If you’re one of millions of Americans with a blank credit file or too little data on your credit reports, you might wonder: Does a phone bill build credit? In short, paying your cell phone bill typically does not help you build credit.
That being said, there are steps you can take to have your phone bills affect your credit. For instance, paying your monthly bill with a credit card and then making on-time payments on your balance can help you build your credit score from scratch. You also could enroll in a third-party service to have your phone payment activity reported to the credit bureaus.
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How Cell Phone Bill Payments Work
If you have a cell phone, each month you will likely receive a bill — either in the mail or digitally — with an amount that you have to pay for using the cell phone carrier’s service. This amount will vary depending on the type of plan you have and how many lines you have under the account, among other potential charges like device protection or insurance. If you’ve financed the cost of your physical cell phone, that amount will also get added into your monthly cell phone bill.
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Will Paying Your Phone Bill Build Credit?
Unlike payments on your credit card or loans like your auto loan or mortgage, cell phone payments usually don’t get reported to the credit bureaus. As such, cell phone payments typically don’t show up on your credit report and therefore don’t impact your credit score.
The only exception to this is if you finance a cell phone and the creditor reports your payments to the three major credit bureaus. In that scenario, those payments could help build your credit.
There are also a couple of ways that you can get your phone bills to help with building credit. These include:
• Reporting payments to the bureaus through a third party: Cell phone companies usually don’t report directly to the credit bureaus, nor can you self-report your cell phone bill payments to the bureaus. Instead, you can sign up for a third-party service that will report your payment activity to the bureaus on your behalf, so they appear on your credit report. You might owe a subscription fee for this service though.
• Paying your cell phone bill using your credit card: By paying bills with a credit card — in this case, your cell phone bill — and then making on-time payments on your credit card balance, you can help build your credit score. Beyond serving as a credit-building tactic, using your credit card to cover your phone bills can offer access to added perks like cell phone protection.
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What Happens to Your Credit Score When You Miss Phone Bill Payments?
While your phone bill payments don’t directly impact your score, should your account become delinquent, then the delinquency does get reported to the credit bureaus. At this stage, your cell phone bill can negatively impact your score.
Your cell phone account could become delinquent if you miss several payments in a row, or if you end your contract with your carrier earlier and fail to pay off your balance. This information can remain on your credit report for up to seven years from the date the delinquency occurred.
What Happens to Your Credit Score When You Start a New Phone Plan?
When you apply for a new phone plan, the carrier will do a hard pull of your credit to help them determine how likely you are to stay on top of your cell phone payments. A hard pull can negatively impact your credit score, though its effects are usually minor and short-lived.
However, your subsequent payments on your new phone plan likely will not get reported to the credit bureaus, meaning your payment activity generally won’t affect your credit.
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Does Buying a New Phone Affect My Credit Score?
Buying a new phone won’t impact your credit score. And should you get financing through your cell phone carrier and enter a payment plan, your payments usually don’t get reported to the credit bureaus.
One way that a new cell phone purchase can impact your credit score is if you pay for your new phone with a credit card. If you make on-time payments on your credit card balance, that could help you build your score. But on the flipside, making late payments or missing payments entirely could negatively affect your score.
Importance of Building Credit
Establishing credit and building a strong credit score can not only help you get approved for that car loan, mortgage, or credit card in the future, but it can help you land the most favorable rates and terms.
Without a good credit score, the cost of taking out a car loan or mortgage, or carrying a balance on a credit card, could be more costly. Getting approved is also more challenging with a thin credit history or a credit score that’s not so great.
Other Ways to Build Credit
Besides reporting your cell phone bill through a third-party company or paying your cell phone bill with your credit card, here are some ways you can build your credit from scratch.
Open a Secured Credit Card
If you’re just starting out on your credit journey, consider applying for a secured card. A secured card works just like a credit card, but it requires a deposit. Your deposit serves as collateral.
Secured cards are designed for those who are building their credit and as such, generally have lower credit limits. The deposit you make is usually the same as your credit limit. For example, if you have a $250 credit limit, your deposit is also $250.
Once you demonstrate a history of on-time payments, you might graduate to a traditional credit card, which does not require a deposit as collateral and which generally offer higher credit limits. Plus, once you move up from having a fair credit score, you may have access to lucrative rewards and perks.
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Get a Credit-Builder Loan
Banks, credit unions, and online financial platforms might offer credit-builder loans, which are small loans that are stowed in a savings account. Unlike with a typical loan, where you receive a lump sum upfront, you only get the loan amount once you’ve paid off the loan in full. The payments you make on a credit-builder loan are reported to the credit bureaus, which can help you build credit.
Become an Authorized User
Being added as an authorized user on someone else’s credit card means you can make purchases using their card but aren’t on the hook for payments. Instead, the authorized user, generally a family member or trusted friend, is responsible for making payments.
If the account holder maintains responsible credit card behavior, that can help you on your credit-building journey, as their activity appears on your credit report.
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Use a Credit Card Responsibly
Using a credit card responsibly and making on-time payments each month can help you to build your credit score. Payment history makes up 35% of your FICO Score, making timely payment the most influential factor among what affects your credit score. Additionally, keeping your credit card accounts open can help increase the average age of your credit accounts, another factor that influences your FICO Score.
Beyond building your score, a credit card can offer other advantages as well. The SoFi Credit Card, for instance, offers competitive cash-back rewards on purchases made using the card. Cardholders can redeem those rewards to save, invest, pay down eligible SoFi debt, or use as a statement credit.
Paying your cell phone bill likely won’t help you build credit. However, there are steps you can take if you’d like your phone bills to affect your credit score. This includes using your credit card to cover your phone bill, and then making on-time payments on your balance. You can also build credit with cell phone payments by getting them reported through a third-party company. No matter how you do it, building credit is crucial to do, as it opens the door to future financial opportunities.
For a limited time, new credit card holders† who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/23.
How long does a cell phone bill stay on your credit card report?
Cell phone payments usually aren’t reported to the credit bureaus. In turn, they won’t show up on your credit card report. However, should you miss several payments in a row, the account can become delinquent. Delinquent accounts can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
Will missed payments on my cell phone bills hurt my credit score?
Missed cell phone payments won’t hurt your credit score unless you miss several payments in a row, and the account falls into delinquency. Delinquency can linger on your credit report for up to seven years.
Does upgrading my phone build my credit score?
Because your cell phone carrier generally doesn’t report to the credit bureaus, any changes to your cell phone plan, such as a phone upgrade, will not build your credit score.
Photo credit: iStock/Kanawa_Studio
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