I’ve spent the last few months researching how to rebuild your credit for an educational series I’m writing. That’s why I was intrigued by CreditStrong, a service that helps you rebuild your credit by giving you specialized loans or lines of credit and reporting them to credit reporting agencies.
I know that probably sounds like a scheme, but these types of services are perfectly legal. It’s just a way to help you build or rebuild your credit. What’s intriguing about CreditStong is that it’s a one-stop shop for building installment (personal loans) and revolving (credit cards) credit.
So I looked into it to see if it was a good fit for readers and ensure it wasn’t a scam.
What Is CreditStrong?
CreditStrong is a credit-building service. It provides loanlike products, then reports your activity to the credit bureaus just like regular credit cards and bank loans. You can use these loans to build or rebuild your credit or diversify your credit mix.
You sign up for its products, which act like either a credit card (revolving credit) or personal loan (installment credit). So long as you keep your revolving account open or paying into the installment account as agreed, you get positive information reported to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, which improves your credit profile with all three credit bureaus.
CreditStrong also provides you with your monthly FICO score, allowing you to track your progress toward meeting your credit score goals. Depending on what account type you have and how you use it, its products can affect up to 90% of the factors that impact your credit score.
What Sets CreditStrong Apart?
CreditStrong has several features that set it apart from competitors.
- It’s Also About Savings. Many competitors just try to help you build your credit score. But with a CreditStrong account, you’ll also have a tidy little emergency fund when all is said and done. Just keep in mind that you only have access to the savings when you complete the loan.
- Backed by a Trusted Bank. CreditStrong is backed by Austin Capital Bank, and all your money ends up in an FDIC-insured savings account at the bank. That means you’re not trusting some new kid on the block that turns out to own a burger joint. It’s a real bank with a solid reputation.
- Has Options for Bigger Loans. If your issue is less terrible credit and more not enough credit for the amount of money you make, CreditStrong has an option for a larger loan to help you build the kind of credit you need to take out credit cards with higher limits or bigger personal loans.
CreditStrong Plans & Pricing
CreditStrong currently has three credit-building products to choose from. You can use these products in conjunction with one another or alone.
Better yet, since CreditStrong doesn’t check your credit other than verifying your identity, you can use CreditStrong even if your credit is terrible. Just beware that you have to commit to using it right (making on-time payments) or you could damage your credit profile.
If you’re ready and willing to put in the work, you can choose from any of these account types.
Revolv (Line of Credit)
“Revolv” stands for “revolving credit.” CreditStrong reports this account to the credit bureaus as the same type of credit as a credit card. But it’s not a credit card.
Its competitors offer secured credit cards, which is different from CreditStrong’s offering. Revolv doesn’t involve any actual plastic or the associated spendable credit, meaning you don’t have to pay several hundred dollars upfront as a security deposit. Revolv is designed to help you avoid getting yourself into trouble with overspending.
Essentially, CreditStrong gives you a $500 line of credit and reports that to the bureaus. But you can’t actually access that money (yet) except in a very specific way — to save money.
You set a monthly payment (including as low as $0), known as a savings commitment, and that’s what you pay. CreditStrong advances your payment amount a bit early into a separate savings account. Your payment covers the advance.
Once your account has been open for 12 months, you can withdraw the money. Or you can leave it in your savings account and keep going. You may also consider transferring the money to a high-interest savings account.
To improve your payment history, set monthly payments in the recommended amount. To impact your credit utilization or credit mix only, set the payments to $0 and let it ride. You can also do that if you need to skip a month but don’t want to close your account.
But that’s not all you should know about this unique way of building revolving credit.
- $99 Annual Fee. It costs almost $100 per year to maintain a Revolv account. If you think about it, that’s not all that bad. Lots of credit card companies charge annual fees, and most of those won’t give people with little or bad credit a card, either. At least CreditStrong helps improve your credit. That said, some secured cards have lower or no annual fees, though they do charge interest if you don’t pay the bill in full each month.
