How to Build a Rock Solid Credit History in 1 Year?

Raghuram Sukumar Personal Finance 35 Comments

Following Guide  on how to build credit history fast in USA is written by Vishal.

I am writing from my experience of building credit history in USA and I was probably lucky to have been well guided by one of my friend who was already in the US when I entered the dreamland.

Everyone understands or atleast has heard some rumors about how painful it is to get anything done in the United States with NO credit history, be it a Credit Card, Apartment, Wireless (Cell) Phone, Internet Connection, Auto loan or anything.

When I entered, I had also heard of all these. What I figured was:

  • Everyone is more scared because there is no proper information available.
  • We are fatigued after all the visa stress and every small NO we hear freaks us out.
  • We go in wrong directions and increase stress as we have no proper guidance.

Anyway, my friend helped me go in right directions and not screw up money while building up history.

Cutting the crap, here are the steps to how to build credit history fast in USA, month by month that worked for me and a few other friends I advised in person over last 2 years. Please also read the section, credit Dos and Dont’s.

How to build credit history fast in USA

Count these steps from the day you get your Social Security Card in your hands.

Month 1:

  1. Find out if your school or employer has a tie up with a bank to give credit cards to all students. If NO, skip to step 4
  2. Find out if there is an annual fee or a joining fee. If yes, skip to step 4
  3. Apply and get the card. Skip all other steps for this month.
  4. Find out all the credit unions in your vicinity and call them to ask if they have a NO annual fee credit card for people with NO credit history. You may need to tell them that you are OK with a secured card.
  5. If you find a credit union with a NO fee card, take that card (even if it’s secured)
  6. If you don’t find a credit union which has a NO fee secured card, then take the lowest AF (annual fee) one. (Whether it’s from the bank or credit union)

By any means, do not apply for credit cards with any other bank except the bank your school/employer is affiliated with.

Do not apply for credit cards just because your bank cashier tells you to.

(HSB – Don not apply for card, since you get free t-shirt or $100 in cash after first care swipe).

Month 2-3:

No new activity.

Month 4:

Apply for and get a store card card of your choice. My most preferred are the cards issued by GEMB (GE Money Bank) as they are easy to get approved for and the CL (credit limit) on their cards go to about 1.5 – 2k very quickly (in 7-8 months).

The most common retailers for them are Walmart and JC Penney. This will help you at about 12 month junction when you will be ready for prime cards that will help you build credit history and credit score.

It will help you in 2 ways, 1 you will have 2 cards on your credit file (1 is too less) and it will help you keep your utility %age low (total due/total available limit) which is a major factor in fico scoring.

***

HSB – I’m not a fan  store credits cards. Will it help build credit history? Yes, it certainly does.

But, the problem is you must have enough discipline to use it and pay it off. If not, you are in big trouble.

I have seen where, students get into getting store credit card, and run out of money in the bank, use the card, then pay very high interest rates (20% or above usually).

First two credit cards that I got – American Express (student) and Bank of America. I applied for the card right after receiving my SSN, without any jobs to show income.

Month 5-8:

Use both your cards normally but keep paying as soon as your transactions show up online. Let your Bank/Credit union card have a monthly statement of <10% of your credit line and ensure that your store card never has a due. Keep this as a rule atleast until you have got some good cards (towards the end of this so-called step by step guide).

***

If you get cards from Walmart and do shopping frequently for home groceries, then when you run out of cash in checking account, then you will start using walmart card.

You might be like, I’m not going to ask my parents for money. If you don’t have source of income (part time jobs, RA/TA,..) then you are going to pay high interest rate till you pay off the due.

Month 9:

Ask your store card of CLI. If they say NO because it’s too early, ask next month (GE cards allow you a limit increase after 4 months)

At this point (or around 6-7 month point, you will start getting a tons of invites from sub prime lenders like orchard bank, hsbc, credit one, first premier etc). IGNORE THEM ALL.

You aim should be to build good credit score and credit history fast, so you can get low interest rates on loans.

Month 10-12:

Keep following the rules I mentioned in month 5-8.

