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Will a HECS or HELP debt affect your credit score?

Will a HECS or HELP debt affect your credit score?

If you sailed through your university degree without giving a second thought to the HECS-HELP debt you were racking up in the process, it’s safe to say you’re not alone.

But while your uni days might now be a thing of the past and your focus is on making plans for the future, you may be left with growing concern that your student debt will rear its ugly head.

HECS-HELP loans assist eligible Commonwealth-supported higher education students to pay for their studies. And while this is a helpful and often necessary program for many tertiary students in Australia, it’s oftentimes overlooked as a genuine debt.

The reason for this likely comes down to the ways in which a HECS-HELP loan differs from loans provided by commercial lenders, including the following: 

  • Interest isn’t charged on the loan amount (though indexation is added each year)
  • It’s often viewed as an investment
  • Repayment amounts are dependent on your salary
  • There’s no time limit for paying it off

For the most part, it can be easy to disregard your HECS-HELP debt as it’s generally deducted from your salary before your take home pay reaches your bank account.

But if you find yourself in the market for a finance product, such as a personal loan, car loan or a home loan, you may wonder if your student debt could impact your credit score and borrowing potential.

While your HECS-HELP debt might not technically affect your credit score, it can affect your borrowing power.

Generally speaking, Australian university graduates with a HECS-HELP debt won’t find themselves at risk of defaulting because repayments are directly deducted from their salary. Plus, if they lose their job, their repayments are put on hold. As a result, the debt won’t impact their credit score like a commercial loan could.

How your HECS-HELP debt can affect your borrowing power

When you apply for a loan, the bank or lender will likely assess your gross income, deduct expenses and liabilities, and calculate how much you can afford to borrow off your net income.

Even if your HECS-HELP loan is the only debt you have, it is still considered a liability. It reduces your net income by between 1 per cent for those earning $46,620, and 10 per cent for those earning upwards of $136,740.

This means that you are likely to have greater borrowing power, or be able to borrow more money, once your HECS-HELP debt has been paid off.

Ways to improve your borrowing power

If you do still have a HECS-HELP debt, there are actions you can take to potentially improve your borrowing power and help boost your chances of getting approved for the loan you want.

Check how much is still owing

If you earn a salary of $100,000, for example, and you’ve only got $2,000 owing on your HECS-HELP loan, it might be worth paying off the remaining amount in full, and then issuing proof to your lender. The reason being is that the lender will still see your debt as 7 per cent (the repayment rate) of $100,000 (the repayment income), which is $7,000. Eliminating this liability, if your finances allow, will likely improve your borrowing power, which may be particularly important for higher value loans such as a home loan.

Live within your means

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to be aware that banks will often go through your statements very thoroughly, and frivolous spending generally won’t make you seem very responsible or disciplined as a saver. On top of this, it may add to your expenses and bring down your net income, affecting your borrowing power along the way.

Reduce your credit limits

If you have a credit card with a considerable amount of available credit, it might be an idea to reduce the limit. For example, you may have a credit card with a $10,000 limit, but only $1,500 worth of debt on it. Even though your debt is technically only $1,500, your lender will actually consider this a $10,000 debt since you could essentially use the remaining $8,500 credit at any given moment. 

Why it’s still important to think about your credit score

Having an excellent credit history is an important part of your financial health. Borrowers with good credit scores typically have more finance options and more competitive rates available to them. So, it goes without saying that it’s always a good idea to consider your credit score.

Even though having a HECS-HELP debt doesn’t directly affect your credit score, the fact that it can limit your borrowing power means that a strong credit score can really assist with securing your preferred loan.

Here are some ideas of steps you could take to work on improving your credit score:

  • Lower your credit limits: This may help you avoid overspending, make your payments more manageable, and will also be recorded as positive credit behaviour.
  • Pay your credit card bills on time: Consider paying more than the minimum amount, and pay them off in full wherever possible.
  • Pay your utility bills on time: It might be a good idea to set a reminder for when your bills are due each month.
  • Limit the amount of applications you submit for loans or credit cards: Be sure to do your due diligence before applying, and only submit one application at a time.
  • Focus on paying down existing debts: If you have multiple debts, you may like to consider a debt consolidation personal loan to help make payments more manageable, and potentially access a more competitive interest rate.
  • Consider reaching out to a financial advisor: A financial advisor can assist by providing you with personalised information unique to your financial circumstances.

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This article was reviewed by Finance Writer Alison Cheung before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.

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