7 Financial Tools That Can Help Elevate Your Credit Score
Your credit history and the credit scores it yields are crucial to many big life events, including getting a new job, renting a home, setting up utility accounts, and most importantly, opening new credit accounts. When your credit score takes a hit, whether it’s from unanticipated medical bills, unemployment, or other adverse events, it’s important to take steps to bring it back up as soon as possible. The longer your credit score sits at “poor,” the more it will cost you over the months and years to come.
So how do you boost your score? Look for credit-building tools from trusted financial services that are designed to help. Lucky for you, we’ve saved you some time by doing the research for you.
The Money Manual’s Top 7 Picks For Credit Building tools
Experian Boost allows you to add positive payment history to your credit profile through bills you wouldn’t typically be able to use, like phone service providers, utility companies, streaming services, and even rent to your credit profile. Just connect the online bank and credit card accounts you use to pay your bills. Choose and verify the positive payments you want Experian to add to your credit profile. After that, you’ll see your boost results instantly.
What It Costs: Free
Who It’s Best For: Borrowers with short or sparse credit histories, with subprime credit scores, or who haven’t been using a lot of credit but are financially responsible.
Potential Credit Score Lift: An average of 13 points, according to Experian.
Bottom Line: Experian lets you choose the payments you want to add to your credit profile, meaning you won’t be penalized for late payments because you don’t have to add them; you can also exclude any specific payments that you don’t want in your report. Overall, it’s a good way to gain recognition from the reporting agencies that you’re financially responsible, even if you don’t currently use traditional revolving or installment credit accounts.Get Started With Experian Boost
Self Financial’s credit-building accounts can help you do two things we all need: build positive credit history and healthy savings. Apply for a Self credit builder account and once approved, choose a monthly commitment amount you want to save ($25 to $150) and your term length (12 or 24 months). Make monthly payments (your money is bank insured) and each on-time payment is reported to the three major credit bureaus and adds to your savings. Once you’ve paid off your credit builder account, your savings is unlocked and released to you. Just like that, you’ve built up your credit and some savings.
What It Costs: Monthly commitment amounts start at $25 per month. There is also a one-time admin fee of $9 and interest that is collected from the money you save.
Who It’s Best For: Those looking to for an alternative to credit cards and loans to build credit with. It’s monthly payment and term length range make it a budget friendly option.
Potential Credit Score Lift: An average of 32 points, according to Self Financial.
Bottom Line: Self Financial’s Credit Builder Account operates like a loan, however instead of receiving a lump sum of money up front you make monthly payments into a savings account. At the end of your plan, Self returns your money minus interest and fees. Customers with a Credit Builder Account are eligible to apply for the company’s secured Visa(R) Credit Card once they have made at least 3 on-time monthly payments, have $100 or more in saving progress and have their account in good standing.Get Started With Self Financial
Perpay operates similarly to the online shopping hub Amazon. You can search for products or your favorite brands (there are vmore than 1,000 brands available) and make purchases. Once you make a purchase, you set up a small payment amount that will automatically be deducted from each paycheck until you’ve paid it off and those payments will get reported Perpay’s offers spending limits of up to $1,000.
What It Costs: Only pay $2 per month, or it’s free if you’re not currently paying off a purchase.
Who It’s Best For: Anyone with a regular paycheck who can afford monthly payments for regular purchases.
Potential Credit Score Lift: An average of 39 points, according to Perpay.
Bottom Line: You’ll need a full-time job to qualify and you must agree to set up those payments directly from your direct-deposited paycheck. With no fees and no credit check, it’s a great way for qualifying users to build credit from purchases they’re already making anyway.Get Started With Perpay
Kikoff offers revolving credit lines of $500 that can be used to make purchases at the Kikoff store. However, most people just pay the $5/monthly membership fee, which gets reported to Equifax and Experian, to build credit.
What It Costs: $60 a year or $5/month.
Who It’s Best For: Borrowers with little or no credit history.
Potential Credit Score Lift: Borrowers with credit scores under 600 can see an average increase of 58 points, according to Kikoff.
Bottom Line: If you add on the company’s Credit Builder Loan, those payments will be reported to TransUnion and Equifax. There’s no credit pull to apply, and your timely payments should begin to show up on your credit history within two months.
Credit Sesame offers a free mobile bank account called Sesame Cash that helps you build credit with your everyday debit card transactions. Once you have an account (no credit check required), turn on credit builder — this involves allocating part of your account balance as a security deposit for a virtual line of credit and set a utilization percentage (30% is ideal). Each month. Credit Sesame will select purchases to add to your line of credit that fit into your set utilization percentage and will then automatically pay off the balance on time from the money you allocated. Credit Sesame will report these payments to the three major credit bureaus.
What It Costs: Free
Who It’s Best For: Borrowers with low credit scores who can’t get traditional credit cards with more competitive rates.
Potential Credit Score Lift: Not specified.
The Bottom Line: The way Credit Sesame’s credit building service is designed – with the security deposit also doubling as your line of credit and the automatic payments it makes on your behalf — helps protect customers from overspending or going into debt, both of which can negatively impact your credit score. It’s a great way to build credit without the risk that comes with traditional methods.
