If you’re looking to build credit quickly, you’re not alone. And unless you’ve got a perfect credit score, it’s worth knowing what you can do to make your credit better.
Building credit quickly is even more important if you have a subprime credit score, which is often defined as a FICO Score below 669 or a VantageScore below 600. People with low credit scores may have a harder time accessing credit and are often charged higher interest rates on credit cards, loans and mortgages.
“The best advice for rebuilding credit is to manage it responsibly over time,” says Tommy Lee, Senior Director of Analytics Science at FICO. We agree—which is why we’ve put together a list of actions you can take right now to build your credit, as well as advice on how to maintain your credit score once it starts to improve.
The quickest ways to increase your credit score
Want to know how to build credit fast? Here are some of the best ways to improve your credit score quickly. Plus, we’ll let you know how long you’ll have to wait to see results.
Report your rent and utility payments
If you have a limited credit history, you can use an alternative data reporting service to track metrics of financial responsibility that aren’t typically reported to the major credit bureaus, such as rent and utility payments.
Experian Boost is one of the most popular alternative data services. “If you have cellphone accounts, utilities or streaming services that you’re paying for, you can use Experian Boost to add those accounts to your credit history and become credit scorable in a matter of minutes,” explains Rod Griffin, Senior Director of Consumer Education and Advocacy for Experian.
How quickly it works: “It takes about five minutes for Experian Boost to improve your score,” says Griffin. The average credit score increase is around 12 or 13 points. Read our guide to Experian Boost to understand the process step by step.
Pay off debt if you can
“Making payments on time to your lenders and creditors is one of the biggest contributing factors to your credit scores,” says Lee. Since 35 percent of your FICO credit score comes from your payment history and another 30 percent comes from your outstanding balances, paying off debt is one of the best things you can do to build your credit.
How quickly it works: Lee told us reducing your credit card balances is one of the best things you can do for your credit in the short term. Expect to see your score improve as soon as the payment becomes part of your credit report—which could take as long as 30 days but often happens more quickly.
Get a secured credit card
Secured credit cards, which offer a small line of credit in exchange for a refundable security deposit, can also help you build credit fast. “The nice thing about secured credit cards is that they have very low credit limits,” says David Auten-Schneider, co-founder of the popular personal finance resource Debt Free Guys. This makes it more difficult to rack up debts you can’t pay off—and easier to build a history of on-time payments.
How quickly it works: Although the credit check associated with the application may cause a temporary decrease in your score, you can expect to see credit score gains within a few months—as soon as you establish a positive payment history. “Make sure that you’re staying on top of the card and paying it off,” says Auten-Schneider. “That’s what the credit rating agencies are looking for.”
Read our guide to building credit with secured credit cards to learn more.
Request a credit limit increase
Since 30 percent of your FICO credit score is based on the ratio of your available credit to your current debts, one way to improve your credit score is by requesting a credit limit increase. However, you have to be careful to use your new credit responsibly. If you make additional purchases without paying them off in full, you could end up worse off than you started.
How quickly it works: If you increase your available credit without increasing your debt, you could see a credit score boost at the end of your next billing cycle. “When you call your creditors and request an increased credit limit, make sure you tell them that you are trying to improve your credit score and are going to continue making on-time payments,” says Auten-Schneider. “Just calling and asking if you can increase your limit won’t work.”
Become an authorized user
When you become an authorized user on a friend or relative’s credit card, their payment history could become part of your credit report. “Becoming an authorized user gives you another source of regular payments,” says Auten-Schneider. Since payment history makes up 35 percent of your FICO credit score, becoming an authorized user is an easy way to build credit fast.
How quickly it works: “If you’re added as an authorized user or open a new account, that new account won’t appear in your credit report until the end of your next billing cycle,” Griffin says. This could take 30-45 days, depending on when you begin the process. But Griffin notes that it could take a few months to build the kind of positive payment history that can help boost your credit score. “Credit reports need three to six months of history before they can be included in the scoring calculation.”
Dispute credit report errors
A recent Consumer Reports study revealed a third of Americans found errors in their credit reports—and many of those errors have the potential to damage your credit score. “Audit your credit report,” advises John Auten-Schneider, Debt Free Guys’ other co-founder. “Negotiate infractions and try to get them removed.”
