Good credit can make it easier to accomplish important financial goals like buying a house or qualifying for a competitive rewards credit card. Other tasks might be simpler when your credit is in good shape too, from renting an apartment to finding affordable auto insurance, and much more.
If you haven’t been able to build good credit yet, it’s never too late to start. Below are five tips to consider if you’re ready to begin your own credit-building journey.
Whether you’re building credit from the ground up or working to overcome past mistakes, it’s important to have a clear understanding of where you’re starting the journey. So, it’s wise to begin the credit-building process with a thorough review of your three credit reports.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) makes it easy to get a free credit report from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian once every 12 months. All you need to do is visit AnnualCreditReport.com and follow the instructions. The credit bureaus have also voluntarily chosen to let consumers access their credit reports for free once a week until the end of 2023 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Checking your credit won’t technically help you build credit. (It won’t hurt your credit score either. That’s a myth.) But a credit review can help you create a plan and make sure you stay on track to accomplish your credit-related goals.
When you go over your credit reports, you can also make sure the information is accurate. And you can dispute credit reporting errors if you discover mistakes that shouldn’t be there.
When you have no previous credit history, it might be challenging to find lenders that are willing to approve you for your first accounts. Some lenders may have approval criteria that requires you to already have credit history established or a minimum credit score to qualify for financing. Yet other lenders, like Self, may be willing to work with borrowers who have little to no previous credit management experience.
A credit builder account could be a good option to consider in this situation because it’s an opportunity to establish credit and savings at the same time. With Self, your account will report to all three credit bureaus each month. So, it’s critical to make all of your payments on time if you want to build a positive payment history on your credit reports. (That’s the primary point of a credit builder account, after all.)
Of course, not all lenders will report to all three credit bureaus. Therefore, it’s wise to verify which credit reporting agencies a lender reports to upfront, before you apply for a credit builder account.
A secured credit card might also work well for someone who’s looking to build credit. Traditional unsecured credit cards often feature stricter approval requirements, depending on the credit card issuer and type of account. Secured credit cards, by comparison, tend to be easier to qualify for even if you have no previous credit history or bad credit.
With a secured credit card, you put down a security deposit that’s generally equal to the account’s credit limit. The security deposit reduces the risk involved for the card issuer. As a result, the credit card company may be willing to work with applicants that other card issuers might not feel comfortable extending credit to from a risk perspective.
Again, it’s important to confirm that the secured credit card issuer reports to all three credit bureaus. You also want to pay your credit card on time and in full each month by the due date on the account. Otherwise you could pay high interest charges. Carrying a credit card balance from one month to the next might also increase your credit utilization rate, and that could lower your credit score even if you pay on time each month.
It can be smart to open accounts in your own name and manage them responsibly when you’re trying to build credit. But if you have a friend or family member who’s willing to help you, you might be able to speed up the credit-building process by becoming an authorized user too.
With this strategy, a trusted friend or family member adds you to an existing credit card account as an authorized user. Many credit card issuers report account activity to the credit bureaus for primary account holders and authorized users alike. So, you might get credit for the payment history on an existing credit card account that someone you know opened sometime in the past. (Tip: Be sure the account has no late payment history and a low credit utilization rate. Negative information on an authorized user account could hurt your credit score.)
Only certain creditors report payment history to the credit bureaus. Others do not. That means there’s a good chance you’re not getting credit for some of the bills you already pay on time, like utilities, your cell phone bill, and rent.
As a consumer, you can’t report data to the credit bureaus on your own. Only creditors and lenders themselves (and similar types of companies) can sign up to furnish data to the credit bureaus. However, in recent years there have been innovations in this area that have been good for consumers. There are now third-party services you can use to potentially get credit for some of the bills you already pay.
LevelCredit by Self® is a great tool you can use to add rent, cell phone, and utility payments to your credit reports. The service even lets you add up to 24 months of past payments—potentially giving you the chance to increase the length of credit history that appears on your credit reports as well. (Tip: Length of credit history is one of the factors that impacts your credit score with FICO® and VantageScore®. The older your credit history, the better.)
Building good credit is a process that requires planning and persistence. Yet there are many reasons why you might want to put in the extra effort it requires to establish solid credit scores.
The savings potential from earning a higher credit score can be tremendous. And once you put in the work to earn good credit, you could enjoy the payoff for years to come.
Michelle Lambright Black is a nationally recognized credit expert with two decades of experience. She is the founder of CreditWriter.com, an online credit education resource and community that helps busy moms learn how to build good credit and a strong financial plan that they can leverage to their advantage. Michelle's work has been published thousands of times by FICO, Experian, Forbes, Bankrate, MarketWatch, Parents, U.S. News & World Report, and many other outlets. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).
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