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How To Build Your Credit In 2 Years

So you want to build your credit but don’t know where to start? In this article I’ll provide you with a two year blueprint for starting your credit. For this I’m going to assume a few things

  1. You have no credit history, you’re starting from scratch and no negative marks on your credit score. If you do have some credit history you can probably skip straight to year 2 for cash back rewards optimization.
  2. You prefer cash back over points for travel redemption. If you’re building credit you shouldn’t worry about getting the best deal for your points until you are familiar with the basics of credit.
  3. You have at least part time employment and stable, predictable income. Banks decide credit worthiness on credit score and income, so if you don’t have one you need to have the other. The higher your income the more likely you will get approved for a card even if you have a lower than average score for approval.
  4. You know the basics of budgeting and are not running up debt each month to cover expenses
  5. You are not able to become an authorized user on a family member or trusted friend’s credit card. If you can get someone you financially trust to add you as an authorized user on their credit card then that is ideal, you can read more about what this is and how it can jump start your credit here. Many people are scared of credit cards, so they will likely not and so I am assuming you have to build your credit yourself.

Starting with a zero score (well 300 because scores don’t go below that) can be tough to get your first credit card, but there are some cards specifically targeted at high approval chances for people trying to prove their credit worthiness fast. Two such cards will be the first that you apply for. Once you build some credit history you will start to qualify for cards with better rewards structures, so the next cards you’ll apply for will focus on getting you a better cash back bonus on major spending categories.


Year 1 Month 1 - Starting Credit Cards

One mistake I made in my credit journey was signing up for the first predatory credit card offer I got in the mail when I was 18. That card had an annual fee, that could be waived, and offered no bonuses or perks. You can do better and here’s how.

No Annual Fee

on Capital One’s Website

Platinum Credit Card from Capital One®

  • Get acces to a higher credit line after making your first 5 payments on time
  • Great for low or no credit score
  • No annual fee
  • No rewards points or cashback
  • High variable APR
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Platinum Credit Card from Capital One® is an easy to apply for beginning credit card. While it offers no rewards points or cashback percent the Platinum Credit Card from Capital One® does offer users a higher credit limit after the first five monthly payments on time, which is a crucial feature for someone trying to quickly build their credit.

No Annual Fee

on Discover’s Website

Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurants

  • 2% Cash back on up $1,000 combined gas and restaurant purchases a quarter
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match for the first year
  • Student Card gets $20 statement credit per year for up to five years for a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Credit monitoring resources with your FICO® Credit Score
  • No annual fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurants card is an excellent choice for students looking for their first cashback rewards credit card. Offering a unique statement credit bonus for students who maintain good grades, this card should be serously considered by any beginning credit applicants.

The Discover it® Chrome Gas & Restaurants credit card might be ambitious for some, so my recommendation would be to apply for both and hope you get approved for both. Since you will be applying to both cards within the same week it will only show as one hard pull on your credit report, and since you’re applying for one anyways, there’s really no downside.

If you get approved for both then I recommend making one purchase a month on the Platinum and the rest on the Discover card for the cash back match for the first year. This makes the card a 4% gas and restaurants for the first $1,000 spent a quarter (up to $160 back year 1) and 2% on all other purchases for the first year. Even once you eventually get better earning cards in year 2 this card is worth having because of the good grade bonus on the student version of the card.

The Capital One Platinum card will increase your credit line with 5 months of on times payments, which will give a huge jump start to your credit score, as it will keep your credit utilization lower than a a card that doesn’t offer this accelerated credit line increase system.


Year 1 Month 9 - Beginning Cash Back Card

By this point if you have made every payment on time and are not carrying a balance, you will have a score in the mid 600’s, which will open the doors to the next tier of cards, which focus on rewards. American Express is known for giving those who are trying to build credit a chance.

No Annual Fee

on American Express’s Website

Blue Cash Everyday® Card

  • 3% cashback on up to $6,000 of supermarket purchases a year
  • 2% cash back on gas stations and select department stores
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Earn $150 statement credit after $1,000 spent in the first 3 months
  • 0% APR for first 15 months
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • No annual fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Blue Cash Everyday® from American Express is an excellent choice for beginning to intermediate credit users who want to optimize their cash back rewards at grocery stores. A better than average intro 0% APR term is great for those looking for some extra time to pay off a big purchase. There are potentially better cards out there, but if you are brand loyal to American Express then The Blue Cash Everyday® card is a great addition for additional cash back at supermarkets and gas stations.

Once approved you will now have multiple rewards cards, so the question becomes, which card to use? For the next 3 months your Discover it card will still have it’s cash back match so here’s how I would distribute my spending for that time.

