Many college students and recent graduates find themselves in a predicament: You need to have good credit to qualify for credit, but it is difficult to establish credit without borrowing. And while credit cards can be a great tool for establishing your credit report and credit score, not everyone feels comfortable with them.
Melinda Collins, a video producer based in Chicago, decided early to avoid credit cards.
“Every time I approached a milestone and considered getting a credit card, I would reflect on my less-than-great spending habits and realize that I could get into a lot of trouble,” she explains.
After watching her older sister rack up credit card balances, Collins decided to establish her credit history using other methods. At 24, she has avoided carrying excess debt, which has helped her establish a solid credit history.
“I’ve never been denied an apartment and was able to purchase my car by paying cash up front,” Collins says.
If you’re trying to establish a credit history but aren’t yet ready for the responsibility of a credit card, here are five ways to help you get started:
1. Consider a secured credit card.
A secured credit card is a unique payment method. Unlike traditional credit cards, a secured card requires a deposit to guarantee your transactions. Similar to a debit card, your initial cash deposit becomes your credit limit.
Note that there may be an application fee or annual fee associated with the card. Also be sure to verify that the creditor reports your behavior to the three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs). This will help ensure that the activity is factored into your three different credit scores.
In fact, you may want to regularly review your three credit scores to see how your credit behavior impacts them. Federal law requires each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies to give you a free credit report every 12 months if you ask for it. Learn more by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
2. Apply for a credit card with a co-signer.
Another way to get help from someone with excellent credit is to apply for a traditional credit card with a co-signer. If you stay well within your credit limit and pay your credit card bill in a timely manner, a co-signed card can help you establish your credit history.
If you decide to ask someone to co-sign for you, remember that he or she will be responsible for your charges if you aren’t able to pay your credit card bill.
3. Apply for retail and gas credit cards.
If you have a thin credit history, you may be able to qualify for a credit card with a retailer or a gas company. As with a traditional credit card, paying your retail or gas credit card on time every month can help you establish a strong credit history.
While it’s easier to qualify for retail credit cards, be sure to check the interest rates and credit limits as they can vary.
4. Obtain a loan from a credit union.
You may want to consider a credit builder loan with a credit union. With this type of loan, you pay up front before you get the funds. The amount you want to borrow is placed in an interest-accruing account. Once you pay the full loan amount, the funds are released to you.
Some lenders require a lump sum deposit, while others allow you to make smaller deposits over time, such as $100 a month. Be sure that you know the terms for the loan, and confirm that the credit union is reporting your activity to the three national CRAs.
5. Become an authorized user on another account.
As a last resort, consider becoming an authorized user on a parent’s account. When you’re added as an authorized user, the account activity will be reflected on your credit report.
By piggybacking on someone else’s account, you can also learn good credit habits, such as budgeting your income and only using a certain amount of your available credit vs. maxing out your card. When you’re capable of qualifying for your own credit card, you’ll be more prepared to handle the responsibilities.
As you start establishing your credit history, keep in mind that you should only apply for credit that you can afford to pay back. Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your Equifax credit score, and late payments can have a negative impact. Collins says that part of her financial security resulted from some excellent advice she received at a young age: “Don’t borrow money that you don’t have.”
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.