Do Credit-Building Apps Really Work? StellarFi, Kikoff, Self and Credit Strong

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Alexander Porter

In today’s uncertain financial landscape, many credit-building apps promise to boost your credit score. But do they really deliver results? These apps typically work by reporting your payments to credit bureaus, potentially establishing a positive credit history. However, their effectiveness can vary. Will apps like StellarFi, Kikoff, Self, and Credit Strong improve your credit score? Read on to find out.

Building credit can feel like climbing a mountain. Every few steps forward helps, but one misstep can send you tumbling back. 

Plenty of apps promise to help build your credit through credit builder loans, lines of credit, or on-time bill payments (even if your credit score is poor or non-existent).

But do they truly deliver results? 

We’ll answer that question by comparing some of the most popular credit-building apps including:

We’ve analyzed these credit-building tools to determine their effectiveness in boosting your credit score.

credit building apps graphic

How do credit-building apps work?

Apps like StellarFi, Kikoff, Self, and Credit Strong work by establishing a positive payment history.

Your payment history can be improved in multiple ways:

  • Credit Builder Loans: These apps essentially “lend” you a small amount, which you repay in monthly installments. These payments are reported to credit bureaus, simulating responsible credit card usage. At the end of your agreed loan term, you get your money back minus interest and fees.
  • Line of Credit: These apps offer a line of credit you can use to make purchases. You pay back what you borrowed with payments reported to credit bureaus, simulating responsible credit card usage.
  • Pay Bills: Some credit builder apps like Grow Credit let you build credit by paying off everyday expenses like your favorite streaming platforms, subscriptions, and utilities.  By routing some of your bill payments through a small credit line or credit card, your regular payments get categorized as loan or credit card repayments that can be reported to credit bureaus to help you build up your credit score.
🤓Overdraft Apps Tip: You can use more than one of these apps to build your credit. You don’t have to pick and stick with a single app, so consider using more credit building products or strategies (without putting pressure on your finances) to drive faster results.

What goes into a credit score?

Your credit score is a number that rates your creditworthiness. For example, a FICO score is between 300 and 850.

There are three major credit bureaus in the U.S:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • TransUnion

This trio dominates the market for collecting and analyzing information about your credit score. While there can be differences in the information collected by the three credit bureaus, the following five main factors are evaluated when calculating your credit score:

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Amounts owed (30%)
  • Length of credit history (15%)
  • Types of credit (10%)
  • New credit (10%)

Your payment history makes up more than one-third of your score, so it’s key to make sure you don’t miss payments.

poor credit score report

So, do credit-building apps really work?

Credit score increases may be possible thanks to on-time payments reported by these apps. The following credit score improvements have been seen:

  • StellarFi: StellarFi can improve your credit score by 50 pts in 30 days!2StellarFi’s members enjoy an average of a 32-point increase in their credit scores during the first month.
  • Kikoff: On average, customers with credit scores under 600 increase their credit scores by 58 points3, with consistent on-time payments during the account lifetime. Many Kikoff customers have been able to qualify for better car loans, mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, and more.
  • Self: Self-customers see their credit score increase by an average of 30 points!4 And, customers with a starting credit score of 600 or below were more likely to see positive score change results.
  • Credit Strong: Credit Strong customers see their credit scores increase by more than 25 points within 3 months of opening their account, on average. Credit Strong customers who make 12 on-time monthly payments more than double that score increase to almost 70 points.5
🤓Overdraft Apps Tip: 600 is a key credit score threshold, as it is the minimum score that many lenders require for personal loans, unsecured credit cards, and in-store financing offers. 

However, building your credit is a long-term habit, like working out or eating healthy, and significant improvement often takes months or even years.

When choosing a credit-building product, watch out for potential hidden fees and the risk of overextension. Additionally, some credit scoring models might not weigh alternative data heavily.

Stellar FiKikoff
StellarFi works with you on something you already do – pay your bills. 

