To find out where you currently stand credit-wise, you should go to annualcreditreport.com and try to download your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experion, TransUnion and Equifax.
QUESTION: I will be graduating from college in January. I realize I will need to suddenly start purchasing a lot of things – car, renting an apartment (hopefully, buying a home soon), furniture, etc. How do I start establishing a good credit history?
ANSWER: According to the Consumer Protection Finance Agency, some 26 million Americans – 1 in 10 adults -- are “credit invisible.” They either have no credit history or not enough credit to produce a credit score. As a college student not yet on your own, you could very well be one of these people.
To find out where you currently stand credit-wise, you should go to annualcreditreport.com and try to download your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experion, TransUnion and Equifax. Through April 2021, the reporting agencies are offering free weekly credit reports. You can also sign up for a free account at each of the three agencies which will give you access to their educational credit scores
If you don’t get a report from any of the bureaus, you need to start building credit. The best way to do this is to apply for a secured credit card from a local bank, preferably one where you already have a checking or savings account.
Applying for a gas card is another good starting point. You won’t have a very large credit line, but in a few months, you can ask for more. Use the secured card or gas card a few times every month, and immediately pay it off.
After a few months, you will likely start receiving credit card offers. If not, apply for a regular credit card at your local bank.
The most important thing for good credit is to pay your credit card bill diligently, even weekly, every month. There is no fee or penalty for paying your credit card bill early, but there sure is for paying it late. By paying down your credit card balance, or not carrying a balance at all, on time every month, you will start to generate a very positive credit history. It’s important, however, not to access more than 30 percent of your total credit limit, and also to pay all of your other bills on time.
The educational credit scores you can get from the three credit reporting bureaus are different from the credit score a lender will pull when you apply for an auto or home loan. While not your exact score, they will serve as a good gauge about how you are doing credit-wise and whether the scores increase or decrease over time.
Your credit history will dictate so much of your future – from renting an apartment to buying a home or car, even getting a good job. Following these steps should put you on the path to a very bright credit future.
Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.