How to Build Credit With Alternative Data

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The following is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended as credit repair or credit repair advice.

When your credit score is less-than-stellar, you might feel as if you’re stuck in a consumer purgatory of sorts. The cards feel stacked against you. For one, it would be harder to get approved for anything that requires good credit — think: a credit card, car loan, personal loan, or mortgage. What’s more, if you do qualify, you’re pegged with higher interest fees and less favorable rates. So how can you build credit if you lack access to it?

The good news: by reporting other types of financial data, you can improve your credit. If you’re a credit newbie or have a low score, we’ve rounded up a few apps, services, and online platforms that help you report alternative data to boost your score:

CreditPop

Formerly known as RentTrack, CreditPop is a service that reports your rental history to two of the consumer credit bureaus — Experian and TransUnion. It treats your rental income as a tradeline, or another account, on your credit file.

If there happens to be a month where payment isn’t found for some reason, CreditPop won’t report that payment to the credit bureaus. And whereas a roommate, spouse, partner or relative who shares the rent with you can also report their rent to improve their score, they’ll need their own accounts to do so.

You can also report bills such as your water, power, gas, and cell phone bills, which are reported to Experian. Starting in October 2019, only a limited group of people will be able to report previous rent payments.

Cost: $9.95 per month, per account. Credit monitoring is also included in the price.

Rental Kharma

Similar to CreditPop, Rental Kharma helps build your credit history by reporting your rental payments to your TransUnion credit report. You can add up to 24 months of rental payments to your report, and it normally takes about two weeks to show up on your credit report. Rental Kharma will also help you report up to four of your utility bills on your TransUnion report.

How much this could improve your score depends on how many payments you report. If you’re able to put down at least two years of either your rental or utility bills payment history, that could boost your credit score up to 40 points. What’s neat about reporting your rental or utility bills is that it could also add your spouse, partner, or roommate and it’ll boost both your credit scores.

Cost: There’s a one-time registration fee of $25. If you want to add another person with whom you live and share the bills, you can do so for an extra $25. If you’d like up to 24 months of rent or utility bills reported retroactively, Rental Kharma will tack on an additional $60 for both you and another person. As for monthly fees, it’s $6.95 a month for just you, and $8.95 a month for two renters.

Experian Boost

With the new Experian Boost, you can report your phone and utility bills to factor in to your credit profile. Only information that will be beneficial to your score will be added. So if you miss or are late on a payment, that won’t be included. It’s absolutely free — however, know that you are agreeing to disclose more tidbits of personal information. How much of an improvement can you expect? According to test groups, users boosted their score by 14 points.

To get started, you link your bank accounts that you use to pay your bills. Next, you select the payments you would like to show up on your credit report. Your “boost” will be instant.

Cost: The boost feature is free, but Experian offers a variety of upgrades at different price points, so expect a little upselling.

UltraFICO

The UltraFICO, which will soon be launching a pilot program, allows people to include their banking transactions on their credit scores. Besides your credit accounts, it basically pulls data from your banking, savings, and money market accounts. The intention was to provide a more comprehensive look at one’s creditworthiness and track record of being financially responsible. You’ll have to opt in, and also be okay with releasing more of your personal data.

Aura

While you aren’t exactly adding alternative data to your credit profile, you can also boost your score by way of a credit builder loan. These loans, which are typically anywhere from $2,000 to $50,000, are intended to not only provide a bit of cash when you need it most, but to help you build credit if you’re just starting out or have a low score.

Credit-builder loans such as those offered by Aura are designed for working-class families to boost their creditworthiness. Since its inception in 2014, Aura has extended $500 million in loans to 400,000 borrowers. Touted as affordable loans to low-income households, one can receive a loan at any of Aura’s 1,2000 partner locations in California, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona. Borrowers have reported an average of a 285-point increase from their first to second loan.

Here’s how it works: Aura taps into technology and data to provide loans to responsible applicants with limited or no credit histories. By drawing on other financial information besides credit card and loan payments, loans can be offered.

Is It Worth It?

You may have noticed a common thread across all of those alternative credit-building services: very few of them are free. Is $10 a month a fair price for a credit score 20-40 points higher? It’s hard to say. If you’re heading toward a large purchase - like a new car - and your score is borderline, the expense may be worth it. Ultimately you’ll have to decide for yourself whether the bump in your score justifies the cost.

One final thing to consider - you have multiple credit scores and there are multiple credit bureaus collecting your credit information. You can’t necessarily control which scoring model a lender may be using or which credit bureau’s version of your credit history they’re accessing. In other words, a service that boosts your score by adding positive information to your Equifax file may not benefit you if a lender is looking at the information in your TransUnion file.

In the meanwhile, make sure you’re taking all the traditional steps to building strong credit. If you need help understanding your current credit standing, MMI offers one-on-one credit report reviews. We also have great articles and guides on the subject of credit building. Be sure to at least check those out before signing up for a credit builder program.

Tagged in Build your credit score, Financial technology

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based personal finance writer who is passionate about helping creatives with their finances. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Mental Floss, Business Insider, and GOOD. She blogs at heyfreelancer.com.

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