Most bill payments go unreported because they’re not made on loans or credit cards.
With a StellarFi Bill Pay Card, StellarFi pays the bill and you automatically pay them back. On-time payments are reported to Experian® and Equifax®. 

Everyday bill payments, like your phone, rent, gym membership, or favorite streaming service, can increase your credit score. 
Kikoff’s main product is a revolving line of credit designed to address the 3 key factors of your credit score: payment history, credit utilization, and age of accounts.

Kikoff also offers a 1-year credit-building plan that also builds $10/month in savings and a free, secured credit card product that safely builds your payment history through your everyday transactions.
SelfCredit Strong
Choose a plan, open your Self Credit Builder Account, and pay your nonrefundable admin fee.

Start making your monthly payments, and Self will handle reporting to the credit bureaus.

Finish paying off your credit builder loan and the Self Credit Builder payout tracker will show when you’ll get your money (minus interest & fees).
A CreditStrong account is the fusion of either a secured consumer installment loan or a revolving line of credit and a savings account. 

Each month, you make a single, fixed monthly payment of principal and interest on the loan.

Build a payment history for an installment loan on your credit report, which accounts for 35% of your FICO credit score, and the money you’ve saved up in your savings account.

How to build your credit the traditional way

While apps can be helpful tools, traditional credit-building methods remain crucial. 

Here are a few simple (but proven) ways to build up your credit.

  • Obtain secured credit cards: Use these cards responsibly and pay your balance in full to establish a positive credit history. Check out Chime’s secured Credit Builder Card with no credit check, interest, or annual fees.
  • Become an authorized user: Ask a trusted individual with good credit to add you as an authorized user on their credit card. Their positive payment history can benefit your score.
  • Pay your bills on time: This single factor significantly impacts your credit score. Ensure timely payments for rent, utilities, and other monthly obligations.

The Verdict: Apps can help but don’t expect miracles

Credit-building apps like StellarFi, Kikoff, Self, and Credit Strong can be valuable tools, but they’re not magic wands. 

Credit-building apps and products should help complement, not replace, traditional credit-building practices. 

Consider these apps within your overall financial strategy, carefully evaluate their fees and terms, and remember responsible credit usage is key.

Next Steps:

  • Assess Your Credit Situation: Check your credit score to understand your starting point and credit report details.
  • Research and Compare Apps: Analyze various apps, considering fees, features, and user reviews. Choose one that aligns with your budget and credit goals.
  • Use Responsibly: Stick to repayment schedules, avoid overspending, and monitor your credit score regularly. Remember, building credit takes time and commitment.

Responsible credit usage is a journey, not a quick fix. While apps can provide a helpful push, you should always prioritize sound financial habits and traditional credit-building methods for long-term success.

Check out more credit-building resources:

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Alexander Porter
  1. As of February 13, 2024. Offers may change and may not be available to all users. Eligibity requirements apply. See KashKick's Terms of Service for full details.
  2. Credit score increase based on StellarFi member data. Credit score increase not guaranteed. On-time payment history can have a positive impact on your credit score. Nonpayment may negatively impact your credit score.
  3. Based on Kikoff customers that used the Credit Account product and made consistent on-time payments during account lifetime. This data is based on observed VantageScore 3.0 credit score changes. Payment behavior can have an impact on your credit score, and individual results may vary. Data current as of March 2022.
  4. Average outcome for customers who opened a 12-month Credit Builder account in Q1 2021, who made on-time payments, based on Vantage Score 3.0. Other factors, including activity with your other creditors, may impact results. On-time payments does not mean full program completion and past performance based on this study does not guarantee future results. A credit score increase is not guaranteed.
  5. Credit Score Increase: Based on Kikoff customers that used the Credit Account product and made consistent on-time payments during account lifetime. This data is based on observed VantageScore 3.0 credit score changes. Payment behavior can have an impact on your credit score, and individual results may vary. Data current as of March 2022.

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