A credit builder loan is a specific type of loan designed to help you establish or rebuild your credit history. If you have poor credit or no credit at all, this loan can be an effective tool to help boost your credit score.
Here is an in-depth look at what credit builder loans are, who they benefit, and step-by-step how the process works.
What is a Credit Builder Loan?
A credit builder loan is an installment loan with equal monthly payments over a set period of time, usually 24 months. The key feature of this type of loan is that the money you borrow is secured in a savings account at the lending institution.
You make monthly payments on the loan which are reported to the major credit bureaus. This allows you to build a positive payment history that can improve your credit score.
With most credit builder loans, the funds you borrow stay in the savings account until the loan is fully paid off. You cannot access the money during the loan term.
The lending institution returns the money to you, plus any interest earned, after you make your final payment. Some lenders may allow access to a portion of the funds if you make consistent on-time payments.
How Do Credit Builder Loans Improve Your Credit?
There are a few ways that credit builder loans can help improve your credit score:
- On-time payments – Making consistent monthly payments on time is one of the biggest factors in calculating your credit score. Credit builder loans allow you to demonstrate a positive payment history.
- Lower credit utilization – Since you don’t have access to the borrowed funds, the loan does not increase your debt-to-credit ratio. This helps lower your overall credit utilization.
- Credit mix – Credit builder loans add an installment loan to your credit report. Having a mix of loan types (revolving and installment) improves your credit mix.
- Increased credit history – The longer you have an active loan, the more it builds your credit history depth. Credit builder loans help establish length of credit.
As you make on-time payments each month and the loan ages on your credit report, you can potentially see significant increases in your credit score. Typically it takes about 6 months before positive effects are seen, but it can take the full loan term to maximize improvements.
Who is Eligible for a Credit Builder Loan?
Credit builder loans are designed specifically for those trying to establish a credit history or rebuild damaged credit. They are best suited for applicants who:
- Have no credit history at all
- Have a limited credit history (less than 3 years)
- Have a low credit score due to missed payments, defaulted loans, etc.
- Are rebuilding their credit after bankruptcy or other financial issues
- Are recent immigrants or college students new to credit
For approval, most lenders look for:
- Verified identity
- Steady income
- No recent bankruptcies or foreclosures
- Willingness to enroll in automatic payments
Credit builder loan applicants usually must have a savings or checking account at the lending institution to qualify. Income requirements vary but can be as low as $800 – $1,000 per month. Credit scores may not be a factor for approval, but applicants with very low scores below 500 may not qualify.
How Do You Apply for a Credit Builder Loan?
Applying for a credit builder loan involves a few simple steps:
1. Choose a lender
Many banks, credit unions, and online lenders offer credit builder loan programs. Compare interest rates, loan terms, fees, and borrower requirements. Credit unions and online lenders sometimes offer the most competitive rates and flexible qualification standards.
2. Check loan amount limits
Credit builder loans often range from $300 – $5,000, but each lender sets their own maximum loan amounts for this type of loan. Loan limits are usually lower for first-time borrowers.
3. Submit the application
The application asks for basic personal and employment details. You’ll need to provide a government-issued ID, proof of income, and contact info for references.
4. Accept the loan terms
If approved, you’ll receive the full loan terms including the loan amount, APR, monthly payment, loan duration, fees, and other conditions. Read the agreement carefully before accepting the offer.
5. Provide savings account information
Give the lender account and routing numbers for the savings account that will secure the loan funds. Be sure to open an account at the lending institution if you don’t already have one.
Once approved, the lender transfers the loan amount into your new savings account. Now you’re ready to start making payments and building your credit!
What is the Monthly Payment Process?
With most credit builder loans, you make a set monthly payment by automatic deduction from your checking account. Autopay is usually required by the lender to qualify for the loan. Here is what happens each month:
- Payment – On the due date, the lender automatically debits your monthly payment from your linked checking account.
- Interest accrual – Interest accrues on the loan balance held in the savings account based on the loan’s APR.
- Payment reporting – The on-time payment is reported to Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
- Balance – Principal is not reduced since the funds remain secured in the account.
At the end of the loan term after all payments have been made, the account balance equals the original loan amount plus the accrued interest. This full balance is then released to you provided the loan is paid in full.
Tips for Managing Your Credit Builder Loan
Here are some tips to help you maximize the benefits of your credit builder loan:
- Make payments on time every month – Set payment reminders and stick to the monthly auto debit schedule.
- Keep credit card balances low – Don’t let high credit card balances negate the positive effects of your installment loan payment history.
- Limit credit inquiries – Applying for new credit too often can hurt your score improvement efforts. Only apply for essential new credit.
- Consider asking for credit line increases – As your scores improve, you can ask issuers for higher credit limits to lower your utilization ratios.
- Hold the loan to maturity – Letting the loan season on your credit report for the full term will maximize the credit building benefits.
- Save the payoff amount – Don’t spend the lump-sum payoff when the loan ends. Save it to continue building your financial foundation.
