Can You Build Credit With a Debit Card?

Quick Answer

Debit cards don’t usually allow you to build credit. That’s because debit card activity isn’t typically reported to the credit bureaus. But some new checking accounts may offer the ability to use your debit card to build credit.

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There are many reasons to use your debit card responsibly. Doing so can help curb overspending and prevent you from overdrawing your bank account. And while being careful with your debit card is certainly important in protecting your finances, most conventional debit cards won't help you build credit or affect your credit scores—with some new exceptions.

Here's what you need to know about why your debit card may not help grow your credit scores, plus five ways to start building credit.

Why Debit Cards Generally Don't Help You Build Credit

Most debit cards won't help you build credit. That's because the transactions you make with your debit card aren't typically reported to the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).

That said, while it still isn't the norm, some new debit card offerings are changing the game with built-in ways for your debit card to add to your credit history—more on this below.

But first, to understand why a debit card won't typically allow you to build credit, consider how a debit card works. Whenever you use your debit card, the funds are directly withdrawn from your checking account. Since you aren't borrowing money, credit won't be established or maintained through these debit card transactions.

It's also worth noting that using your debit card as "credit" during checkout won't help you build credit, either. It simply changes the way the transaction is processed with the merchant. The funds will still come out of your checking account like they would normally.

On the other hand, when you swipe a credit card, the creditor pays the merchant on your behalf. You then accumulate a balance that's your responsibility to repay. Creditors typically report your credit card account balances and payment history—including whether your payments were on time—to the credit bureaus. Each credit bureau maintains its own credit report in your name. The information on your credit reports is used to determine your credit scores.

How to Build Credit

Depending on your credit history, your available options for building (or rebuilding) your credit may vary. Regardless of the method, building your credit involves having on-time debt payments reported to the credit bureaus one way or another. Here are some strategies you can use to build credit.

1. Try a Credit-Building Debit Card

To recap, in general, debit cards don't build credit because your payment activity isn't reported to the bureaus. But some financial companies are changing the landscape with debit card features designed to help you add positive payment information to your credit reports. If you're thinking about opening a new checking account, seeking out these new credit-building debit cards could be a good option.

One such option is the Experian Smart Money™ Digital Checking Account & Debit Card, which you can get through a free or paid Experian membership. Experian Smart Money can help you build credit without debt by automatically linking to Experian Boost®ø, which gives you credit for certain eligible bill payments after three months of payments. Also, you'll pay no monthly fees for Experian Smart Money, and you'll have access to more than 55,000 fee-free ATMs worldwide**.

That makes Experian Smart Money one strong option for building credit. And, if you're not in the market for a new debit card, you can still use Experian Boost to help raise your FICO® Scores based on Experian credit data. You can get started with Experian Boost by linking the bank account you use to pay your bills. Then, Experian will search for eligible payments that you can opt to add to your credit file.

2. Become an Authorized User

A family member or friend might be able to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. You'll then receive a card in your name. The account will be added to your credit history if the credit card issuer reports authorized-user accounts to the credit bureaus. That, in turn, can help you build credit.

You won't be responsible for making payments—that will fall to the primary account holder—though you can reimburse them directly for any purchases you make. Just make sure they use their card responsibly before you ask to become an authorized user on their account. A credit history that has no missed payments and a consistently low credit utilization ratio will go the furthest toward helping you improve your credit score.

3. Open a Credit Card

Qualifying for a traditional (or unsecured) credit card can be tricky with a "thin" credit file, meaning a file with few or no credit accounts. A secured credit card may be a good alternative. It requires you to make a refundable deposit, which typically determines your credit limit. You can then use the card like any other credit card. If the issuer reports your payment history to the credit bureaus, it can help build your credit as long as you use your card responsibly. That means making on-time payments and keeping your credit utilization ratio as low as possible.

Some creditors will automatically convert a secured credit card to an unsecured card after so many months of responsible usage. If not, your credit may be strong enough at that point to qualify for a traditional credit card.

4. Consider a Credit-Builder Loan

With a traditional loan, the borrower receives the funds upfront and then repays it over time plus interest. A credit-builder loan works in reverse. You'll make fixed monthly payments for a certain period of time, usually six to 24 months. Your payment history is reported to the credit bureaus along the way. Making your payments on time can help you build credit. Once the loan term is up, you'll receive your money back—which may include interest. These types of loans can be a good option for those who lack credit history or have less-than-perfect credit.

5. Get Credit for Paying Rent

Another way to build credit is to use Experian Boost to get credit for qualifying residential rental payments you already make. Rent payments aren't normally reported to the credit bureaus, but features such as Experian Boost can add them to your Experian credit file.

That could increase your FICO® Score, and Experian Boost can be especially beneficial if you don't have much payment history yet. Your residential rent may qualify for Experian Boost if:

  • You make online payments to qualifying landlords or property management companies
  • You've made at least three rent payments within the past six months (including one over the past three months)
  • Your rent amount is high enough to qualify
  • You don't already have a mortgage that is reported to Experian

The Bottom Line

It's always smart to use your debit card responsibly. And while traditional debit cards don't typically allow you to build credit, some new offerings could help you bridge the gap between your responsible checking and your creditworthiness.

Regardless of the methods you use, the goal is to show creditors that you're a trustworthy borrower who knows how to manage payments. Meanwhile, you can check your credit report and FICO® Score for free through Experian.