This editorial was created in sponsorship with Self Financial, a credit building platform for people with low or no credit.

Monique White, Head of Community at Self Financial, was 22 when she applied for an auto loan and was quickly denied. She had no idea why until looking at her credit report (which she’d never done before) she saw the credit card she’d opened four years before as a freshman in college. Because it was never paid off, her credit took a huge hit.

That led White on a journey of both education and rebuilding, eventually paying off the remainder of the card and gradually increasing her credit score to 725. Educating herself on what it took to overcome that bump in her financial road led to White becoming a financial coach and certified credit counselor, and eventually to her current role at Self.

Recently, we asked White to compile a list of how she was able to break down financial barriers, how she’s using her role as head of community to help others, and what tools Self offers to help build your credit.


Understand the Basics of Credit

I didn’t know that something from years ago could impact my financial situation. So that’s why education is so important. A lot of people will get started on their credit journey, and they’ll open a credit card and not really know how to use it, or why they should be using credit in the first place. So that’s the goal of mine, to educate our builders, which is what we call our customers. It’s the basics of credit, how it works, what makes up the formula of credit, and really having a credit mix.


Key Components That Make Up Credit Factors

Your credit score will look at whether you have credit obligations, such as credit cards, or student loans. The two biggest factors when it comes to credit are your payment history and credit utilization. Payment history is making sure you pay on time. Your credit utilization ratio is the amount of revolving credit you’re using divided by the total amount of revolving credit you have available. Most experts recommend keeping your utilization ratio under 30%, ideally under 10%.

The other factors that come into play are making sure you can manage different types of credit, and length of credit history.

It is important to know the difference between credit counseling, credit building, and credit repair, especially when you’re first starting to build your credit. Credit counseling is receiving a financial plan that fits your current financial situation. Credit building, which is what Self does, is a way to add payment history to your credit report. Consumers tend to mix up credit building and credit repair, but they are very different. Credit repair is paying a third party to remove negative items from your credit report to restore a low credit score. There are predatory companies that say they will help you repair your credit, saying they can knock off half of your debt. That’s not true – don’t be fooled.


Alternative Ways to Build Credit: Beyond the Traditional Secured Card

Everyone says that you need credit to build credit. And when I was starting out, the only way I was aware to do that was with a secured credit card, which requires a cash security deposit that serves as your credit limit. I didn’t have $500 or $600 to put down for a card, so I couldn’t get started.

Thankfully, now there are more ways to help build credit. Self has a Credit Builder Account where you can build your savings and your credit at the same time. We also have different payment options that let you decide which one fits your budget. There’s also a secured Self Visa® credit card that works in conjunction with your Credit Builder Account to use the savings progress in the account as your security deposit.


Communication is Key

Once I pulled my credit report and saw the old credit card on there, I immediately knew I had to contact that lender. Not keeping open communication is the worst thing you can do for your credit. Even if you can’t pay anything at that moment, you need to let lenders know that they’re not being avoided. Especially since they may have different payment options and hardship plans that might work better for you. 

I contacted the lender and prepared a budget, which struck a balance between having money for the things I wanted to do and taking care of business, and making sure those bills were taken care of.


Stay Informed and Protected: Setting Up Credit Alerts

I had to be proactive when it came to my spending, so I set up alerts across all of my accounts and credit cards. This made sure that if I ever did spend over my limit in one place, I’d be made aware and could adjust. I also set up alerts on my credit report, so anytime someone would pull my credit report, or even if I looked at it, I would know.

Just remember, once you start working on your credit and your score goes up, you could become more susceptible to being targeted for fraud, so keeping an eye on your credit reports to ensure accuracy is important. Also, credit card companies sometimes change the timing of when they send data to the credit bureaus, so you need to be aware of any changes that may impact your credit report.


The Role of Credit in Life Goals

Self is offering different ways for you to start building credit. One of the main ways is through a new free rent reporting service, which is great because so many people are renters. So now you can use your biggest expense, something that you were paying for anyway, to build your credit. Also, Self only reports on time payments.

Having those rent payments reported to the three major credit bureaus gives you a bit more visibility when you’re ready to apply for new credit. And while there’s no guarantee that this tool will change your overall score, it will help you build your credit and establish a positive payment history. And it’s free!


Empowering Your Financial Journey: Monique’s Educational Series and Workshops

I’ve been on a mission to help others improve their financial situation for a while now. I grew up in East Oakland, and saw my community go from thriving to not thriving, with foreclosures and closing businesses. And I know that lack of credit and lack of education about credit was a big part of that.

So it became a passion for me to teach people how credit works, why it’s important, and how it can help in the long run. I host a series through Self on YouTube where I help people get started, help them create budgets, and honestly, just stay motivated. I just want to make sure everyone has the necessary tools they need for financial success.

This editorial was created in sponsorship with Self Financial. Self does not provide financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice. See disclosures here

Self Visa® Credit Card issued by Lead Bank, First Century Bank, N.A., or SouthState Bank, N.A., each Member FDIC. Credit Builder Accounts & Certificates of Deposit made/held by Lead Bank, Sunrise Banks, N.A., SouthState Bank, N.A., First Century Bank, N.A., each Member FDIC. See for details