How to Build Credit With Alternative Data
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. How much? Well, different services make different claims, but simply adding a positive rental and utility payment history can potentially increase your score by 40-60 points immediately. 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:
Formerly known as RentTrack and CreditPop, LevelCredit 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, LevelCredit 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.
Cost: $6.95 per month for a subscription. Alternatively, you can pay a one-time fee of $49.95 for their LookBack product, which adds the previous 24 months worth of rental and utility payments to your credit report.
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: The monthly subscription is $8.95 per month, but there’s also a one-time set-up fee of $50. If you want to add another person with whom you live and share the bills, you can do so for an extra $25. For a one-time fee of $60, Rental Kharma will add all of your previous rent or utility payments to your report.
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.
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.
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.
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.