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How to improve your credit score with a personal loan

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Woman speaks on the phone while doing paperwork
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Credit scores are an everyday factor in our lives, whether or not we’re aware of it. The better your credit rating, the more credit available to you and the less interest you will have to pay. If you have poor credit, you’ll have a harder time accessing affordable credit.

One way to improve your credit health is to take out a personal loan. If used responsibly, a personal loan could help you pay off debt or establish a good payment history, which could boost your credit score But if lenders aren’t willing to approve you for a personal loan with favorable terms, there are other viable alternatives to consider.

Get pre-qualified

Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.

Ways to build your credit score with a personal loan

You can use a personal loan to build your credit rating in several ways. The most popular options are generally debt consolidation loans and credit-builder loans.

Debt consolidation loan

As the name implies, these loans are personal loans that are used to consolidate debt.

Imagine that you have three credit cards, each with an outstanding balance. You’re making three payments each month at three interest rates. A debt consolidation loan allows you to borrow the money needed to pay off all three cards, and you’ll pay that loan back with one payment per month, often while saving money in the process due to lower interest rates.

This can help your credit in a few ways. For one, if you pay off the balances of your credit cards, you’ll lower your credit utilization ratio — a determiner in your credit score. You may also improve your credit mix, since credit-scoring models like to see a variety of revolving debt, like credit cards, and installment loans, like personal loans.

Who this is best for: Debt consolidation loans are ideal for individuals who want to consolidate the balances on their high-interest credit cards into a loan product with a more competitive rate to save money and streamline the repayment process.

Credit-builder loan

A credit-builder loan is a loan product that requires you to make fixed monthly payments over a set period. Unlike traditional personal loans, you won’t have access to the funds until the loan is paid in full with interest.

Once the funds are released to you, they are yours to use however you see fit. Some borrowers choose to increase their emergency fund. Others use the funds to pay down small debts or meet other short-term financial goals.

These credit-builder loans can feel counterintuitive, as you don’t gain access to the borrowed money until after you’ve paid it off. Still, you’ll establish a history of timely payments, which the lender then reports to the credit bureaus. At that point, the money is yours without strings attached, completely paid off. It’s like putting money into a savings account but with the benefit of a credit boost.

Keep in mind that a credit-builder loan isn’t right for everyone. You may have to pay fees to open the loan, and you’ll have to factor in any interest to the amount you pay each month.

Who this is best for: Credit-builder loans are best for individuals with bad credit or no credit history who want to save money while building credit.

Risks of using personal loans to build credit

While personal loans can be useful for improving your credit rating, there are also some risks. Before getting a loan to build credit, think carefully through these risk factors and make sure that taking out a loan is the right choice for you.

Hard inquiry on your credit report

Any time you apply for a personal loan, you’ll get what’s known as a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. Your credit score could drop, but the impact generally won’t last for longer than a few months. While one of these is manageable, it can become detrimental if you are shopping around for loans and end up with multiple hard inquiries on your credit report.

Gaining debt

Any loan that you take out is debt that you take on. Remember, you shouldn’t take out a loan if the debt is going to cause financial hardship. Even when using your personal loan to pay off debt and reduce interest rates, it’s vital that you limit any spending behavior that would add more debt while you’re paying off your personal loan.

Associated fees

There’s more to pay on a personal loan than just the amount you borrowed interest. Fees are associated with nearly every loan available. While they’re a minor cost compared to the loan itself, you don’t want to be blindsided by these fees. Be sure to read the fine print to know what fees are associated with any loan before signing on the dotted line.

Alternative ways to build credit

A personal loan is not the only way to improve your credit score. Consider the benefits and risks of alternatives, like secured credit cards and joint accounts.

Secured credit card

A secured credit card is a special kind of credit card that uses money you’ve set aside in a specific account to serve as collateral against the line of credit that you have on the secured card. A secured card’s credit limit is mostly based upon the size of the security deposit you make when applying for the card. Because you could lose your collateral if you miss payments, lenders are more likely to extend this type of credit card to people with bad credit or no credit. Making regular payments, however, could boost your score.

Joint account

Co-signing on a loan or becoming an authorized user on a credit card can help build your credit because when you co-sign, you share complete responsibility for the loan. If you and the other account holder make monthly payments, you can both benefit from the credit benefits.

Keep in mind that if the person you co-sign for misses any payments or defaults on the loan, then not only will it hurt your credit rating, but you will be legally responsible for making up the lost payments.

Reported alternate payments

Some service providers may be willing to report account activity to the credit bureaus upon request. Consider reaching out to your cell phone, utility and cable providers and asking if they’ll report payments to the three primary credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — on your behalf. You can also ask your landlord to report rent payments.

Get pre-qualified

Answer a few questions to see which personal loans you pre-qualify for. The process is quick and easy, and it will not impact your credit score.

The bottom line

Personal loans can help you build credit if you use them to consolidate debt or establish a timely payment history. If you do choose to use a personal loan for credit building, remember to be conscientious of the risks involved and compare quotes from multiple lenders to ensure that you’re getting the cheapest possible loan for your situation.

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