1. APPLY FOR A SECURED CREDIT CARD
If you’re building your credit score from scratch, you’ll likely need to start with a secured credit card. A secured card is backed by a cash deposit you make upfront; the deposit amount is usually the same as your credit limit.
You’ll use the card like any other credit card: Buy things, make a payment on or before the due date, incur interest if you don’t pay your balance in full. You’ll receive your deposit back when you close the account.
NerdWallet regularly reviews and ranks secured credit card options.
Secured credit cards aren’t meant to be used forever. The purpose of a secured card is to qualify for a card without a deposit.
Secured credit cards aren’t meant to be used forever. The purpose of a secured card is to build your credit enough to qualify for an unsecured card — a card without a deposit and with better benefits. Choose a secured card with a low annual fee and make sure it reports to all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
2. APPLY FOR A CREDIT-BUILDER LOAN OR A SECURED LOAN
A credit-builder loan is exactly what it sounds like — its sole purpose is to help people build credit.
Typically, the money you borrow is held by the lender in an account and not released to you until the loan is repaid. It’s a forced savings program of sorts, and your payments are reported to credit bureaus. These loans are most often offered by credit unions or community banks; at least one lender offers them online.
Another option: If you have money on deposit in a bank or credit union, see about a secured loan for credit-building. With these, the collateral is money in your account or certificate of deposit. The interest rate is typically a bit higher than the interest you’re earning on the account, but it may be significantly lower than your other options.
3. GET A CO-SIGNER
It’s also possible to get a loan or an unsecured credit card using a co-signer. But be sure that you and the co-signer understand that the co-signer is on the hook for the full amount owed if you don’t pay. (See “What You Need to Know About Co-Signing.”)
4. BECOME AN AUTHORIZED USER ON SOMEONE ELSE’S CREDIT CARD
A family member or significant other may be willing to add you as an authorized user on his or her card. Doing so adds that card’s payment history to your credit files, so you’ll want a primary user who has a long history of paying on time.
You don’t have to use — or even possess — the credit card at all in order to benefit from being an authorized user.
Find out whether the card issuer reports authorized user activity to the credit bureaus.
Ask the primary cardholder to find out whether the card issuer reports authorized user activity to the credit bureaus. That activity generally is reported, but you’ll want to make sure — otherwise, your credit-building efforts may be wasted.
You should come to an agreement on whether and how you’ll use the card before you’re added as an authorized user, and be prepared to pay your share if that’s the deal you strike.
5. GET CREDIT FOR THE BILLS YOU PAY
Rent-reporting services such as Rental Kharma and RentTrack take a bill you are already paying and put it on your credit report, helping to build a positive history of on-time payments. Not every credit score takes these payments into account, but some do, and that may be enough to get a loan or credit card that firmly establishes your credit history for all lenders.
Experian Boost offers a way to have your cell phone and utility bills reflected in your credit report with that credit bureau. Note that the effect is limited only to your credit report with Experian — and any credit scores calculated on it.