Moving can feel like starting over. New friends, new job, new city, new everything. If you've recently immigrated to the United States, here's another new thing to add to your list: a completely new credit file. If you've only recently been issued a social security number and are looking to open a credit card, secure a loan or even just find a place to live, the process can be pretty daunting. Read on for answers to some important questions about your predicament.
Does my credit file carry over?
The unfortunate answer to this question is no. There is no law requiring American credit bureaus and lenders to research the credit history you have in other countries, and, in all likelihood, they won't. While those born here are lucky enough to have a lasting record of their prior accounts, nothing you've done before your arrival will count on your American credit report.
So is my credit history useless?
Even if the credit bureaus won't report on your history, you still can make your past work for you. If you have a lengthy and accomplished credit history, you could try presenting that information in hard copy format to a prospective lender. Along the same lines, if you have an existing relationship with an international institution, you can try to translate that into U.S.-based accounts.
Dealing with a prospective lender isn't entirely black-and-white, and if you can prove that you have the experience to make smart credit decisions, you may be able to open an account even without a formal credit history.
What other resources can I use?
Anytime you find yourself in a brand new place, exploiting your social capital is key. This means using your connections to help yourself get started. For starters, if you have a family member, spouse or close friend who already has established credit in the United States, see if they'll allow you to sign up as an authorized user on their credit accounts. This will allow you to gradually build your credit without having a great score to start with.
More generally, you can use connections you have in your workplace or through networks of recent immigrants to find lenders who are more likely to offer you a useful deal. If you're lucky enough to have a support system in the U.S., this is the best time to put it to work.
How do I start building my credit file?
The best way to improve your credit health is to open a few accounts and make steady, reliable payments. If you're having trouble getting a credit card company to accept your application, consider secured or retail credit cards to get you started. Once you have an open account, avoid racking up huge balances or any lasting debts and use your credit responsibly. If you continue to employ good habits, your credit file will slowly grow more attractive to lenders.
If you've only recently immigrated to the United States, it will take some time to build your credit file. Take advantage of the resources at your disposal to take the first steps towards positive credit health. Continue to act responsibly and intelligently and your credit will be impressive in no time.
About the Author: Mike Goldstein is a Content Writer at Credit Karma. Since joining the team in June 2013, he's been delivering the financial know-how on the daily. When away from work, you can find Mike watching hockey, Twittering for hours and frequenting trivia nights.
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