- Zero Interest. Unlike regular credit cards, including most secured cards, you pay zero interest. Granted, other savings accounts might pay you interest, but those don’t report to credit bureaus. And Revov is designed to let you carry a small amount each month without paying extra.
- Low Monthly Payment. You can set a low monthly payment so it fits into your budget, including a $0 one if you need to skip a month or more.
- Increase Your Credit Line. If you want a larger credit line reported to the credit bureaus, you can increase your line of credit $100 at a time (up to $1,000) by making three consecutive monthly payments of $20 or more.
If you don’t trust yourself with a credit card, don’t have the security deposit for a secured card, or just don’t need one, a CreditStrong Revolv account helps improve your credit profile while you save up money without misusing credit or any significant upfront expense (outside the subscription fee).
The biggest drawback to the Revolv line of credit compared to secured credit cards is that lack of plastic. Your money is tied up until you make your last payment or cancel your account.
If you’ve got the $500 to pay upfront, a secured credit card gives you access to your money when you need it. That may make a secured card a better fit if you need to access your money for daily expenses like gas and groceries.
Instal (Loan Product)
A CreditStrong Instal account shows up on your credit report as a loan, also known as installment credit. But it’s a type of loan known as a credit-builder loan.
CreditStrong puts the loan amount into a locked savings account. You make monthly payments consisting of the principal (amount borrowed) and interest.
The principal of a traditional loan is the amount you’re borrowing. For a CreditStrong Instal loan, it’s the amount you’ll have in your savings account in the end. The interest is how much it costs for the service they’re providing — in this case, to report your on-time payments to the credit bureaus as a loan.
Once you’ve paid the full amount you owe, the savings account unlocks and you can access the amount you saved (the principal).
But it’s important to understand the specific features of CreditStrong’s Instal product.
- $15 One-Time Fee. There’s a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $15 when you sign up. That’s reasonable compared to real loans, which often come with hefty upfront origination fees of several hundred to thousand dollars.
- Predictable Interest Payments. You pay around 15% interest, depending on which level you choose. But there are no surprises thanks to CreditStrong’s transparency. It publishes all its amortization tables so you can see exactly how much of your monthly payment goes to interest versus principal before you even sign up. Depending on which Instal plan you choose, between 60%-80% of your first year’s payments go directly to your savings, and over the life of your Instal plan between 75%-86% of your payments will be returned to you as savings when your Instal plan is completed.
- Flexible Account Options. Multiple options allow you to borrow around $1,000 with various term lengths and payment amounts. Choose from $48 per month for 24 months (two years), $38 per month for 36 months (three years), or $28 per month for 48 months (four years).
There’s really very little risk to an account like this since you can cancel it if necessary. The primary problem it could cause is missing or late payments since the credit bureaus will find out. So if you can’t make a payment in a given month, it may be beneficial to cancel rather than have that late payment reported to the bureaus.
The one-time payment is low, but the interest rate is around 15%, which may sound steep. People with good credit who’re just looking to increase their credit mix can probably get a better rate by just taking out a regular loan.
But it’s only a few percentage points higher than Bankrate’s reported average of around 11%, which is an OK cost of doing business if your credit score is awful and you need to increase it.
CS Max (Larger Loan Product)
Aside from the amounts, CS Max works just like an Instal account — with one notable difference.
CS Max is a special type of credit-builder loan for high-dollar amounts. They’re perfect for people who have cash flow but no credit or those who need to demonstrate their ability to pay back high-dollar loans, such as sole proprietors looking to build their personal credit to get bigger loans for their business.
But this account type isn’t right for everyone. In fact, it’s not right for most people. So unless you have a specific reason to build credit like this, stick with Instal.
- $25 One-Time Fee. There’s a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $25 when you sign up. That’s reasonable compared to traditional loans, which often come with hefty upfront origination fees of several hundred to thousand dollars.
- Predictable Interest Payments. The bigger loans have lower interest. You pay around 7% interest, depending on which level you choose. But there are no surprises thanks to CreditStrong’s transparency. It publishes all its amortization tables so you can see exactly how much of your monthly payment goes to interest versus principal before you even sign up.
