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Is a credit builder loan right for you?

Credit builder loans can help you build credit from scratch or rebuild good credit after bankruptcy or years of neglecting payments.

There are a few ways to build credit from scratch. You can get a secured credit card, become an authorized user on another person’s credit card, take out an auto loan with a co-signer. Another option is not as widely known, but can get you off to a good start from the ground up. It’s called a credit builder loan.

Credit builder loans are loans taken out specifically for establishing credit and improving a score. Usually they’re provided by credit unions or banks. Some nonprofits may offer these loans as well.

These are unique loans because they’re not designed for you to access money (although they should help you develop a solid on-time payment history). They’re simply to boost your credit score.

Why get a credit builder loan?

Credit builder loans come in especially handy if:

You don’t have much of a credit history

When credit history’s a prerequisite for investments as basic as a living situation, a savings account, or even a job, getting credit is essential.

You prefer not to use (more) credit cards

Multiple cards can build credit, but they can be a burden—we’ve all heard horror stories of credit card debt, for instance.

You’re clearing a financial milestone

Buying a home is one. So is buying a car. Better credit means more attractive interest rates.

You’re starting over

Maybe you’re new to the US credit system, or rebuilding after a crisis. Certain unions and nonprofits offer loans to “target markets” such as refugees or domestic violence survivors.

Many loans require you to be in decent financial shape first. Credit unions don’t look for perfection, but like most lenders they look for stability. You may need to have held a job for a certain length of time, for instance, or have a checking account with no overdrafts.

How does a credit builder loan work?

These loans aren’t huge. Most are within the $500 to $1,000 range. They’re designed to be reasonable to pay back. Keep in mind that, with interest, you may end up paying nominally more than the original amount.

You make payments on the loan over time. A common scenario: monthly payments over a year or two. The lender puts the money in an interest-bearing savings account, and you get the money once the loan’s fully paid.

There are three main types of credit builder loans.

A “pure” credit builder loan

The bank fronts the money and puts it in a locked savings account, while you make payments. This option doesn’t require you to put down money up front. It’s more like a savings layaway plan.

A secured loan

You “secure” the loan using money you already have in savings. The interest rate will likely be lower. Since you can’t access the money till it’s paid back, this type of loan is also a good opportunity to establish savings.

An unsecured loan

With this option, you get cash up front to use for expenses. You then pay the money back at a predetermined rate. Interest rates may be slightly higher. If cash on hand is a priority, an unsecured loan may be your best bet—but you still need to be able to make payments. In that respect, it’s similar to a credit card.

After about six months, you’ll get a FICO score if you didn’t have one already. If you’re trying to build an existing score, you can see a jump of maybe 20 to 25 points over the loan’s life. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can make a difference.

For good results, though, you have to make timely payments. Not just on the loan, but on any other bills you have that are reported to credit bureaus.

Read more: Compare unsecured personal loans here

Who offers credit builder loans?

Online lenders

There are a number of online lenders that offer credit builder loans such as Self, offering credit building loans you can pay back in $25, $35, $48, or $150* monthly installments across 24 months, and there is no cost just to join Self.

Self is available in all 50 states and is accessible online and via a mobile app. Each time you make your on-time monthly payment, you get the benefit of starting to build your credit with all three bureaus –Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

*Sample loans: $25/mo, 24 mos, $9 admin fee, 15.92% APR; $35/mo, 24 mos, $9 admin fee, 15.97% APR; $48/mo, 24 mos, $9 admin fee, 15.72% APR; $150/mo, 24 mos, $9 admin fee, 15.88% APR. See self.inc/pricing.

Credit unions

Around fifteen percent of credit unions offer this service. To see if you’re eligible to join a credit union, go to A Smarter Choice.

Banks

See if your bank has credit builder loan options. Or if you’re just opening a bank account, find a bank that provides this type of loan.

Nonprofit organizations

Nonprofits focused on economic development, or serving a specific population, may have credit builder loans as a financial empowerment tool for those they serve.

Consumer Action provides a directory of where to find credit builder loans in your state, including nonprofits, credit unions, and banks.  This list isn’t all-inclusive, but it’s a good place to start.

Before you take out a loan

Learn the specifics. What’s the interest rate, and how much interest will you end up paying? Will you need to put up collateral, and how much? What are the monthly payment amounts? How long will you be making payments? Is there any flexibility?

Make sure your lender is reporting to the three major credit bureaus, which they should be. After all, improving credit is the whole point.

Take time to find the best option for you. Credit builder loans can be a great way to show lenders that you can pay down a small loan responsibly. The better credit that results opens doors for larger opportunities.

Self Disclosure: Self Financial compensates us when you sign up for Self Financial using the links provided. All Credit Builder Accounts made by Lead Bank, Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender, Sunrise Banks, N.A. Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender or Atlantic Capital Bank, N.A. Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender. Subject to ID Verification. Individual borrowers must be a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident and at least 18 years old. Valid bank account and Social Security Number are required. All loans are subject to ID verification and consumer report review and approval. Results are not guaranteed. Improvement in your credit score is dependent on your specific situation and financial behavior. Failure to make monthly minimum payments by the payment due date each month may result in delinquent payment reporting to credit bureaus which may negatively impact your credit score. This product will not remove negative credit history from your credit report. All loans subject to approval. All Certificates of Deposit (CD) are deposited in Lead Banks, Member FDIC, Sunrise Banks, N.A., Member FDIC or Atlantic Capital Bank, N.A., Member FDIC.

About the author

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Amy Bergen

Amy is an educator, editor and writer. She understands finances are challenging but believes they don't have to be terrifying. Amy has covered topics from investing to student loans and money management for the millennial set.

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