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7 best credit-building apps

Boost your credit history with one of these best credit-building apps and cards.

The average American has a credit score of 717, as reported by the credit scoring service FICO. On the flipside, about 12.6% of Americans have a credit score between 300 and 579, as noted by Experian. If you have bad credit or no credit history, it might be difficult to build your credit history because lenders may not approve you for typical credit-building products like credit cards or loans — but you don’t have to take that traditional path to boost your credit.

Credit-builder apps offer an alternative way to help build your credit history. The best credit-building apps feature products like credit-building loans, secured cards with no interest charges and no hard credit checks. There are even apps that help build credit history with subscription services you already pay for every month.

7 best credit-building apps

Best overall and for rent reporting

Self Credit Builder

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on Self's secure site
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Self easily takes the best overall slot for its stellar and affordable credit-building app, rent reporting and no hard credit checks on most of its products. The app earns 4.5 stars on Google Play and 4.9 stars on the Apple App Store. It has free rent reporting to all three credit bureaus, and there's also a feature called 'Lookback,' which reports up to two years of past rent payments for a one-time $49.95 fee. It also offers credit-building loans with its Credit Builder Account and a secured Self Visa Credit card — both have no hard credit check. But, to get a Self Visa Credit Card, you must meet eligibility requirements and have a Credit Builder Account. While Self offers utility and bill reporting, those payments are only sent to TransUnion, and the Credit Builder Account has a fee if you pay by debit card.

Best free app

Step Visa Card

4.7
★★★★★

Finder score

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Step offers a free secured card for all ages. There are no membership fees, interest charges or overdraft fees, and there's no hard credit check — all these features combined make Step one of the best free credit-building apps. App users are also satisfied, showing a 4.6-star rating on Google Play and a 4.7-star rating on the App Store. The secured card is backed by the Step deposit account, and your credit limit is based on what you have deposited, so you won't have to worry about overspending. With the autopay feature Smart Pay, your owed balance is repaid every month, so there are no interest charges to worry about. Step also reports payments to all three credit bureaus. In addition, earn cashback rewards of up to 3%, check out the optional investing platform, referral rewards and even earn savings rewards if you meet deposit requirements.

Best for college students

Fizz debit card

4.7
★★★★★

Finder score

Earn 1,000 points ($10 value) when you download the Fizz app and enter code FINDER.
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The Fizz card is designed by and for college students and is a credit card that works like a debit card. You link the Fizz card to an existing bank account with at least $150, spend with the Fizz card, and your balance is repaid automatically when you set up autopay. Since your balance is repaid every cycle, there are no interest charges. With no fees for membership, foreign transactions, overdrafts, late payments or interest charges, the Fizz card is affordable and accessible to young adults. It's also highly rated by users, earning 4.5 stars with Apple and 4.3 stars on Google Play. Fizz also offers a generous cashback rewards program with popular merchants around college campuses, such as Auntie Anne's, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Jamba Juice and Petsmart. But this card isn't designed for emergencies since you can only spend what you have deposited in your linked account, and Fizz doesn't have physical branches. Instead, there's live in-app chat support, and to speak to someone on the phone, you'll have to send a message to request a phone call.

Best for budgeting

Cleo Credit Builder Card

4.4
★★★★★

Finder score

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Cleo's financial app is full of budgeting, credit-building and savings features. The app has a free Cleo Wallet, and its star feature is the Cleo AI chatbot that roasts you for poor spending habits, praises you for good habits, and helps you budget. For credit building, there's the secured Cleo Credit Builder Card and Credit Builder membership, which costs $14.99 per month. The card requires a low $1 minimum deposit, and your deposit sets the borrowing limit. The card has no credit score requirements or hard credit pull, and your balance is repaid automatically by your linked account or with your security deposit. Cleo also features a savings account with 4.11% APY and a $2.99 monthly fee, cashback rewards and cash advances. The biggest downside is the monthly membership fee for Credit Builder, making it one of the most expensive options on this list, but the Cleo wallet, AI chatbot and budgeting features are free to use. On app stores, it has a 4.7-star rating on Apple and a 4.2-star rating on Google Play.

