If you've moved to America from another country you will understand how difficult it is to get a credit card without a credit history. Luckily there are businesses out there that is here to help! Some will even assist you based on your home-country credit score (even if you didn't realize you had one) which will help you build credit more quickly and have access to more money when you need it!
I've written a lot about banking and credit for the simple reason that it's an important (and somewhat difficult) element of moving to America and knowing how to do it effectively has led me to have a credit score that let me rent an apartment and hold a number of credit cards; whereas friends of mine are unable to do either.
So what are your options when you're looking to start on the credit journey and get your first credit card in America? Well luckily, I'm here to tell you that you do have a few options:
New/First Credit Card Option 1: Secured credit cards
One way to build a credit score and ultimately get a credit card is a “Secured Credit Card”. Effectively, it’s a card that has been prepaid and “secured” by a cash deposit.
As an example, you could deposit with the bank $500 that you will no longer have access to and they give you a $500 secured credit card. This card operates just as if it were a “real” credit card, but they hold the money to keep their loan of $500 to you secure (the name is genius).
These are provided by your bank and you just have to walk into a branch once you've got a bank account already and ask them for one of these cards. They'll likely be eager to help and the process shouldn't be too difficult at all.
Use it often, use the tips below in maintaining a good credit score, and you'll be well on your way! The key is to keep paying this one off as much as possible because your credit limit is going to be low. Keeping your “usage” (see below) low is going to be your best bet.
First Credit Card Option 2: Nova Credit
Nova Credit offers a service that helps move your credit score from your home country (yep, turns out even if you didn't know it, your banks were keeping tally) and translates that into a score in the United States (you now have “international credit”)!
What does this mean? It means that with Nova Credit, you can get your first credit card through their system. They've got a whole array of options and it's growing every day. I've personally pulled my credit data over from Australia and it's helped me get the ball rolling in the early days of my time in the United States!
Once you've signed up and they've worked out who you are, you get to pick from a range of their partners to find a card that actually works for you.
The best bit? You can skip the secured credit cards, you can skip all the slow-building, and jump right to a card with a good credit limit that actually does some work for you!
Option 3: Talk to your bank about your credit options
Banks and credit card companies here are desperately competitive and will try to get your business in any way they can.
Describe your situation, and you never know, you might get lucky! American Express has also been known to give out credit cards more easily than some of the other banks. Here’s another link, that gives me a little credit if you do sign up!
Important things to remember when getting a credit card and building credit
Your credit score depends HEAVILY on a number of things:
- Building credit as early as possible (“age of credit history”) is important (longer = better, and this only applies to credit accounts, not checking/savings);
- If someone asks for a “Hard pull” or “Hard inquiry” on your credit, really be sure that it is essential. It effectively means they want more than just a number, and every time someone does this, it affects your score negatively (slightly);
- Credit utilization basically refers to the percentage of credit you are using of what you have available. You want to keep that below 10% where you can (e.g. If you have a $500 credit limit, only use $50 of it);
- On that, it’s also relevant how many credit facilities you have. You want to keep it relatively low, but everyone will have a different opinion of what is ideal here (I would suggest ~3).
- On-time payment history is essential. Don’t be late on any money you owe for any reason;
- The number of bad marks against your credit. Pay your bills, on-time, and frequently; and
- Your income does play a part and obviously, this one isn’t as easy. In very short: The more money you earn, the higher amount of debt you’re basically allowed.
Of supreme importance though: Do not ever be late paying your credit off, or it will severely damage your credit, and fast!
Also remember to look up the fee schedule, terms, and conditions of the card you're applying for. You don't want to be bitten when it comes time to pay.