Building credit is one of the most important things you can do for your finances. Your credit score can affect your ability to get approved for loans, determine the interest rates on loans you do get, and even influence where you’re approved to rent. However, new immigrants to the United States may start with no credit history at all.
While there are many ways to build credit, not all of them are possible or realistic for a new immigrant in the U.S. That’s partly because many lenders identify the information they send to the major credit bureaus by an individual’s Social Security number (SSN). Not having a SSN can eliminate some paths toward establishing credit, but there are still other options for how to build credit as a new immigrant.
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Is It Possible to Build Credit With Credit Cards as an Immigrant?
Even if you don’t have a Social Security number, it may still be possible to build credit with credit cards as an immigrant. As mentioned, many credit card issuers require a SSN as part of a credit card application. However, others may accept an Employer Identification Number (EIN) or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Additionally, it is possible to apply for a Social Security number if you meet certain eligibility requirements.
Check with various credit card issuers to see which credit cards may be available to you based on which identification number you can provide.
Ways You Can Build Credit an Immigrant
There are several ways an immigrant can successfully build credit. Here are a few of the most common methods for doing so.
Apply For a Traditional Credit Card
If you’re eligible to apply for a traditional credit card, that can be a good way to build credit. An international student credit card is one option to consider if you’re eligible for one. A credit card can be a great way to build credit, as long as you use it responsibly. Making on-time payments to your credit card company each month shows that you can be responsible with debt.
While it is possible to get approved for some credit cards with only an ITIN, many credit cards will require a SSN. If you’re authorized to work in the United States and have received an SSN, you will have many more options for credit cards. You might consider a credit card like the SoFi credit card, which allows you to earn cash-back rewards with every purchase and redeem them in a variety of different ways.
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Get a Secured Credit Card
If you’re immigrating to the U.S., you may not be able to get approved for many traditional credit cards, even if you have a SSN. While some credit card issuers (including American Express) will check the credit you may have in other countries, not all issuers will do this. As such, you may have better luck with a secured credit card, given their easier approval requirements. Unlike a traditional unsecured credit card, a secured credit card requires a security deposit, which usually will act as your credit limit.
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Become an Authorized User
Another option for building credit is to become an authorized credit card user on the account of a trusted friend or family member. When you’re an authorized user on another account, you are not financially or legally responsible for any of the charges made to the account, unlike with a joint credit card.
But if you become an authorized user on the account of someone who uses their card responsibly, it can help your credit as well. Plus, you may get your own authorized user credit card — also known as a supplementary credit card — to use for purchases.
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Take Out Other Types of Loans
Besides credit cards, other types of loans can also affect your credit score. Car loans, personal loans, or student loans may also show up on your credit report. When you make reliable and consistent payments on your existing loans and debts, you are showing that you are more likely to be responsible with future loans.
Pay Other Bills On-Time
Some credit bureaus help with establishing credit by considering more than just debts that you might have. The credit bureau Experian, for example, offers an Experian Boost program that will give you credit for reliably paying regular bills like utilities, streaming services, and rent. This can help you build credit without needing a credit card or other form of loan.
Check Your Credit Report
Regardless of how you are building your credit, you’ll want to regularly check your credit report. Doing so on a regular basis can help make sure there isn’t any inaccurate or incorrect information on your report. This helps to ensure that your credit score is as accurate as possible.
How Long Does It Take To Establish Your Credit Score as an Immigrant?
It’s important to realize that establishing good credit is something that takes time. You shouldn’t expect to establish it overnight. In fact, it may take several months or even years after applying for a credit card for the first time to establish a good credit score if you’re starting from nothing.
In the meantime, look to regularly make responsible credit decisions and continue to demonstrate that you can be responsible with debt.
Alternatives to SSN or ITIN for Credit Card Applications
Many credit card applications require a Social Security number (SSN) as part of the application process. If you don’t have an SSN, you may be able to enter an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) on your application. If you have neither an SSN nor an ITIN, another option may be to apply for a business credit card with an Employer Identification Number (EIN).
If you’re a new arrival to the United States, one of the first things that you’ll want to do is work on building your credit history. Having a solid credit profile can help you qualify for loans or credit cards and also demonstrate to potential lenders that you will be reliable in repaying your debt obligations. There are many ways to establish your credit as a new immigrant, including taking out a personal loan or auto loan and applying for a credit card.
Many credit card issuers require that you have a Social Security number, and that includes SoFi. But if you do have a SSN and are looking to build credit by applying for a credit card, you might want to consider the SoFi credit card. With the SoFi credit card, you can earn cash-back rewards, which you can then use to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
How can I monitor my credit as an immigrant?
It may be more challenging to monitor your credit as an immigrant, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Many lenders and credit providers classify the information they send to the major credit bureaus by an individual’s Social Security number, though the credit bureaus also use other identifying information. Experian, as one example, allows individuals without an SSN to check their credit report by mailing in a request form.
What is the basic credit score for an immigrant?
When you don’t have any credit information, your score doesn’t start at 0, 300, or any other particular number. Instead, you simply don’t have a credit score at all. So if you are a new immigrant who doesn’t have any existing credit history, you won’t have a credit score until you start interacting with debt or credit providers.
How can I reduce the time it takes to build credit as an immigrant?
It’s important to note that establishing credit generally takes time. Potential lenders ideally want to see a solid history of reliably paying your debts as one possible indicator of how you’ll act in the future.
Photo credit: iStock/Dusan Atlagic
1Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on purchases. No rewards points will be earned with respect to reversed transactions, returned purchases, or other similar transactions. When you elect to redeem rewards points into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, SoFi Active Invest account, SoFi Credit Card account, or SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your rewards points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. For more details please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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The SoFi Credit Card is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A. pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on purchases. No rewards points will be earned with respect to reversed transactions, returned purchases, or other similar transactions. When you elect to redeem rewards points into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, SoFi Active Invest account, SoFi Credit Card account, or SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your rewards points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. For more details, please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .
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