You should start getting invites from top lenders like chase now. If you don’t go ahead and apply for a Chase Freedom yourself (trust me on this, Chase freedom is the best prime card for beginners with great rewards and a good sign up bonus most of the time).

If you wish to add additional cards to your portfolio, do it NOW. Find out which cards pull which CB and choose a card that pulls a different CB than what chase pulled for you. You can get your free credit reports once every year.

Whogavemecredit can also help you find what a particular card issuer pulls in your area. If you crave for a AmEx, zync is your card.

That’s it for the step by step guide… This is not a hypothetical guide, this is what worked for me and my friends and has been optimized with the help from members of fico forums (I also blog there and have seen 100s of people who got stuck into credit mess before they got good advise).

Do’s – Credit History Building

  • Keep your balance at any time below 10% of the credit limit that you have. If this means paying your card company every 2-3 days, do it. If you need to make a large purchase on your card which will use a huge part of your credit limit, pay it off as soon as it appears as a charge on your account (you can check online)
  • When you apply for more cards, do them all quickly (over 1-2 days) and try to choose cards that distribute your inquiries over different bureaus. For example Barclays is known to always pull Transunion while AmEx/Chase/BofA is known to generally pull Experian while most credit unions, citibank and utilities generally pull Equifax
  • You get 1 free credit report from every credit bureau every year. Get them. Distribute them evenly over the year instead of getting all at once. In most cases information on all of them will be similar. By getting 1 report every 4 months, you can get a better view of your credit growth for free.

Dont’s – Credit History Building

  • Never pay late for any utility. I try to pay as soon as I get the utility bills. You may also want to consider Auto pay. Paying on time doesn’t help your credit but not paying on time hurts.
  • Always keep your balances under control. If you have <4 cards make sure only 1 of them report a balance which should be less than 10% of that card CL. If you have more than 4 cards, you can let 2 report a balance, but again less than 10% of their CL. This will get you optimal fico credit score.
  • This may look odd, but unless you must, don’t get yourself added as an AU (authorized user) to someone’s credit card. You get good score by this, but may disqualify you from getting the signup bonus on that particular card at a later stage.
  • There are a tons of sites selling you your credit scores and monitoring for a cheap monthly fee, please note that the scores they provide is not fico score and is not what lenders see.

If you have doubts or additional questions, post them as comments here and I will try to answer them for you.

***

Thanks to Vishal for taking time to write this lengthy guide. Only place where I differ from Vishal is about store credit card. I’m completely against applying for store credit cards.

I built my history (excellent) with regular cards. Apply for store cards only if (again only if ) you are disciplined enough to pay it off every month.

Friends of mine has Macys card. He uses the card to pay for the purchases. Then pays the balance right there in the counter. His card is linked to Bank checking account, so he don’t have to worry about paying the statement later.

But there is a  difference between my friend and you guys. He’s earns a handful. You will students and cash strapped.

My Experience – How I Got Discover Student More Credit  Card without credit history

Comments

  1. Hi!
    i am new international student in US,i dont have SSN number,is there any possibility of getting a credit card.I have a account in chase bank in michigan.
    could u please guide me on how to get credit card and which credit card is better?

    1. You can create bank account without SSN. But, you need SSN to apply for credit cards.

  2. This is a useful artice to all international immigrants. All the informations are clearly written. Thanks for useful guidance!

  3. Hey,

    I would advice beginners, who have landed in U.S in fall 2011 to go in for Discover Student Credit Card as they have no annual fee and you have maximum chances of approval.

  4. hsb, dont stop writing. I am yet to find a post in this blog thats NOT useful!! m/

  5. the post was useful. but i have got a question why is credit history not so important in India as compared to US??

      1. I will like to add to HSB’s comments:
        In India banks look for bad things in your history before approving things and NO derogatory marks in history is considered good history there.
        In the US, they actually look for both good and bad marks.

        In India, you don’t gain anything by having great history of paying everything on time for last 10 years, in the US, you do.

        I personally like the US system much much more.

