Self Review: Build Credit and Earn Interest

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It sounds weird to admit this but I built my credit when I was in college thanks to credit cards that offered free stuff for signing up.

My card had a $500 limit and like the typical 18-year-old, I maxed it out pretty quickly. However, I had a part-time job and was able to pay off the card monthly.

By the time I graduated, my credit was established and I was able to open a second card from Bank of America with a heftier $2,000 credit limit.

I had two cards under my name and without even realizing it, I had built good credit for myself.

If you need to build or improve upon your credit score, then continue reading to learn more about Self (previously Self Lender).

self logo
3.8
Overall Rating

Summary

Self (Previously Self Lender) is a tool that you can use to help build your credit history and savings at the same time.

  • Ease of use

    4.5

  • Build credit

    4

  • Fees

    3.5

  • Interest rates

    3

Pros

  • Build your credit
  • Credit monitoring included
  • Establish savings as you build credit

Cons

  • High interest rates
  • Additional fees 

What is Self?

Times have changed since I was in school. For example, credit card companies are banned from enticing students with freebies on college campuses.

And if recent data is accurate, not having a credit card seems to be a trend these days according to Bankate.

If you did not know, credit is sort of like a Catch-22. You need to have established credit in order to get more of it for larger purchases and loans.

But how do you get it in the first place? And what if you have bad credit?

This is where Self shines.

Build Credit and Save Money

The company helps you establish good credit by setting up a CD account for you using funds from a small loan that you take out.

You make payments each month to pay off the loan and access the funds in the CD. Then, payments are reported to the credit bureaus each month.

It’s free to sign up, but there are interest fees you’ll have to pay, which is worth it if you need to improve your credit.

In a nutshell:

  • Self is a tool that you can use to help build your credit history and savings at the same time. However, keep in mind everyone’s credit situation is different and they don’t guarantee you’ll see an improved score.
  • Self provides a path for consumers to open a small loan with one of their banking partners. The funds from the loan are placed in an FDIC insured CD in your name.
  • Each month, you make a payment towards your loan. Once the loan period is completed, the funds placed in the CD become available.
  • Monthly payments are reported to the credit bureaus by Self’s banking partners. Responsible monthly payments help you build credit history, which can impact your credit score.

How Does Self Work?

Self is a fintech company that helps you improve your score by providing a way for you to establish positive payment history.

They are essentially a free credit monitoring company that also offers a Credit Builder Account and a Self Visa Card.

The Credit Builder account is a low-cost loan that you make to yourself. Yes, that’s right, to yourself.

You use it to funnel money into a CD each month.

You’re essentially being forced to make payments each month into a savings plan, and at the end of your term, you receive the money in a lump sum and have an improved credit score to boot.

The idea behind Self is awesome because it allows you to save money while you’re building your credit.

And after you’ve established a positive history with Self via your Credit Builder Account, you may qualify for a Self secured Visa card.

How Much Does Self Cost?

Self helps you bridge the gap between no or bad credit to good credit, so of course, this service isn’t free.

However, Self makes the numbers transparent, and it’s easy to see how much you’re paying vs. how much interest and fees you’re shelling out.

At the time of this writing, there is a non-refundable administration fee of $9. The interest rate you’d pay depends on the size of your loan.

However, you can expect to pay somewhere around 14% to 16%.

Self offers loan terms anywhere from 12 months to 24 months. Check their site for the most current rates.

Here is an example of how much the lowest-tiered credit builder account costs:

  • Monthly payment: $25
  • How many months: 24
  • Activation cost: $9
  • Your cost total: $609
  • What you get at the end of your term: $520 plus CD interest

Key Features of Self

Self has several features that can help you build credit or improve your credit if you’ve got bad credit.

Save Money While You Build Credit

Self has two main benefits: It helps you save money in a Certificate of Deposit while you build up your credit score.

Self reports each “payment” you make to yourself as an on-time payment to the three major credit bureaus.

As such, your credit reports get positive feedback each month, while at the same time you’re saving money.

Automated Payments

All Self Credit Builder accounts are set up with automatic payment from your bank account.

That way you never have to worry about forgetting about a payment or being late on a payment and further damaging your credit.

Note: If the money for your automated payment isn’t available in your account, you will incur a late fee that is equal to 5% of your monthly payment.

If after 30 days there is still no payment made, Self will report a late payment to your credit bureau.

Locked Savings

The payments you make to Self are locked in a Certificate of Deposit so that you can’t touch them until the term is completed.

This “forced” savings plan can be a great way for you to build an emergency savings fund.

When you’re done with your Credit Builder account term, you can then take that money and transfer it to a high-yield savings account for further growth.

Choose From Four Credit Builder Accounts

Self gives you four credit builder accounts to choose from so there’s something for every budget.