- Flexible Account Options. Multiple options allow you to borrow up to $25,000 over 60 months (five years) with monthly payments varying based on how big a loan you want CreditStrong to report. Choose from a $2,500 loan at $49 per month, $5,000 at $99 per month, $10,000 at $199 per month, or $25,000 at $449 per month.
This account is for you if you want to maximize your credit profile so you can later apply for credit cards or personal loans with higher balances and have plenty of disposable income. If the monthly payments will be a problem or you have other credit considerations, stick with an Instal account. For example, if you’re buying a house soon, your debt-to-income ratio may be more important than other credit considerations.
The interest rate on this account type is much lower than the Instal account’s. That said, some people may be able to get comparable regular loans with much lower interest rates. If you’re one of those people, go for it.
Additional Features of CreditStrong
CreditStrong’s credit-building accounts have some notable features you should be aware of before opening an account.
No Credit Check
Since they’re not giving you money upfront and the goal is to build your credit, CreditStrong doesn’t do a credit check before giving you an account. As a bank, they must verify your identity. But applying for CreditStrong doesn’t negatively affect your score.
Monthly Credit Bureau Reports
The point is to build credit, so CreditStrong reports to the credit bureaus each month, ensuring your credit score benefits from good behavior. The first report happens 30 to 60 days from account opening.
But credit bureaus require companies that report to report all behavior, good or bad. So keep those on-time payments going or cancel your account.
Free Monthly FICO Score
When you sign up for a CreditStrong account, it lets you set a credit score goal. Then, it provides your monthly FICO score for free so you can track how close you are to your goal.
You have to make your payments on time and in full. If you don’t, there’s a 14-day grace period. But after that, they charge you in addition to reporting you to the credit bureaus. If you think you’re going to be late, you may have options, depending on the account type.
Revolv lets you adjust your payment amount to $0. But do so at the beginning of the month to ensure you don’t owe a payment that period.
For the Instal and CS Max accounts, you aren’t so lucky. You must make continuous on-time payments without interruptions. So if you can’t make a payment, it’s better to close the account than rack up multiple late-payment reports. You even get back the principal you’ve already paid.
If you need to cancel, don’t fret. You can do so at any time without paying any additional fees or penalties.
For Revolv, it will look like you closed a credit card. Your credit profile may show less available credit, higher utilization, and a lower age of credit.
For Instal and CS Max, it will show on your credit report just as though you paid off the loan (or never took one out if you cancel before the first report). How big a loan it shows depends on how much you’d paid when you canceled.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t affect your credit score. Paying off a loan or closing a credit card impacts some elements of your credit score, such as age and total outstanding credit. So paying this one off early does the same.
No matter what, you get back any money paid as principal on your Instal or CS Max accounts or as monthly payments on your Revolv account.
The savings account your payments go into is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a government-run agency that supplies insurance to banks. That means that in the unlikely event anything happens to the bank, an insurance policy pays out your money.
You can send your friends and family a unique link and earn $10 each time one of them makes their first payment. You can even share your link on social media.
It’s not a lot of money, but if you have a healthy social media presence, you could potentially offset your monthly payments.
How to Qualify for CreditStrong
To sign up for credit strong, you don’t need perfect credit. But you do need:
- To be at least 18 years old
- To be a permanent U.S. resident with a physical U.S. residence and address
- A valid social security number or individual taxpayer identification number
- A checking account, debit card, or prepaid card in good standing
- A valid phone number
- A verifiable email address
Advantages of CreditStrong
CreditStrong can help you build your credit whether you’ve tanked your score with irresponsible use or have a credit score-to-income mismatch. Depending on the account type you choose, there are several benefits to using CreditStrong.
- No Credit Check. Just because secured credit cards and credit-builder accounts are meant for people with less-than-stellar credit doesn’t mean they never check your credit. But CreditStrong doesn’t. They just verify your identity.
- Low Fees. The fees on their credit-builder loans are inexpensive at $15 or $25, depending on the type you get, plus interest. The Revolv account is a bit pricier at $99 per year, which may be more expensive than other line-of-credit options, such as secured credit cards. But it also works differently and doesn’t charge interest on balances.