The Credit Builder Loan Process Step-By-Step
Now that you understand the basics of credit builder loans, let’s look at a detailed step-by-step walkthrough of getting and managing a loan from start to finish:
Step 1 – Choose a lender
- Research different banks, credit unions, and online lenders that offer credit builder loan programs. Compare interest rates, fees, loan terms, customer reviews and approval requirements.
- Consider where you have existing accounts to qualify more easily and get the best rates. Credit unions are a good option to start with.
Step 2 – Apply for the loan
- Fill out the loan application online or in person. You’ll need personal info, employment history, income verification, a government-issued ID, and contact info for references.
- Be prepared to open a new savings account at the lending institution if you don’t already bank there. This new account will secure the loan funds.
Step 3 – Get approved
- The lender reviews your credit reports from the three major bureaus and verifies your application details.
- If approved, you will receive full loan terms including loan amount, interest rate, monthly payment, fees, loan duration, etc.
Step 4 – Accept the loan terms
- Read the loan agreement carefully and make sure you understand and agree to all conditions before signing.
- Be sure the monthly payment fits comfortably within your budget. Auto-debit from your checking account will be required.
Step 5 – Set up account access
- Provide the lender with account details for the linked checking and savings accounts that will facilitate payments and secure the loan funds.
- Sign all necessary account agreements and forms.
Step 6 – Loan funding
- The lender transfers the approved loan amount into the secured savings account.
- The funds remain locked in the account while you make monthly payments over the loan term.
Step 7 – Automatic monthly payments
- Monthly payments are automatically debited from your linked checking account on the scheduled due dates.
- Stick to the autopay schedule and never miss or make late payments. This is essential for credit building.
Step 8 – Track credit report changes
- After about 6 months, check your credit reports to see positive changes like a higher credit mix and improved payment history.
- Continue monitoring your reports periodically to ensure on-time payments are being reported.
Step 9 – Pay off loan balance
- After you make the final payment, the lender releases the loan balance plus accrued interest into your savings account.
- Do not spend these funds! Let them continue building savings and earning interest.
Step 10 – Continue credit management
- With your stronger credit history, you can now qualify for more mainstream unsecured credit products to further build your scores.
- Practice good credit habits by keeping balances low and maintaining positive payment histories.
The full credit builder loan process takes diligence and fiscal discipline. But with commitment to on-time monthly payments, you can establish strong credit in less than two years!
The Pros and Cons of Credit Builder Loans
Like any financial product, credit builder loans have both advantages and potential drawbacks. Let’s examine the key pros and cons:
- Help establish or rebuild credit history
- Require no credit check for approval
- Savings account locks in funds and limits temptation to spend
- Fixed monthly payment is predictable and affordable
- Lower interest rate than predatory loan options
- Payment history is reported to all major credit bureaus
- Loan funds are not accessible during repayment term
- Interest rates can be higher than traditional loans
- Fees and finance charges add to total repayment costs
- Late or missed payments negatively impact credit scores
- Loan balance does not decrease over time
- Credit limits are low with first-time loans
Overall, the benefits tend to outweigh the disadvantages, especially for borrowers with damaged or limited credit. A credit builder loan can be an optimal stepping stone to eventually qualifying for prime rate borrowing options.
Are Credit Builder Loans Worth It?
For most borrowers with poor or no credit, credit builder loans offer a worthwhile credit-establishing vehicle. The loans provide an opportunity to add positive payment history to your credit report and build your credit score over time.
For many borrowers, the eventual credit benefits outweigh the loan costs and rigid payment requirements. As you make diligent on-time payments month after month, you can see your scores steadily increase.
Just be sure to only borrow what you can reasonably afford to repay on the monthly schedule while still covering your other obligations. With fiscal discipline and responsible credit management, credit builder loans can be an effective way to establish and improve your credit.
Alternatives to Credit Builder Loans
While often beneficial, credit builder loans are not the only option for building credit. Depending on your circumstances, some alternatives may be preferable:
- Secured credit cards – Also require a security deposit, but function as a reusable line of credit that builds scores.
- Become an authorized user – Get added as an authorized user on a family member or friend’s credit card account to earn credit history.
- Credit-builder services – Companies like Self Lender or Credit Strong allow you to make payments toward a savings deposit, reporting payments to credit bureaus.
- Retail store credit cards – Department store cards tend to have lower approval requirements and can help establish initial credit history.
- Co-signer loans – A friend or family member with good credit co-signs a loan with you and makes payments until you build credit.
- Federal student loans – Federal student loan payments accurately reported to credit bureaus can build credit history.
Evaluate your options and choose the most strategic credit-building method for your financial situation. Used responsibly, credit builder loans can be a wise choice.
Summing It All Up
Credit builder loans offer those with poor, limited, or no credit an accessible opportunity to establish and build credit history.
The locked savings element helps ensure payments are made consistently. As long as you borrow conservatively and make diligent on-time payments, your credit scores can improve significantly over the loan term.
While not ideal for everyone, credit builder loans provide a regulated, low-risk means to build credit and gain access to more mainstream lending options in the future.