How long will it take to go from no credit to good credit?

Building good credit can take longer than you think, so start early and use your credit wisely.

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
A credit card is displayed in Encinitas, Calif.

When you have no credit, working your way up to a good credit score can make you feel like an impatient child on a long road trip, asking, “Are we there yet?” The difficult thing about credit scores is that they take a long time to build up but mere seconds to ruin.

If you start with zero credit and get a loan or a credit card, you’ll have a credit history but not a FICO score. This can make it tough to qualify for good-credit credit cards. After six months of having a line of credit, you’ll have a FICO score, but it won’t be a perfect 850. If you make all your payments on time and borrow wisely, though, you could have a score over 700. (It won’t take as long to generate a credit score from VantageScore, FICO’s competitor.)

If you’re having trouble qualifying for a loan or credit card, a credit-builder loan or secured credit card might help you get a foot in the credit door.

What can I do to improve my score right now?

Here are some ways you can give a limited credit history a boost:

Inherit your parents’ good credit. If your parents have good credit and one of their cards reports authorized user activity to the three major credit bureaus, ask if they’ll add you as an authorized user. If they do, it may help diversify the types of credit on your report and improve your score.

Learn what counts. If you just got a credit card, take the time to learn how credit scores are calculated so you won’t make a rookie mistake, like forgetting to make a payment or hitting your limit.

Keep up the good work. Unlike bankruptcies and late payments, a good credit history stays on your credit report forever, as long as the accounts stay open. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward, even when no one’s pulling your score.

Age matters for credit scores

There’s one thing that all borrowers with great credit scores have in common and younger borrowers lack: age.

Among the 0.2% of credit card users who have an 850 credit score, the average age was 61, according to a 2011 report by SubscriberWise, a risk management firm. These elite borrowers had credit card files that were 30 years old, on average.

If you just got your first credit card, you’re not going to have a score over 800, no matter how hard you try. Instead of getting frustrated, make building your credit a long-term goal.

Keep accounts open — even ones you don’t use that often — so lenders can see your good borrowing behavior over time. Pay your bills punctually. Use less than 30% of your credit limit. By starting all these good credit habits early, your credit score will improve down the road.

This article first appeared at NerdWallet.

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