Credit-builder loans are an increasingly popular product, and the competition for market share is fierce, but there are significant discrepancies between even the top contenders.
We studied two of the most popular credit-builder lenders on the market today; Credit Strong and Self (formerly Self Lender), and put them head to head. Here’s how they compare.
Credit Strong vs. Self Lender Summarized
Minimum Monthly Loan Payment
TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian
A one-time admin fee of $8.95 to $25
5.83% to 14.89% APR
One to ten years
Up to $10,000
TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian
A one-time admin fee of $9
Up to 24 months
$600 to $1,800
*Rates are as of the time of writing and are subject to change.
What You Get With Credit Strong vs. Self
Credit Strong and Self both deal exclusively in credit-builder loans.
Credit-builder loans are a unique type of credit account that can help people with bad credit or no credit history start to build credit.
Credit-builder loans usually don’t require a credit check, but their providers still send the loan activity to at least one of the major credit bureaus (unlike payday lenders). However, they will not help you fund any purchases upfront.
These accounts function like an inverted installment loan. Instead of your lender giving you your loan proceeds when they approve your application (like they do with auto, personal, or student loans), they lock them in a savings account.
It’s like a secured credit card without the credit utilization or available credit limit concerns.
Next, you’ll make payments over the loan term like a standard installment loan, making sure to avoid any late payment so you build credit.
Once you pay your balance off, your lender, which could be any type of financial institution (including a credit union or online provider) unlocks the bank account holding the savings and gives you the funds.
Ideally, you now have a solid payment history, a more diverse credit mix, a good credit score (or at least a better credit rating than you had before), and a nice chunk of change.
The Credit Strong loan and Self credit-builder account are similar products fundamentally, but there are significant differences in their account terms. The Credit Strong account has a lot of advantages, including:
- 6.2% lower annual interest rate floor
- Up to 40% lower monthly payment amount
- Longer possible repayment term by up to 8 years
- Higher account value by $8,200
These make Credit Strong’s credit-building loan more affordable and likely more effective at improving your credit score.
That said, Self still offers a well-rounded and effective credit-builder loan. Their product can help create a positive payment history, and they report it to each major credit bureau.
Pricing and Plans
Both Credit Strong and Self offer a variety of account options. With both lenders to some degree, borrowers can customize their borrowing experiences to cater to their highest priorities.
Here are the pricing and plan options for both lenders.
|Subscribe Options||Subscribe Options||Build and Save|
|Build and Save|
|Build and Save|
|Annual Percentage Rate||13.5%||7.25%||14.04%||14.89%||14.43%||5.907%||5.851%|
|One-Time Admin Fee||$15||$15||$8.95||$8.95||$8.95||$25||$25|
|Amount Reported/ Saved||$1,000||$2,500||$1,000||$1,000||$2,000||$5,000||$10,000|
|Max Repayment Term||Up to 10 Years||Up to 10 Years||12 months||24 months||24 months||Up to 10 Years||Up to 10 Years|
Credit Strong lets borrowers choose from one of three account types, each of which prioritizes a different aspect of a credit-builder loan. They are:
- Subscribe: These accounts are for consumers who want the lowest possible monthly payment. They also let borrowers take the lender’s maximum repayment term, which is ten years.
- Build and Save: These accounts are for consumers who are less focused on building credit and place increased emphasis on building savings. They have the shortest repayment terms.
- MAGNUM: These accounts are primarily for customers who want to prove that they can handle significantly larger loans. They often want to open a business credit file (as opposed to your personal credit) someday and may use these to qualify for a business credit card. They have the lengthiest repayment terms, highest balances, and lowest APRs.
Each category has two or three credit line options within them. That lets the borrower further customize their loans and build their credit history the way they want.
Monthly Payment Plan
Amount You Pay Over the Life of Loan
Overall Financing Charge
Self doesn’t have as many options as Credit Strong, and the ones they offer don’t vary nearly as much.
The primary difference is in their monthly payments, where there is a $125 variance between the highest loan payment and the lowest.
There’s also a significant discrepancy between the accounts with the most and least amount paid over the total loan term ($1,200), though it’s nowhere near Credit Strong’s swing in cash outlay ($9,000).
All the options last for either one or two years, and the difference between the accounts with the highest and lowest financing charges is only $100.
Credit Strong Pros and Cons:
Pro 1: Greater Flexibility
Credit Strong could give Burger King a run for their money because borrowers really get to have it their way with Credit Strong’s account options.
Whatever you care about most in a credit-builder loan, Credit Strong lets you make it a priority. Even better, their options often satisfy your goals without compromising much on other account benefits.
For example, say that your priority is to save as much money as quickly as possible. Naturally, you’d focus on the Build and Save Options.
At another financial institution, those accounts would have all the highest monthly payments since that would be the best way to rack up savings, but not Credit Strong.
If you want to save quickly but keep your monthly payment affordable, you can choose their $48 monthly payment option, which is less than half the payment of the most aggressive option at $98 per month.
Pro 2: More Affordable Accounts
When you’re building credit, it’s easy to get tunnel vision and take whatever account you can get. People with bad credit or no credit profile are used to seeing high-interest rates and monthly payments because that’s all that most lenders are willing to give them.
That’s a recipe for trouble. Losing sight of the fundamentals of personal finance in the pursuit of a better credit score will typically backfire.
