amounts owed. This will probably have the effect of lowering your score in the short-term. Adding more debt means that you are increasing your overall debt load, which will likely cause your score to go down. Taking on more debt means an increased risk that you’ll take out too much. (For more on personal loans, visit this OppU post “What is a Personal Loan?“.)

However, if you have a thin credit history (which means you haven’t used much credit), taking out a personal loan will likely help your amounts owed in the long run. Showing that you can manage your debt load is great for your score and sends a signal to potential lenders and landlords that you’re a good bet.

This is one area where credit cards have a leg-up on personal loans. With a credit card, you can help maintain your credit score by never using more than 30% of your total credit limit, and if you pay the bill in full each month before the grace period expires, you won’t have to pay any interest. This can be an effective way to raise your credit score over time.

3 & 4. What about your length of history and credit mix?

While these factors are less important than your payment history and your amounts owed, they’re still areas where a personal loan can help or hurt your score. With your credit mix, for instance, it will depend on what other kinds of loans or cards you’ve taken out. Does this personal loan make your mix of loans and cards more or less diverse?

For instance, if you have two credit cards and car loan (all of which you are using responsibly), then taking out a personal loan will likely help your score because it means you’re using a new kind of credit. Whereas if you take out an online loan in addition to the two other personal loans you’ve used, your score will may get dinged. The more diverse your credit mix, the more it will help your credit.

In regards to the length of your credit history, most traditional installment loans come with a multi-year repayment period. So the longer you’ve been paying off your loan, the older the average age of your credit accounts. Older credit accounts help your score because they show that you’ve been able to maintain long-term relationships with your lenders.

There is, however, a weird downside here. When you finally pay off your loan, it could actually cause your score to drop. What?! Well, closing out the account will lower the average age of your open accounts, which will hurt your overall score. This is also why you shouldn’t always close old credit cards. The age of those accounts (plus the higher overall credit limit) can help your score!

5. A new personal loan means new credit inquiries.

When you apply for a regular personal loan, your lender will run a hard check on your credit. This means pulling a full copy of your credit report so that they can get a full accounting of your credit history. It’s standard procedure for personal loans, auto loans, and mortgages.

Here’s the downside: Recent credit inquiries will ding your score. Usually, no more than five points or so, and the effect will usually be gone within a year or so. Still, there’s no denying that this part of taking out a personal loan will slightly lower your score. With home and auto loans, multiple inquiries can be bundled together on your score, but this generally doesn’t happen with regular personal loans.

The most important thing is to borrow responsibly.

As we said up top, the most important part about taking out a personal loan is to use it responsibly. Don’t take out more money than you need, make your payments on time, and make sure your payment amounts fit within your budget. You could even possibly use your personal loan to consolidate higher-interest credit card debt.

Do all that, and your personal loan may end up being a net positive for your credit score.

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