Gas & Restaurants: Discover it (4% for first $1,000 spent a quarter, then 2%)

Grocery Stores: Blue Cash Everyday for first $6,000 spent a year (3%), then Discover it (2%)

All Other Purchases: Blue Cash Everyday® until sign up bonus met (1-3%), then Discover it (2%)

Year 2 Month 1 - Product Change Request

Around this time if you’ve been making full on time monthly payments, your Platinum Credit Card from Capital One should be opting you into one of their better cards based on your credit worthiness. Since the cash back match on your Discover it card ends this month, you will want to call Capital One and request a product change from the Platinum to the Quicksilver. A product change will preserve the account on your credit report, such as the utilization and payment history, but you will get a different rewards and bonus system from the bank.

No Annual Fee

on Capital One’s Website

Quicksilver® from Capital One®

  • 1.5% cash back on all purchases
  • Earn $150 cash bonus after $500 spent in first 3 months
  • 0% APR for first 15 months
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Quicksilver® from Capital One® is a good fallback card to always have in your wallet to get a small boost over a general 1% cash back card. This is an especially great card to apply for when you don’t qualify for the Chase Freedom Unlimited because of Chase’s 5/24 rule. The Quicksilver® credit card from Capital One® offers a very middle of the road sign up bonus but an above average 0% intro APR term, making it a good choice for someone who want’s to boost their general cash back earnings in non category bound spending.

Since the cash back match ended on the Discover it card after 12 months your optimal cards for category spending are now.

Grocery Stores: Blue Cash Everyday for first $6,000 spent a year (3%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Gas & Select Department Stores: Blue Cash Everyday (2%)

Restaurants: Discover it (2%)

All Other Purchases: Quicksilver (1.5%)

Year 2 Month 2 - Gas & Travel Rewards Card

Now that you are back to one year of average account length, and 36 on time payments, hopefully with a total credit limit exceeding $10,000, you can start to apply for cards that offer broader rewards categories, like the Wells Fargo Propel card.

No Annual Fee

on Wells Fargo’s Website

Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card

  • 3x Go Far Rewards points on travel, dining, gas stations, and select streaming services
  • 1x Go Far Rewards point on all other purchases
  • Earn 20,000 bonus points after $1,000 spent in first 3 months
  • Go Far Rewards Points can be transfered to and redeemed with the Wells Fago Signature Card for 1.5¢ on the travel portal
  • Go Far Rewards Points have a cashback redemtion value of 1¢ per point
  • Cell Phone Protection when you pay your phone bill with the card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
  • 0% APR for first 12 months
  • No annual fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card is a go to card for almost every user. When points are earned on this card then transferred to the Wells Fargo Signature Card users get a 4.5% earnings rate in several major spending categories. If you plan on staying at more Airbnbs than hotels while traveling, then this card’s rewards are nearly unbeatable. We highly recommend the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® Card, as it is a valuable core card in many user’s wallets.

Once approved for Propel credit card you no longer have a use for the now 2% gas and restaurants cash back from the Discover it card, so it’s time to call discover and ask for a product change to their rotating rewards program. When I did this I didn’t even have to get a new card, it was all handled online.

No Annual Fee

on Discover’s Website

Discover it® Cash Back

  • 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 spent on new categories every 3 months
  • 1% cash back on all other purchases
  • Cashback Match for the first year
  • Student Card gets $20 statement credit per year for up to five years for a GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
  • Credit monitoring resources with your FICO® Credit Score
  • No annual fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Discover it® Cash Back card is a good choice for people looking for their first rotating category rewards credit card. Offering a unique statement credit bonus for students who maintain good grades, this card should be seriously considered by any beginning credit applicants. With cash back match for the first year the rotating categories are potentially 10% cash back, making the Discover it® Cash Back credit card a great choice for those seeking high percent rotating quarterly categories.

With this new card and product change, here’s your optimal cards for each category.

Quarterly Category: Discover it® Cash Back (5%)

Grocery Stores: Blue Cash Everyday for first $6,000 spent a year (3%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Gas, Travel, Dining, and Select Streaming Services: Wells Fargo Propel (3%)

Select Department Stores: Blue Cash Everyday (2%)

Cell Phone Bill: Wells Fargo Propel (1%, cell phone insurance)

All Other Purchases: Wells Fargo Propel until sign up bonus met (1-3%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Year 2 Month 6 - Rotating Category Card

By this time you are back to one year of average account length, and 48 on time payments, hopefully with a total credit limit exceeding $15,000, you start to qualify for some of Chase’s offerings. My top choice at this point would be to add another 5% rotating category card with the Chase Freedom®, especially since you are about to hit Chase’s 5/24 rule and this card allows you to upgrade to the Sapphire line of cards while still under the 5/24 rule.

