What does it mean if I have a “thin file”?

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What is a thin file?

When there’s not enough information on your TransUnion or Equifax credit report to generate a score, the credit bureau sends back an alert that you have a “thin file.” In cases like this, it could take some time to fatten up your score.

There are a few reasons why you might have a thin file. See if your situation fits any of the following descriptions and then read on to see tips on what you can do.

Why you might have a thin file

  1. You’ve never had credit.
  2. You’re new to credit or you’re re-establishing credit.
  3. The credit bureau thinks you’re deceased.
  4. Your credit file is split.

You’ve never had credit.

You don’t have any lines of credit listed on your credit reports, like a credit card, mortgage, auto loan, student loan or any other kind of loan. A credit bureau like TransUnion may not be able to to generate a credit score if this is the case.

Possible Next Steps: If you want to begin building your credit, start simple. You may want to consider a secured credit card, which helps you build credit and is backed by a security deposit that you provide. Secured credit cards are designed for someone who’s seeking to build or rebuild credit, so your lack of credit history may not be an obstacle to approval. When applying for a secured card, consider annual fees and other terms to make sure that you’re getting a good deal while you build your credit history.

You’re new to credit or you’re re-establishing credit.

If you’ve recently opened your first credit card or loan, don’t expect to have a credit score right away. It takes time to build your credit history and develop a credit score. The same applies if you’ve recently started re-establishing credit after having closed many of your credit lines.

Possible Next Steps: You’ve already taken the first step toward establishing credit. If you’re building credit with your first credit card, consider charging a small purchase each month and paying the card off in full. You don’t need to carry a balance from month to month in order to establish your credit usage. If you’ve opened a loan, make your payments on time every month. After a bit of time making steady payments, you can always come back to Credit Karma to check on your credit scores from two credit bureaus.

The credit bureau thinks you’re deceased.

It seems crazy, but it happens: Credit bureaus can mistakenly believe you’ve passed away. Deceased folks don’t have credit scores, so you might be told you have a thin file if that’s what the bureaus think. Unfortunately, correcting this can be a lengthy, time-consuming process.

Possible Next Steps: If you think you’ve been marked as deceased, contact the applicable credit bureau in question and notify them of the mistake. You could also file a dispute just like you would when you find a simple credit error. To dispute, you would typically include your full name, current mailing address, social security number, birthday and a written statement saying you’re not deceased. You may also need to include notarized proof that you’re alive.

Your credit file is split.

Like a credit bureau mistakenly thinking you’re dead, a split file is an outlier. Split files rarely occur, but when they do it’s often because there is a lot of information on your report or because your personal information, like your name and your address, have changed very frequently. Both causes can lead to a single credit bureau having multiple credit reports and credit scores on file for you, each with different information. If your information is being split, it could potentially lead to a credit bureau trying to generate a score for you based on very limited information. This could cause an incorrect thin file error.

Possible Next Steps: A split file is a credit reporting error, so you’ll have to contact the applicable bureau directly in order to have it fixed. Since closed accounts can fall off reports, first check that your information is actually being misreported by obtaining your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus and comparing from bureau to bureau. If it’s clear from this comparison that one of the bureaus has accidentally split your file, you can then contact the credit bureau directly to have your reports merged.

Bottom line

In the case of credit, thin is not something you want to be. If you’re hoping to apply for credit soon, take some steps to build your credit to a creditworthy state before you do so.