Best for building credit with subscriptions

Grow Credit

4.5
★★★★★

Finder score

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on Grow Credit's secure site
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Grow Credit helps build your credit using your existing monthly subscriptions. You'll need an existing bank account and a Grow Debit Mastercard that you'll set up to pay for your subscription services, such as Netflix, Disney+ or Hulu. Grow then reports these payments to all three major credit bureaus, with the balance automatically deducted from your bank account, interest-free. Grow Credit works with over 100 subscription services, and you don't have to pay any monthly fees for a year with its basic membership Build, which reports up to $17 in monthly subscription services. If you want to add more subscriptions, you can upgrade to Grow for $4.99 per month to get $50 in subscriptions reported or Accelerate for $9.99 per month to get $150 in subscriptions reported. But after the first year, the Build plan costs $2.99 per month. As far as the app goes, Grow Credit is highly rated, with 4.8 stars on Apple's App Store and 4.4 stars on Google Play.

Best for security features

Cred.ai

4.5
★★★★★

Finder score

on Cred.ai's secure site
Cred.ai is a fintech company that provides mobile-only banking and credit-building through its secured Unicorn Card. The card is linked to an external checking account or the Cred.ai free deposit account, and the money in your linked account sets the spending limit. The Unicorn card has no APR, no monthly fees and doesn't require a hard credit check. It also has a Cred.ai Guaranty that stipulates you'll never pay interest charges if autopay is enabled. The Unicorn Card really shines with its flashy security features, like Friend & Foe List, where you create a list of approved and unapproved merchants, and the Stealth Card, which is a temporary virtual card that you can use at unfamiliar places or for free trials. The Unicorn Card is also made of metal, which is always a nice touch. However, there's a soft credit pull to determine eligibility, and the Cred.ai deposit account doesn't accept checks or cash deposits. Also, while it earns 4.7 stars on the App Store, it earns a so-so 3.2 stars on Google Play due to reported bugs.

Best credit-building loan

Credit Karma Credit Builder

Credit Karma Money Credit Builder is a flexible, credit-building account that uses a line of credit and a locked account. There are no monthly fees or interest charges, and it reports payments to all three major credit bureaus. It requires a Credit Karma Money Spend account and direct deposit of at least $750 per month. You choose how much you want to deposit into a locked account with the line of credit, such as just $10 per statement period. You pay off the owed balance on the line of credit, and once your balance reaches $500, those funds are released to you. Most credit-building loans require a set monthly payment that they stipulate, making Credit Karma's product much more flexible and accessible. However, you must have a poor credit score under 619 to qualify. As for the app, Credit Karma earns a whopping 4.8 stars on the App Store and 4.7 stars on Google Play.

Methodology: How we choose the best credit-builder apps

Finder’s banking experts analyze over 25 credit-building apps and products to find the best. We compare monthly fees, reporting activity, availability and more. Our methodology stipulates that the best credit-building apps must meet this criteria:

  • Monthly fee under $15 per month
  • No hard credit check or very low credit score requirements
  • Annual fee under $50 for secured cards
  • Reports to all three major credit bureaus
  • Available on both App Store and Google Play

Honorable mentions

These credit-building apps and services fell just short compared to apps like Self, Cleo and Fizz. These apps either didn’t make the cut because they don’t report to all three major credit bureaus, the monthly fees were above our cutoff or their offerings are less flexible than the best.

