How Long Does It Take to Establish Credit?

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With a credit file that's too thin, you won't have a credit score. Learn how long it takes to establish credit and how to get started.

Contrary to the misconception that everyone has a credit score, about 10% of people in the United States are credit invisible. If you've never taken steps to build your credit file, then you're likely in the same boat.

Lack of credit can be a huge handicap in life, and the sooner you start working on yours, the better. But how long does it take to establish credit? That will depend on the scoring system.

How long does it take to establish credit?

There are two credit scoring systems that just about everybody uses. Most lenders use the FICO® Score, and under that scoring system, the credit bureaus can calculate a score for you after three to six months of activity.

The other popular scoring system is VantageScore. One advantage of it is that the credit bureaus can calculate that score with as little as one month of activity on your credit file.

Why you need to establish credit

Your credit score isn't like the SAT, where you start with a certain number of points. When you're credit invisible, you have no score.

Why is that? Your credit score is essentially a gauge of how likely you are to pay what you owe on time. The credit bureaus use a variety of scoring criteria to calculate this. But without sufficient information on you, they can't make that assessment.

As far as why you should establish your credit, the reality is that your credit score is important for much more than just getting a credit card or applying for a mortgage. There are all kinds of ways your credit score affects your life. A good credit score can open doors for you and save you money, whereas a bad credit score can do the opposite.

Getting started

To build your credit file, you'll need to start borrowing money and repaying it. There are two ways you can do this:

  • Credit cards
  • Installment loans

Credit cards are the better option, because you can pay them off in full every month and never pay a cent of interest. You can't avoid interest with an installment loan.

The credit-building process itself doesn't need to be difficult. In fact, you only need to do the following:

  1. Get approved for a credit card.
  2. Use said credit card at least once per billing cycle
  3. Pay it off completely by the due date every month

Note that if you want to establish your credit fast, you can often speed up the process by becoming an authorized user on another person's credit card account.

How to get a credit card before you've established credit

The obstacle you may run into when you try to build your credit is finding a credit card that you can get. Card issuers are usually wary of approving applicants with nothing on their credit history.

There are a few options that you can try in this situation:

  • Apply for a secured credit card, which is a card that requires a security deposit.
  • Ask someone with better credit, such as a relative, to co-sign on the credit card application for you.
  • Find a card to apply for on our list of best starter credit cards.
  • See if the bank or credit union you use has any credit cards you could apply for.

What if you're rebuilding your credit?

You're looking at a completely different timeframe if you need to rebuild your credit after one or more mistakes. If that's the case, then how long your credit score takes to recover will depend on what the mistake was.

If you used too much of your available credit, even if you maxed out a credit card, then your score can bounce back as soon as you pay down your balances. Missed payments, defaults, and bankruptcies are all much more severe issues that can impact your credit score for years.

Taking the first steps towards a good credit score

It isn't exactly hard work to establish your credit, but it doesn't happen like magic either. You need to give the credit bureaus something to work with so that they can calculate your score. Once you've started building your credit file, it's all about demonstrating the right financial habits. 

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