10 Ways on how to build credit score in the U.S. as an immigrant
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10 Ways on how to build credit score in the U.S. as an immigrant

Rupali Amin

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As you plan for your future in the U.S., you need to consider how to build your credit score. You will need to work on your U.S. average credit score to apply for a range of things, from a phone plan to a home mortgage. The U.S. system may initially seem very unfamiliar for new migrants, but once you get the hang of the basics, you'll soon be on your way to building your credit score as a new immigrant in the U.S.

What is a credit score?

Your U.S. credit score indicates your creditworthiness. It's a number between 300 and 850 and is calculated from your past credit reports, payment history, debt, the length of your credit history, etc. It's a handy number for a lender to have when they are considering whether to approve a loan application or not, but it can be an equally helpful number for the borrower as well, as you'll find out. You need to know how to build a credit score as it's a strong indicator of how likely you are to pay your debts in time.

Why do you need a U.S. credit score?

Several situations involve the assessment of your credit score: you will need it when you apply for a credit card, a mortgage, or if you seek a loan to start a business. If these situations seem unlikely, consider that you'll soon need to pay a rental deposit or get a phone plan. It would help if you had a credit score for such situations. If your U.S. credit score is not up to mark, it can be a significant disadvantage, and your application may be rejected (which will also adversely affect your fledgling credit score!).

The folks assessing your score are three credit bureaus in the U.S., namely Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Credit scores are used by potential lenders and creditors (banks, credit unions, car dealerships, etc.) when deciding whether to offer you credit, like a loan or a credit card.

What is the best credit score in the U.S.?

According to the credit bureaus, the best credit score is anything over 670, and if you know how to build your credit score above that number, you will have a lot of financial options open up to you. The average credit score is 700, though, so you may want to set your sights higher if you're competitive!

How long does it take to build a credit score?

According to Experian, it usually takes about six months of regular credit activity before calculating your credit score. So, now that we've understood the fundamentals, let's consider the critical question:

How to build Your Credit Score as a New Immigrant?

You've arrived in the U.S. as a new immigrant, and you've just managed to open a bank account. How do you build your credit score? More importantly, how to increase your credit score quickly?

Here are ten ways to increase your credit score quickly. If you're starting from scratch (i.e., you just learned about the credit score and didn't have a credit history), then the credit score and credit worthiness may seem like a chicken-and-egg problem: how can you get a credit card without a credit score? And how can you build a credit score without a credit card? Well, you have a few options to get started:

Start using a credit card (secured or unsecured)

An unsecured credit card has no security deposit against the credit limit for the card. A secured credit card is one where you deposit money to the bank before using the card. You can then 'borrow' through the card up to your deposit amount. It's collateral. This way, you start with cash, but as you make regular and responsible transactions through this card, it will reflect positively on your average credit score.

Become an authorized user on someone else's card

This allows you to 'piggyback' on someone with a good credit score (with their permission, of course). If you have a trusted friend with a good record of credit card use, ask them if you can be added to one of their accounts as an authorized user. You don't even have to use the card, but this move's impact on your credit score is quite significant.

Use a U.S. credit card from day 1

If you can get one, apply for a U.S. credit card from your home country to start using it as soon as you land in the U.S. This will help build your credit history from day 1. Since your credit history is a factor in your credit score, a more extended credit history usually means a better credit score.

Note: with Zolve, you can sign up and apply for a credit card before you travel to the U.S. - sign up for early access here

Apply for a credit-builder loan.

Credit unions usually offer a credit-builder loan similar to a secured credit card. You will need to deposit cash into a separate account, and you'll receive a loan that matches the deposit amount. You will have to repay the loan in installments (with interest). Once you have paid off the loan, you will get your deposit back. If you already have a credit history, you will have an easier time. However, you should still focus on how to build your credit score as much as possible.

Pay your bills on time

Even if you can only pay the minimum amount due, make sure you pay it on time. Your payment history (including how regularly you paid your dues) is essential in calculating your credit score. Automate your payments if you have to.

Make frequent payments

These 'micropayments' made throughout the month will help keep your credit card balances low, which will improve your credit score. Making multiple payments regularly through each month will improve your credit utilization, a credit score factor.

Pay off your debts before your due dates

Pay off your dues before the last day - over a period of time; this shows that you are a responsible borrower. This will result in lower interest rates, increase your credit score, and make you a more attractive borrower from the lenders' perspective.

Keep your credit utilization ratio less than 30%

The credit utilization ratio is the amount of credit you are using compared with the available amount. You can improve this ratio is to asking for a higher credit limit while keeping your usage the same. So, keep your credit card balances low, and don't rush to close a credit card once you have paid it off.

Check if the bureau check will affect your credit score

When you apply for a credit card, an inquiry is generated to check your credit history, which can sometimes bring down your score. Verify whether the bureau pull is a hard check or a soft check. A soft review does not impact your credit score, while multiple hard checks may - since that shows a greater need for credit. So, when applying for additional credit cards, do check whether the verification will affect your credit score or not.

Diversify your credit types

Get a loan if you only have credit card debt, or get a credit card if you only have student loans. This is not to increase your debts but to have a good credit mix. A loan is an installment credit, and a credit card is a revolving credit. Having both types can boost your creditworthiness. This, of course, should not come at the cost of borrowing more than you can repay!

Extra Tip: Check your credit reports regularly, ideally once every year, from Annual Credit Report. Scan the report for errors, and request a correction if you spot one. You are also entitled to a free report from the three major credit bureaus every week.

You may feel overwhelmed by all the information you've just read, but don't worry. When it comes to credit scores, planning can go a long way. You will get better at managing your score with time, patience, and dedication, and understand how to build a credit score you can be proud of! Zolve can help you with your cross-border finances, starting before you even step out of India. Reach out to us to know more.