Miller suggests consumers check out Payment Reporting Builds Credit (prbc.com), a national company that has been around since 2002 and allows consumers to sign up for free and self-report payments like rent, rent-to-own purchases and utilities like your water or electric bill.
"PRBC might not yet have the clout of the big three credit bureaus, but a solid report from PRBC might be enough to get your foot in the door with a lender," Miller says.
The PRBC site is free to use, but not all self-reporting third parties are free, and whether many of these companies are actually able to do what they purport to do for a fee is up for debate. After all, you can report anything to a credit bureau; that doesn't mean it'll do any good.
That's why Golding says WilliamPaid.com doesn't report rental information to the other two credit bureaus, Equifax and Transunion –not yet, anyway. "We would love to provide that service to our customers," Golding says, "but until the other credit bureaus start accepting that information, there's no need to report it to them. It kind of goes to a black hole."
Keep in mind that none of these strategies will work if you don't pay your bills on time. In fact, you could make things worse by self-reporting if the information being reported shows you're always late with bills. But if you are paying without trouble, and you simply don't own a house or credit cards and aren't making payments on a car or student loans, then getting lenders to see that you're consistently paying bills on time may just lead to a higher credit score – eventually.
"The quickest way to build up a favorable credit score is to borrow and pay back the debt on time. There really is no way around that," Miller says.
"It isn't necessarily hard – it just takes discipline," says Hitha Prabhakar, a retail and consumer analyst based in New York City and a spokesperson for Mint.com, a free and well-known money management website.
Having a well-paying job also helps. A good relationship with your bank is another plus, Prabhakar adds. But above all, a long credit history without a lot of black marks is what will really make a lender comfortable.