- Reasonable Interest Rates. The Revolv account charges no interest. The Instal account charges slightly more than the average, even if you have terrible credit. And the CS Max account charges about half the average.
- Transparent Fee Structure. You control the payment amount on your Revolv account, and CreditStrong publishes the amortization schedule for the credit-builder loans. That means you know exactly how much your monthly payment will be and how much goes toward interest before you even sign up for an account.
- Longer Loan Terms. Lots of credit-builder loans last 12 months. You can keep renewing them, but each time you do, it costs you more money and may negatively impact your score, at least temporarily. With CreditStrong’s longer loan terms, you keep a longer loan on your credit history, which can help with the credit history length portion (15%) of your credit score.
- Customizable. With CreditStrong, you can open multiple account types depending on what your credit score needs. Plus, you can choose from various loan amounts, terms, and monthly payments.
- Options for the Cash-Positive. If you have plenty of money but need to prove you can reliably make the higher payments required by certain loan amounts and credit card types, CreditStrong has an account for you. Most credit-building options are for those who just have bad or no credit.
- Penalty-Free Cancellation. Life happens. If your financial situation changes and you can no longer afford even the low monthly payments CreditStrong requires, you can cancel the account to ensure you don’t get negative payment information reported to the credit bureaus. You might lose your one-time or annual payments if you cancel early, but the company won’t penalize you any further.
Disadvantages of CreditStrong
CreditStrong is a solid option for anyone who wants one-stop shopping to build credit. But it’s not without its potential drawbacks, so think carefully about these cons before signing up.
- No Secured Credit Card Option. A Revolv account can stay open indefinitely and permanently help your length of credit as long as you keep renewing the account. But it works more like a savings account than a credit card. That improves your credit score, but it doesn’t exactly give you practice using a credit card responsibly.
- Ties Up Your Money. The longer you pay into the account, the more money you have tied up in the savings account associated with it, which you can’t access until you’ve fulfilled the obligation (unless you cancel). That’s typical, but since the credit-builder loans can be much longer with CreditStrong, it’s also something to consider carefully.
- Verified Bank Account or Debit or Prepaid Card Required. You must have a verified bank account, debit card, or prepaid card to make payments with, or you can’t sign up for CreditStrong.
- No Guarantees. CreditStrong, like other credit-builder companies, sells a product that uses the way FICO scores work to help build credit with less risk than regular loans or credit cards. How much it helps depends on how you use it, whether you choose the right products, and other behaviors during the time you have the account. It’s not a credit-repair service and doesn’t remove negative entries or guarantee credit score improvements.
- Penalty-Free Early Cancellation Still Has Drawbacks. CreditStrong doesn’t charge you extra to cancel your account, but it may have a negative impact on your credit score, at least temporarily. That’s true of all loan and credit products, including the regular kind, so there’s nothing CreditStrong can do to fix it.
- No App. CreditStrong doesn’t have an app you can download to make payments and watch your credit score. You have to do everything through a browser. The website appears to work well enough on mobile, but it’s not the same as an app.
Is CreditStrong Legit?
CreditStrong is absolutely legitimate. It’s backed by Austin Capital Bank, headquartered in Texas. In fact, that’s how it appears on your credit reports. It’s an FDIC-insured community bank that’s been in business since 2006.
It’s committed to responsible fintech (financial technology) and created the secure online financial services platform Trident Technology, which is what runs CreditStrong.
Once you’re done improving your credit, you’ll have a savings account at a bank that spent seven years on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing privately held companies.
CreditStrong may be the only choice for the cash-rich who just want to prove they can handle still-more credit. But it’s a solid option for those with bad or limited credit history too.
The Revolv line-of-credit product is also an interesting choice for those who need credit improvement but don’t want the siren song of real plastic to tempt them into spending more than they can afford. But if you’re looking for a credit product to help teens or young adults build credit while learning to use it, a secured credit card or student-friendly unsecured credit card might be a better fit.