How I built my credit with a credit card

A credit card isn’t just a convenient payment method that offers great benefits, rewards and fraud protection. It is also an effective, low-stakes tool for building credit.

In 2018, my credit score was maddeningly fair and hovered around 620. It seemed like there was not much I could do to help it, but then I got a credit card.

Fast forward three years and my credit score is finally good (above 670). I added some of best credit cards to my wallet, refinanced my car save a lot on interest and keep more money in my bank account by using a Offer 0% APR.

Now, it’s hard to believe that just three years ago I only had one vanilla credit card with a credit limit of just $200. But if it wasn’t for this card, who knows where my credit would be now?

Here’s how I used my credit card to build my credit.

Choose the right card

It’s 2018. I’m not yet the credit card nerd that I will later become and I’m buying a credit card.

I know enough to realize that I don’t have the most exciting options. At this point, I think I’d be happy with any transmitter that would accept me (I’m wrong – there are plenty of fish in the sea of wrong Where fair credit map options).

Fortunately, I come across Capital one, who promptly approves me for the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card.

Maybe Capital One Secured is not the best secure credit card there, because some secure cards offer decent rewards these days. But it’s certainly not a bad card either. These, unfortunately, are also abundant. As clueless as I am, I’m lucky I haven’t met any – and Capital One is a major issuer, which means it’s good to start a relationship with.

See related: How to build credit with a secured credit card

Having been burned in the past, I barely use my credit card and if I do, I pay it off right away. Result, in six months, I get an increase in my credit limit from $200 to $500.

Keep credit utilization low

We are in 2019. My career takes me to work in personal finance. It was then that I began to read countless articles on credit and learned from credit specialists.

Now I know my cautious approach was right. I learn about credit utilization rate — the balance you carry in relation to your credit limit, expressed as a percentage. Turns out you shouldn’t use more than 30% of your line of credit to keep your credit in good shape.

I do the math. If my credit limit is $500, I can carry a balance up to $150 without hurting my credit.

That’s what I do.

Pay bills on time

It’s 2020. I’m still watching my credit like a hawk, and it’s getting better. I took out a car loan, used Experian Boost to help my FICO score and I started learning more and more about credit cards. Much more, since I now work for Bankrate and CreditCards.com.

I realize the incredible number of credit cards. My credit score isn’t up to them yet, so I keep my card balance low and religiously pay it off on time. Now I know that one late payment is like a curse placed on your credit reports for seven years, doing the worst things to your scores.

Capital One sees my efforts. The issuer triples my credit limit to $1,500, and my credit loves it.

Switch to a better card

It’s still 2020. I decide it’s time to start being proactive. Capital One knows I’ve been a responsible and loyal customer, so I call the issuer and ask them to give me an unsecured card.

Capital One is happy to do so. Also, a customer service rep tells me that I’m pre-approved for the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card.

My first credit card rewards. I’m so ecstatic, it feels like Christmas morning.

Stay strategic with credit cards

It’s 2021. After some fluctuation, my credit score is finally good, which means I’ve crossed the 670 threshold.

I now have five credit cards, some of which I only dreamed of, like the American Express® Gold Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Find out® Cash Back. Now I go beyond just paying on time and keeping my usage low to increase my score. I also collect rewards from top point programs and juggle multiple cards to get higher rates on all my different types of purchases.

I don’t expect to receive any new cards for a while. All the ones I have have a purpose – they’re a mix I created for my specific spending habits.

I have come to the conclusion that credit cards are like pills for your financial health. If you know what you’re doing and follow what’s in the prescription, your credit and your budget will be fine. Otherwise, side effects can include credit card debt and financial difficulties.

So, I continue to follow the prescription: only apply for a credit card you really need, keep your balances low, and always pay on time.

My credit is healthy and my budget too.

How you can implement these learnings in building your credit

Before I got intentional about building credit, some steps I took were intuitive and some of my successes were pure luck. Nevertheless, you can use my takeaways and build your credit with a credit card as well.

First, find the right credit card to be your credit-building tool. No matter where your credit currently stands, there are great products out there that can earn you rewards while improving your scores.

Once you get a credit card, be sure to keep your balance low – less than 30% of your credit limit. Pay your bills on time and eventually you will see your credit scores go up. Once you reach the next level of credit (for example, from fair credit to good credit), contact your issuer to upgrade to a better card.

Track your credit to monitor your progress and stay strategic about your credit cards. Each of your cards should have a purpose and match your spending.

It can take a while to build your credit, but with these tips and a little patience, you’ll see it grow soon enough.

The bottom line

A credit card can provide many benefits, but one of the most important is its ability to help you build credit. Never miss a payment, monitor your card balances, be proactive and you will see your credit increase.

Use CardMatch to choose a credit card that suits your credit and your needs. Verifying offers won’t affect your credit, and you’ll get card matches that you have a good chance of being approved for.

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