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Credit cards offer one of the best ways for you to build your credit and improve your credit scores by showing how you manage credit on a regular basis. If you want to build good credit, use credit cards regularly while making all your payments on time and using a small portion of your card's credit limit. Here's what you need to know.
Starting to Build Credit With a Credit Card
Credit cards help you build credit because credit card issuers typically report your account and activity to the national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The bureaus then use this information to create your credit reports, which are the basis of your credit scores.
To start building credit with a card, you'll need to either open a credit card of your own or become an authorized user on someone else's credit card. Getting a card of your own can be difficult if you've never had credit before, or if you have poor credit. However, there are options.
- Secured credit cards are often a stepping stone if you're starting to build or rebuild your credit. These cards function like normal credit cards, but you'll have to send the card issuer a refundable security deposit when you open your account. Secured cards may have high fees and don't necessarily offer great cardholder benefits, but responsible use can help you qualify for better credit cards later.
- A student credit card can also be a good first option if you're a student. Student cards tend to have low credit limits; however, there are student cards available that have few fees and offer rewards on purchases.
You can also ask a friend or family member to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit cards. When they do, their credit card company can report the account to the bureaus under your name as well. You'll get your own card and can make purchases, as long as the primary cardholder agrees.
Having another person's card as part of your credit history can help you build credit—as long as the primary user manages their card well. Your credit won't be helped if the primary cardholder doesn't make payments on time, for example.
Once you begin building good credit of your own, it may be easier to get approved for different types of unsecured credit cards.
What Are the Best Ways to Use a Credit Card to Build Credit?
A credit card can either help you build positive credit or hurt your credit—it all depends on how you use it. To work your way toward excellent credit scores, focus on making on-time payments and avoid maxing out your card. Here are the best ways to use your credit card to your benefit:
Pay Your Bill on Time
The most important factor in your credit scores is payment history. To build credit with your credit card, make at least your minimum payment on time every month. If you miss your bill's due date, the card issuer may charge you a fee and you could lose any introductory or promotional interest rates on your account.
One of the best ways to ensure you never miss a payment is to set up autopay on your account. You can make the minimum payment using autopay, then pay the remaining balance, or as much as you can, separately.
If you make a late payment, the credit card company can report your account as late to the credit bureaus once it's 30 days past due. A late payment is a negative mark that can hurt your credit scores and stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
Maintain a Low Utilization Rate
Your credit card's balance relative to its credit limit is also an important factor in your credit score. Credit scoring models use the balance and credit limit as they appear on your credit report to calculate your credit utilization ratio. Low utilization (which can be achieved with a low balance) is better for your credit.
Limiting your card use, especially when you have a low credit limit, could help you maintain a low utilization rate. If you use your card often or for a large purchase, you can lower your reported balance by paying down your card's balance before the end of your statement period—about 21 to 25 days before your bill's due date.
There's no perfect utilization rate, but aim to keep it below 10% for the best credit scores.
How to Build Credit Without a Credit Card
While opening and using credit cards can be a good way to build credit, they're not the only option. Loans and other types of accounts can also help if they're reported to the credit bureaus.
When you're starting out, you could look into credit-builder loans, which are designed specifically for this purpose. Other common loans, such as student, auto and mortgage loans can also help you build credit.
As with credit cards, making payments on time with loans is the most important factor in building credit. Your remaining balance can also impact your scores, but it's not as important as utilization rates on credit cards.
Other types of accounts, such as utility and phone plans, often don't get reported to the bureaus or impact your credit. However, Experian Boost™† is a free service that allows you to add your phone and utility accounts to your Experian credit report so they can help you build credit. There are also rent reporting services that you may be able to use to add your rent payments to your credit reports.
The Best Credit Cards for Building Credit
Credit scores don't distinguish between different types of credit cards. And while your credit card's credit limit can indirectly impact your credit scores because of the role it plays in determining your utilization rate, things such as your card's fees, rewards and interest rate won't affect credit scores. Regardless, it's important to understand the terms and conditions on any credit card because fees and interest rates can impact your personal finances.
Some of the best options have few and low fees, offer rewards on purchases and give you other cardholder benefits. Here are two examples.
Discover it® Secured
Discover it® SecuredApply
on Discover's website
Intro APR: 10.99% on Balance Transfers for 6 months
1% cash back on All Other Purchases
Intro Bonus: Dollar-for-dollar match of all cash back earned the first year
- No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
- It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
- Establish your credit line with your tax return by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
- Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
- Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
- Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
- INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
- Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
The Discover it® Secured card doesn't have an annual fee and offers cardholders 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined gas station and restaurant purchases each quarter. You can also earn 1% cash back on other purchases, and Discover will match all the cash back new cardholders earn during their first year with the card. Unlike some other secured cards, this card also has long-term value, as starting after eight months Discover may transition your account to an unsecured card with similar benefits once you've made a certain number of on-time payments.
on Deserve's website
Intro APR: N/A
- 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
- Amazon Prime Student on us for one year ($59 value)
- Cellphone protection up to $600 when you pay your monthly phone bill with your Deserve Mastercard
- Mastercard Platinum benefits
- No security deposit or co-signer required
- Designed to help college students build good credit
- Get personalized tips on how to build a better credit score
The Deserve® EDU is a student credit card that offers 1% cash back on purchases and doesn't have an annual fee. You can also receive one year of free Amazon Prime Student membership and get cellphone protection coverage up to $600 if the card is used to pay your monthly mobile phone bill.
Build and Monitor Your Credit
Whether you're starting with a credit card or using a loan to build credit, you can monitor your progress by tracking your credit report and score online. Experian offers free access to your credit report and a free FICO® Score☉ , as well as ongoing credit monitoring and alerts if there's any suspicious activity. You can see which information gets reported, how your score changes over time and receive personalized suggestions for how to improve your credit.