Our top picks of timely offers from our partnersMore details
Kikoff review: This credit-building product helps people with no credit score for only $5 per month
Kikoff offers a revolving line of credit and reports your payments to Equifax and Experian.
When Kikoff Co-Founder and CEO Cynthia Chen moved from China to the U.S. to attend college, she noticed how many of her peers had credit cards while she did not. After realizing how important it was to have a good credit score to secure loans — and good terms on those loans — she signed up for a secured credit card and managed to maintain a credit score above 700 throughout college. After graduating, she was able to rent her first apartment and purchase her first car.
Chen later founded Kikoff in 2019 with the intention of helping those who lack credit histories or have poor credit scores.
"When I was working in consumer finance at different financial institutions, I noticed that there were a lot of people who were like me who didn't have the most affluent family background," Chen says. "I realized that there was a pretty big gap in servicing this population because the existing solutions in the industry were very expensive."
Below, CNBC Select takes a closer look at how Kikoff works, as well as some other options that exist for people interested in building up their credit scores.
Type of loan
Open end revolving line of credit
Users must pay the cost of the item they choose to purchase from the Kikoff store. Monthly minimum payment is $5.
Required credit score
- No credit check required so most people can be approved
- Products in the store are relatively cheap
- Monthly minimum payment is only $5
- Must purchase an item through the proprietary store, so you might not get much utility out of the items
Kikoff Credit Builder review
What is Kikoff?
Kikoff is a credit-building product that offers consumers a $750 revolving line of credit without charging any interest or fees on the credit line. Users then use this line of credit to purchase an item from the Kikoff proprietary store.
By using the Kikoff line of credit and purchasing an item from their store, users will have a Kikoff credit account that gets reported to two of the major credit bureaus Equifax and Experian. This can, in turn, help people boost their credit scores.
While Chen won't disclose specifics on the particular products offered in the store, she notes that there are financial literacy and entrepreneurship e-books and courses. The items on average cost $20, and users are required to make a minimum monthly payment of $5.
How Kikoff works
The intention behind Kikoff is to help users improve their FICO® Score. Five factors make up your FICO credit score: your payment history (35%), the amounts owed (30%), the length of your credit history (15%), new credit (10%) and the credit mix (10%).
Since FICO reports your on-time monthly payments to the major credit bureaus, using Kikoff would help improve your payment history. However, if users do not make their minimum monthly payment on time, they will receive email and text reminders letting them know it is overdue. Users then have 30 days beyond the due date to make a payment before the missing one is reported to the credit bureaus. Kikoff will not sell customers' delinquent loans to external collection agencies.
The Kikoff credit line also helps users maintain a low credit utilization ratio, which experts traditionally recommend keeping between 10% and 30%. Plus, Kickoff can help to improve the length of your credit history since users can keep the line of credit open even after they've finished purchasing items and paying them off — there are no fees associated with keeping a Kikoff line of credit open indefinitely.
Who can use Kikoff?
Since Kikoff does not perform a credit check to determine approval, you'll just need to be a U.S. citizen with a Social Security number. In order to verify your identity, Kikoff will perform a series of fraud checks before you're approved. The service is available in 49 states and is not currently available in Delaware.
Kikoff is available for free in the App Store and on Google Play. The app has generally favorable reviews despite some complaints from people who were not aware what the service is. Kikoff has a 4.5/5 rating based on over 37,000 reviews on Google Play and a 4.9/5 rating based on over 52,000 reviews in the App Store, at the time of writing.
Alternatives to using Kikoff
While Kikoff is a relatively affordable option to build credit — using the service generally costs under $10 — there are several other credit-building products and methods out there that might be cheaper or provide more utility, or could even work in tandem with Kikoff. Here's a look at three of the alternatives to using a service like Kikoff.
1. Using Experian Boost
Experian Boost™* is a free service that uses consumers' on-time utility, telecom and streaming subscription payments to calculate their FICO credit scores. By having their Netflix or water bill payments reported, consumers can see their credit scores improve based on monthly payments that are not traditionally used to calculate a credit score. Note that in order to use Experian Boost, you must have at least one credit account, whether it's a credit card or a personal loan, which would make this a bad option for anyone considered to be credit invisible.
Average credit score increase
13 points, though results vary
Credit report affected
Credit scoring model used
Results will vary. See website for details.
How to sign up for Experian Boost:
- Connect the bank account(s) you use to pay your bills
- Choose and verify the positive payment data you want added to your Experian credit file
- Receive an updated FICO® Score
Learn more about eligible payments and how Experian Boost works.
2. Signing up for a secured credit card
Secured credit cards are available to most consumers regardless of whether or not they have a bad credit score or are credit invisible. These will typically require a security deposit that's equivalent to the credit line on the card, usually between $200 and $2,500, which acts as collateral in case cardholders are unable to make their payments.
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a good option for anyone interested in building up their credit score, with no annual fee and a minimum security deposit requirement of $200. After seven months, automatic reviews begin to evaluate your account to determine whether or not you can be moved to an unsecured card and if your security deposit can be returned to you. Plus, you'll earn cash back on eligible purchases with this card.
Discover it® Secured Credit Card
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year
N/A on purchases
Balance transfer fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Foreign transaction fee
New / Rebuilding
*See rates and fees, terms apply.
If you don't want to put down a $200 security deposit, a better choice might be the Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card, which offers cardholders the option of paying minimum security deposits of $49, $99 or $200 based on their creditworthiness.
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
No current offer
N/A for purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
0 at this Transfer APR
Foreign transaction fee
No credit history
Regardless of how much your security deposit is, all cardholders are eligible for a credit limit of $200. If $200 is considered to be an insufficient amount of credit, you can raise your initial credit line by depositing more than the minimum amount (up to a maximum limit of $1,000).
3. Becoming an authorized user on someone else's account
Lastly, becoming an authorized user on a friend or family member's credit card account can be a free and easy way to piggyback off someone else's positive payment history. Authorized users benefit most when the primary cardholder makes their payments on time and in full while maintaining a low utilization ratio.
While authorized users are not responsible for paying off the primary cardholder's balance, the trade-off is they don't have the same abilities as the primary cardholder and won't be able to increase the credit limit or earn rewards — primary cardholders receive an extra card for the authorized user but are not required to actually give them the additional card. If the primary cardholder does choose to give it to the authorized user, they'll be on the hook for any payments. If you ask a loved one or friend to make you an authorized user on their credit card, be sure to talk to them about payment plans and consider not receiving the actual card from them at all to avoid any potential spending issues.
Money matters — so make the most of it. Get expert tips, strategies, news and everything else you need to maximize your money, right to your inbox. Sign up here.
Kikoff is setting out to make fewer people credit invisible. If you struggle with building credit, the Kikoff app may be a good financial move for you.
Catch up on CNBC Select's in-depth coverage of credit cards, banking and money, and follow us on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date.
For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, click here.
*Results may vary. Some may not see improved scores or approval odds. Not all lenders use Experian credit files, and not all lenders use scores impacted by Experian Boost™.