- $0.99 for 30 days and a $5 welcome bonus, then starts at $4.99/mo
- No hard credit pull, no interest fees, or deposit
- Connect your existing primary bank account and build your score with your monthly bills
Approximately 45 million Americans have no credit history, according to the US Government Accountability Office. Credit scores impact numerous aspects of our financial lives, from securing a mortgage or car loan to obtaining favorable interest rates on credit cards. This guide explores practical steps and strategies to help you build credit from scratch and pave the way for a stronger financial future.
Before you build credit, it’s essential to grasp the fundamental aspects of your credit score. FICO 8 and 9 are the two most commonly used credit scoring models. Five categories make up your FICO credit score:
Here are eight tactics you can use to start building your credit score.
If you don’t have a mortgage or any other loans, but you rent, you can still build some credit history. There are rent-reporting services, such as PayYourRent, Experian Boost and RentTrack, which can send your rent payments to the credit bureaus.
Just keep in mind that not all rent reporting services are free, but the cost may more than make up for the reporting action you can gain from your rent. This is especially helpful if you’re always paying your rent on time.
The simplest and most effective way to build credit is paying everything on time — credit card minimum payments, auto loans, student loans, house payments and everything in between.
When you apply for new credit, a lender is most concerned with your ability to repay a loan on time — so your payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score. If multiple late payments are reported, it’s likely doing major damage. One late payment can damage your credit score by as much as 100 points, depending on your current credit history and score.
This also applies to accounts that aren’t being reported to the credit bureaus, such as your utility bills, rent and phone bill. Even though those personal accounts aren’t normally reported, if you’re late on a utility bill, there’s a possibility
that the utility company could report the late payment.
Expert tip: Consider autopay to manage your bills easier
Setting up automatic payments on consistent bills, such as rent, your car loan or phone bill, can help you keep track of all your bills, maintain a positive payment history and relieve the stress of having to remember all your due dates.
But fluctuating bills aren't recommended for autopay. For example, if you have your electric bill on autopay and the bill is higher than normal, you could get hit with an overdraft fee with your bank or risk the transaction not going through if you don't have enough money to cover it.
— Bethany Hickey, Writer, Banking and Loans.
Even if you don’t use the credit card, having one can help build credit. If you only have installment loans on your credit reports, your credit mix is lacking, so adding a revolving credit account like a credit card can help — but only if you manage it well.
Paying your credit card balances off each month can help build a positive payment history and keep your credit utilization low, which plays into your amounts owed. Aim to keep your credit card balances under 30% of their credit limit. Any higher than that can be a sign that you’re overextended financially and could bring your credit score down.
If you can’t qualify for a credit card on your own, consider becoming an authorized user. An authorized user is someone who gets added to an existing credit card account. You can benefit from adding a new account to your credit reports, start to gain from the payment history and likely get your own card to use if the primary account holder allows it.
Younger borrowers are most often added to their parents’ or guardians’ credit cards as authorized users to build credit. But you could ask your spouse, trusted friend or family member to add you.
Just keep in mind that if you become an authorized user, your credit reports may be at the mercy of the primary account holder. If they make late payments or have a high balance on the credit card, it could negatively impact your credit score.
If a traditional credit card or becoming an authorized user isn’t your speed, there are other options. A secured credit card works like a traditional credit card, except they’re secured by a deposit or an existing bank account. When you open them, you either link a bank account and the balance sets your limit, or you make an opening deposit that sets your credit limit.
Other than the security, most credit-building credit cards work the same as traditional credit cards such as charging interest, and the ability to gain payment history from making payments. There are also many credit-building credit cards that don’t charge APR at all, such as the Current Build Card, the Chime Credit Builder Card, and the Fizz card.
If you need a car, an auto loan is great for building credit for multiple reasons. And often, a car loan is the first type of loan someone takes out.
Auto loans typically offer a long repayment history that you can benefit from with timely payments, and it can add to the average age of your credit history over time. Adding an installment loan benefits your credit mix if you don’t already have any active installment loans.
Auto loans are secured by the vehicle you’re financing, so they’re typically much easier to qualify for compared to unsecured loans like personal loans. Just keep in mind that if you can’t repay the car loan, you could risk getting the car repossessed, which not only ruins your week but can also lower your credit score.
A credit-building loan can be thought of as a savings account that you’re obligated to add to each month. They’re often easier to qualify for compared to costly personal loans or other borrowing methods, since they’re designed for no-credit borrowers.
A credit-building loan isn’t a “loan” in the traditional sense, in that you don’t actually get the funds right away. The lender sets aside the amount you apply for, and you repay the lender in installments until you’ve “repaid” the amount. Over the term, you gain payment history and add an account to your credit reports. Once the term is over, you get access to the funds.
Credit-building loans are also an alternative way to build your kids’ credit history early. For instance, FreeKick, an FDIC-insured deposit account and credit-building loan can help kids between 14 and 25 years old build a credit history.
While you’re taking action to build credit, you should also review your credit report regularly — at least once a year. You’re entitled to weekly free copies of your credit reports for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
You can request copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, or from the credit bureaus themselves. Once you have your report, read through them carefully and look for any errors that could be negatively affecting your score. If you find any errors, dispute it with the credit bureau that reported it to get it removed.
Keep an eye out for:
It’s likely not the answer you want to hear, but building a good credit history can take months or even years — but it depends on where you’re starting out.
If you’re a no-credit borrower with no credit history at all, it’s likely you have a credit score around 500 to 600. Adding some accounts to your credit reports and making timely payments could mean reaching the 700s in a matter of months.
However, if you have poor credit from negative marks, such as multiple late payments or defaulted loans, it’ll take some time to heal. Most negative marks stop impacting your credit score after seven years, but with each passing year, the impact they have decreases. With a very poor credit score below 500, it may take a few years to get back in the green by making timely payments, keeping credit card balances low and only applying for new credit when you need it.
A perfect FICO credit score is 850. In April 2023, only 8% of Americans reported having a perfect score in our quarterly Consumer Confidence Index survey. But you don’t need a perfect credit score for it to be considered “good.”
A good credit score is considered anything above 670, according to FICO. The average credit score in the US is 714, based on data from FICO and Experian.
A credit score between 725 to 759 is considered “very good,” and anything above 760 is considered “excellent.” If you have a credit score below 670, some lenders may consider you a poor credit borrower, making it tough to qualify for new credit or get the best interest rates in the market.
Compare these popular credit-building accounts by their maintenance fee, minimum deposit to open and APY.
A combined two-thirds (60%) say they’ve checked the last month, with 14% of those doing so in the last 24 hours.
Just because you have less-than-ideal credit doesn’t mean you’re out of the running for new credit when you need it. If you don’t have time for credit repair and need to borrow soon, a variety of borrowing products cater to low credit scores.
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