Tips to Build Credit as a New Immigrant

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The land of the free, home of the brave and a place where it is almost impossible to establish new immigrant credit without already having existing credit. While you’re shaking your head at the seemingly catch-22 scenario, keep in mind that while it can be difficult to build credit as a U.S. immigrant without any pre-existing credit, it can be done. Credit card companies and financial institutions can be made to listen, but you need to take the time to prepare yourself and have important documents at the ready.

So, here are five tips that can help build your new immigrant credit:

5. Don’t Take “No” for an Answer

Denied - new immigrant credit
Austin Startup

Without a pre-existing credit history, don’t be surprised if many credit card companies and financial institutions turn you down for credit cards and loans. If this happens, appeal the decision, especially if you earn a decent income; prove it with pay stubs. Another way to prove your credit-worthiness to the credit companies and in turn improve your new immigrant credit is if your employer or even your landlord are on good terms with you; don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation based on their own financial dealings with you.

In fact, if you pay your rent through an electronic rent service, report your payment to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. Some utility companies report your payments, too, so paying your cable, electricity, water and other bills on time (and in full) can help you establish your new immigrant credit.

Additionally, if you have good standing with creditors in the country you came from, get copies of any glowing statements and reports, translate them into English if necessary and show them to the creditor or bank with which you want to establish a credit card or loan. Take the time to build your case and then argue it, and you just may be rewarded with the credit card or the loan you’ve been asking for.

4. Apply for a Secured Credit Card

secured credit card - new immigrant credit
Make Progress Report

A secured credit card is essentially a pre-paid, pre-loaded debit card, but with a lot more fees (some secured credit providers charge up to half of the card’s available balance as an activation fee), as well as the possibility to build your credit. Here’s how it works: In exchange for a credit card that is in your name, you load the card with funds. These funds are then yours to spend and then pay back.

Over time and usually within the first six months of regular activity and on-time payments, the credit card company will begin to report your activity to the three major credit card reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

To build strong credit you’ll need to be able to demonstrate a positive payment history over time. It is essential that you use credit if you want to build good credit. In other words, if you get a secured card, you will want to use it every month to keep it active. It’s perfectly fine, however, to pay the bill in full to avoid interest charges. Be very careful about getting involved in credit schemes designed to shortcut the process. You need to go step by step: Get a Social Security number and a U.S. address; get credit, even if it means getting a secured loan or credit card, and pay your bills on time every month. Once you have a credit reference under your belt for at least six months, do it all over again.

3. Get Added to an Existing Credit Card

New immigrant credit can be built by adding yourself to existing cards

Find a family member or friend who is willing to give you access to their credit card as an authorized user.

Typically, many credit card holders can add authorized users to their account without identification, and riding on the coattails of a friend’s good credit is a great way to start building your own.

Don’t make any unauthorized purchases, or your up-and-coming credit score could be overshadowed by a court judgment for theft.

2. Apply for a Credit Card

Credit Cards - new immigrant credit
ABC News

With your legal citizenship documentation in hand, check with the major credit card companies—Bank of America, Capital One, Chase and Discover, to name a few—to find out what types of identifying documents they require for an application. Some may require traditional identification and a Social Security number, while others may accept a foreign-issued driver’s license or passport.

There is also the possibility of applying with a co-signer—essentially someone who agrees to put their credit on the line in order to help you build yours. However, check with credit card companies first to find out their requirements.

There’s no use in applying for a credit card before you know what’s required of you, since multiple applications will tarnish your nonexistent or early-stage credit score. However, it is important to spend small and pay on time in order to build your immigrant credit because of your credit utilization ratio (how much of your available credit you’re using), and your payment history matters greatly. In addition, to build your new immigrant credit, you can apply for a credit builder’s loan. These loans are placed in a savings account on your behalf that you pay off in monthly payments. After the loan is paid off in full, you will receive the money in the savings account to keep. This option allows you to build credit as well as your own personal savings.

1. Be Legal

new immigrant credit - be legal
Better Credit

It goes without saying that if you’re an illegal immigrant, you’ll not only have trouble obtaining a credit card, but you may also encounter difficulties with staying in the country if you’re discovered by authorities. Follow the U.S.’s immigration process to the letter, which includes having a sponsor (a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who essentially vouches for you being in the country) and filing a petition.

After you spend a small fortune and sign away your first-, second-, and even your third-born in exchange for citizenship, you’re ready to build your new immigrant credit. Good luck!

READ MORE: How to Improve Your Credit Score