How to build credit in the U.S. as a new immigrant

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To build credit as an immigrant, you need an SSN or ITIN to open a bank account and apply for credit cards. You may also be able to transfer your credit score from your home country with a global credit scoring bureau.

Immigrants have always been a key part of what makes the United States a great country. A recent study shows that roughly 13.7 percent of the U.S. population consists of immigrants. Unfortunately, as an immigrant, it can be difficult to build a credit score and get access to funds, as well as other services that might require individuals to have a credit score.

Although it’s difficult to build credit as an immigrant, it’s possible. Here, we go over how to start building credit, the importance of having a credit score, and ways to improve it. With this information, you may be able to access credit cards, get loans, and potentially purchase a home. Keep reading to learn more about building credit as a new immigrant.

Why should immigrants build their credit score?

Having a credit score and good credit history can help you rent an apartment and purchase a vehicle or a home. Some employers might check your credit, and your credit may also affect how much of a deposit you need to put down to rent or access services like utilities.

Once you establish credit, it’s important to continue improving your credit score. A better credit score means lower interest rates, lower deposit amounts, and access to more funds. A good credit score starts at 670 using the FICO® scoring model, but it can go as high as 850 and as low as 300.

To get started, you can either transfer your credit score from a global bureau or go through the process of getting a Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Does your credit history transfer from your country of origin?

The United States isn’t the only place that uses credit scores, so you may have a credit score from another country. Credit scoring models can vary between countries, so if you have a credit score from your home country, you’ll need to work with a global credit scoring bureau to transfer it.

Where to start building credit in the U.S.

To start building credit as an immigrant in the United States, there are steps that you need to take. You can then build credit to buy a home or a vehicle or use it to access additional funds to start a business or make purchases.

  1. Apply for a Social Security number (SSN): An SSN is often needed to open bank accounts and apply for loans. If you can’t get an SSN, you may be able to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  2. Open a U.S. bank account: Bank accounts don’t affect your credit, but some credit card issuers require a bank account. You may also be able to use the bank from your home country if they have locations in the U.S.
  3. Apply for a credit card: A credit card is the first big step toward building credit. Without credit history, the amount may be low. If you have a low score or no credit history, you can get a secured credit card.

5 ways to build credit as a new immigrant

Once you establish a credit score, there are some credit hacks that you can use to strengthen it. Below are five ways to start building credit or improve poor credit.

1. Get a secured credit card

There aren’t specific credit cards for immigrants, but as we mentioned, if you have no credit or bad credit, a secured credit card can be one of the best ways to start building it.

Unlike a standard credit card, where you borrow money from the issuer, a secured credit card uses your own funds. With a secured credit card, you make an initial deposit, which becomes your credit limit. As you use it, your issuers will report the payments (or lack thereof) to the credit bureaus, impacting your score.

2. Become an authorized user

One of the reasons it’s difficult to get a credit card as an immigrant with no credit history is that banks may see you as high risk. If you have a friend or family member with a credit card, they can add you as an authorized user to their account. Becoming an authorized user gives you a credit card that’s linked to the primary cardholder’s account. As long as this person is making the payments on time, you benefit from their credit history.

You don’t have to use the card to benefit from the primary cardholder spending and making payments. However, you can harm their score if you’re late or miss payments for transactions you made with the card.

3. Report your rent and bills

Typically, rent and bills don’t impact your credit score, but some services allow you to report your rent and other bills for a slight boost. These services include’s ExtraCredit service or Experian® Boost.

4. Pay your bills on time

Once you have bills, be sure to pay them on time. Credit card, mortgage, and auto loan payments can all help improve your credit. While your rent or utility bills aren’t reported to the credit bureaus, they can harm your score if you become delinquent and the bills go to collection agencies.

5. Try a credit builder loan

A standard personal loan can be difficult to get without a good credit score or credit history, but credit builder loans can help. These loans are specifically for those trying to build credit—as you repay your loan, the creditor reports the payments to the credit bureaus. Unlike a traditional loan, you get access to the funds after you pay it off.

How long does it take to build credit in the U.S.?

The amount of time it takes to build your credit will differ for everyone. For example, if you can transfer your good credit score from your home country, it may not take much time. If you’re starting with bad or no credit, it may take months to build your credit. Once your payments start getting reported, you should begin seeing changes to your credit score.

Start building credit as a new immigrant today

If you’re a new immigrant trying to build your credit in the United States, the best place to start is educating yourself. Your credit score, as well as the details of your credit report, can give you an idea of where you stand and where you need to improve. Here at Lexington Law Firm, we have various tools to help you better understand your credit score. Get your free credit assessment today.

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