Cleo is a budgeting app that offers a credit building service via a card. All you need to do is add money as a security deposit, which also doubles as your credit limit. Spend like you normally would and Cleo will use the money you set aside for the card to make payments for you automatically. This way you’ll never spend more than what’s in your security deposit, leaving no room for late payments. At the end of the month, Cleo reports your payments to credit bureaus.
What It Costs: There is a $14.99 subscription fee for the Cleo’s credit builder feature (no card fees).
Who It’s Best For: Borrowers who can’t qualify for traditional credit cards and want a no-interest way to build credit through regular payments.
Potential Credit Score Lift: Not specified.
Bottom Line: Cleo recommends using your credit builder card at least once a month so it can have something to report to the credit bureaus. Adding a monthly bill or two to the card can be a great way to make sure it’s always being used and building you positive credit history. The app also goes beyond the usual offerings of most credit builder accounts by allowing you to track changes to your credit score so you can see how it has changed from month-to-month.Get Started With Cleo
Frequently Asked Questions
Your credit report is a record of data that is either publicly available or that’s been reported to the three major reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—by your creditors. That includes personal identifying information, such as your social security number, name, address, birth date, and employer information. It also includes three categories of credit-relevant data:
- Credit Accounts: Your credit report will include a list of all your credit accounts, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, personal loans, and student loans. It also includes the amount of credit available, the amount used, and your payment history, including whether you made or are making timely payments.
- Credit Inquiries: When you apply for a credit card, a loan, or some other credit product, the creditor will check your credit history. That creates a credit inquiry, which is then added to your credit report.
- Collections and Public Records: Bankruptcies, for example, stay on your credit history for either seven or 10 years, depending on the type of case you file. This category also includes judgments and accounts turned over to collection agencies.
Part of the complexity in learning how to get a good credit score is the fact that there are actually several different types of credit scores that may be assessed for any one person. In addition, there are two major credit score models: FICO and VantageScore. For many people, the most familiar is the FICO score. It is also the one most lenders use to judge creditworthiness.
However, you probably have several different FICO scores: one for each of the three major reporting companies (since their data might differ from each other) and different models for the type of credit you’re applying for. For example, a lender might use one FICO score to evaluate your application for a mortgage, and another one for your credit card application.
Each company that calculates credit scores does so using slightly different criteria that are weighted differently. However, in general, the following factors are considered, listed in descending order of importance:
- Your payment history: This includes how often you’ve paid your obligations on time and for how long, as well as things like bankruptcies and debt going into collections, which can negatively impact your score.
- Your credit utilization: This figure represents the total amount owed compared to the total amount of credit extended. The more of your available credit that you’ve used and thus owe, the lower your rating on this factor will be.
- Length of credit history: This factor includes the age of your accounts, how long you’ve been using credit overall, and how active those accounts are.
- Credit mix: This measures what kinds of credit accounts you currently hold. A good mix of mortgage, car, and revolving credit accounts is generally favored. However, it’s not necessary to have all of these different types of accounts to get new credit.
- Recent searches and inquiries: If your credit report shows a lot of recent inquiries, your credit score might take a hit. Creditors generally see this kind of activity close to an application as a potential sign that you’re in financial trouble. This doesn’t apply to every inquiry, though. For example, you can safely shop for the best rates on a specific type of loan without it impacting your credit score.
According to myFICO, currently, FICO scores are broken down into categories based on the following ranges:
- Under 580: Scores beneath 580 are considered “Poor” and well below the average score of U.S. consumers, designating the individual as a significant credit risk.
- 580-669: These scores are considered “Fair” and while still below the U.S. average, a score in this range might qualify you for loans from some lenders.
- 670-739: Scores in this range are considered “Good” since they’re either on par with or a bit higher than the U.S. average, and the majority of lenders would consider extending credit.
- 740-799: These scores are considered “Very Good” and are above the U.S. consumer average score. Lenders tend to be favorable to applications from borrowers with scores in this category.
- 800 and above: Scores in this range are categorized as “Exceptional” and are significantly higher than the U.S. average and demonstrate superior financial responsibility to lenders.
US residents can request a copy of their credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies once every 12 months. The easiest way to do this is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com, the official website created for this purpose, and submit your request.
Your credit reports will not include your FICO or your VantageScore credit scores. Instead, you can find this number in one of four ways, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
- Check your credit card or car loan statement.
- Consult a non-profit debt counselor or HUD housing counselor.
- Sign up with a commercial service—some of these providers offer free scores, while others charge fees, so be sure to read the fine print.
- Buy access directly—you can purchase your FICO score information from myFICO.com, for example.
In addition to making use of one of the financial tools we’ve discussed above, there are many other things you can do to improve your credit score as well.
- Make timely payments on each of your accounts every month.
- Pay off any account that’s in collections
- Pay down your credit cards and other revolving accounts so that you’re using 30% or less of the total available credit
- Ask for a higher credit limit to improve your credit utilization rate
- Carefully review your credit report and dispute any errors you find