Wouldn’t it be great if you could snap your fingers and you instantly had a solid credit history? The reality is that it takes time and effort to establish credit. But once you have good credit, it can open doors financially for you. Having good credit can mean the difference between getting approved or denied for a mortgage or car loan. And the stronger your credit, the greater your chances of getting favorable terms and interest rates on loans and credit cards.
But building credit can be a bit of a catch 22. A lot of credit card companies and lenders won’t grant you credit unless you have a proven track record of handling credit responsibly. This can make it a bit challenging for those who haven’t established a credit history yet.
Luckily, there are many ways to establish a foundation of credit to build upon. Here are some credit building tips you can use:
Take out a credit-builder loan. With this type of loan, the lender places the money being “borrowed” into a savings account on your behalf. You then pay off the loan through a series of monthly payments. Once the loan is paid in full, you gain access to the money in the savings account. Credit-builder loans are usually for relatively small amounts of money, making it easier to meet your monthly loan payments. The lender reports your payment history on the loan to the three national credit reporting agencies, so as long as you make your monthly payments on time, you’ll be building a positive track record on your credit report. These types of loans can be a bit hard to find, but a good place to look for one would be at a smaller financial institution, like a community bank or credit union.
Obtain a secured credit card. These types of credit cards are intended specifically for people with little or no credit. When you take out a secured credit card, you pay a deposit to the financial institution who then grants you a credit limit, which is usually equal to the amount of your deposit. Once the account is opened, the card works just like any other credit card. The only difference is that the financial institution has your deposit as a guarantee on the credit line. In other words, if you don’t make your payments, they will take the money out of your deposit. Like a credit-builder loan, the payments you make with a secured credit card are reported to the credit bureaus, helping you to build up a solid credit history if you make them on time. The point of a secured credit card is to build your credit to the point where you can qualify for an unsecured card -- one that doesn’t require a cash deposit and has better benefits.
Look into opening a store credit card. Many popular retailers offer their own, private credit cards. While these cards can typically only be used to purchase items from the store issuing them, a plus side is that they usually have more flexible underwriting standards, meaning they are easier to get than a traditional credit card. These types of credit cards can be good “entry-level” cards, allowing you to build up a credit history before applying for a regular credit card. It’s worth noting however that they do typically have lower credit limits and higher interest rates than non-store credit cards.
Take out a student credit card. Like a store credit card, a student credit card is generally easier to get than a traditional credit card; that is, if you’re a college student. Credit card companies have been known to be pretty aggressive with targeting college students, due to their future earning potential. A college student can typically be approved for a student credit card even if they don’t have any credit, as long as they can show enough income or assets to cover the minimum monthly payments.
Become an authorized user on a credit card. If your parents or someone close to you is willing to do so, you could be made an authorized user on their credit card. An authorized user will typically receive their own card in their own name that they can use to make purchases, but financial responsibility for the account remains with the primary cardholder. So, as long as the primary cardholder makes all of the monthly payments on time, the authorized user will benefit by having the positive payment history reflected on their credit report as well. Just keep in mind that being an authorized user works both ways. In other words, if the primary cardholder is irresponsible with the card and fails to make payments on time, your credit could suffer as the authorized user. For this reason, it’s important to only be an authorized user if you completely trust the primary cardholder. You should review your credit report regularly to ensure payments on the account are being made, and if you find your credit is being damaged by the relationship, you should remove yourself as an authorized user.
Co-sign on a loan. It’s generally pretty difficult to obtain a traditional loan without a solid credit history, as lenders are hesitant to extend credit to individuals who haven’t demonstrated they can pay the loan back. However, if you co-sign for the loan with someone who already has a good credit history, your chances of being approved will be much higher. A co-signer is basically someone who agrees to share financial responsibility for the loan. In other words, if you default on the loan and stop making payments, the lender will go after the co-signer for the money. Both parties are equally responsible for the debt. Because both of your credit reports are on the line, it’s extremely important to only co-sign with someone you have complete confidence in.
Be responsible with student loan payments. No one likes having to pay back student loans, but if you’re fresh out of college with no credit history, you can at least work them to your advantage. Like other types of loans, student loan payments are reported to the credit bureaus, so paying them on time can help you establish a solid credit history. Just be sure not to miss payments, because then they’ll start to damage your credit history. If you find that your student loan payments are so high that you’re having trouble making them, you might want to consider refinancing them to help reduce the monthly payment amount.
No matter which approach you choose, once you have credit in your name the key is to be responsible with it. By making all of your monthly payments on time, every month, you can be well on your way to building a strong credit history for your future.