Self is an Austin-based online lender that offers credit builder loans to help servicemembers and others who want to establish, build or rebuild their credit profile.
Self offers a secured credit builder loan and a Self Visa that are easy to get approved for and put you on a path that will build your credit history over a relatively short timeframe.
Because of the secured nature of these two products, you’re almost guaranteed approval, and the best part is you’ll get back a good amount of the money you paid into your loan when you’ve finished paying it off.
Self offers four loan payment plans between $25 and $150 per month over 12 to 24 months. As you pay off your loan, the money is put in a certificate of deposit, and you can apply for a secured Self Visa credit card with a credit limit that matches the amount in your CD.
What Is a Credit Builder Loan?
A credit builder loan is not used like a traditional loan, where you can use the loan proceeds to pay for something (i.e., a car or a major home improvement), then pay it back over time.
You’ll get monthly loan bills like usual and have to make a payment each month, but with a credit builder loan, you don’t get any money from the lender as you pay off the loan.
Self and other similar lenders place the money in a secured account on your behalf, and you get the money (minus fees and interest rate payments) when the loan is paid off.
The trade-off is that each payment you make will show up on your credit report and may improve your FICO score.
How Does Self Credit Builder Work?
To start with Self, you must apply for a credit builder loan. You can customize your loan and choose what monthly payment level you want using these four options.
- $25 per month over 24 months
- $35 per month over 24 months
- $48 per month over 12 months
- $150 per month over 12 months
After you decide which terms are best for you, fill out an application for a credit-builder account. You can activate your account with a one-time, non-refundable $9 administrative fee if approved.
You’re almost guaranteed approval since Self is holding your money and taking on little risk.
To apply, you must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and have a Social Security number and a bank account, debit card, or prepaid card. You’ll also need a valid email address and a phone number.
Payments are fee-free when you use a bank account or prepaid card, but a convenience fee of $0.30 plus 2.99% will be tacked on to debit card payments.
Self will issue your loan, which will be deposited into an FDIC-insured certificate of deposit instead of going directly to you. The CD will earn interest to partially offset your APR.
You will start receiving monthly bills reflecting paying down the principal and making interest payments. Late payment fees equal to 5% of your monthly payment amount kick in after a 15-day grace period.
There are also early withdrawal fees. The amount depends on your account size but is normally less than $5.
To help servicemembers avoid hurting their credit with a Self loan, you can close your account early if you can’t keep up with the payments or no longer want the service.
You qualify for the Self Visa secured credit card when you’ve made three on-time payments and deposited at least $100. The money you’ve deposited to pay off the loan secures your credit card and doubles as your credit limit.
So, if you’ve paid off $250 toward your loan, that’s the limit of your Self credit card. You can increase that credit limit as you continue to pay off your loan.
As you make your monthly payments, Self reports your payment activity to the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Since your payment history accounts for 35-40% of your FICO score, showing proof to the bureaus will help establish a positive track record of your credit activity.
It should take about one to two months for your Credit Builder account to appear on your credit report.
When you paid off the loan, your CD will unlock. The money you paid into your CD will be returned to you, minus any unpaid fees and interest.
The funds can be sent to you either by check or via an ACH money transfer.
Credit Builder Loan Examples
A loan with a $25 monthly payment and a 24-month term with a $9 admin fee at a 15.92% Annual Percentage Rate has a cost to build of $89.
A loan with a $35 monthly payment and a 24-month term with a $9 admin fee at a 15.97% Annual Percentage Rate has a cost to build of $125.
A loan with a $48 monthly payment and a 24-month term with a $9 admin fee at a 15.72% Annual Percentage Rate has a cost to build of $169.
A loan with a $150 monthly payment and a 24-month term with a $9 admin fee at a 15.88% Annual Percentage Rate has a cost to build of $533.
Please refer to Self’s pricing page for the current pricing options.
The Self Visa Credit Card
Another way to work on your credit score is with the Self Visa credit card. This card offered to those service members with an open Credit Builder Account. To apply, you must have at least $100 in your current Credit Builder account and a track record of making three on-time monthly payments.
Your account must also be in good standing with no missed or late payments.
The Self Visa is a secured card, meaning it is backed with collateral that protects the issuer in case of default. In this case, the collateral is the amount of funds in your Credit Builder account.
That amount also becomes the credit limit on your Self Visa.
Because Self already has all your credit information, they will not run a credit check on you. Hard checks can have a small negative effect on your FICO score.
After you get the card, you can use it like any other Visa to make purchases up to your credit limit. Not only are you getting access to some of the savings you’ve built by paying down your loan, you’re also creating another count to help improve your credit standing.
Self Credit Builder Pros and Cons
- Most service members will be approved.
- No upfront cash or income requirements are needed for approval.
- Loan terms are flexible in amount and duration.
- Longer-term loans do more to build positive credit and a longer credit history.
- No penalties for paying your loan off early or canceling your credit-builder account.
- Loans are available in all 50 states.
- Build credit in two ways with a Self Visa.
- In addition to the APRs, Self requires an up-front $9 non-refundable processing fee.
- The Self Visa secured credit card also comes with a $25 annual fee and a somewhat high variable APR of about 28% or more.
- Self does not guarantee your FICO score will rise with a credit builder loan. Many other variables could impact your score independent of your Self account activity.
- Fees may be higher than other similar offers.
- You do not have unlimited access to the funds you have paid into your loan account unless you cancel your loan or pay it off early.
- The Better Business Bureau gave Self a B rating due to the volume of complaints the company received.
- Self reports payment activity, whether or not your payments are on time. Missing one or more payments could do more harm than good to your credit score.