You might think, “Hey, who cares about credit cards while settling down in a new country?” Well, it may surprise you but everyone, it’s the US! You’ve just entered the other world driven by credit. And a credit card is a front-door key to this world.
With a credit card, you establish your credit history in the US. It’s the foundation for buying a home and educating your kids in the future. Or even for buying a cell phone, renting an apartment and getting a job you want.
Newcomers may find it rather difficult to get their first credit card. But it might be equally difficult to the people born in the U.S. It’s all not about your race, gender or country of origin. Here is what really matters to credit card issuers:
- Identity. The best way to prove it is to show your SSN – Social Security Number. This number is given to any person with a green card or any person that legally worked in the U.S.;
- Creditworthiness. To prove it, you’re better have a job or other income and permanent address while applying for a credit card. Also you may ask your close relative or friend who is a U.S. citizen with a good credit history to support your credit card application. Such person can become your co-signer or make you an authorised user for their own card. All this helps banks to assess their risks when their give you an access to their money.
Prove your identity and creditworthiness and you’ve got the card.
Also you may find helpful three stories of immigrants with different backgrounds that successfully established their credit history in the U.S.
Case 1. An unsecured credit card from Capital One worked for Lena from Belarus, Europe
Lena was a 19-year-old student in Belarus when she applied for the Work&Travel program and came to the U.S. for summer. However, the summer ended but Lena stayed and worked as a waitress for five more years before getting promotion. Also after these five years of permanent residentship, Lena got the U.S. citizenship. It was a long way before she could relax and start planning her American future. With thoughts of mortgage, Lena applied and was approved for an unsecured credit card from Capital One.
- Identity: SSN was received during Lena’s summer job within the Work&Travel program.
- Creditworthiness: full-time job and salary transferred to Lena’s account at Capital One.
Having five years of working experience in the U.S. definitely helps get an unsecured credit card even to an applicant with no credit history. During many months before that first credit card, Lena was getting her salary transferred to her bank account at Capital One. And when she finally applied for a credit card there, the bank already could assess her creditworthiness based on her average income and expenses.
Lena’s main alternative was applying for a secured credit card. This option was absolutely accessible to her since she had SSN and job. That would allow her to establish her credit history much earlier. And in this situation it is equal to applying for a mortgage much earlier.
So, start working for your future as soon as possible. Apply even for a secured credit card, if there is no other opportunities to establish credit.
Case 2. A co-signed credit card from Bank of America worked for Gloria from Mexico, North America
Gloria was 23 when she started dating an American guy, and 25 when she left Mexico for the U.S. to get married to him. Her husband, a U.S. citizen, was eligible to sponsor her and file a petition for her. This is how Gloria got a family based green card. Since her priority was not having a career but raising a family, she became a housewife and worked only sporadically as a freelance language teacher.
The first credit card Gloria was approved for was an unsecured co-signed card from Bank of America. Gloria’s husband became her co-signer.
- Identity: green card with SSN;
- Creditworthiness: income and credit history of Gloria’s husband.
Gloria had neither job nor credit history, but she had a husband with a well-established credit history and good credit score. He co-signed for Gloria’s credit card and took responsibility to pay off her debt in case of default.
Regardless having a co-signer, once Gloria has got a credit card, she established her credit history in the US. Already after half a year of ontime payments and growing her credit score, she may qualify for a normal credit card. Gloria doesn’t even need to have a regular income, since it’s allowed to specify any income, including the income of her family members, in a credit card application.
There are not so many banks allowing for co-signers. For example, you may consider:
- Bank of America;
- Well Fargo;
- US Bank.
However, many credit card issuers allow for authorised users. This is even a better option for those with no credit history but with a friend or relative having a good credit history since such cards are easier to get. Just bear in mind that in this case, a credit card applicant and later a primary account holder is another person, the one with a good credit score. An authorised user may be added after approval for a small fee, something about $25 on average.
Such credit card makes larger contribution into the credit history of its owner rather than to the credit history of an authorised user. But this is still a good and accessible way for an authorised user to establish a credit history.
Consider the following credit card issuers allowing for authorised users:
- Citi – no minimum age limits for being an authorised user;
- Chase – no minimum age limits for being an authorised user;
- Capital One – no minimum age limits being for an authorised user;
- American Express – an authorised user should be at least 15 years old;
- Barclaycard – an authorised user should be at least 13 years old.
Case 3. A secured credit card from Discover worked for Ezz from Tunisia, Africa
Ezz was 24 and worked as a barmen in Tunis when he won an international cocktail competition. Soon after that, he received a job offer from a New York restaurant. The future employer helped Ezz get an employment based green card, and he moved to the US.
A few weeks after arrival to the U.S., Ezz applied and got approved for a secured card from Discover. His initial credit limit was only $200 but after eight months of ontime payments, he graduated to an unsecured card with a higher credit limit.
- Identity: green card with SSN;
- Creditworthiness: full-time job.
Secured credit cards is the most affordable option to obtain a credit card without any outside help. You pay a few hundred deposit and receive a card. Then you use it for purchases and repay the balance as if it’s a unsecured credit card. The most important thing is to pay on time, since the card issuer reports your payment activities to credit bureaus which collect your credit history and calculate your credit score.
Some secured card have rewards programs or other perks. Other card may charge you with an annual fee and have high interest rates. Depending on these conditions, it may easier to obtain one cards than others. Please look at our Top 4 secured credit cards and Best secured cards with no credit check. You may find there the card that suits your needs best.
Please note that in some situations the age of your credit history may matter. So applying for your first credit card, pick the one without annual fees. This allows keeping it open for a long period of time at no cost, and your credit history will be as old as possible.
Without a relative or friend with a good credit history, Ezz had only one alternative – to work for a longer than several weeks period and try to get an unsecured credit card. However, he decided to act on the spot and establish his credit history as soon as possible. This makes sense, especially, taking into account, that he applied for a secured card with the opportunity to graduate to an unsecured card without an additional application.
Also people with high income and high expenses may choose a bank whose credit card they would like to get, and open there a deposit account. Actively using this account, they may demonstrate their creditworthiness to the bank. But this is rather a way to get the card you want, than to establish a credit history as soon as possible.
The bottom line
As you may noticed, we considered cases where people were coping with establishing themselves in the US on their own and within the legal framework. Of course, immigrants are very different. Some of them prefer to stay invisible and safe. Others are so well established in their own country that moving to the U.S. is absolutely painless to them. But the point is that acting legally, you have many opportunities to start your financial life in the U.S. from scratch.