You don’t need to be told that good credit opens up a world of opportunities and bad credit can have far-reaching, potentially costly consequences. Whether you’ve never had a credit card to your name or you’re recovering from a significant financial setback, you know it’s in your interest to build your credit history and boost your credit score.
You know this — yet you might not know where to start. Building credit can feel like a chicken-or-egg riddle, where you need a certain amount of credit history to qualify for entry-level credit products like secured credit cards. Nothing is more demoralizing than being denied the chance for a fresh start.
Fortunately, there’s a better way to build credit even if you’ve never had a credit card or loan to your name. It’s a credit builder loan from CreditStrong, a division of Texas-based Austin Capital Bank (member FDIC). CreditStrong has helped more than a million Americans (and counting) build credit — and they can probably help you too.
How to Build Credit With a Credit Builder Loan
CreditStrong offers three distinct credit builder products, each with multiple plans tailored to your financial situation and time horizon:
- Revolv, which builds revolving credit
- Instal, which builds installment credit with low monthly payments
- CS Max, a larger, longer installment credit option for individuals and small businesses
None require a hard credit pull, and all three may improve your credit score over time by establishing reliable payment history, the most important credit scoring factor (35% of the total). And you can combine a Revolv account with an Instal or CS Max account to diversify your credit mix, another important credit scoring factor.
Follow these steps to build credit with a CreditStrong credit builder loan.
1. Assess Your Credit Building Goals
First, figure out where your credit stands and assess your credit building goals.
You can use a free tool to check your credit score if you have one. But to really figure out where you stand, order up a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). You’re entitled to one free report from each bureau, each year, and there’s no reason not to take advantage.
Next, define your goals. The best path to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy might be different than the best path to build credit for the first time, which might be different than the best path to diversify your credit mix, and so on. If you have some credit history already, use your credit reports to identify weak spots, such as recent delinquent accounts that drag down the payment history component of your credit score.
2. Understand Your Options
Next, understand your credit builder loan options. You can choose from three CreditStrong products, each with multiple plans. You can prepay based off the terms of the account or close any account at any time without penalty.
For a $99/year subscription fee, Revolv adds a $500 revolving credit tradeline to your credit mix, immediately boosting your credit utilization (an important credit scoring factor). And because CreditStrong reports your Revolv account activity to each of the three major credit bureaus, each payment boosts your payment history as well.
Make three on-time payments and CreditStrong increases your credit line by $100, up to a maximum of $1,000. Over time, your payments build your savings, which are yours to keep when you close your account.
Instal is an installment loan with a fixed interest rate and term, or repayment period. When you open your account, CreditStrong deposits the proceeds into a locked savings account, securing the loan.
You then make fixed monthly payments, part of which go toward interest and part of which go toward unlocking the loan’s principal. Over time, the principal portion of each payment increases. CreditStrong reports your payments to the major credit bureaus, leaving you with a lengthy payment history when all is said and done. And when you’ve paid off the last bit of principal, the entire loan amount is yours.
You can choose from three different Instal plans, each with a one-time, nonrefundable administrative fee of $15:
- Instal 28: Pay $28 per month for up to 48 months on a $1,010 principal balance.
- Instal 38: Pay $38 per month for up to 36 months on a $1,100 principal balance.
- Instal 48: Pay $48 per month for up to 24 months on a $1,000 principal balance.
CS Max is a larger installment loan with a fixed interest rate, term, and monthly payment. It’s ideal if you:
- Need a higher-limit loan to prove you can handle bigger obligations
- Want to apply for premium credit cards with higher credit limits
- Want to build your personal credit for business purposes and don’t have an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Want to increase your credit utilization over time
CS Max loans work like Instal loans, but they’re much bigger and have longer terms. Choose from four options:
- $2,500 Installment Account: $49/month payment for up to 60 months
- $5,000 Installment Account: $99/month payment for up to 60 months
- $10,000 Installment Account: $199/month payment for up to 60 months
- $25,000 Installment Account: $449/month payment for up to 60 months
3. Figure Out What You Can Afford to Pay Each Month
Now that you’re familiar with CreditStrong’s credit builder loan options, examine your budget and figure out how much you can afford to pay each month.
