Your credit score is one of the most important numbers in your entire life.
We all know that banks and credit card companies use it for loans and lines of credit, but did you know many others, like cellphone companies and landlords, use it to make decisions, too?
Establishing and building your credit is one of the most important personal finance skills to develop. The following methods outline how to do so without going crazy.
As you try to build credit, remember that it takes time. You will need to show good behavior over many months, so don’t expect a quick fix.
Your first goal should be getting a line of credit. Getting that first credit card or loan can be very challenging when you don’t have credit. It’s like asking a stranger to lend you money — they don’t know you and they don’t know if you’ll pay them back, so they’re unlikely to give you the funds.
The solution in real life is to borrow money from a friend or make that stranger your friend. Here are six low-barrier ways you can typically get your first line of credit without a credit score and turn that lender into your friend.
1. Become an Authorized User on Another Account
When you get added as an authorized user, you’re piggybacking off that person’s credit. You’ll get that line of credit added to your report, so long as the issuer reports the use to the three major credit reporting agencies. (It’s a good idea to ask whether the issuer reports to major credit bureaus before you sign on to the account.) The best people to ask to make you an authorized user can be relatives, like parents. Keep in mind they may say no — by adding you to the account, they take on liability for your spending.
2. Get a Credit Card From Your Bank
Your bank knows a little more about you and may be more willing to give you a credit card with a low credit limit or a secured credit card, which is designed to help people rebuild or establish a credit profile.
3. Get a Credit Card From a Gas Station or Retailer
Companies, like department store chains, know that when you get a card branded with their company’s logo, you’re more likely to spend money there. As such, these establishments are often willing to give you a low-limit credit card and generally have lower credit score requirements to get approved. Just be sure to read the terms and conditions. These cards tend to have higher annual percentage rates or fees, due, at least in part, to their lower underwriting standards.
4. Get a Student Credit Card
Many issuers offer student credit cards with low limits to young borrowers who have yet to establish a credit history. They know you have no credit, but may want to get their place in your wallet or purse as soon as possible.
5. Get a Loan
If you’re a student, student loans are great for establishing credit once you begin making payments. Auto loans, often through your bank, can be a stepping stone, too, to an unsecured credit card.
6. Get a Store Line of Credit
As a last resort, you may be able to get a loan from a retail store, often structured as 0% financing, for a large purchase like furniture. Again, just be sure to read the terms and conditions to ensure the ends justify the means and financing isn’t going to break your budget.
Building a Good Score
Once you get approved for a card, loan or line of credit, the rest just takes good behavior and time. A big piece of your credit score is your payment history. If you make your payments on time, your score will rise in the long term. Miss one or two and watch your score fall.
Keep in mind, too, you do not need to carry a balance on your credit card to build credit. Your balance is reported when your statement closes and can have nothing to do with how much debt you are carrying from month to month. Ideally, you want to use your credit card, pay it off in full so you avoid any interest payments and continue doing so forever. Paying interest will not improve your score any more than paying off the balance each month.
Also, remember to check your credit reports every year. The Fair Credit Reporting Act authorizes you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) every year. (You can go here to find out how to obtain them. You can alsoview your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to keep en eye on your credit in the meantime.)
You should review your report for any errors or inaccuracies and fix them as soon as possible. It’s not uncommon for people to find errors on their reports and you want those reports as accurate as possible. I prefer to stagger my reports every four months, using my waterfall method, that way I get a peek throughout the year.
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