  6. Thanks Vishal & HSB for the nice article. This is the first time I have seen such a step by step and no nonsense credit history guide.

  7. Hi, I applied for a credit card with my university partner bank, PNC, but they denied my application. They say that they couldnt obtain my credit score from the consumer reporting agency transunion. Please, if you can, give me any advice on what to do. I’ve in the states for 10 months now and I do have a SSN.
    Thanks

    1. Do you currently have any credit card or a loan? Credit history will never even begin with a debit card or utilities.

  8. well me and my husband are trying to buy a house and i dont have any credit and he does but its not very good he has a 640 and they declined us for a loan is there any way i can speed up the prosses to be a home owner sooner. oh and i have also applied for a credit card at bank of america im awating on the approval on a secured card.

    1. What you can do is, add yourself as Authorized user on your husband’s cards with good history and very low balance. Make sure you only add yourself to cards with no defaults and due less than 10%.

      This will immediately increase the length of your credit and push your score up. This won’t help you too much in terms of getting approval as banks look through mortgage applications throughly, but will push your score up and help you get a better mortgage rate.

      For the approval thing, do you mind sharing what keeps your husband’s credit score low?
      High Balances?
      Missed payments?
      Balance on too many cards?

    1. Use the card.

      Just ensure that you keep the balances on card less than 10%. You may need to pay several times a month to keep the balance under 10% as the credit limit on your first card may be really low like 300-500$ so to keep the balance under 30$ would mean that you pay many times a month.

  9. Thanks Vishal & EveryOne for sucha wonderful article. This is the first time I have come caross such a great artcile, as I had difficulties getting approved for cards as I did not estableish my first year in US using cards.
    I suggest Capital One, Discover for greater chances of getting approvals.

    1. Thanks Su,

      Hope you get some great score soon.

      I agree Capital One is easier to get approved for, I won’t say the same for Discover though (unless you meant HSBC discover).

      1. This article is great is great. =)
        i turned 18 about 4 months ago and i have had my bank of america credit card for about 4 months now, and I’m just trying to build credit
        i heard somewhere else that it is a good idea not to pass 30% of your CL to build your credit score, and that maxing out your CL and paying it in full is bad but i do not understand why.

        so if i just maintain my my spending to less then 30% of my CL and leaving a balance of less then 10% at the end of every month, would that be my best bet to increasing my Credit score?

  10. Thank you so much for the great post! What’s your opinion on Capital One’s credit card for Newcomers? I don’t plan to carry over the balance but wonder if it could be a better alternative to a secured card from a credit union.

  11. hi
    i have read your guide, but a little bit confused?
    just one simple question? what is the difference between indian and us
    bank credit cards?

  12. Hi all. Coming to the US soon and wanted to know if a secured card that I get without an SSN will still count toward building credit?

  13. Aw, this was a really nice post. Taking a few minutes and
    actual effort to create a really good article… but what can
    I say… I hesitate a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

  14. HI Vishal,
    I have one question on maintaining balance less than 10% of Credit limit.
    I was advised not to pay the balance before statement, pay after statement and before last date.
    Please advice me whether i can pay balance statement or not.
    Thanks.
    S

    1. Please advice me whether i can pay balance before statement gets generated or not.

      Thanks,
      S

      1. You can, but it will show 0% credit utilization if you pay it before the statement generates. If you want it to show 10% credit utilization on your credit report you’ll have to wait until the statement is generated. Then pay your balance off about a week before it’s due. Like clockwork.

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  17. Hi Whom ever the author may concern, although this blog is old 2011, still this formula is simply superb!! I followed all the rules, simply super my score rocketed high, tell u what small correction, I didn’t waited for 9 months to apply Chase Card, I Just applied recently the moment I finisedh 6th months of my Land to usa and its got approved too. with the formula and I got approved to 10000$$$$$$$$$$$ yes 10k $, I am happy to thank you to the author of this blog very much, keep updating with the best cards, and how to maintain this card long will benefit us…will be waiting for you replies and this single blog keep me to montior this whole website…Kudos.

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