  • Extra. A secured, credit-building card similar to Step, the Extra card is linked to an external bank account instead of requiring a cash deposit. There are no interest charges, but there’s a monthly fee starting at $20 per month. For a little extra per month, you can also earn cashback rewards.
  • Credit Sesame. Similar to other credit-building cards, the Credit Sesame prepaid card offers to build a credit history without interest charges. You deposit cash into your Sesame Cash account to set your prepaid spending limit. But there’s a monthly fee of $9.99 per month, and it’s not clear which credit bureaus it reports to.
  • Experian Boost®. From the credit bureau Experian itself, Experian Boost® is a free bill-reporting service. It can add monthly bills to your Experian credit report easily and with no fees. However, this service doesn’t add payments to your TransUnion or Equifax reports.
  • Boom Pay. The next-best option for rent reporting, Boom Pay, only charges a small $10 enrollment fee and just $2 per year to add rent payments to all three of your credit reports. It’s second-only to Self because of its fee and doesn’t offer utility reporting.

How to choose a credit-building app

Credit-building apps are becoming more popular as people look for alternative ways to build their credit history. While all of the apps may promise credit-building opportunities at some level, here’s how to compare them so you know you’re choosing the right one for you:

  • Reporting action. The top credit-building apps will report to all three credit bureaus. This matters a lot, because if a lender were to check your credit score, they may use your TransUnion, Experian or Equifax report to generate your credit score. You’ll want the credit-building app to send positive payment history everywhere for the most benefit.
  • Monthly fees. It can be counterproductive to pay a high monthly fee when building your credit history. If you can’t afford the app’s fee every month, you can risk missing a payment, which could harm your credit score.
  • Read app store reviews. Reviews on Apple’s App Store and Google Play are the best places to check out an app’s functionality, features and first-hand customer feedback.
  • Fees and APR. Many credit-building cards like Fizz and Step don’t charge monthly fees, and they don’t charge interest because your balance is being repaid each billing cycle. The lack of fees and APR can help you avoid high-interest debt and, of course, save you money in the long run.
  • Credit checks. If a credit-building card or app requires good credit, then you may struggle to qualify for the product. The best credit-building apps don’t have hard credit checks that harm your credit score or have lenient credit score requirements so you can get your foot in the door.

Do credit-building apps work?

Credit-building apps are worth it if you can responsibly manage them. These apps can offer credit-building loans and secured cards with no interest charges and add bills to your credit reports that otherwise wouldn’t be there, like rent payments or your Netflix subscription.

The biggest benefit you can gain from credit-building apps is the payment history. Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO credit score, so making on-time payments every time can greatly improve your credit history. Keeping credit card balances under 30% of their borrowing limit and having different types of credit can also help improve your credit score.

Just keep in mind that credit-scoring models are complicated, and everyone’s credit history is different. If a credit-building app promises a certain point increase, consider that a red flag because it’s never guaranteed.

Bottom line

Credit-building apps can offer alternative methods for building a positive credit history. Since many of these apps don’t have hard credit checks, you can start building credit without needing good credit to be approved.

If you’re unsure about your ability to manage a credit-building app, consider alternative ways to build your credit history.

Frequently asked questions

Are there any other credit-building apps like Self?

Self offers rent reporting, utility reporting, credit-building loans and secured credit cards. Some apps like Self with similar products include Kikoff, Chime Credit Builder and MoneyLion.

Are credit score apps accurate?

Whether a credit score app is accurate depends on what credit scoring model the app is using to show your credit score. There are two main credit-scoring models: VantageScore and FICO Score. Lenders typically reference your FICO credit score when you apply for new credit, as it’s the oldest and most established model. If you want to know what credit score lenders will see, we recommend checking your FICO credit score.

What app gives you a real credit score?

Plenty of apps offer real credit scores, and some offer “educational” scores, which are more like educated guesses. A popular app is myFICO, which can show your real FICO credit score generated from any of the three major bureaus.

How can I build credit fast?

Building your credit history from scratch is typically faster than improving a poor credit history, but there are plenty of ways to build credit fast. Removing negative marks from your credit reports can quickly improve your score. And if you have no credit history, adding active credit accounts can mean a quick boost if you maintain a positive payment history.

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