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10 Strategies for Building Credit Over Time

By Janet Schaaf · April 06, 2021 · 6 minute read

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10 Strategies for Building Credit Over Time

Broadly speaking, the best way to build credit is actually quite straightforward: Be the kind of borrower you’d want to lend to. While that might sound simple, it isn’t always second nature to know exactly how to go about doing that. For instance, you might know it’s critical to make payments on time, but you might not be aware that it’s important to keep your unused credit cards open.

If you’re setting out on your journey toward building credit, here’s a rundown on how to build credit, with 10 strategies you can stick to.

1. Acquire Credit

Perhaps the first crucial step in how to build credit is to acquire credit accounts. For someone who does not have a credit history of their own, getting a co-signer or becoming an authorized user on an established cardholder’s account can help you get started. You might also consider a secured credit card or a credit card designed specifically for students, or look into a credit-builder loan.

In the long run, however, you’ll be in a much stronger position if you can borrow in your name alone. Establishing credit of your own can make it easier to borrow in the future for such things as an auto loan, a personal loan, or even a mortgage.

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2. Pay Bills Consistently and On Time

Timely payments are crucial, and making at least the minimum payment each month on a revolving credit line can make a positive impact on your credit score.

That’s because payment history makes a bigger impact on a person’s credit score than anything else. A borrower’s credit score summarizes their health and strength as a borrower, and payment history makes up 35% of that score on a credit rating scale. So the most important rule of credit is this: Don’t miss payments.

Many lenders will actually allow you to customize due dates so they line up with pay dates, and most let you set up automatic payments from a checking or savings account. Take the time to find what works for you to make your payments in a timely fashion.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

3. Manage Your Credit Utilization Rate

The further away a person is from hitting their credit limit, the healthier their credit score will be, in most circumstances. A borrower’s debt-to-credit ratio, also known as the credit utilization rate, should ideally be no more than 30%. Higher utilization rates can negatively affect a person’s credit score.

Paying revolving credit lines in full each month can have a positive impact on your credit score because doing so essentially lowers your credit utilization rate. Additionally, keeping tabs on your credit utilization rate before continuing to swipe is key to using a credit card wisely.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

4. Keep Unused Credit Cards Open

Lenders want to see accounts maintained in good standing for a long time. As such, a credit history looks better when it has a solid number of accounts in good standing that have been open for a while. When debt accounts are closed, that history ends, and eventually closed accounts drop off your credit report entirely.

To keep this from happening, avoid closing old credit cards — even if you’re not using them anymore. You might consider using these accounts to automate a few bills, like car insurance or a monthly subscription account, to avoid account closure due to inactivity.

5. DiversifyYour Credit Mix

Having a diverse mix of credit products can also have a positive impact on a person’s credit, accounting for 10% of a credit score calculation.

Opening at least one credit card is a good step for most borrowers. Using a personal loan to finance a large purchase with a relatively low interest rate, and paying off that personal loan on time, can also have a positive impact on a person’s credit. Student loan refinancing can be another way to diversify your credit mix, while potentially lowering your interest rate.

However, while having a mix of credit can help your standing as a borrower, it’s not a good idea to open a line of credit that’s not needed just to increase your mix of credit types. Instead, stick to applying only for credit you actually need and that you’re confident you can afford to pay off.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

6. Check Your Credit Report

It’s recommended to check your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at least once a year. Doing a regular review of your reports is a good way to monitor your overall credit health and understand the impacts of different activities. It’s also important to make sure that everything listed in your credit report is accurate, and to flag any errors or fraudulent activity.

Where Can You Track Your Credit Score?

You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Request your copy online by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Note that you can also request a copy anytime you experience an adverse action based on your credit report (like being denied for a loan), among other circumstances.

Checking your credit score is even easier. While it’s not included in your credit report, you can get your current score from your credit card company, financial institution, or on a loan statement. Another option is to use a free credit score service or site. If you’re tracking changes to your credit score, it’s helpful to know how often your credit score updates and then check in accordingly.

7. Limit Credit Applications

When making major life changes, like starting a job, getting married, or having children, sometimes multiple lines of credit might be helpful to get through it all. Financial institutions understand that, but they also know that, historically, people who borrow a lot of money at once from multiple sources tend to have more difficulty paying them back. Spreading out credit applications over time whenever possible typically has a lower impact on an overall credit score.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

8. Avoid Overspending

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to ensure you keep building your credit in the right direction is to only spend what you can afford to pay off. This will help you more easily maintain a lower credit utilization rate, and it can prevent you from racking up a balance and falling into a debt spiral.

Plus, if you pay off your balance in full each month, as opposed to only making the minimum payment, you can avoid incurring interest charges. This is a perk that’s foundational to what a credit card is.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

9. Get Credit For Other Bills You Pay

If you’re early in your credit building journey, it can help to get credit for other payments you’re making on time, such as your rent payment, utility bills, or even streaming services fees. For instance, Experian Boost adds on-time payments in other accounts to your Experian credit report. There are also a plethora of rent-reporting services out there that will report your timely rent payments to the credit bureaus.

10. Pay Off Any Existing Debt

Another important strategy toward building credit is to pay down any debt you may currently have. Especially important when it comes to the time it takes to repair credit, saying goodbye to existing debt allows you to lower your credit utilization rate, which in turn boosts your credit score. There are a number of tactics out there for paying off debt, from a debt consolidation loan to a balance transfer credit card.

What Is a “Good” Credit Score?

A “good” credit score is considered within the range of 670 to 739 under the FICO Score, the credit scoring model most commonly used by lenders. “Very good” is considered anywhere from 740 to 799, while “exceptional” is 800 and above.

Keep in mind, however, that these exact ranges can vary a bit from model to model. For instance, in the VantageScore® range, a score of 661 to 780 is considered “good.” In general though, anything in the upper 600s is generally within the range of a “good” credit score.

How Long Does it Take to Build Your Credit Score?

According to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, it generally takes anywhere from three to six months of data to generate an initial credit score.

Credit card issuers typically don’t report account activity until the end of the first billing cycle, so it’s worth waiting a month or two before you check in on the status of your score. If you’re anxious to ensure your activity counts, it’s also a good idea to check with your issuer to make sure they report to the credit bureaus.

What Can You Do with “Good” Credit?

The importance of having good credit can’t be overstated. By building credit, you’ll have easier access to borrowing opportunities in the future, whether that’s an auto loan for a new card or a mortgage for a new home. A better credit score also allows you to secure better terms, such as lower interest rates and a higher borrowing capacity.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are a number of ways to build credit. First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you’re following the tenets of responsible credit usage, as these are arguably the best ways to build credit. From there, you can consider additional credit building strategies, such as ensuring that your on-time rent and utility payments count.

Another option for building credit is to find a credit card that works in sync with your existing financial habits and rewards your good credit behavior. The SoFi Credit Card, for instance, offers cardholders generous cash-back rewards on purchases. Plus, if you make 12 monthly on-time payments of at least the minimum due, you can lower your APR by 1%.

Find out today if you qualify for the SoFi credit card!


SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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