Does Unpaid Tuition Affect Your Credit Score?

Large group of students attending a class at lecture hall

Colleges don't report tuition payments to the credit bureaus, so late tuition payments don't show up on your credit report or factor into your credit score. However, failing to pay your tuition can have credit-damaging consequences. If your unpaid tuition goes into collections, that collection account can appear on your credit report and lower your credit score.

What Happens When You Have Unpaid Tuition?

Every school has its own policies and timelines for dealing with unpaid tuition, but it's common for schools to place financial holds on student accounts that are past due. This could prevent you from registering for classes, receiving your diploma or accessing your transcripts. If you're currently attending school, prolonged delinquency can cause you to be dropped from classes or lose your campus housing. Studying in the U.S. under an F1 Visa? Your visa eligibility could be at risk if your registration lapses.

An unpaid tuition bill can also end up in collections. Your school may have its own collection department or it may sell unpaid tuition debt to a collection agency. If collections aren't resolved and the amount owed paid, your school may choose to take legal action. You may be responsible for any fees associated with collecting your debt. Whatever it takes, it's worth the effort to prevent your tuition bill from moving into collections—or, worse, court. Create a payoff plan and contact your school as soon as you anticipate financial difficulty.

How to Start Paying Tuition—Immediately and Long Term

If you foresee a problem paying tuition, meet with the financial aid office as soon as possible to enlist their help. They should be able to explain any payment arrangements available to you and clarify important deadlines to help keep your account out of collections. They may also be able to point you toward emergency aid, late-deadline scholarships or campus jobs to help you get payments back on track.

Unpaid tuition can be both a short- and long-term issue. You may be able to smooth over a momentary financial shortfall by switching to monthly payments, for example, and reducing the amount you need to come up with right away. But a missed tuition payment can also be a sign that your college financial plan needs a reset. If your parents lost their jobs during the pandemic, your financial aid money fell through, or you're finding your expenses are much higher than you anticipated, you may need to revisit the question of how you will afford college. Your long-term plan may require more financial aid, student loans or even a less expensive school.

Meanwhile, how do you raise money to pay your tuition now? A few ideas to consider:

  • Get a job. There are many ways to make money in college, but a part-time job may be the quickest path to extra income. You may even want to reduce your class schedule or take a semester off to save extra money.
  • Ask family or friends. While not always easy to do, asking your parents or close relatives or friends for a gift or a loan could tide you over at least for the time being.
  • Seek out scholarships. Scholarship opportunities abound at your school and beyond. They may not come in time to help you make a late payment, but applying now could help for the next school year.
  • Accept federal student loans. If you haven't taken on any student loans yet, now may be the time. With low interest rates and special protections, federal student loans are typically your best option.
  • Consider a private student loan. Federal student loans require you to complete a FAFSA application well in advance of the school year. If the FAFSA deadline is long past and your tuition is due now, looking into a student loan from a private lender might be worthwhile. You'll need good credit or a cosigner, but you don't have to wait for the next financial aid cycle to apply.

How to Deal With Unpaid Tuition Already in Collections

What if your student account has already gone to collections? Learn more about how to deal with debt collectors and what to do when your account goes into collections: Many of the same principles and protections apply whether your account is a mortgage, credit card or tuition account. The bottom line is straightforward: Pay off the account as soon as possible.

Here's helpful information to know when your account is in collections:

  • Once your debt is in collections, be prepared to deal with the collection agency and not your school.
  • Though you should respond to collection calls, you don't have to agree to anything over the phone. Ask to receive key information—an explanation of your debt or a repayment plan, for instance—in writing, and schedule a follow-up call if necessary to discuss next steps.
  • By law, collection agents may not threaten or abuse you, and if you ask them in writing to stop contacting you, they must comply.

A collection account stays on your credit report for seven years from the date of the original delinquency and will lower your credit score for as long as it's there.

When you're having issues with unpaid tuition or even if you find a solution and get back on track, consider setting up free credit monitoring to keep track of your credit report and score. This is a good practice at any time, but it can be especially helpful if you're worried about an unpaid bill. You'll be notified if there's any activity in your credit file—and can feel reassured if there's no activity to report.