If you struggle to afford your credit-builder payment, you risk breaking your budget, putting other bills at risk, defaulting on one or more accounts, and harming your score in your attempt to increase it.
A Credit Strong account offers a lower interest rate and a smaller monthly payment than Self Lender’s options, making it easy to fit in your budget.
Pro 3: Maximum Creditworthiness Increase
One of the most significant factors impacting your credit score is your payment history. It’s worth a whopping 35% of your FICO Score and is also “moderately influential” under VantageScore.
In general, the more timely payments you make, the better your credit profile will be. That means a longer repayment term will benefit you more than a shorter one, and Credit Strong’s repayment terms are much longer than Self’s.
Credit Strong also provides accounts with much higher balances. While a higher loan amount won’t increase your credit score, paying it off will make you more attractive to lenders, like having a low debt-to-income ratio.
Put simply, having a $10,000 paid-off loan in your credit report like a Credit Strong MAGNUM account would be better than showing you paid back Self’s $1,000 account.
Con 1: Potential Personal Loan Mixups
There aren’t many bad things to say about Credit Strong compared to Self, or any of the other best credit-builder loans, for that matter.
However, one of the few consistent complaints that customers have made about Credit Strong across various crowdsourced reviews is that they expected to get their loan proceeds upon approval like you would from a personal loan.
Of course, that’s not how any of these credit-builder loans work. Their job is to build credit and savings, not help you finance your next big purchase.
Con 2: Higher Potential Administration Fee
This next one is a bit of a reach, but that shows how high-quality Credit Strong’s accounts are.
Credit Strong’s initial admin fee can be up to $25 on their MAGNUM options, while Self’s are $9 across the board.
However, that’s only a one-time thing, and the monthly payment on MAGNUM accounts is $55 minimum. If you don’t have the cash flow for the $25 upfront, chances are high you won’t want to pay the MAGNUM installments anyway.
Self Pros and Cons:
Pro 1: A Jack of all Trades
Self does a lot of things well. They report to all three major credit bureaus (so activity will show up on each credit report), have relatively affordable payment plans and startup fees, and partner FDIC-insured banks for their loans and savings accounts.
They’ll even let you check your monthly bank statement on the savings account, so you can rest assured that your savings are coming along nicely.
More importantly, their credit-builder loans get results, and that’s the whole goal of a credit-builder loan: to get away from having no credit history or bad credit.
Self Lender claims account holders see an average increase of 32 points to their credit score after completing their loan, which is not insignificant. Some account holders reportedly see an increase as high as 70 points.
If you’re comparing Self to many of the other credit-builder loans on the market, you could do a lot worse.
Pro 2: Account With Lowest Cash Outlay
For consumers who want to try a credit-builder loan but are afraid of committing to an account that’s too big, Self might actually be a better option than Credit Strong.
Their $25 monthly payment account lets borrowers take out a credit-builder loan that only amounts to a $600 cash outlay over the whole loan term.
Of course, this would probably mean that the boost to their credit score would be lesser than it would with one of Credit Strong’s accounts, but that’s not a dealbreaker for everyone.
That said, these borrowers could also go with a Credit Strong account, take advantage of the lower monthly payment and other benefits, then cancel their account early when they feel they’ve done enough. That would give them the best of both worlds.
Con 1: More Expensive Accounts
The lowest monthly payment available for a Self credit-building loan is $25. That’s a relatively small amount, but the $10 difference between theirs and Credit Strong’s cheapest accounts might be meaningful to some people.
Self also has the more expensive option if you compare the account offerings from an interest rate perspective.
Credit Strong’s rates on the loans comparable to Self’s options go as low as 7.25%, and their MAGNUM accounts boast interest rates as low as 5.851%. Meanwhile, Self’s loans fluctuate around the 14% to 16% range.
Con 2: Less Effective at Improving Credit
A Self credit-builder account is unlikely to have as significant a positive effect on your credit score as a Credit Strong account.
Their maximum repayment term is only 24 months, which can’t improve your payment history anywhere near as well as Credit Strong’s ten-year options.
Their maximum loan balances are also significantly lower, and a $10,000 paid-off installment loan like Credit Strong’s MAGNUM options looks a lot better on your credit report than a $1,800 loan (Self’s highest available option).
Our Verdict: Credit Strong Wins
Credit Strong simply outperforms Self in the account traits that would matter most to borrowers. They have a wider variety of options that let everyone get what they want from their account, including:
- Lower monthly payments
- Faster paths to savings
- Greater chance for a higher credit score boost
They even let borrowers take out accounts that will demonstrate their creditworthiness for future business credit. If you have low or poor credit and need to choose one credit-building loan, we, at Digital Honey, suggest you go with Credit Strong.
- Best Credit Builder Loans
- Credit Strong Review
- Self Lender Review
- Chime Credit Builder Review
- Kikoff Review
- Self Credit Card Review
- Self Lender Dropped My Credit Score: What Should I Do?
- Self Lender Competitors
- Self Lender Complaints
- How Much Does Self Raise Your Credit Score?
Nick Gallo is a Certified Public Accountant and content marketer for the financial industry. He has been an auditor of international companies and a tax strategist for real estate investors. He now writes articles on personal and corporate finance, accounting and tax matters, and entrepreneurship.