6 Surprising Ways New Cardholders Can Build Credit

A good credit score will make your life a lot easier; it will help you qualify for loans, apartments and even jobs. But you’re not born with a credit history. Much like you have to spend money to make money, you need to borrow money to prove you’re good at borrowing (and paying back your debts). In fact, according to Nationwide, credit scores help insurance companies predict future losses. So, how can you start your credit-building journey? Here are ways new cardholders can build credit.

Understanding Credit Score Perks 

Your credit score is woven into almost every area of your life. “Crummy credit can cost you a fortune throughout your life,” explains Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree. “It’s as simple as that. It’ll lead to higher interest rates and fees on mortgages, credit cards and loans. It can keep you from getting the apartment you want. It can lead to higher insurance premiums. It’s a big, big deal.”

There are two main types of credit scores: your FICO Score and your VantageScore. Most lenders review your FICO Score when making a financing decision. It ranges from 300 to 850, with a “good” score starting in the high 600s. It’s calculated based on a variety of factors, including payment history, credit usage, the length of your credit history, and more. The VantageScore follows similar metrics but focuses less on payment history, allowing scores to be generated faster than FICO. Regardless of the type of score, a proven record of responsible borrowing shows lenders that you’re more likely to pay back your debt, and then they can offer you lower interest rates and charge fewer fees. 

Related Read: 7 Unexpected Benefits of a Good Credit Score

New to Credit? Here’s How to Build Your Score Quickly

  1. Get a secured credit card. A secured credit card is a great way to build credit from scratch. It works just like an unsecured card, except that you make a security deposit that is equal to the amount of the credit limit. For example, if you deposit $500, your credit limit is also $500. “Consumers love these cards because they’re easy to get and their low credit limits mean there’s no danger of going too wild on a spending spree,” says Schulz. “Banks love them because there’s no risk. If someone doesn’t pay their bill, the bank simply takes the security deposit. It’s a win for everyone involved.” Before applying for a secured card, make sure the lender reports your usage to the three credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If it doesn’t, you won’t build credit. Also, check to see if the lender offers an upgrade to an unsecured card. 
  2. Make timely payments. Once you have your first credit card–be it secured or unsecured– focus on paying your bill in full on time, every time. Payment history is a big component of your credit score. Each month you pay your full balance on time, you’re proving your creditworthiness. “Think about it like borrowing the car keys from your parents,” explains Schulz. “The first time you do it, they’re not going to let you do much. Once you’ve shown you can handle a little responsibility, they’ll give you more, though. Eventually, they’ll hand over the keys without thinking much of it.”
  3. Use your card often. The more you use your card, the better. The key, though, is to use it smartly. Pick up the check when you’re out to dinner with friends, knowing they’ll reimburse you for their meals. Use it for everyday expenses like groceries and gas. You can even use your card to pay rent, though there will usually be processing fees added on by your landlord. Just remember: Pay the bill in full, every month. You should also never max out your card. Your credit utilization ratio–how much credit you’re using compared to the total credit available to you–is another aspect of your credit score.
  4. Become an authorized user. If you can’t open a credit card yourself yet, become an authorized user on someone else’s account. Ultimately, they will be responsible for the charges on the account, so you need to have a good relationship with this person. Becoming an authorized user allows you to link to this person’s good credit and thus build yours with steady payments.
  5. Apply for a credit-builder loan. A unique way to build credit is to apply for a credit-builder loan. With these loans, you make monthly payments to the lender for a set period of time. The deposits are kept in a savings account or a certificate of deposit. Once the payment period ends, you get the money back, sans fees or interest charged. 
  6. Be determined. Building credit can be daunting, but don’t give up. With each passing month, your timely payments will boost your score. Use texts or autopay features to make sure you’re paying your bills on time. Do whatever you need to do to keep at it. Different apps and some credit cards offer estimates of your credit score, but know that you’re entitled to one free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com. Get in the habit of checking your report every year to make sure there are no lingering issues that are hampering your credit-building endeavors. 

About the Author

Chris O’Shea is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in GQ, NerdWallet, Esquire, New York Magazine, and more.

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