The better your credit score, the more financial opportunities are available to you. A good or excellent credit score can get you access to some of the best credit cards out there, as well as lower interest rates on loans and mortgages. So it makes sense for you to want to try to get your credit score as high as possible.
There are many ways of improving your credit score, including lowering your debt-to-credit ratio and carefully timing your new credit applications. However, some people wonder if there are also ways for you to boost your credit score by self-reporting—that is, by telling the three credit bureaus about your good financial habits instead of waiting for the information to appear on your credit reports.
How your credit report works
Your credit report is primarily a record of your payment history on your various credit accounts. These accounts include credit cards, car loans, mortgages, student loans and similar debts. Credit reports also include reports on things like bankruptcies and tax liens, and can even include rent or bill payments.
Essentially, your credit report encompasses everything reported to the consumer credit reporting agencies, from payments made to requests for new credit. The three principal credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
The information in your credit report is used to come up with your credit score. Without a credit history, there’s no credit score. However, your creditors aren’t required to report your payment history to every credit reporting agency. That’s why a credit score can vary depending on which credit reporting agency provides the score.
How to self-report to the credit bureaus
We’ve got some good news and bad news. The bad news is that you cannot directly report your financial activity to the three major credit bureaus. In other words, if you want to let Equifax, TransUnion and Experian know that you regularly make rent and utility payments on time, you can’t report that information yourself. You have to become an officially recognized “data furnisher” in order to report information to the big three credit bureaus, and individuals don’t get that privilege. (If you run a small business that allows customers to carry lines of credit or pay in installments, you could become a data furnisher and pass your customers’ payment histories to the three credit bureaus.)
The good news is that there are still plenty of ways to share your positive financial habits with credit bureaus. Third-party services like PayYourRent and RentTrack, for example, will report your rental payments to all three of the major credit bureaus. Signing up for Experian Boost lets you add phone and utility bills to your Experian report, and a history of on-time payments can boost your credit score.
You can also sign up for UltraFICO, a new service that includes your bank account balances in your credit score. That way, a lender will know that even if you don’t have much of a credit history, you do have a history of maintaining positive bank balances (no overdrafts!) and keeping plenty of cash on hand.
UltraFICO is the newest iteration of what was formerly called the FICO Expansion Score, and it’s the same basic idea: to expand what goes into your credit score so more people have the opportunity to access credit. Be aware that UltraFICO hasn’t fully launched yet, so all you can do right now is sign up for news and updates—but it’s coming soon!
You can even expand beyond the FICO score and look into alternative reporting methods. The Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC) company bills itself as an “alternative credit movement” and generates its own credit score based on the bills you already pay, from phone bills to subscription services.
Self-reporting pros and cons
There are several advantages of taking your credit history into your own hands and using a service like RentTrack or Experian Boost to improve your credit score. The first advantage, of course, is that your credit score might go up.
The other big advantage of these services is that they can help people with limited or no credit access their first credit card or loan—or prove to a landlord that they’ll be a good tenant. (If you’ve been financially responsible your whole life but haven’t ever taken out a credit card, it’s often a surprise to learn that lenders and landlords might view you as a credit risk.)
There are also disadvantages to these services. RentTrack and PayMyRent both cost money to use, and they may end up reporting information that is already on your credit report—that is, your landlord’s property management company may already be a data furnisher, and your rent history might already have made it to Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. This is why it’s a good reason to check your credit reports regularly.
Likewise, although an alternative reporting service like PRBC might help you access loans, it’s not the same thing as boosting your credit score.
Alternatives to self-reporting
If you want to access credit and/or improve your credit score without using one of these alternative or expanded reporting services, you have plenty of options. If you are new to credit, for example, a secured credit card can help you quickly build a positive credit history. Your bank may also be able to offer you a first credit card based on your banking history.
If you have poor credit, use one of the best credit cards for bad credit to turn your score around. Make small purchases and pay them off regularly to establish a history of on-time payment, and watch your credit score grow.
If you have average credit and simply want your score to get better, use these tips to get your credit score into the good or excellent range. Make your payments on time, keep your balances low and don’t close your old credit cards. Bankrate also has a credit report and monitoring service that provides expert advice on how to improve your score.
The bottom line
Although you might wish you could report your financial activity to the three credit bureaus directly, self-reporting isn’t an option. There are third-party services that can help you add items to your credit report or create alternative credit scores, but it might be just as easy for you to improve your credit score the old-fashioned way: by practicing good credit habits and waiting for the results to appear on your credit report.