Financial Literacy

No Credit History? Here’s How to Build One

According to a 2015 study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, roughly one out of 10 American adults are “credit invisible,” meaning they don’t have a credit history with any of the major national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). Because they don’t have a credit history or credit score, this may make it difficult to apply for a credit card, rent an apartment, sign up for cell phone service, or even get a job.

Setting up a credit history – and being in good standing – can take time, so here are some actions you can take to establish credit.

Utilities

Traditional lenders tend to look at a person’s credit score, but people with little to no credit history generally don’t have enough of a profile to even generate a score. A simple way to get your credit history going is by putting utility bills in your name, such as electricity, heat or rent. Making on time payments to your monthly bills can give lenders or anyone else looking into your credit something to consider when you apply for things like a loan or new apartment. Be sure to keep track of due dates and pay the whole balance each month when you can.

Merchant cards

If you frequently shop at a specific business that offers a card for purchases at that business, consider opening an account. For example, if you have a car, a gas credit card could be beneficial because they usually come with discounts, are easier to be approved for and can help you track how much you spend on gas each month. But, be careful when opening a gas card or department store card, as they often come with high interest rates, sometimes 20% or more. Consider sticking to one card until you get comfortable paying in full and on time to avoid the interest being added to your balance. Dominique Brown, financial advisor and founder of the Your Finances Simplified Academy and YourFinancesSimplified.com, has specific advicefor department store cards: They should only be used “for credit building, not for credit [buildup].”

When deciding what store card to open, make sure to consider things like:

Interest rate – Is it so high that if you miss a payment, you’ll have a much larger payment to make the next month?
Reward point system – Is one offered so that you receive rewards to help save on future purchases?
How often you shop there – Is it enough to make the card worth it but not encourage you to spend more?
A secured credit card
A secured credit card is a good option if you have a limited credit history, and you can get one by putting up a deposit. You get the deposit back when you close the card, or at a point when your credit history is stronger. Keep track of what you buy with this card and if you feel ready, put repeat expenses on it like a utility bill. Turn the auto-pay function on so you don’t miss a payment and can continue working toward good credit.

A small loan

You can also consider taking out a small dollar loan which like a secured credit card can help build your credit if you make on time payments and pay the balance in full monthly. There are multiple lenders you could get this kind of loan from including:

Online lenders: Make sure to do research on these so you know they are trustworthy.
Credit unions: These typically offer loans between $200 to $1,000, but be sure to consider the interest rate that will be applied to a balance that carries over to a new month.
Banks: Some banks and financial institutions offer small loans and may offer low interest rates or discounts for existing customers.

With these different options it’s important to shop around and choose a loan that has helpful terms such as:

A low interest rate
Fixed monthly payments
A loan term between three to 12 months

Remember to only take on what you can manage. Don’t take out the full loan amount if you don’t need it and make sure to pay on time so your credit isn’t negatively affected.

Have a plan for using credit

Once you’ve identified the type of account you are interested in, “start with the end in mind and build your plan to make it happen,” says Brown. “Saying ‘I want to improve my credit’ isn’t a strong enough goal to keep you on track to the credit you deserve.” Create a plan for how you will use it and factor in a monthly spending plan based on your income to figure out how much money you’ll actually be able to put towards building good credit.

The bottom line is you need to use credit to build credit. Taking it on can be risky, so ask yourself honestly: Am I ready?. If you are, opening one of these types of accounts can be a great first step. Remember to make on time payments every month and keep the balance as low as possible – in fact, strive to pay balance in full monthly. To learn more, check out tips from the online Hands on Banking® financial education program.

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