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As soon as you start looking for an apartment, take out a loan or apply for a credit card, you learn how important having a good credit score is. Having a good credit score, which starts at 670 on the FICO scale, is the only way to get the best terms on your loans. Good credit generally means lower interest rates, which allows you to pay less over the life of your loans than someone with poor credit.
If you don’t yet have a good credit score, there are many ways you can start building it. One of those ways is using a credit builder app. These apps help you track your score, take out loans to build your score, and provide the education you need to build and maintain good credit.
- The average credit score in America is 716. (FICO)
- 8.3 percent of adults in the U.S. have no credit or are credit invisible. (CFPB)
- Credit card debt, a major credit score factor, is $5,988 on average. (FICO)
- Alaska has the highest credit card debt on average, while Wisconsin has the least. (Experian)
How do credit-building apps work?
Credit-building apps, as their name suggests, work in various ways to help you improve your credit score. You’ll generally find three types of apps:
- Credit monitoring services. Before you start repairing or building your credit, you should know where you’re starting from. Credit monitoring apps help you do that. Typically, these apps offer suggestions as to how to improve your credit and let you see your current score daily, weekly or monthly. They may also alert you to new accounts opened in your name, hard credit inquiries and new public records, like bankruptcies or lawsuits.
- Credit building lenders. Some lenders offer small loans meant to help you build your credit. Here’s how it works: First, the lender deposits the entire loan amount into an account. You make fixed monthly payments for a set period, and then receive the full loan amount at the end of the loan term. The idea behind credit builder loans is to regularly make small payments over a short period of time and increase your credit relatively quickly.
- Credit reporting services. The credit bureaus all offer apps of some kind. Certain bureaus even offer programs, such as Experian Boost, to help you boost your credit by reporting alternative payment data. They’ll do this by looking at payments that aren’t typically considered on credit reports, such as rent and utility payments.
4 best credit-building apps
Who this is best for: those with little or no borrowing history
SeedFi falls in the lender category, offering a Credit Builder Prime account that lets you take out a small interest-free loan as small as $10. When you get paid next, you pay SeedFi back and this positive payment gets reported to the credit bureaus. The service is free, which is a huge plus.
SeedFi also offers another interesting loan option for people who need a small, relatively short-term loan. The Borrow & Grow loans give you immediate access to the cash you need upon approval. Your loan will also include a sum that will go into a savings account. Once you’ve paid off the loan, you’ll get access to the savings account you’ve been paying into, ideally setting you up with an emergency fund so you don’t have to take out a loan next time. With interest rates between 12.96 percent and 29.99 percent, this won’t necessarily be your cheapest option for a loan, so consider a different loan lender or even a credit card for bad credit.
- The Credit Builder Prime service is free to use
- Reports to all three major credit bureaus
- Borrow & Grow can help build savings over time
- Upper rates on Borrow & Grow loans are higher than other credit-builder loans
- Funding can take several days
Who this is best for: those with a history of rent and utility payments
Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, offers the easiest possible way to boost your score. Experian Boost reports payments that typically aren’t included in your credit score, like rent, utilities and subscriptions. All you do to potentially receive this boost is sign-up and connect your account(s) where you pay your bills or rent. You can choose the positive payments you want to be reported, and you’ll see your results instantly.
While Experian Boost is not a replacement for responsible credit use, many users see a small bump in their score. This won’t fix poor credit, but since it’s free, it can’t hurt to give this credit-boostnig app a shot.
- Common bills like rent can boost your score
- Access to your free Experian credit score
- Results can vary, and you may not have enough payments to make a huge difference in your score
Who this is best for: those who want a small, low-maintenance monthly payment
Kikoff’s main product, the Kikoff Credit Account, is a revolving line of credit that you can draw from like a credit card. You’ll get a credit line of up to $750 that you can borrow from to make purchases from the Kikoff store. Then, you can make online monthly payments and can start to see your credit slowly tick up. When you sign up, there’s no credit check, and you’ll be approved instantly.
The account costs $5 per month to keep open, but the good news is that the $5 is part of your credit line, meaning you will build credit, even if you don’t borrow anything on top of that $5 monthly fee. You also won’t pay any interest or late fees, making it easy to focus on paying down your small purchases. On average, Kickoff reports that their users raise their scores by 58 points.
- Instant approval and no hard credit inquiry
- Easily grow your credit while getting access to a small credit line
- Possibly a big boost to your score
- $5 monthly cost
- Limited line of credit up to $750
- You can’t use your $750 line of credit for purchases outside of Kikoff, only items from the Kikoff store
Who this is best for: those who want Credit Builder Loans
Self offers a Credit Builder Loan, meaning you’ll pay down the small loan, and once you’ve made all your payments, you’ll get access to the money. While you’re making these payments, Self holds your money in a CD, or a certificate of deposit.
You can choose $25, $35, $48 and $150 for your monthly payment, depending on your budget and how much you want to have available to you once you pay off the loan.
One major downside is that Self isn’t going to be your cheapest option, charging an admin fee of $9 and interest rates in the double digits. SeedFi’s Credit Builder Prime account offers essentially the same service without interest or fees, so there’s really no reason to choose this service over SeedFi.
- No hard pull on your credit score
- You choose the payment term and amount
- Cancel or pay off whenever you need to
- Fees: a one-time $9 admin fee and interest
- Low loan amounts
Other Ways to Build Credit
Credit builder apps are great ways to build your credit, but they’re far from the only options. In addition to these apps, consider building your credit in other ways by:
- Paying off any overdue balances as quickly as you can. When your missed payments are sent to collections, this gets sent to the credit bureaus and negatively affects your score. Paying these off can reduce the debt you have in collections, potentially boosting your score.
- Joining an account as an authorized user. You can take advantage of someone else’s good credit by becoming an authorized user on their credit card. Their activity will show up on your credit report, so make sure you trust that they’ll use the account responsibly.
- Lowering your credit utilization ratio. Your credit utilization ratio is how much available credit you have versus how much of it you’re using. So, if you have five credit cards that are all maxed out, your credit utilization will be sky-high. The higher your utilization, the more negatively it affects your score. Working to keep your credit card balances down can help you get your score up.
- Reviewing your credit report for any fraudulent information. Surprisingly, 34 percent of people report they’ve found at least one error on their reports. Depending on the error, this could negatively affect your score. Check your credit report frequently. You can get a full report for free annually from annualcreditreport.com.
No one thing builds credit the quickest. A good credit score is a culmination of consistent, responsible financial habits. Make sure you’re paying bills on time, avoiding unnecessary debt and using your credit cards responsibly.
Credit builder apps that offer short-term loans and alternative data reporting can certainly improve your credit score. How well a credit-building app will work for you depends on many factors including your current score, why you have a low score, the app you choose to work with, and the program you choose.
Yes, the apps on this list are all offered by legitimate companies. As with any financial decision, be sure to read the fine print and understand everything about the service before signing anything. If you’re taking out a credit builder loan, ensure you can pay it off fully in the agreed-upon time frame.
You can build your credit instantly with apps like Experian Boost. But to see a substantial difference in your score, you’ll need to actively pay down debts and take on other methods of credit building for several months.
Bills that typically affect your score include personal loans, mortgages, credit card accounts, car loans and other forms of revolving credit. Your utilities and rent payments unfortunately aren’t usually factored into your score automatically (unless you fail to make payments on time). Services like Experian Boost add rent and utility payments to your credit report.