If funds are tight, you’ll want to start with a Revolv account that allows you to control your monthly payment, or an Instal account with a fixed monthly payment that fits your budget.
A tight budget isn’t necessarily a bad thing here. The most affordable Instal product ($28/month) has the longest repayment period (up to 48 months), which works in your favor if your highest priority is establishing a strong payment history over a longer period of time. But determining a comfortable maximum monthly payment will help you rule out loan options that don’t fit your budget right now.
4. Choose the Loan Option That Best Suits Your Needs
It’s now time to put it all together and choose the CreditStrong loan (or loans) that best suits your needs. In most cases, there’s no one “correct” answer, but rather a sliding scale of suitability. In addition to your comfortable maximum monthly payment, consider factors like:
- Credit Goals. If your top priority is simply to build credit history, any CreditStrong product will do. But if you already have some credit history, you may have other goals based on the weak spots in your credit profile, such as diversifying your credit mix or increasing your credit utilization. Consider a CreditStrong product that complements your existing credit accounts — Instal or CS Max if you already have a credit card, for example.
- Savings Goals. CreditStrong’s products aren’t just for building credit. They also help build your savings over time. This makes them particularly useful for folks who’ve had trouble saving consistently (and maintaining their savings) in the past. If bulking up your emergency fund is a top priority, consider one of CreditStrong’s jumbo-sized CS Max plans.
- Time Horizon. A longer time horizon is generally better when it comes to building credit. But CreditStrong does offer a range of terms, from up to 60-month CS Max plans to up to 24-month Instal plans (at $48/month) to open-ended Revolv plans.
- Personal or Business Use. CreditStrong isn’t designed to build business credit directly, but CS Max can help you turbocharge your personal credit to make qualifying for business loans and lines a bit easier. That’s the direction you’ll want to go if you’re planning to launch a business or need more leverage for an existing enterprise.
Again, you aren’t limited to a single type of credit builder loan. Many CreditStrong customers boost their credit profiles by combining Revolv credit lines with either of CreditStrong’s installment products. And rest assured that you can always cancel at any time without any prepayment penalty.
5. Use Your Loan Responsibly
The next part of your credit-building journey is what you make of it. CreditStrong might make it easy to find a credit builder loan or line of credit that meets your needs, but they can’t force you to make on-time payments.
If you’re having trouble meeting your monthly obligation, look for opportunities to trim nonessential spending from your budget or increase your income. It pays to stick with it because no matter which CreditStrong product you’ve chosen, each on-time payment builds your credit history. And because your payment history is the most important factor in your credit score, that’s likely to improve your credit over time.
6. Track and Celebrate Your Progress
Your CreditStrong credit builder loan isn’t a lifelong commitment, but it’s not some one-and-done credit hack either. Whether you choose a 60-month CS Max loan or an open-ended Revolv loan, you need to stay motivated as you work toward your credit goals.
Use your three free credit reports per year, spaced roughly every 4 months, to track your progress toward better credit. Check your savings balance each month in your CreditStrong account — remember, that’s yours when you pay off your loan. And set a “celebration schedule” at points along the journey, like specific FICO scores or savings balances. Little treats — dinner and a movie, a new outfit — can make all the difference for your motivation.
A CreditStrong credit builder loan won’t change your life overnight. It takes time to build credit and boost your score to the point where you’re fending off “prequalified” offers for premium credit cards left and right. Also see our CreditStrong Review for more information.
But with some effort — and plenty of timely payments — you’re likely to see meaningful results over time. Whether you choose a low-limit Revolv credit tradeline, an affordable Instal installment loan, a larger CS Max installment loan, or some combination thereof, a brighter credit future is within your grasp.