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Need to boost your credit score? These 4 programs can help (for free)

December 7, 2022, 6:24 PM UTC
Photo illustration of a credit score tracker pointing to "excellent."
Increasing your credit score doesn't have to cost you money.
Photo illustration by Fortune; Original photo by Getty Images

While it may be just three digits long, your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your day-to-day life.

This number—which is calculated by things like your payment history, how long you’ve had credit, and what sort of accounts you manage—can dictate which financial products are available to you and how much you’ll pay in interest when borrowing money. It can even influence the premiums on your auto insurance policy.

Establishing and growing your credit score requires both dedication and time. However, there are tools and programs you can use to both quickly establish and boost your credit score for free, especially if you’re struggling to get approved for credit-based accounts in the first place.

Programs that help you boost your credit score for free 

Building a good credit score can take years of dedication and effort, and it usually involves managing your loans, credit cards, and other consumer accounts responsibly.

But what if you don’t have the credit necessary to access those accounts in the first place? 

“Historically, access to credit has been challenging or impossible to get for consumers with a thin credit file or those with no credit history,” says Roy Ng, CEO of the fintech platform Bond. “Many underserved customers are unaware of options that are available to them besides a simple debit card. They do not realize there are ways to safely build credit when you do not have credit in the first place.”

Here are four such options designed for consumers without credit—or those with a low credit score—which can help boost your credit rating at no cost to you.

1. Experian Boost 

Experian Boost is a credit-monitoring and boosting platform offered by Experian, one of the three credit reporting agencies. This free program enables you to not only track your credit activity with regular reports and alerts, but also raise your score and build a credit history with the monthly bills you’re paying anyway. Using Experian Boost, the average user sees a credit score increase of 13 points.

With Experian Boost, you can opt in and include a variety of payment histories, such as your utility bills, rent payments, cell phone bill, and even streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. As you pay these accounts on time each month, they will be added to your Experian credit report; since payment history accounts for about 35% of your FICO credit score, those small bills can add up to a big boost. 

Experian Boost is free to use, and makes it easy to connect accounts. All you have to do is sign up and link the credit card or bank account from which you pay your bills. Experian Boost will automatically search for bills that have at least three on-time payments in the last six months, then add those to your credit file. 

2. TurboTenant Rent Reporting  

If you own your home, your mortgage lender is already reporting your monthly payments to one or more of the credit bureaus. If you rent, however, you’ll miss out on this beneficial credit score-boosting opportunity unless you sign up for a program like Rent Reporting by TurboTenant.

With TurboTenant, your on-time rent payments are automatically reported to TransUnion each month, at no additional cost to you. This allows you to build your payment history with one of your biggest monthly expenditures, without taking on any additional debt.

In order to use TurboTenant’s free service, your landlord will also need to sign up for a free account online. They can then opt into Rent Reporting; this allows them to either receive online rent payments through the platform, or simply record payments received directly.

Each month when your landlord reports an on-time payment received, the record will be added to your TransUnion credit report. If you ever need to turn off Rent Reporting, you can do so with a simple click online.

3. UltraFICO  

Your FICO score, provided by the Fair Isaac Corporation, is the most widely used and trusted credit scoring model available today. FICO, in a partnership with Experian, has recently introduced another optional credit model, called UltraFICO.

UltraFICO is a free, opt-in alternative credit-scoring model that uses different aspects of your daily financial life to generate a score, compared with the standard FICO. With UltraFICO, you will link up your checking, savings, and/or money market accounts. Your score is then determined by things like:

  • Your history of positive account balances
  • How long your accounts have been open
  • How often you conduct bank transactions (and how recently they occurred)
  • Whether or not you have cash on hand

Your UltraFICO score doesn’t affect your standard FICO score, nor will it replace your FICO. Once you’ve opted in, however, potential lenders and creditors can access this new score and use the result to better determine your creditworthiness.

4. Grow Credit 

Grow Credit is another program that uses select monthly bills to boost your credit score. The way it accomplishes this is, however, a bit unique.

With Grow Credit, you’re given a dedicated interest-free, secured Mastercard. Depending on which plan you choose, you’ll have a maximum monthly spending limit on that card. With the free plan, your spending limit is $17 per month.

Once you receive your card, you can link your existing subscription services on the Grow Credit platform; Grow Credit supports more than 100 subscription services including your Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora accounts, among others. 

You’ll then use the Grow Credit Mastercard to automatically pay for those subscription services each month. Your on-time payments will then be reported to each of the three bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), helping establish a payment history and grow your score.

The takeaway 

Before you can begin boosting your credit score, it’s important to first recognize where you’re starting your journey. “If you don’t know what is being reported about you on your credit, you can’t begin to fix any issues,” suggests Jeanne Kelly, founder of the Kelly Group and personal credit coach. “It doesn’t hurt your credit to pull your reports regularly from and even track activity with a credit monitoring program.”

Once you know where your credit score stands and have a goal in mind, using one of these free credit-boosting programs can help you establish a credit history, increase your score, and bump you closer to great credit without ever taking on additional debt.

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