Key takeaways

  • High credit scores come with numerous benefits, such as lower interest rates, larger lines of credit and better rewards.
  • If your credit score isn't as high as you like, exploring the fastest ways to build credit can help you take advantage of these perks as quickly as possible.
  • Once you've started on the path to improving your credit, there are several steps you'll want to take to maintain it as well, such as making your payments on time and keeping your balances low.

If you’re looking for quick ways to build credit, 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.

Improving your credit quickly is even more important if you have a subprime credit score, which is often defined as a FICO credit 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 improve 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, one of the fastest ways to build credit is to 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 at Experian.

How quickly it works: “It takes about five minutes for Experian Boost to improve your score,” says Griffin, and 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.

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 improve your credit and maintain it — 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 — as long as you can avoid the temptation to run up the balance again.

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. Again, be cautious not to use your new line of credit to rack up more 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.