No Annual Fee

on Chase’s Website

Chase Freedom® Credit Card

  • 5% Cash Back on up to $1,500 spent on new categories every 3 months
  • 1% Cash Back on all other purchases
  • Earn $200 cashback after $500 spent in first 3 months
  • 0% Intro APR for first 15 months
  • Can hold onto rewards and transfer them into Chase Ultimate Rewards points with the Sapphire cards
  • Upgrade path to Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card
  • No annual fee
  • 3% Foreign Transaction Fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The Chase Freedom® Credit Card offers a high yield rotating category that helps optimizers get an extra boost to their earnings each quarter. This card can either be held onto as part of the Chase Trifecta, or it can be upgraded to the products in the Sapphire line. and it’s rewards can be saved until you redeem them in the Chase Ultimate Rewards ecosystem if you hold a Sapphire or Ink Business Preferred credit card. With no annual fee and a generous, easily achievable sign up offer the Chase Freedom® Credit Card is a great addition to users who want to optimize their earnings.

Not much has changed with your optimal cards for each category, just make sure to hit the minimum spend required for the sign up bonuses with each card, as that is a double digit return on spending vs at max 5% if its a quarterly category.

Quarterly Category: Discover it® Cash Back (5%), Chase Freedom® (5%)

Grocery Stores: Blue Cash Everyday for first $6,000 spent a year (3%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Gas, Travel, Dining, and Select Streaming Services: Wells Fargo Propel (3%)

Select Department Stores: Blue Cash Everyday (2%)

Cell Phone Bill: Wells Fargo Propel (1%, cell phone insurance)

All Other Purchases: Chase Freedom® until sign up bonus met (1-5%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Year 2 Month 9 - Choice Category Card

At this point you should have a score in the mid to high 700’s if you have met every payment and don’t have high utilization currently. The current stack of cards basically covers every major spending category, so now it’s time to apply for a card where you get to choose your own high cash back categories.

My choice for this card would be the US Bank Cash+ credit card because of the two 5% choice categories. Based on my own spending the categories would likely be electronics stores for the big ticket film production equipment and movie theaters because I’ll put all of my party’s tickets on my AMC A-List and have them venmo me back after. To see a complete list of the US Bank Cash+ credit card’s 5% choice categories click here.

No Annual Fee

on US Bank’s Website

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

  • 5% Cash back on first $2,000 spent each quarter in two choice categories
  • 2% Cash back on either gas, grocery stores, or restaurants
  • 1% Cash back on all other purchases
  • Earn $150 Cash back after $500 spent in first 3 months
  • 0% APR for first 12 months
  • No annual fee
  • 3% Foreign Transaction Fee
Quick Thoughts on the Card

The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is a high percent cash back card that allows the card holder to select two categories to earn 5% cash back in. The other 2% category is only one of gas, groceries, or restaurant, making many other options more desirable for these categories. I would recommend looking at their 5% choice categories and if you see some of your biggest spending categories then the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card might be right for you.

Some categories to look into for most consumers using the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card are home utilities, furniture stores, electronic stores, department stores, clothing stores, and fast food.

Two Choice Categories: The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card (5%)

Quarterly Category: Discover it® Cash Back (5%), Chase Freedom® (5%)

Grocery Stores: Blue Cash Everyday for first $6,000 spent a year (3%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Gas, Travel, Dining, and Select Streaming Services: Wells Fargo Propel (3%)

Select Department Stores: Blue Cash Everyday (2%)

Cell Phone Bill: Wells Fargo Propel (1%, cell phone insurance)

All Other Purchases: The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card  until sign up bonus met (1-5%), then Quicksilver (1.5%)

Year 3 Month 1 - How Have We Done?

At the end of the two years you should have 6 credit accounts, with an average account length of 14 months, making 84 on time payments, and a credit limit upwards of $20,000. If you have low current credit utilization you should have a score at minimum of 725 and possibly up to 775, which opens up the cards you qualify for to nearly anything. One factor taken into account is total length of accounts, and since your oldest accounts are only 2 years old, there might be some banks that wait until you have more credit history. There’s not much you can do in this case besides be patient and wait.

One thing to note is that if you are utilizing this strategy to boost your credit for a car loan, apartment application, or mortgage, you should wait 3 month after your last hard credit pull before applying.

Article written by:

23. Filmmaker. Los Angeles born & raised. Double major in Economics and Television Production from CSUN.

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