Small Builder

  • You pay $25 per month
  • 24-month term
  • One-time $9 admin fee
  • Cash back at end of term: $520
  • Total cost to you: $89

Medium Builder

  • You pay $35 per month
  • 24-month term
  • One-time $9 admin fee
  • Cash back at end of term: $724
  • Total cost to you: $125

Large Builder

  • You pay $48 per month
  • 12-month term
  • One-time $9 admin fee
  • Cash back at end of term: $539
  • Total cost to you: $46

X-Large Builder

  • You pay $150 per month
  • 12-month term
  • One-time $9 admin fee
  • Cash back at end of term: $1663
  • Total cost to you: $146

No Hard Credit Pull

Self does a soft credit pull, not a hard credit pull. This is a good thing because it means you don’t have to worry about your credit score dropping before it rises.

Self Secured Visa Credit Card

Self also offers a secured Visa credit card. As with the Credit Builder accounts, there is no hard pull when you apply for Self’s secured Visa credit card.

Note that you have to have a Credit Builder account for at least three months before you can apply for a Self secured Visa credit card.

And your Credit Builder account has to be in good standing. See the Self website for rates and terms.

Self Customer Service

Self has a few different customer service options to choose from. You can call Self’s toll-free number at 1-877-883-0999.

You can also contact the company by email or by chat when you visit the Self website.

Lastly, there is a menu button on the Self credit building app that has an option for contacting Self’s customer service center.

Self Lender Reviews

Self has a Trustpilot rating of 2, which is considered poor. 29% of Trustpilot reviews were marked as “excellent.” 13% of Trustpilot reviews were marked as “poor.”

There are only 19 reviews for Self on Trustpilot. Most of the negative reviews revolved around complaints about fees or about unhappiness with credit scores.

review of self lender - latoya Lee
review of self lender  - Samantha C

The Better Business Bureau gives Self a “B” rating. There are hundreds of reviews about Self on the BBB website.

Most of the BBB complaints are closed and are similar in nature to those on Trustpilot.

two reviews of self lender on BBB
review of self lender - Gary G

It’s important to read reviews from authoritative sources such as Trustpilot and the BBB before you do business with a new company.

That way you can potentially find first-person opinions on the companies you’re considering doing business with.

Next, let’s talk about alternatives to Self.

Alternatives to Self

Our favorite alternative to Self is the Extra debit card. The Extra debit card works with your existing checking account to help you safely build credit.

It’s very easy to use. Just open the Extra debit card and and link it to your main checking account.

Every time you want to make a purchase from your checking account, simply use the Extra debit card instead.

Extra will take the money from the purchase out of your checking account on the following business day.

It will also report all purchases made with the Extra card to Experian & Equifax, defining them as creditworthy purchases.

This positive reporting process can help you safely build your score or responsibly establish your credit score if you don’t yet have one.

Bonus: You will also earn up to 1% cash back on every purchase made with your Extra debit card.

The Extra Debit card has a range of programs starting at just $7 per month.

Self FAQs

What if I have bad credit?

If you have bad credit and want to improve it, a Credit Builder Account may be your only option.

Self helps you improve your score if you’re dealing with bad credit because they don’t run a hard inquiry credit check.

However, Self does want to know if you have any checking accounts that may have gone to Chexsystems or were fraudulently shut down.

What do I need to open a Self Credit Builder account?

In order to get started you will need to have:

A bank account, debit card, or prepaid card
Email address
Phone number
Social security number

To open an account you must be:

At least 18 years old
Be a permanent U.S. resident with a valid address
Note: If you use a debit card, you will be charged a convenience fee of $0.30 + 2.99%. In order to avoid that fee, link your bank account.

Which Credit Builder account should I choose?

The answer to that question depends on a few different factors.

First, it’s important to know that choosing a larger Credit Builder account won’t necessarily mean you can improve your credit faster.

Second, you’ll want to consider choosing a monthly payment that easily fits into your current budget.

Third, you’ll want to determine what your savings goals are and choose your Credit Builder account based on that and payment factors.

Can I close my Self account early?

You can close your Self account early. Note that there is a $5 fee for early closure of a Self account.

You will also still have to pay the agreed upon interest charges for the length of the time you had the loan.

Also, the $9 administrative fee you paid at the beginning of the loan is non-refundable.

Summary

Building good credit doesn’t happen immediately. It can take 6 to 12 months before you see a noticeable difference on your credit score.

Just know that if you’re responsible, make on-time payments, and keep your utilization low, your score will go up. If you want some extra help getting there, consider using Self.

If you are committed to keeping the payments you make to Self in your Self account for the entirety of the term commitment, you can help build your credit score.

However, if you feel there is a good chance that you’ll want to close the account early to get the funds you’ve saved, you may want to avoid using Self.

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