How quickly it works: Once you file a credit report dispute, it could take around 30 days for the credit bureau to investigate and respond to your dispute—and another 30 days to remove any inaccurate information from your credit report.
What factors impact your credit score?
If you want to learn how to build credit fast, it’s good to understand how different credit habits impact your credit score, and how to use that information to your advantage.
The FICO credit scoring model is used by 90 of the top 100 U.S. lending institutions—which means your FICO score can have a significant impact on your financial future. However, just because you have a low FICO score right now doesn’t mean you can’t build credit quickly. “FICO scores are dynamic,” says Lee, “moving up or down as the underlying information in your credit report changes.”
Here are the five factors that make up your FICO credit score:
- Payment history. 35 percent of your FICO score is based on your history of on-time payments. “A single missed payment can result in a substantial point drop,” Lee says.
- Amounts owed. 30 percent of your FICO score is based on the amount of money you owe, often called a credit utilization ratio. As you pay off your debts and increase your available credit, your credit score will likely go up.
- Length of credit history. 15 percent of your FICO score is based on the length of time your credit accounts have been opened. This is why it’s a good idea to keep old credit cards active, even if you only use them for a single purchase each month.
- Credit mix. 10 percent of your FICO score is based on the types of credit under your name. Your credit score could improve if you have both revolving credit and other types of credit, like student loans, a mortgage or installment loans. (If you only have credit cards, don’t worry—it’s still possible to build good credit without taking out loans!)
- New credit inquiries. The last 10 percent of your FICO score is based on your recent credit inquiries. Asking for too much new credit at once could lower your score since you might borrow more money than you can afford to pay off. That’s why we recommend waiting at least three months between credit card applications.
5 healthy credit habits that will increase your credit score over time
Knowing how to build credit fast is only the first step in the process. Consistent positive behaviors are the best way to build and maintain good credit — so once you’ve got your credit score pointed in the right direction, here’s what you can do to keep improving your score.
Make your payments on time
“Paying bills on time is critical for your FICO score,” says Lee. Making on-time payments is one of the best ways to improve your credit score, so make sure you get each of your credit card bills paid on time.
What if you already have late or missed payments on your credit history? “Poor credit performance won’t haunt you forever,” Lee says. “The longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO scores should increase.”
Keep balances low
Once you’ve established a positive payment history, start working on paying off your credit card balances. Use a tried-and-true debt repayment technique, like the debt snowball or avalanche methods. Or apply for a balance transfer credit card to consolidate your debts into a single monthly payment.
There’s one more way to keep your credit card balances low: avoid new debt. “It’s something we don’t talk about a whole lot,” John Auten-Schneider says. “But it’s the number one thing you can do to increase your credit score.”
Keep old accounts open
After you pay off a credit card in full, you might ask yourself whether it’s time to close the account. We recommend keeping old credit card accounts open. If you make one small purchase on each of your credit cards every month, you can keep your balances low, build a history of on-time payments and slowly increase the length of your credit history.
Slowly build your credit card portfolio
Another good way to build credit is by applying for a new credit card. When you add a new credit card to your portfolio, you can increase your available credit while continuing to build a history of on-time payments—both of which can help build your credit score. Just make sure you don’t use your new line of credit to rack up credit card debt.
“If you have a bad credit score, getting a new credit card to improve credit utilization is one tactic you can use,” says John Auten-Schneider. “If you’re not prepared to get that extra card simply to increase utilization and not to acquire more debt, you should avoid that strategy altogether.”
Minimize credit inquiries
As you start to apply for new credit cards, try to avoid unnecessary credit inquiries. Consider using a service like CardMatch™ to get pre-qualified credit card offers, and only apply for cards that are likely to be a good fit. Once you get approved for a new credit card, wait at least three months before applying for the next one.
The bottom line
Want to know how to build credit fast? Start by making on-time payments. Then work on paying off old debt and adding new lines of credit to your portfolio. As your credit score improves, keep practicing good credit habits like keeping balances low and avoiding unnecessary credit inquiries. “Once you achieve that higher score, monitor and protect that credit rating you’ve worked so hard to get,” says Lee.