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Family arriving in the USA hoping to build their credit.

New to the US? How an Installment Loan Can Help Build Credit

The process of moving to a new country is full of difficulties and uncertainties. A lack of US credit history is a great challenge that the majority of ex-pats would have to face. In many cases, without a good credit score, you won’t be able to apply for a mortgage or even rent an apartment successfully.  

It is incredibly important to start building your credit history in the United States as soon as possible, and getting an installment loan, for that matter, is one of the things that you might want to consider. A loan can help you diversify your credit mix, build a payment history, and pay any existing debt off faster.

Let’s dive deeper into the topic and find out what the credit score is based on, how to start building your credit history, and how to improve your score once you have one.

What Is a Credit Score?

Also known as the ‘FICO score,’ your US credit score can be anywhere between 300 and 850.

The main competitor of the FICO score is the VantageScore. The latter uses the same range and the same data but weighs the information a bit differently. That means that your FICO and VantageScore can be slightly different, but if one of the scores is great, the chances are extremely high that the other will be high as well.

Three credit bureaus collect credit information in the United States: Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. The bureaus then sell the information to the creditors. Your credit score across all three bureaus might vary a bit, but, in general, is the same.

Creditors can set their own standards for what credit scores they are willing to accept. Here are the general guidelines that you can consult:

  • Scores of 629 and below – poor credit
  • Between 630 and 689 – fair credit
  • 690 – 719 – good credit
  • 720 and higher - excellent credit

At the moment, the average FICO score in the US is at an all-time high of 711.

What Is the Credit Score based on?

A FICO score considers five different categories from the credit reports (the percentages show the influence of the factor on your overall score).

  • 35% - your payment history. Whether or not you have paid past credit amounts on time.
  • 30% - amounts owed. Having multiple credit accounts is not necessarily a bad thing. But if you use too much of your available credit, the banks might consider you a high risk.
  • 15% - credit history length. The age of your oldest and newest account and the average of all your accounts are considered, as well as how long it has been since you have used some specific accounts.
  • 10% - new credit accounts. If you have opened several new accounts in a short period of time, you might present a greater risk for the lenders.
  • 10% - the credit mix. Even though you don't need to have one of each, the score looks at how you use credit cards, mortgage loans, accounts with retail and finance companies, and installment loans.

VantageScore uses similar factors but ranks them by influence.

  • Payment history (extremely influential)
  • Credit utilization (highly influential)
  • Length of credit history and credit mix (highly influential)
  • Amounts owed (moderately influential)
  • Recent credit behavior (less influential)
  • Available credit (less influential)

The Benefits of Having a High Credit Score

Having a good credit score benefits you in many ways.

You will have low-interest rates (the amount a lender charges a borrower) on loans and credit cards and a better chance of loan and credit card approval. You can even try applying for higher limits. A high credit score also means better car insurance rates and fewer problems with renting apartments and houses.

Moreover, you’ll be able to avoid dealing with any deposit. For example, when getting a phone on contract.

Finally, a high credit score gives you more bargaining power, as you will be able to negotiate a lower interest rate on a loan, for example, and use any attractive offers from other companies as leverage.

Oh, and you can use your high credit score to brag, which is also a plus.

How To Begin Building Credit History in the US

Sometimes, having no credit score is just as bad as having a low one. Thankfully, non-US citizens can start building their credit histories when they arrive in the States.

Here are a few things that you can do.

Apply for a Secured Credit Card

One of the easiest strategies is to find a bank that offers a secured credit card. You would be asked to put a certain amount in a bank account, and then the bank will allow you to borrow the same amount you already have in the account.

For example, if you have deposited $200, you will be able to borrow $200.

Usually, to apply for a secured credit card, you are going to need a permanent address (in the United States or your home country), a bank account, employment, an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number), and an SSN (social security number).

Get a US Card from Your Home Credit Card Company

If you have an account with an international bank that also operates in the USA, you can try asking the bank to transfer your account there.

You might even manage to transfer any Membership Rewards points to a new card, in case you have any.

Become an Authorized User on Another Person’s Card

If you have a family member or a close friend with a credit-worthy account, you can ask them to let you become an authorized user of their card.

As a result, you will get a new credit card with your name that will be linked to your friend’s account. Bear in mind that in such a case, you both will be able to impact the credit scores of each other if one of you decides not to pay the credit on time, for example.

Many major credit card companies report authorized user transactions to credit bureaus. So, it’s a quick way to start your credit journey.

On some online platforms, you can become an authorized user of a stranger's credit card. The strategy is called ‘piggybacking for credit.’

Apply for a Student Credit Card

You might be able to get a student credit card. But it will be much easier for foreign students who are over 21 and have an official source of income.

A lot of credit cards for students require a social security number. They can be offered only to those who are at a four-year university, community college, or other higher education institution.

Other Ways To Build a Credit Score Fast

Here are a few other ways to help you build a credit history that doesn’t require a credit card.

Open a Bank Account

This is one of the most important things that you have to do after relocating to the United States. Sometimes, you can initiate the process before leaving your home country.

Look for expat-friendly banks that will allow you to open an account with only a letter of verification and confirmation of your income from the employer.

Get a US SSN

An SSN is a Social Security Number. Once again, you can apply for it before the relocation (during the visa application process).

