Tips to Build Credit as an Immigrant in the US

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For those who immigrated to the United States right before the pandemic, congratulations! Things might not have gone as planned, but you’re here, and now it’s to build your new life. To do that, you’ll likely need some form of credit, or, a series of cash-in-hand jobs to help support your upcoming living expenses.

You probably aren’t sure you’ll be able to build your credit as an immigrant, and you’re right, you’re going to have a few more hoops to jump through. But it’s nothing you can’t handle! Here are some tips to help you build your credit score.

Getting a Social Security Number

The first thing is figuring out what you need to apply for a credit card in the United States. As a non-citizen, you have several options, like getting your Social Security number along with your work permit. This number is given to you with your permit, and it can be used as an identifier. All you have to do is give creditors these numbers, and you should be on your way to getting a credit card. You can also request an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or your ITIN. Most card issuers will be more than okay with either of these forms of identification, even if you aren’t a citizen.

Get the Card

It’s of the utmost importance you get a credit card and that you make sure the card is US-based if you want to build your credit here. You already have your ID so that you can open this credit card. Start using this card as soon as you’re approved, but just use it responsibly. If you want a good score, you need to pay what you borrow. Missing payments or paying late is going to end up hurting your score. If you can pay off your debts faster, that’s even better. Try to increase your limits as soon as possible, but always keep your debt as low as you can.

Getting a Cosigner

The reality is some lenders or creditors might still find it difficult to approve your request as a foreigner. Don’t let this discourage you. Yes, this is a blow against you, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other creditors and lenders out there. On top of that, you could just get a cosigner to help you get your first loan. Try to get someone who is American, and make sure their credit score is good. Your cosigner is telling the lender he or she will take care of your debt if you’re unable to. It’s a big responsibility, so make sure you choose someone who trusts you and who you trust.

Secured Loan Route

Sometimes, you can’t find a cosigner or someone willing to work with you. That’s okay. You do have another option if you are denied the first time you apply for a credit card. What you’ll have to do is get a secured loan or a secured credit card. What you’ll have to do is pay upfront before you are given the loan or credit card. The amount you pay the lender is the amount you end up getting. This may not seem like a win, but it’s a way to build your credit score. Once lenders see that you pay back well, they’ll start to trust you with unsecured loans, which is what you want.

Familiar Card Issuer

Some folks come to this country with their own credit history from back home. Find out if the bank you worked with when you are in your home country has a credit card in the United States. The reason you’re doing this is that this bank knows you well and is willing to trust you even if US card issuers aren’t there yet. This won’t always work because plenty of banks aren’t in the US, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you haven’t moved to the US yet, then this might be easier. Just find an international bank that operates in your home country and the US and establish a relationship now.

Pay attention to your credit score, which you can check by visiting the credit card bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. It’s going to take some time to build your credit here, but you’ll get there.

Welcome to your new life! We hope these tips are helpful to you establishing your life here.

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About Author

Kelly Lewis is the founder of Go! Girl Guides, the Women's Travel Fest and Damesly. She's an optimist, an adventurer, an author and works to help women travel the world.

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