The majority of lenders would require an SSN before processing any applications.

Take Out a Phone Contract

Getting a personal contract can be challenging, as many phone companies would require you to pay a large security deposit. However, all monthly payments will contribute to your credit history.

Lease a Car

It is extremely difficult to lease a car with a zero credit score, but fortunately, there is such a thing as an ‘international executive lease.’ Some European car manufacturers offer such an option.

These special programs are aimed at foreigners. The great news? The monthly payments will help you start building a credit history.

Ways an Installment Loan Can Help Build Credit

Did you know that an installment loan can help you improve your credit score?

Of course, taking out a loan alone, for that matter, is not the best decision. But if you are looking for an emergency financial solution, then an installment loan might become not only that but also a great way to build credit.

Here are the ways in which a safe and affordable installment loan can help you:

  • Diversify your credit mix. Remember one of the five categories FICO considers when developing your credit score? A credit mix refers to the various kinds of debt that you owe. If, for example, you already have a mortgage and credit card debt, then an installment loan can diversify your credit mix even more. The more diverse this category, the higher your overall score.

Tip: You might take a loan to pay off some of your credit card debt, but be careful! Installment loans can also add to your total debt load and lower your credit score if you fail to pay them off on time.

  • Pay off debt faster. If you find an affordable installment loan with low-interest rates, you can use it to pay off your other debts with higher interest rates. This step would require careful calculation and investigation. Find out how much you owe (together with the interest rates) and start looking for an installment loan with an equal or lower rate. The fact that you have managed to pay off your other debts will be reflected in your credit score.
  • Improve your payment history. Whether you’re looking for a way to improve or begin your payment history, getting an installment loan might be a great place to start. Ensure that all the monthly payments are made on time and take advantage of the improvement in your credit score.

Warning! Ensure the lender reports all the information to the credit bureaus. Otherwise, all your efforts would go for nothing.

How to Choose the Right Installment Loan for Rebuilding Credit?

How do you choose the best installment loan out there? If you want to start building or improving your credit score, then you have to, ideally, go for a loan that will not simply end up on your credit report.

The installment loan should also be:

  • Readily accessible. Whether you have a non-existent or bad credit score, you should try to find an installment loan that you can take out with your current score.
  • Affordable. You have to go for an online installment loan that is affordable. Otherwise, you might end up only ruining your credit score. Find an option with a great interest rate, affordable monthly payments, and a low origination fee.
  • Productive. You don’t want to take out a loan just for the sake of it, you also want it to be useful. An auto loan, for example, can be used to build your credit score and get a new vehicle.

In a nutshell, don’t sacrifice your budget in order to build credit. Choose a smarter path and go for installment loans that tick all the boxes.

How To Improve Your Credit Score

Avoid Late Payments at All Costs

Everybody knows that you should always pay your bills on time. But it’s easier said than done.

Here are a few tips that will help you be at the top of your game:

  • Automate bill payments from your bank account. In such a way, the right sum will always be transferred to the bank on time.
  • Set due-date alerts on your phone.
  • Create a digital filing system to keep track of all monthly bills. This will help you spread out your budget more efficiently.

Remember that payment history has one of the biggest impacts on your credit score, so you should do your best to manage your bill payments.

Aim for 30% Credit Utilization (or Less)

Credit utilization is the portion of your credit limit that you are using at the moment. The best way to ensure your credit utilization is okay is by paying your credit card balances in full each month.

If you can’t do that, try to keep the total outstanding balance at 30% or less. Getting your credit utilization to 10% will benefit your credit score even more.

Tip: You can also ask for a credit limit increase (make sure your balance doesn’t increase too).

Limit Your Request for New Credit

There are two types of inquiries into your credit history.

The so-called soft inquiries include checks performed by potential employers, credit card companies, and you yourself. Such inquiries do not affect your score.

On the other hand, hard inquiries can affect your credit score (sometimes for two whole years!). These include applications for a new credit card, an auto loan, a mortgage, etc. 

An occasional inquiry won’t have an effect. However, multiple hard inquiries can easily damage your score, so try to avoid applying for new credit too often. Otherwise, it might look like you desperately need money due to financial difficulties (therefore, you are a high risk for the banks).

Keep Old Accounts Open

In a nutshell, the older your average credit age, the higher your credit score.

Do you have old accounts that you are not using? Don’t close them out. You are going to lower your available credit and increase the credit utilization ratio.

Consider Taking an Installment Loan

You have to try to pay your bill in full whenever it is possible. In some cases, an installment loan can help you with that.

If you have a few outstanding debts, it may be beneficial for you (and your credit score) to take out a loan and pay them all off. If you manage to do that, you are going to have only one payment to deal with.

Monitor Your Credit Score

Get a copy of your credit report from all credit bureaus and carefully review it. This will help you know exactly what is helping and what is hurting your credit score, and you’ll be able to work on any improvements more efficiently.

Of course, you shouldn't forget to keep track of your progress.

To Sum Up

Immigrating to a new country is always a tough job. Thankfully, a few things will make your life a lot easier. And a high credit score is certainly one of them.

Starting to build your credit history doesn’t necessarily have to be challenging. Apply for a secured credit card, open a bank account, get an SSN, and consider getting an installment loan, and your credit score will improve quickly.

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